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Pahlavi, Muhammad Reza Shah

By:
Marvin Zonis
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Pahlavi, Muhammad Reza Shah

Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919–1980) was the last ruling monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran. Born in Tehran, Crown Prince Muhammad was elevated to shah in August 1941 by the British and Russians who had invaded Iran and ousted his father in fear of growing German influence in Iran. The shah never managed to convince the Iranian people that he was their legitimate ruler. Throughout his rule, many perceived him to be serving foreign interests.

This view of the shah was heightened in August 1953 when the British and Americans staged a coup to oust Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and restore the shah to the throne.

In 1963, the shah launched his White Revolution to accelerate social change and guarantee the security of his throne. At that period of social turmoil, Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini, a cleric with a burgeoning reputation based more on his political activism than religious scholarship, began to criticize the Pahlavis and their alleged worship of the West. The Ayatollah was arrested, and mass protests broke out in cities throughout Iran. Hundreds of his followers were shot. The Ayatollah was released and rearrested and finally exiled in the fall of 1964.

With his most vociferous clerical opponent apparently silenced, the shah continued his reforms. But the reforms did not transform Iran as much as the sharp rise in oil prices of December 1973, which he did much to engineer. The result was an explosion of oil revenues and of government spending. Tehran experienced a massive building boom. Property speculation swept the country and inflation spiraled. Industries, universities and schools, hospitals and roads were all built. But the economic boom spawned chaos and social turmoil. Corruption was unchecked. The shah also had the wealth to realize another dream—to make Iran a major military power—and spent billions of dollars to buy U.S. arms.

After an article lambasting Ayatollah Khomeini appeared in the Iranian press in early 1978, demonstrations broke out in the religious city of Qom. Young clerics were killed by the police. The revolution was on. After a year of escalating violence, the shah fled Iran on January 19, 1979, never to return. Ayatollah Khomeini returned to the country in triumph to destroy the remnants of the shah's regime and create an Islamic republic.

No country would offer asylum to the shah, and he was shunned by his former friends. But when the cancer that had been diagnosed in the early 1970s began to burgeon, President Jimmy Carter relented and allowed the shah to enter the United States for medical treatment. The clerics in Tehran responded by urging their followers to seize the U.S. embassy and hold American diplomats captive. The ensuing hostage crisis was not to be resolved until 1981, and U.S.–Iranian relations were poisoned permanently by the event.

The shah was no longer welcome in the United States and spent the remaining year of his life continuing to search for a home until cancer finally killed him. He was buried in Cairo; not even his remains were welcome in the country that he had ruled for so many years.

See also IRAN and IRANIAN REVOLUTION OF 1979.

Bibliography

  • Atabaki, Touraj, and Erik J. Zurcher, eds.Men of Order: Authoritarian Modernization Under Ataturk and Reza Shah. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.
  • Barrett, Roby C.The Greater Middle East and the Cold War: U.S. Foreign Policy Under Eisenhower and Kennedy. London: I.B. Tauris, 1997.
  • Bill, James. The Eagle and the Lion. New Haven, Conn., 1988. Critique of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran, with important attention to the second Pahlavi shah.
  • Cottam, Richard. Nationalism in Iran. 2d rev. ed.Pittsburgh, Pa., 1979. Classic work on the subject, with major focus on the Pahlavi period.
  • Gasiorowski, Mark. U.S. Foreign Policy and the Shah. Ithaca, N.Y., 1991. Emphasizes the client relationship between Iran and the United States during the second Pahlavi period and examines its impact on internal Iranian politics.
  • Hoveyda, Fereydun. The Shah and the Ayatollah: Iranian Mythology and Islamic Revolution. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
  • Lenczowski, George, ed.Iran Under the Pahlavis. Stanford, Calif., 1978. Essays on various aspects of politics, economics, and society by scholars generally sympathetic to the cause of the Pahlavis.
  • Zonis, Marvin. Majestic Failure. Chicago, 1991. Analysis of the shah, with emphasis upon the political psychology of the ruler and stressing the gap between an insecure monarch and the exigencies of his sovereign rule.
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