The largely peaceful Constitutional Revolution of 1906 forced the Iranian shah at that time to declare Iran a constitutional monarchy with legislative powers vested in a majles, or parliament. The shahs did not fulfill their constitutional promised, however, and Russian and British encroachment became increasingly perilous. In 1924 a military commander named Reza Khan seized control of the country and deposed the Qajars. He became Reza Shah and adopted the family name Pahlavi.
Reza Shah undertook a radical modernization program patterned on that
of Ataturk in Turky. But he made slower progress because Iran was
poorer and had been more isolated from European influences that the
Ottoman empire had been. At the outbreak of World War II Britain and
Russia feared that Reza Shah might favor the Germans. They occupied
Iran and forced him to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammed Reza Shah.
Mohammed Reza Shah was not a forceful ruler. In 1953 he was almost
overthrown by the popular and nationalistic prime minister Mohammed
Mosadegh, but he retained his throne with British and American help.
Thereafter he became a more energetic and skillful ruler, and the
United States developed close relations with Iran, which it saw as a
strategic ally against the Soviet Union. The US encouraged rapid
modernization, and oil revenues, which began before World War I but
skyrocketed after 1973, made remarkable changes possible. Iran
developed an industrial base, a complex infrastructure, and a large
public education system.
In modernizing the country the shah ran roughshod over all opposition.
Iran became an absolute monarchy. Most opponents were powerless or too
captivated by the country’s growing wealth to offer serious resistance,
though a revolutionary underground did gain adherents. However, the
opposition of certain religious leaders to the shah’s reforms proved
more dangerous. In Iran, unlike in most other parts of the Islamic
world, religious leaders remained at the center of an independent
network of institutions, from which they exerted great popular
influence and derived financial resources. Mover over, Shi’ism had gone
through an intense period of theological and philosophical debate in
the nineteenth century, and religious leaders had taken an active part
in political affairs.
In 1978 a revolution broke out that forced the shah to flee the country
early the following year. The leader of the revolution was the
religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, under whose direction the
Islamic Republic was established. In the aftermath of the revolution
many countries feared that Iran would become a model for further
violent revolution. In 1980 this fear was intensified by the
humiliation of the United States through the seizure of its embassy and
the holding of hostages. In 1981 Iraq invaded Iran in an effort to
overthrow the Islamic Republic. The war dragged on for eight bloody
years, diminishing much of Iran's resources and capital, but at the end
of the 20th century, the Islamic Republic was established and the long
history of monarchy in Iran was at an end.
Author: Richard Bulliet.