By: Dr. Shahriar Jahanian
1979 was the year when the Iranian monarch, Mohamad Reza Shah Pahlavi, faced violent demonstrations and revolts against his regime. The army, which had invested so much in his rule, declared neutrality. Hossein Fardost, a top general in the military, and also the closest friend to Shah since early age of 6 years who acted as Shah’s eyes and ears joined the opposing group.
Shah, who remained the leader of Iran since 1941, was forced to flee the country due to the uprising by then spiritual and revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. When Shah left, he took some of Iran’s soil, and he cried for the love of his country.
After the occupation of the Soviets and Britishers in 1941 and during World War II, Reza Shah Pahlavi, Mohamad Reza Shah’s father, had to renounce in favor of his son, Mohamad Reza Shah Pahlavi. At that time, the allies claimed Reza shah had taken Germany’s side, which was untrue. In reality, the Allies wanted to supply Russia with food and ammunition, and the best way was Iran; later allies called “The Victory Bridge.” Mohammad Reza was only 23 years old and became king of a country with “no say” in his rule as foreign powers were running the country. Everyone watched his failed regime until his fall in 1953. He was known as the suitcase monarch as that he had his suitcase ready with him to flee from the country if anything happens.
For the first 12 years, Mohammad Raza was declared a monarch according to the constitution. In 1949, when 2 of his major opponent Ayatollah Kashani and Dr. Mossadegh, were in exile after people elected them for congress, Shah gave them political immunity and let them serve. In 1952 Dr. Mossadegh became the prime minister because of his popularity which Shah had to reluctantly agree. 1 year later, because of tension between Shah and him, he had to flee the country. Mossadegh’s victory was short-lived because, a couple of days after Shah’s escape, the U.S. and British intelligence orchestrated a coup d’état, which Fazlolah Zahedi, an Iranian Army general, administered against Mosaddeq to bring Shah in power once again. Shah was back, and U.S helped him to establish secrete police called SAVAK to maintain control. After that, he started interfering in government affairs and meddled with the institutions. However, he gained even more power when there was a communist plot against him that was thwarted.
During his rule in 1950, Mohammed Mosaddeq tried to convince the parliament to nationalize Iran’s oil interests to Britain. Mohammad Raza, from his experience of 40’s opposed the idea as he thought Iran military-wise is not strong enough to stand against the British. He also knew during the great famine of Iran during WWI and that the British were responsible for the death of 40% of Iranians. Because the British could control the south of Iran, which had extraction of oil easier with less population. Shah thought Mosadegh’s approach at the time was more of demagogy than anything else.
After Shah came back to power, he immediately repelled the legislation passed by the parliament and became a close ally of the U.S. during the Cold War. Shah always believed having a strong close friend far away like the U.S. is better than having a strong friend in our backyard like Russia, and a small country like Iran need a strong ally.
Mohammad Reza Shah launched his reforms programs in 1963, termed as the ‘White Revolution”. The public took this development program willingly, but the Islamic leaders took this as an opportunity for Shah to Westernize Iran. Islamic leaders, most notably Ayatollah Khomeini, were the most vocal among all the clerics. He thought giving rights to women to vote is against Islamic Sharie. He called for overthrowing Mohammad Reza and establish an Islamic state for which he was exiled in 1964. Khomeini did not give up and settled at the borders in Iraq, where he radioed his speeches to his supporters.
The Religious discontent in Iran started to grow when Mohammad Reza Shah celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of pre-Islamic Iran and officially replaced the Islamic calendar with Persian. As religious unrest started to develop, Shah started using brutal police force to suppress the opposition. Due to this action, the support of Khomeini grew even more with students and intellectuals of Iran began to join the cause.
Another cause of discontent was also due to the reforms passed by Shah. The poor and middle class thought that the reforms are only for the upper class and ruling elite. As a result, anti-Shah demonstrations started in 1978 in many of the major cities.
The final nail in the coffin happened when Shah’s security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. The riots started to gain momentum, and thousands of people started to destroy the symbols of westernization in major cities.
The demand of Khomeini to overthrow Mohamad Reza also gained a voice. In general, a lot of historians, believe this revolution succeed because
a) Shah was very sick, had cancer, and knew he was dying, so he did not want his name to go down the history as bloodshed king
b) Suddenly oil revenue quadruple, and he was trying to move the country from an underdeveloped to a country like Europe, and people could not absorb it
c) This revolution was not because of the poor economy; it was because Shah refuses to follow the Islamic Shariah when running his country
After the revolution succeeded, Shah traveled to many countries to seek refuge and then entered the U.S. for cancer treatment. Islamic militants responded in Iran by storming the U.S. Embassy and taking the staff hostage. The militants demanded the return of Mohammad Reza for the trial, which the U.S. refused to negotiate. As a result, 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, during which Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi died in 1980.
When Shah died, the Iranian press announces his death as follows:
“The bloodsucker of century died”
After 40 years from his death; history now tells us differently, now 50% still believe the same, but another 50% believe he was a political genius who loved his people and country and was wishing one day his country looked upon as a European country or the U.S. Do we need another 40 years for all Iranians to know him truly?