National Front, Iran

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NATIONAL FRONT, IRAN

coalition of nationalist parties and groups that became prominent in the early 1950s and advocated a constitutional regime and iran's control of its oil resources.

The National Front was responsible for the nationalization of the British-owned Iranian oil industry in 1951. Its influence declined after the Anglo-American coup of 1953, which overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as shah. The rise of the National Front was triggered by opposition to parliamentary election fraud. In October 1949 Mossadegh led a delegation to the shah's palace to protest the lack of free elections. A committee of twenty members was then formed to negotiate with the court minister, who promised to end electoral problems. The same committee later met at Mossadegh's house to form the National Front as a parliamentary faction. The front's diverse wings included social democrats, constitutional monarchists, and Islamists (led by clerics). Its social base consisted of bazaar merchants and craft guilds, members of the small industrial bourgeoisie, and urban professional middle classes. The front tried to enhance its political position by using the postwar rivalry between Britain and the United States for influence in Iran.

With opposition to foreign domination as its main goal, the National Front focused on ending British control of Iran's oil industry. The British rejected its demand for total Iranian control and equal profit-sharing with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. When the parliament nationalized Iranian oil, the shah delayed signing the bill, finally doing so in April 1950 when Mossadegh was elected prime minister.

Facing a British boycott of Iranian oil and increasing American hostility, Mossadegh's government encountered serious difficulties. The National Front's initial strength was its unification of disparate ideological and political currents under the banner of oil nationalization. But with the rapid polarization of Iranian politics in the early 1950s and under intense foreign pressure, the front began to unravel. Most significantly, its conservative and religious factions began opposing Mossadegh's defiant secular nationalism and defected to the monarchist and Anglo-American camp.

In August 1953, after a showdown with Mossadegh, the shah fled the country but was quickly returned to power through a CIA-engineered military coup. Mossadegh was overthrown and, along with many National Front leaders, ended up in prison. Some of his followers formed the National Resistance Movement but were unable to challenge the new regime effectively. In the early 1960s a Second National Front was organized by Mossadegh's former allies and played a leading role in another round of struggle for reform, but, like the Third National Front formed in 1965, was crushed by the regime.

Key personalities of the National Front emerged to lead the revival of popular opposition in 1977, but they soon were overtaken by Islamist forces. Still, the front's religious wing, led by Mehdi Bazargan, continued to be prominent. Following the fall of the monarchy in 1979, Bazargan became the prime minister of the provisional government. A few National Front old guards served in his cabinet; but they, along with Bazargan himself, were purged by the clerical Islamist forces close to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Under the Islamic Republic, Bazargan continued to function as a loyal opposition figure, whereas most other National Front leaders were forced into exile.

see also bazargan, mehdi; khomeini, ruhollah; mossadegh, mohammad; pahlavi, mohammad reza.


Bibliography


Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Chehabi, H. E. Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Cottam, Richard W. Nationalism in Iran, 2d edition. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.

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