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Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980) was king of Iran and second in the Pahlavi dynasty. A revolution, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, forced him into exile.

Mohammad Reza was born on Oct. 27, 1919. His father, who was then an officer in the Persian Cossack regiment, later became shah of Iran as Reza Shah Pahlavi. Upon his coronation in April 1926, his 6-year-old son, Mohammad Reza, was proclaimed crown prince. While at home he was carefully educated for his future role by his imposing and stern father. In 1931 he was sent to Switzerland and attended LeRosey school for boys. He returned to Iran in 1936 and entered the military school. He was married to Princess Fawzia of Egypt. He developed into a sportsman, enjoying soccer and skiing, and later became a licensed pilot.

World War II

In the fall of 1941 Mohammad Reza's father was forced to abdicate the throne by the British and Russian forces who had occupied the country after a short struggle. On Sept. 27, 1941, he succeeded his father as Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. This was a most confused and perilous period for Iran. Not only was there a global war, but Iran was squeezed between the traditionally bitter rivalry of Russia and Britain. To this was added the lure of the vast resources of oil in Iran, which were eagerly sought by the Russians, Americans, and British.

Furthermore, the Soviet pressure on Iran had an ideological dimension which sought revolutionary change in the country. The young Shah was caught in the midst of this struggle between the pro-Soviet Tudeh party, which wanted social revolution without the Shah, and the pro-British National Will party, which wanted the Shah but no social change. The Shah himself was not happy with either.

The Soviet Union refused to evacuate Iran after World War II as it had promised and instead stayed to help a branch of the Persian Communist party set up a separate government in the northwest province of Azarbayjan. Iran complained to the fledgling United Nations organization. After much negotiations the Soviet Union evacuated Azarbayjan on May 9, 1946, and the Shah entered the province in the midst of popular jubilation.

Internal Unrest

But this did not bring tranquility, for the oil problem had not been solved. The new National Front party, formed under the leadership of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq, followed a philosophy of "negative neutralism." This stated that, since Iran had refused to give oil concessions to the Soviet Union, it should take them away from the British.

The country was plunged into such a crisis that by 1953 communication broke down between the Shah and Prime Minister Mosaddeq and also among the prime minister, his cabinet, and the parliament. The crisis, in which the Tudeh party was daily gaining the upper hand, forced the Shah and Sorayya (his second wife) to leave the country. Nine days later Mosaddeq was overthrown, and the Shah returned in triumph.

Mohammad Reza Shah returned with a new resolve. Whereas he had tried to reign as a constitutional monarch, he decided to rule under the constitution. He had distributed his land among the peasants, hoping that other landlords would follow his example, but they ignored the hint and dubbed him the "Bolshevik Shah." It was then that he started what later was called the "White Revolution." After distributing the land among the peasants, he nationalized forests and water, established profit-sharing plans for the workers, emancipated women, and established literacy, sanitation, and development corps, in which educated men spent 2 years of their time in lieu of military service. New industries were created, and Iran became one of the most stable countries in the Middle East.

On Oct. 27, 1967, his forty-eighth birthday, and after 26 years as king, he was crowned as His Imperial Majesty Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Aryamehr, Shahanshah of Iran. What made this coronation a unique one in the annals of Persian history was that his third wife, Farah, was crowned as empress, the first since the coming of Islam in the 7th century. Their 6-year-old son, Reza, was declared crown prince.

During the 1970s, oil-exporting countries such as Iran exercised much world power. It was also the strongest military country in the Middle East. However, the Shah was an autocratic ruler who saw his popularity decreasing, especially among the conservative Muslims who were followers of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Ayatollah led a revolution in 1979, forcing the Shah and his family into exile. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi died in Cairo on July 27, 1980.

Further Reading

The best accounts in English of Mohammad Reza Shah are those written by the Shah himself, My Mission for My Country (1961) and The White Revolution of Iran (1967). The first full-length biography of the Shah in English is Ramesh Sanghvi, The Shah of Iran (1969). A scholarly treatment is E. A. Bayne, Persian Kingship in Transition: Conversations with a Monarch Whose Office is Traditional and Whose Goal is Modernization (1968).

Additional Sources

Karanjia, Rustom Khurshedji, The mind of a monarch, London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1977.

Laing, Margaret Irene, The Shah, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1977.

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, Answer to history, New York: Stein and Day, 1980.

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, The Shah's story, London: M. Joseph, 1980.

Shawcross, William, The Shah's last ride: the fate of an ally, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Taheri, Amir, The unknown life of the Shah, London: Hutchinson, 1991.

Zonis, Marvin, Majestic failure: the fall of the Shah, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. □

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