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Pre-Revolution Iran

(Pahlavi dynasty)


History of Pre-Revolution Iran

During World War I, Iran was occupied by British and Russian forces despite the fact that had declared its neutrality. In 1919, Britain attempted to establish a pro-British government in Iran. Therefore, they arranged a military coup to bring Reza Khan to power. He was an officer at the Persian Cossack Brigade who became the hereditary Shah of the new Pahlavi dynasty (1925).  


Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979)

Reza Shah Pahlavi's rule lasted for almost 16 years. He started to modernize Persia (Iran) and secularize politics. Under his reign, the central government reasserted its authority over the tribes and provinces. 

During World War II, Iran played a key role in supplying various goods for the Soviet Union. Britain was helping the Soviets through the Iranian soil against their enemy, Germany. On the Other hand, Reza Shah, whose popularity had degraded as a result of granting some privileges to a British oil company, decided to get German support for his modernization plans in Iran

British and Soviet governments considered Iran’s relations with Germany a threat for themselves. In August, 1941, British and Indian forces from Iraq and Soviet forces from the north occupied Iran. In September, the British forced Reza Shah to step down from power in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who ruled until 1979. 


The Tehran Conference

Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin came to Tehran to hold Tehran Conference of 1943. As a result, the Tehran Declaration was issued and Iran received the guarantee to have its post-war independence secured and territorial integrity respected.  

Yet when the war actually ended, Soviet troops stayed in northwestern Iran and backed revolts that established pro-Soviet separatist national states in the northern regions of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. The lives of those states were very short and Iran regained those territories soon. Soviet troops withdraw from Iranian soil in May 1946. 


Mohammad Reza Shah’s Monarchy

As Mohammad Reza was still very young and green to the job, the political parties and press found an opportunity to resume some activities. He had been disappointed with the politicians who had not given any weight to him in political issues. So, he decided to enter into the political scene of Iran.  

Having inherited the commandership of the military forces from his father on one hand and supported by two politicians, Hazhir and Sa’ed, he began by implementing censorship on the press and arresting his opponents.  

Despite all his hard work to obstruct democratization, finally the opposition representatives were elected to enter the parliament and voiced their opposition against Shah from within the Majlis. Dr.Mohammad Mosaddeq was chosen as prime minister.  


Military Coup against Dr.Mohammad Mosaddeq

He started to liberalize the political atmosphere in Iran. Shah had to suffice to his constitutional rights instead of absolute power. Dr.Mohammad Mosaddeq’s advocating the nationalization of oil industry bore fruits. The head and staff of the British oil company left Iran. Dissatisfied with this, the US and Britain united against Dr.Mosaddeq and helped Mohammad Reza to carry out a coup against Dr.Mosaddeq.  

As a consequence, Dr.Mosaddeq was expelled from office. A new agreement led to the formation of an oil consortium of British, Dutch, French and US oil companies. Those companies were granted the concession of the profits of the oil industry in Iran.  

The US government's interests were considered in any and all Shah's policies, as they had intervened to eliminate Dr.Mosaddeq from the political scene of Iran. Shah was indebted to them and worked for the interests of the US government in Iran. Consequently, it was agreed to increase Iran’s share of the oil profits.

The political conditions required Shah to pretend Iran was a democratic country. So, he initiated a two-party system and some land reforms by the name of “White Revolution", but those efforts failed to win Iranians’ support or satisfaction.  


Capitulation Bill & Ayatollah Khomeini

Shah’s government drafted a bill granting diplomatic immunity status to US military personnel working in Iran. This caused a lot of opposition by some nationalists and the clerics of Qom.

Fed up by Shah’s censorship, authoritarian rule and also the notorious bill, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini showed a strong reaction. His speech against Shah received lots of support and approval. Eventually, this led to his arrest and exile to Turkey and then Iraq in 1962. Shah’s reaction made people more dissatisfied.  


Pahlavi Regime's Performance

People's dissatisfaction with Shah increased as corruption among the courtiers, Shah’s American plans and policies were going forward. Instead, they just kept Iran more and more away from its national and religious traditions. There was a lot of mere imitation of western culture regardless of the indigenous culture.  

Shah and his family were focused on collecting more and more personal wealth. Even the top managers of the banks and some commercial and economic entities were disappointed by his policies. Poor employment policies for educated people caused lots of brain drain.  

Iran increased its defense budget to a great extent and became the strongest military power in the region by the early 1970s. Around mid-1973, Shah returned the oil industry to national control. The Arab-Israeli War broke out in October, 1973. Iran did not join the Arab oil embargo against Israel and the West. 

Shah, instead, took advantage of the situation to raise oil prices. That policy brought lots of money into the country. He wanted to use them to modernize and increase defense budget, but this money did not reach a great number of people. 

A border dispute between Iraq and Iran was resolved with the signing of the Algiers Accord on March 6, 1975. 


Escalation of Protests against Shah

The economic improvements could not target the vast majority of the Iranians. It just helped the culmination of widespread religious-led protests toward the late 1970s. The opposition was also against Shah's rule and programs--especially SAVAK, the detested security and intelligence service.  

Ultimately, in the last years of 1970s, people outpoured into the streets to publicly show their oppositions in street demonstrations. Martial law was declared in September 1978 for all major cities.  

Shah had realized the large extent of his diminishing popularity and power-base. So, he fled Iran on January 16, 1979. No western country replied to Iranians’ hunger for democracy and improvements.  


The Islamic Revolution of Iran

In 1979, The Islamic Revolution of Iranian people succeeded as a result of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's leadership from outside Iran. Therefore, he returned to Iran and established a new ruling system with the help of masses of people.  

Pahlavis were actually the absolutely authoritarian despot regime who pretended to rule within a constitutional framework. Subsequently, the ancient tradition of Iranian monarchy collapsed.


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Pre-Revolution Iran, Iran before Islamic Revolution