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This concluding chapter summarizes the main thesis of the book, recapping the rise, consolidation, decay, and ultimate fall of the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties, pointing to the weak processes of instiotutionalization in both dynasties and their inability to forge meaningful ties with social classes that would enable them to survive political crises.
This chapter traces the evolution of Iran’s international relations from the oil nationalization episode until the outbreak of the 1978–1979 revolution. Iran’s oil nationalization was met with the stiff opposition of Britain and the United States, culminating in a CIA-sponsored coup that reinstalled the Shah back to power and placed Iran firmly in the Western camp. Practically every presidential administration in the United States paid special attention to Iran as a central component of its Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union, an attention which the Iranian government used to its advantage in order to receive large amounts of military hardware from United States. Seeing Iran and the United States as “natural allies,” the Shah assumed that Washington would rescue him from the tide of revolution. Long after his overthrow, the Iranian monarch felt abandoned and betrayed by his American allies.
Approximately halfway through the life of the dynasty, by the mid-1800s, the Qajars’ traditional, largely tribal, sources of legitimacy no longer sufficed to keep emerging social forces politically compliant. This resulted in the increasing political significance of a number of groups, each of which had their own constituents. When groups with corporate identities, such as clerics and merchants, mobilized within and amongst themselves, they could command considerable respect and following among the population at large. Some of the more notable of these groups included the clergy, merchants, landlords, tribal leaders, the small but growing number of reformist intellectuals, and princes, who entered into coalitions together and, with overt and subtle support from the British, sought to change the dynasty from within. The collective power of these groups to place demands on the court was considerable, ultimately resulting in a movement that resulted in the convening of a parliament and the drafting of a constitution. The movement came to be known as the Constitutional Revolution.
This chapter examines the consolidation of Pahlavi rule after the removal of Reza Shah from power, especially after 1953, when the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was reestablished following a CIA-sponsored coup. The chapter explores the tenuous beginnings of the reign of the new Shah, the increasing legislative and policy-making significance of the Majles in the 1940s, and the era of oil nationalization, from 1951 to 1953. Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq was successful in getting the powers of the monarchy to be significantly reduced, but his overthrow was followed by the restoration of absolute monarchy built on a massive army and a feared secret service called SAVAK. Ultimately, however, the Pahlavi state failed to incorporate within its orbit and its social base remained weak. As the oil revenues began to lag, and the state was forced into making “housecleaning” concessions, it began to crumble under the weight of the gathering storm.
For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Iran was the scene of competition and rivalry by the dominant global powers at the time, Britain and Russia, and later the Soviet Union. Iran managed to remain nominally independent under both the Qajars and the Pahlavis, but for long periods of time that independence was hardly meaningful. Over the course of the century that this chapter covers, from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, the country experienced prolonged periods of foreign economic domination, political subjugation, and outright military occupation. Situated in a geography of increasing strategic significance, Iran was, in fact, one of the primary areas in which the Russians and the British played out a great game of high-stakes international chess, almost always to the detriment of local peoples and leaders.
This chapter introduces the volume, stating the central objective of the book – namely, tracing the rise, consolidation, and fall of Iran’s last two dynasties – and the political, social, and economic changes that each of the two dynasties, the Qajars and the Pahlavis, effected in Iran.
Groups advocating change had long existed in the form of political parties, intellectuals, guerrilla organizations, and of course the clergy. Yet only in 1977 did a number of developments converge to usher in a mass movement against the state. These included a sudden rise in levels of urban unemployment sparked by slumps in the global oil market and the domestic construction sector, the government’s need to open up political space in response to the Carter administration’s demands for reforms, and missteps by the government itself in its efforts to introduce reforms and to appear receptive to middle-class needs. Allowing for some grievances to be aired without addressing their root causes only encouraged more open expressions of popular anger, resulting in largely unorganized protests and strikes, which over time gained in frequency, intensity, and size. Poor at crisis management, panicked reactions by the state only deepened what had rapidly become a serious crisis. As the social movement grew into a revolution, the state proved woefully unprepared to deal with the expansive popular anger. Devoid of a meaningful base of social support, by the final months of 1978 the monarchy’s slide toward collapse was all but irreversible.
This chapter analyzes the rise and consolidation of Qajar rule from a tribal monarchy to a national dynasty. It examines the pervasiveness of centrifugal forces dominating the country’s landscape following the collapse of the Safavid dynasty, and slow rise in the 1780s of the Qajars from a tribal chieftaincy to a dynasty. The Qajars consolidated power, eliminated various tribal rivals, incorporated the clerical classes into the power structure, and implemented what was at best halting and scant social and economic reforms. Personal autocracy, and the avarice of successive monarchs and courtiers, undermined prospects for any kind of political development, paving the way for the dynasty’s steady decline and eventual collapse.
This chapter examines the steady decline and ultimate collapse of the Qajar dynasty and the subsequent establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty. It examines the rise of the dynasty’s founder, Reza Khan, and the social and political context within which the new monarch sought to implement a series of far-reaching social and cultural initiatives designed to modernize the country. A strong central state was established, local rebellions were put down, and various bureaucratic institution were founded in order to affect social change and foster economic development. New, modern schools proliferated across the country. But Reza Shah’s reforms remained ultimately devoid of institutional support, and many were therefore abandoned or altogether reversed when he was removed from office by the British.
The state that evolved under the second Pahlavi monarch featured rapid economic development and persistent political underdevelopment. Especially from the 1950s onward, when the amount of oil revenues coming into the economy increased significantly compared with before, the economy began showing classic signs of the “resource curse.” As is often the case, resource curse – that is, the negative consequences of overabundance of a single commodity and the riches accrued from it to the economy – had manifold ramifications for Iran. As the economy grew, reliance on its single, biggest source of growth, oil, deepened greatly. This occurred at the expense of other sectors of the economy, especially agriculture. It also hastened rural flight, resulted in unplanned urban growth, and brought about maladjustments between economic needs on the one hand and resources, skills, and opportunities on the other. More detrimentally, it froze or significantly slowed down any transition out of rentier arrangements and strengthened existing institutions and practices where they were. The state may have fostered economic development, but it remained politically underdeveloped itself.
This rich dynastic study examines the political histories of Iran's last two monarchical dynasties, the Qajars and the Pahlavis. Tracing the rise and fall of both dynasties, Mehran Kamrava addresses essential questions about how and why they rose to power; what domestic and international forces impacted them; how they ruled; and how they met their end. Exploring over two hundred years of political history, Kamrava's comprehensive yet concise account places developments within relevant frameworks in an accessible manner. With detailed examinations of Iran's history, politics, and economics, he interrogates the complexities of dynastic rule in Iran and considers its enduring legacy. Developing innovative interpretations and utilizing original primary sources, this book illuminates the impact of the monarchy's rule and ultimate collapse on Iranian history, as well as Iran's subsequent politics and revolution.