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The Life and Times of the Shah

Éditeur : University of California Date & Lieu : 2009, London
Préface : Pages : 739
Traduction : ISBN : 978-0-520-25328-5
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 148x224 mm
Thème : Histoire

Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
The Life and Times of the Shah

The Life and Times of the Shah

I have used a simplified system of Persian transliteration to reflect Persian pronunciation as closely as possible: for example, Hossein rather than Hussein; Reza rather than Rida; Mosaddeq-us-Saltaneh rather than Musaddiq al-Saltaneh. For consonants I have used q for qaf, gh for ghayn, kh for khe as in Khomeini, and zhfor zhe as in Hazhir. When authors’ names are used in the text, I have followed each author’s preference as the name appeared on the volume in question. I have omitted diacritical marks, except for ayn and hamza, especially when Arabic terms are used.

Unless otherwise noted, all translations from written or oral Persian or French to English are the author’s.


 The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a watershed in world history, although the events that followed did not flow in the direction many observers had expected. Most scholarly and political “experts” assumed that revolutions propelled history forward and so took the Iranian revolution as an instance of progressive change. None of them was inclined to examine the revolution’s leadership, ideology, organization, strategy, or tactics. If the revolution seemed to be run by the devout in and around the mosques, this was assumed to be a needed catalyst. Over the preceding years, these experts argued, a hasty modernization policy had created a two-tiered society — a veneer of modernity superimposed on a vast body of tradition. They said that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s appeal was to the vast traditional majority, but that he was not after power; rather, being a saintly figure, he could be expected to yield power to the forces of democracy once tyranny was overthrown. No one suspected that a seemingly popular revolution might usher in a theocracy.

But that is exactly what it did. Khomeini forced a formulation of legitimacy at odds with both tradition and modernity — a political and ideational dispensation in which God’s word became the people’s word, and he, the religious jurist, the arbiter of the word. He substituted faith for freedom and thereby sublimated warfare to jihad, soldiers to martyrs, and death to salvation. He redefined in Islamist terms human felicity, social progress, economic development, individual freedom, and popular sovereignty. In his person, power spoke to truth. The new dispensation, however, hit hard at the human and material foundations of development that had been built in Iran over the previous fifty years. In the 1920s, Iran had been one of the world’s least-developed nations. By the mid-1970s it had become a showcase of development among the Third World countries, boasting one of the highest rates of economic growth and a superior record of social services. It had developed the critical mass of educated people needed for takeoff in science and technology. It was also making steady progress in fields ranging from women’s rights and environmental protection to intercultural and cross-cultural communication to literacy and lifelong education, among others. As a result of these and other changes, the country was a “braingainer” in 1975, attracting educated workers to its growing economy, a situation then unprecedented in the Third World. The new Islamic regime disparaged and discredited every accomplishment of the Iranian society during the half-century of Pahlavi rule, dispersed the critical masses that had developed over the years, denounced the culture of development, and turned the brain gain into brain drain. War with Iraq — which Iran’s diplomacy and military power under the shah had kept at bay — quickly followed and devastated the country. Whereas during the fifteen years before the revolution Iranians’ per capita income had increased twelvefold, from $195 annually in 1963 to approximately $2,400 in 1978, it plunged thereafter and was still less than $2,400 in 2004, twenty-five years after the revolution.

Clearly, Iran would be very different today had the revolution not occurred. So would the rest of the Middle East. There would almost certainly have been no Iran-Iraq war; an untold number of Iranians, Iraqis, and others might not have died, become maimed, or suffered displacement and exile; and an untold amount of wealth, property, and infrastructure might not have been destroyed. It is possible that Islamism would have been contained, that clashes of civilizations would not have been conceived or carried out. The United States would not have been involved in wars in the Persian Gulf or found itself diminished as a beacon of hope for millions of people across the world. It is even possible that globalization might have taken a slightly kinder turn.

All this, of course, is mere speculation. What has been and what might have been, however, can alert us to our past mistakes, present options, and future possibilities.

Studying the life and times of the shah dispassionately helps us gain some understanding of how systems rise and fall, but only if we remember that while hindsight is 20/20 at predicting the past, it does not necessarily explain it. For most who have felt compelled to explain the Iranian revolution, the urge to fashion reality to suit their interpretation has been especially strong. The shah seemed extremely powerful, but his power was not as easily explicable as that of the other Third World leaders. To show how a Saddam Hussein or Hafiz al-Asad captured and maintained power is not difficult. They could and did kill people or order people killed. The shah was the opposite. Every person who knew him intimately — wife, relative, friend, military and civilian official, foreign statesman — attests to the essential mildness of his character, his aversion to violence, his hatred of bloodshed, his proclivity to turn from adversity rather than to face it. One could hardly imagine a popular revolution toppling a Saddam Hussein or Hafiz al-Asad. They would kill it before it blossomed. The shah would not kill. How, then, did a man of such mild traits achieve the power he commanded in a volatile country such as Iran? Conversely, how and why did the power that seemed so mightily present in his person implode, as it were, so easily and unexpectedly? Why would the shah, so experienced in the affairs of state, prove so fragile?

This book addresses these questions by placing the shah in context, that is, in interaction with the political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics of the country and the world in which he lived and worked. The narrative tries to make it possible for the reader to see the shah’s world through the shah’s eyes. It lets the shah speak his thoughts and express his judgments about what he did, why he did it, and how he felt about it. It lets his friends, enemies, officials, and other interlocutors, Iranian and non-Iranian, tell their experiences with him and express themselves about him. By placing the shah in interaction with his environment, the narrative encourages the reader to draw his or her conclusions about the shah’s character, personality, and performance and to judge him, if judge one must, not in the stratosphere of ideals, but in the crucible of life. As I studied the shah and his environment, the events of his life, his friends and foes, and his visions of Iran’s future, I became increasingly convinced of the utility of the concept of irony, first employed by Reinhold Niebuhr in The Irony of American History, for understanding the history of the shah. Niebuhr defined irony as “apparently fortuitous incongruities in life which are shown upon closer examination to be not merely fortuitous.” Irony, wrote James Billington in his seminal work on Russia’s cultural history, “differs from pathos in that man bears some responsibility for the incongruities; it differs from comedy in that there are hidden relations in the incongruities; and it differs from tragedy in that there is no inexorable web of fate woven in the incongruities.” 1 Irony at once binds and unbinds comedy, tragedy, and pathos, the last suggesting touches of melodrama. The shah’s life hovers on tragedy in that his personality, seemingly inexorably, moves to certain decisions that contain the germ of his undoing. On the other hand, disaster was never inherent in what he did unless things got out of hand. And things did not seem to be getting out of hand until they actually did. This introduces another concept as a possible explanatory tool: chaos. Chaos is the probability that any disturbance may over time produce results disproportionate to the disturbance or perhaps qualitatively different from it. Irony and chaos are woven into individual and collective human experience; they were a part of the processes that catapulted Iran from a development showcase to a state of revolution — to almost everyone’s surprise. To know irony helps one accept fortune’s slings and arrows with patience and equanimity. To know chaos helps one doubt one’s certainties. The wisdom that knowing irony and chaos leads to is qist, an old Eastern concept meaning balance.

Irony, chaos, and balance, I hope, inform the narrative of this history.

This narrative is composed in five parts: Father and Son; Hard Times; Securing the Realm; Revolution and Irony; and Exile. It begins with Mohammad Reza’s childhood experiences, which shaped his personality and character — above all his father’s influence, but also that of his Iranian nanny, his French governess, and his schooling at Le Rosey. Part 2 is devoted to the shah’s first decade on the throne — his practical education in the craft of kingship as he faced the challenges of the occupation, the separatist movement in Azerbaijan, oil nationalization, and the coup d’état. Part 3 begins with the Consortium Agreement and follows the shah through the successful years in which Iran became a showcase of development and a principal regional power. It brings together the shah’s notion of justice and vision of the future with the political positions he adopted and the policies he pursued in domestic and international arenas. Part 4 discusses the shah and the revolution — why he and his regime proved vulnerable and why and how the revolutionaries won. And part 5, the shah in exile, recounts how he faced illness, rejection, and the final place of rest his friend Anwar Sadat afforded him in Egypt.

The information on which this narrative is based comes mainly from primary sources, although academic publications as well as nonacademic books, articles, and press reports also have been consulted. The documents in the Public Records Office in London and the U.S. Foreign Relations Archives in College Park, Maryland, have been used in the discussions of Anglo-Iranian and U.S.-Iranian relations. Material gathered from three Moscow archives — the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (the former archive of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), the Russian State Archive of Modern History, and the Archive of Russian Foreign Policy — have been consulted on Soviet-Iran interactions, especially the evolution of the Tudeh Party. An effort has been made to use, as much as possible, Iranian primary sources such as the “Documents from the U.S. Espionage Den” and Tarikh-e mu`aser-e iran (Iranian Contemporary History).2 Also, my personal acquaintance with the academy, the government, and the royal court in Iran, and with the Iranian grassroots in my position as secretary general of Iran’s National Committee for World Literacy Program from 1975 to 1979, has helped give shape to the context in which this story is told.

The narrative reflects the work and vision of many individuals who were directly involved with the decisions that shaped Iran during the reign of the shah. Most of these individuals worked for the regime; some of them worked against it. I am fortunate to have known many of them personally and to have benefited from their experience. It is these relationships that make this book different from the mainstream academic accounts of how things were in Iran before the Islamic revolution, how decisions were made, and what motivated the decision makers. It is impossible to name, let alone thank, here every person on whose kind support I have drawn in preparing this volume, but my chief guides in this endeavor must be acknowledged.

I am grateful to the Pahlavi royal family, especially Queen Farah Pahlavi and Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, for the information they offered through interviews and archival material. Queen Farah granted me a number of interviews over several years in which she answered my queries openly, kindly, and patiently. I am also grateful to her for the photographs of the shah, family, and friends that appear in this volume.

My debt to Princess Ashraf is especially profound, not only because she was a unique source of information about the shah’s childhood and youth, but also because her endowment in 1982 to the Foundation for Iranian Studies (FIS) made possible the establishment of two major sources of information for students of Iranian studies: Iran Nameh, the foundation’s journal of Iranian studies, and the foundation’s Oral History Program and Archives, without which this narrative would not have its special character. Oral history interviews with individuals close to the shah — friends and members of his household — have been invaluable in bringing to light the shah’s personal traits. Interviews with individuals in the public and private sectors who were directly involved in decision making at various periods of the shah’s reign have provided unique insights into the shah’s personality, style, and thinking. Interviews with members of Iranian student organizations in Europe and the United States have opened a fresh view into the organizational as well as the ideological and emotional milieu of the students’ anti-shah activities. The oral history of American envoys associated with the United States civil and military missions in Iran, conducted for FIS in collaboration with Columbia University’s oral history program, has been instrumental in deconstructing myths and stereotypes about the shah’s relations with the United States government. I must also thank the princess, and especially her bureau chief, Gholamreza Golsorkhi, for placing at my disposal a set of taped interviews the shah gave in exile in Cairo in March 1980 to his editors for background information on the final draft, in his words “the definitive text,” of his Answer to History.

I am indebted to Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran’s former minister of foreign affairs, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and twice ambassador to the United States, as well as the shah’s sometime son-in-law and always friend and confidant, for speaking with me on several occasions, responding with patience and equanimity to my often probing questions. As General Fazlollah Zahedi’s son, he had a pivotal part in the events known as the CIA coup d’état of 1953. Much of the account of this event in this narrative is based on a critical comparison of his account with that of the CIA.

The late Professor Yahya Adl, surgeon, statesman, and the most distinguished of the shah’s old-time personal friends, honored me with several hours of taped interviews in which he discussed in detail the shah’s personality, attitudes, commitments, and perceptions of himself and others, as discerned over the nearly forty years he was in almost daily contact with the shah.

In conjunction with the oral history program, which I directed, I conducted several focused interviews, nine of which were published between 1994 and 2003 as a Foundation for Iranian Studies Series in Iran’s Development, 1941 – 1978. The project helped me better understand the interaction of the shah and the officials who worked with him. Indeed, by talking to me for the series, each interviewee contributed also on some subject discussed in this book: Abdorreza Ansari, a former minister of the interior and managing director of the Khuzistan Water and Power Authority, and his deputies in KWPA, Hassan Shahmirzadi and Ahmad Ahmadi, on the intricacies of taking over from foreign developers the management of one of Iran’s early major development projects; Akbar Etemad, the first president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, on Iran’s nuclear politics; Parviz Mina, director of the International Bureau and member of the board of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), on the post-Consortium oil policies; Manuchehr Gudarzi, minister and secretary general of the State Organization for Administration and Employment, Khodadad Farmanfarmaian, managing director of the Plan and Budget Organization, and Abdolmajid Majidi, minister of state for Plan and Budget, on the politics of development planning; Taqi Mosaddeqi and Mohsen Shirazi, managing director and director of the National Iranian Gas Company, respectively, on the structure and functions of Iran’s gas industry; the late Baqer Mostofi, managing director, National Iranian Petrochemical Company, on the development of petrochemicals and the role they played in the shah’s thinking; Alinaghi Alikhani, minister of economy, on the thinking behind the economic policies that made Iran a showcase of both development and development contradictions; Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi, president and founder of Women’s New Path Society, on the role women played in generating the consciousness that led to women’s enfranchisement; and Mahnaz Afkhami, minister for women’s affairs and secretary general, Women’s Organization of Iran, on how women achieved rights and powers in Iran beyond those achieved in most other Muslim-majority societies.

Over the past ten years, I have had the good fortune of being a part of a weekly gathering (dowreh in Persian) with five other permanent members and occasional guests at the Foundation for Iranian Studies, each with exceptional knowledge and experience of government and society in Iran before and after the revolution. I have already mentioned three members of this gathering — Gudarzi, Shahmirzadi, and Ahmadi — in connection with the series. The other two — Farrokh Najmabadi, a high-ranking official at NIOC and a minister of industry and mines in Amir Abbas Hoveyda’s cabinet in the 1970s, and Reza Qotbi, managing director of the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) — have been invaluable in helping me better understand the operations of Iran’s government. I have learned from them in such subtle ways that by now I can no longer state which of my ideas I have not received through them. This narrative is replete with references to them, especially to Reza Qotbi, whose ability to contextualize his practical knowledge of the shah, the royal court, and the bureaucracy in Iran’s history and political culture is simply remarkable. Others also have helped with their special knowledge of Iranian affairs: Hassanali Mehran, a former president of Iran’s central bank, on the structure and operations of the banking system and its role in the evolution of development policy; Kambiz Atabai, the shah’s adjutant and master of the horse, on the shah’s personal habits, the military’s moods and expectations, the court atmosphere in the last months of the shah, and especially the life and times of the royal family in exile; and Ahmad Ghoreishi, an old friend and colleague, whose conversation for as long as I remember has alerted me to the critical in a mass of seemingly important issues. Ghoreishi led me to Mahmud Khayami, who kindly explained to me the role of the private sector, especially modern enterprises such as the Iran National Corporation, which he and his brother had established and turned into a showcase auto industry, and their interactions with the government in Iran’s development. Habib Ladjevardi further enlightened me on the practical aspects of government-business relations in Iran. I must also acknowledge my debt to Ladjevardi for the Harvard Oral History of Iran Program, which he edited and on which I have drawn profusely. In this respect, the oral history of the left, including the interviews published by Hamid Ahmadi in Germany and Hamid Shokat in Germany and the United States, also has been indispensable to me for tracing the evolution of the Iranian left’s mindset from the Leninisms of the 1930s and 1940s to the Romanticisms of the 1960s and 1970s.

My thanks go to Negar Esfandiary, who helped me with research at the Public Record Office in the United Kingdom, and to several colleagues who read parts of the early manuscript, made comments on both content and form, and otherwise helped me find my way: Cyrus Ghani, especially on chapters on Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah’s early years; Hormoz Hekmat, Shahla Haeri, Ali Gheisari, Farah Ebrahimi, and Azar Nafisi on several parts of the book, ranging from the early years to exile; and especially Vali Nasr, who not only advised on several aspects of the manuscript, but also guided me to the University of California Press, Berkeley.

For editing, thanks are due to Phil Costopoulos of the Journal of Democracy for putting me in touch with Lucy Ament, who as an accomplished editor with no experience with Iran read the manuscript and showed me where I fell short or exceeded the mark for the intelligent nonexpert, non-Iranian reader. I am especially indebted to Bahram Nowzad, a former editor-in-chief of Finance and Development at the International Monetary Fund, who made a valiant effort to read the manuscript in the inordinately short time I could give him, and made suggestions that significantly improved its structure and form.

I received invaluable assistance and support from the editors at the University of California Press. Niels Hooper, history editor of the Press, gave me much needed advice on the appropriate length and intellectual balance of the book, and showed much courage in taking up a narrative that runs counter to mainstream scholarship on Pahlavi Iran. I thank him for his steadfast support.

Editorial assistant Rachel Lockman was most helpful keeping me informed and on schedule. And I am profoundly impressed by the competence, precision, and remarkable professionalism with which Suzanne Knott, the book’s principal editor, and especially Ellen F. Smith, the copy editor, approached and edited this work. The responsibility for the book’s shortcomings, of course, remains solely with me.

Finally, I would not have written this book were it not for the encouragement of my wife, Mahnaz Afkhami. She insisted that I take on the challenge and helped me deal with the vagaries of my disposition as well as the demands of this work, despite her own enormous efforts in founding and running an international organization to promote women’s human rights across the world. In this, as in so many other things over nearly half a century, she has been my spouse, partner, friend, guide, and support.

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