In the Muslim Middle East, a military commander, governor of a province, or high military official. The first leader to call himself emir was the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab. The h1 was used by all his successors until the abolition of the caliphate in 1924. In the 10th century the commander of the caliph's armies at Baghdad held the h1. It was later adopted by the rulers of independent states in central Asia, notably Bukhara and Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates, despite their name, are all ruled by sheikhs.
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Born in Tehran to Habibollah Hoveida (Ayn al-Molk), a seasoned diplomat most prominent during the latter years of the Qajar dynasty, and Afsar al-Moluk, a descendent of the very royal family the senior Hoveida would serve for much of his adult life. It is believed that Hoveyda was of Jewish decent. Because of the responsibilities borne by diplomats such as Ayn al-Molk, the Hoveida family was never fixed in one residence for any prolonged length of time. This nomadic existence is clearly evident in Amir Abbas’ education. Studying in various countries gave Hoveida a unique cosmopolitan flair that would remain being his most enduring characteristic. During the family's stay in Beirut, Lebanon, Hoveida attended Lycee Francais, an institution affiliated with the French government. His love for France and its culture are rooted in his tutelage at the lycee. French literary works by the likes of Andre Gide, Andre Malraux, Molière, and Baudelaire, captivated the young Hoveida and gave way for his intellectual growth. Some pundits suggest that it was Hoveida's intellectual prowess which initially attracted him into the shah's folds.
Hoveida's desire to attend a French university in 1938 made the young student jump the gun by entering the country of his dreams without completing specific high school prerequisites required for entry. Cited as being the main reason behind Hoveida's organizational miscalculation was the possibility of military action by an ostensibly belligerent Nazi Germany. Any future occupation of the country would have hindered his chances of attending a French university. Stranded in France, Hoveida decided to complete the required high school credits in London, England, a city that would come to depress the young man. Aside from completing his educational requisites, Hoveida was able to sharpen his command of the English language. His ability to communicate in several languages, including Persian, French, English, Italian, German, and Arabic, helped him climb the political ladder later on in life. Hoveida's return to France in 1939 would be short lived, nevertheless, due to a brewing diplomatic scuffle between the French government and Reza Shah Pahlavi. Having no choice but to leave France again, Hoveida enrolled at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium, during the same year. His stay at the university would be markedly ephemeral because of the effects of the German Blitzkrieg which used Belgian territory as an entry route into France. After being displaced for a short time, Hoveida was able to return to the Belgian university, obtaining a bachelor's degree in Political Science in 1941, under the ever watchful eye of the occupying German administration.
Upon his return to Iran in 1942, Hoveida rested for a few months before enlisting as a soldier in Iran's national army. His plan at the time was to use his experience as a conscript to supplement his seniority at the Foreign Ministry where he applied for employment prior to being drafted. Because of his higher education, Hoveida was able to bypass boot camp and directly enter the Officer's Academy. Iran's modern Prime Ministers, until that point, were able to avoid military service through the help of intricate aristocratic networks and exploiting loopholes in the system, but Hoveida voluntarily chose to enlist, making him the only Iranian Prime Minister to have previously served as a conscript. Although rooted in aristocracy himself, Hoveida's decision is portentous in the sense that resources that were readily available for his predecessors were often scarce for the young government official.
The Foreign Ministry dispatched a message eight months later confirming Hoveida's appointment. To some, the quick application process is evidence enough to suggest that there were influential forces that helped expedite Hoveida's subsequent employment. These claims, however, are often based on hearsay rather than substantiated facts. During his time in the Ministry, Hoveida befriended many elements of Iranian high society, including the likes of Sadeq Hedayat and Sadeq Chubak. His affinity for the country's intelligentsia is clearly observed in his earlier strategy as PM. By trying to consolidate the partnership between the monarchial regime and the intellectual opposition, Hoveida believed that the incremental reforms he desired would bear fruit. Others like Jalal al-e Ahmad, writer and social and political critic, saw Hoveida's ‘infiltration’ of Iran's intellectual ranks as a form of sycophancy. On the other hand, Hedayat and other eccentric characters were quick to identify and repel opportunists who were attempting to leech off their social status. Hedayat and others never distanced themselves from Hoveida, symbolizing the latter's authenticity.
As Hoveida garnered more experience, opportunities within Iran's governmental apparatus were becoming available to him. In August 1944, for instance, he accepted a position to accompany Zein al-Abedin Rahnema, Iran's minister plenipotentiary, to France. Being an avid Francophile, Hoveida would enjoy his time as an embassy official, but he would soon be entangled in an international scandal that would taint him for the rest of his life. The “Paris Story” recounts the illegal importation of financial assets, stored in Swiss banks during the war for security purposes, from Switzerland into the coffers of wealthy French businessmen in 1945. To avoid border taxes, diplomatic personnel were persuaded to act as the intermediary, simply because embassy vehicles were, by law, unable to be searched. Although Hoveida never had anything to do with the illegal transfers, his mere association with some of those indicted, including Rahnema, was enough for him to be used as a scapegoat in the affair.
Aside from experience, patronage from the likes of Abdullah Entezam, an independent minded diplomat of “sterling reputation,” served to aid Hoveida's ascendance to the upper echelons of public office. With the autocratic mandate of Mohammad Reza Shah seeping through every crevice of Iranian society, the only way to obtain high ranking positions in any societal position was through crucial internal patronage, reinforcement Hoveida sufficiently lacked prior to working with Entezam. The two first got to work together when Hoveida was stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany. While there in 1947, Hoveida was assigned with the task of negotiating over deals made between Iran and Nazi Germany. The most notable case involved Iran's purchase of factory equipment required for the construction of a steel mill, in which the transaction of the material components were never successfully completed.
In 1950, Hoveida returned to an ever changing Iran once again. This time, he would be caught in one of the most tumultuous periods of Iran's modern period. As Hoveida toiled away at a notably boring job as assistant director of the public relations office at the Foreign Ministry, Mohammad Mossadegh was mobilizing nationalist sentiment as he rose to power. During this period, Entezam was appointed as minister of foreign affairs, allowing Hoveida to assume a more intellectually stimulating role as Entezam's executive secretary. His tenure did not last long before Mossadegh was appointed Prime Minister, dissolving the former cabinet along with Hoveida's job.
Leaving Iran once again in 1952, Hoveida was able to secure a position with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees through the help of his European contacts. As a liaison officer, he was given the task of visiting various continents, including Asia, Africa, and the Americas, promulgating the plight of refugees and in effect receiving several commendations from high ranking UN officials.
The Iranian embassy in Turkey would serve to be Hoveida's final official position outside Iran's frontiers. Assistant to the ambassador, who so happened to be the father of his good friend, Hassan-Ali Mansour, Hoveida would make a quick exit after Mansour's father was replaced by an authoritarian army general in 1957.
Hoveida's rise to power involved many years of service within the Ministry of foreign affairs, but this path took on a whole new approach once he joined the Board of Directors of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) in 1958 at the behest of his patron Entezam, who had by then assumed a high ranking position at the company. As managing director and special assistant to Entezam, Hoveida used his experiences in the West to transform management-worker relations. As an example, he introduced innovative methods by which workers filed grievances in regard to any aspect of the working environment they deemed unsatisfactory, and helped to figuratively enmesh the roles of management and the labourers into a collective entity. One way he went about doing this was by eating many of his meals alongside wage labourers in the cafeteria. Although he advocated the emulation of Western models to improve overall productivity and worker relations, Hoveida was very outspoken in favour of expelling foreign technicians and attracting indigenous sources of labour. It was during his tenure in which the NIOC's periodical, Kavosh (Exploration), was first published. What is unique about this magazine is that it was, initially, virtually void of any semblance of the growing cult which surrounded Mohammad Reza Shah.
Continuing his duties as managing director at the NIOC, Hoveida also helped Hassan Ali Mansour in establishing a semi-independent group of highly trained, Western educated, and young technocrats. The organization's main goal was to devise methods of rectifying the nation's ailing economy. Known as the Progressive Circle, this government sponsored dowreh (“Persian for a gathering held at regular intervals”) was a deliberate attempt by the shah to thin out the older generation of politicians with a new ‘progressive’ crop. With its inception in 1959, the Circle acted in conjunction with a similar government commission called the Plan Organization. Hoveida would play a major leadership role in the Circle and would be the catalyst behind much of its recruitment efforts.
Besides experience and patronage, Freemasonry was seen by many politicians at the time as a supplemental credit towards obtaining high ranking government positions. It is no doubt that many members of the Foroughi Lodge, the chapter Hoveida would eventually join, harboured and produced many influential politicians of Iran's modern era. Hoveida became a Freemason in 1960 believing that his mere association with the organization would help propel him into the national spotlight. Hoveida would succeed in this regard, but the attention he received was all but positive. Freemasonry in Iran has always been seen as an extension of British imperialism, and with rumours surrounding Hoveida's religious persuasion, opportunities to attack Hoveida's character were not taken for granted by his political adversaries during his years as head of foreign affairs and Prime Minister. It is well documented that Court Minister Asadollah Alam and General Nasiri of SAVAK, Iran's domestic security and intelligence service, helped expedite the publication of key controversial books against Freemasonry, referencing Hoveida in each piece. Rumours were also spread by his detractors that he was a Bahá'í, a persecuted religion in Iran, but both he and the Shah denied that he was a Bahá'í.
When the Progressive Circle soon became a political entity in the form of the Iran Novin (New Iran) Party in 1963, Hoveida would be thrust into the national scene. Flanking Prime Minister Hassan Ali Mansour as his Finance Minister in 1964, the now well seasoned Hoveida would make his mark by acting as the cabinet's intellectual centre. Many observers, both within and without Iran, would take note of Hoveida's prudent behaviour and shrewdness. To many, he embodied the archetypical statesman. Hoveida's positive attributes would again be shrouded by scandal and gossip. During the early months of Mansour's premiership, the government was attacked for ratifying a bill which allowed foreigners extraterritorial rights. More specifically, those who benefited from the law were U.S. military personnel and their dependents. These “capitulation rights” would have a negative impact on the way government at the time was seen by the populace. Because the actions of the government were, by law, reflective of the sitting cabinet at the time, disregarding individual ministerial involvement, Hoveida was also blamed for the bill's implementation even though he was not directly involved in its drafting.
Mansour's assassination on January 21, 1965, by a seventeen-year-old devotee of the Fada’yan-e Islam, would completely alter Hoveida's future. As he personally reported the news to an obviously distraught shah, he was ordered to formulate a cabinet. Hoveida would replace the deceased Mansour as the longest running premier in Iran's modern history. It is important to note, however, that the sense of autonomy seen among past Prime Ministers such as Ali Amini, Haj Ali Razmara, and Mohammad Mossadegh, has been systematically marginalized by the autocratic Mohammad Reza Shah. In his rather successful campaign at consolidating power, the king maintained his international image as a constitutional monarch, but Hoveida's tenure as PM attests to how this portrayal was not an objective reflection of circumstances. Hoveida's premiership would be the pivot behind his resistance to such powerlessness.
On July 19, 1966, Hoveida married Laila Emami in a small ceremony. Only a small number of guests were invited to attend, including the shah, Queen Farah, Laila's parents, Hoveida's mother, and his friend Dr. Manouchehr Shahgholi, and his wife. The marriage would unfortunately end five years later in 1971, but the two would remain friends, often traveling with one another.
The first half of Hoveida's premiership is marked by a sense of optimism. As already mentioned, in 1966, Hoveida attempted to allure many elements of the intellectual community, as well as the opposition, into an informal agreement with the regime. Although talks between the two sides eventually broke down, Hoveida never lost sight of what a partnership between the two could have accomplished. His pragmatic approach to politics allowed him to envision an incremental reform process that can be carried out through action. This is contrary to the path assumed by many Iranian intellectuals at the time, which involved quixotic solutions to problems such as electoral corruption and media censorship. Hoveida resumed many of the reform initiatives set out by the Mansour administration. In particular, reform plans that were laid out by Mohammad Reza Shah in the White Revolution. Although a secularist, he would even allocate government revenue to the clerical establishment, a policy that was on the decline ever since Reza Shah's modernization initiatives during the 1920s.
Hoveida's plan to crack down on corruption is a perfect example of how inept the premiership in Iran had gotten. His inability to move forward with his personal mandate eventually turned the overtly optimistic Hoveida into a cynic. After years of political maneuvering, most of his proposed initiatives were stonewalled by bureaucratic obstacles. During the 1970s, the now veteran Prime Minister became nonchalant when it came to following through with his own convictions. His earlier aggression towards the dysfunctions of an obtrusive system slowly turned into feigned support. Publicly, Hoveida assumed the notion that the regime in its current state would eventually reform on its own, and that political liberalization was only a small issue in the grand scheme of modernization. In private, Hoveida often lamented over Iran's conditions, admitting to insufficiencies of the state and his own political impotence. The powerlessness of the premier's office was coupled with intricate internal rivalries. Hoveida had an intensely rough relationship with the likes of Asadollah Alam and Ardeshir Zahedi, son of the famed participant in the 1953 coup against Mossadegh, General Fazlollah Zahedi.
On March 2, 1975, the shah dissolved the Iran Novin Party and its opposition elements in creating a single party system headed by the Rastakhiz (Resurgence/Resurrection) Party. In relation to Hoveida, it is believed that the shah was being threatened by the growing influence wielded by party officials, Hoveida being the most notable. The growth of an independent apparatus was contrary to Mohammad Reza Shah's contrivance involving the consolidation of all power. Hoveida's inability to garner any type of power base in government allowed him to concentrate much of his energy on developing the Iran Novin Party. The networks he had slowly developed over the years came to trouble the monarch. Although Hoveida would be coerced into relinquishing his position as PM, he accepted a temporary intermediary role as secretary general of Rastakhiz before a new Prime Minister can be appointed.
Hoveida would eventually serve as Minister of Court within Jamshid Amouzegar's administration in 1977. With this role, he would come to discover the pervasiveness of internal corruption, once concealed by Asadollah Alam and the team he had surrounded himself with. Due to several reasons, one being Ardeshir Zahedi's relentless attacks on him, Hoveida resigned on September 9, 1978.
At this point, the growing tide of revolution was becoming discernible, giving Hoveida ample opportunity to leave the country before revolutionary forces could have had a chance to overthrow the 2500 year old monarchy. Aside from persistent efforts by family and friends to leave the country as quickly as possible, the shah himself proposed Hoveida with an ambassadorial position to Belgium. His refusal to leave the country can be judged as being a result of naïveté or blind optimism, but Hoveida's decision can also be assessed from alternate angles. For one, he did not want to abandon his mother who was incapable of traveling at the time. On a more personal level, Hoveida came to the conclusion that after years of self-exile, he would do all he could to remain in Iran. With all these points of rationale being considered, Hoveida actually came to believe that revolutionary fervour was capable of being contained and that everything would eventually straighten out, allowing the country to resume its present course.
In an effort to slow down the momentum of the revolution, the shah was advised by many of his surrounding cohorts to arrest Hoveida, using him as a scapegoat for the past-ills of the crumbling regime. On November 7, 1978, Hoveida was arrested by order of the monarch. He would be held under house arrest in an upper-Tehran residence often affiliated with SAVAK activity. Once Mohammad Reza Shah fled the country, the SAVAK agents assigned with the task of guarding Hoveida, absconded from their posts, leaving Hoveida open to arrest by revolutionary forces.
After surrendering to Dariush Forouhar, a member of the revolution's Provisional Government, Hoveida was taken to the Refah School, a temporary headquarters for the revolution's vanguard. Because of the shah's departure, Hoveida had become the most prized prisoner of the old regime. On March 15, 1979, he would face the newly established revolutionary court for the first time. Sadeq Khalkhali, who would come to be known as the 'Hanging Judge' for his whimsical approach to revolutionary justice, would head the tribunal that had assembled to try the former Prime Minister. Traditional conventions of the judiciary had all but been abandoned during the trials of Hoveida and countless others. Among many of the anomalous traits personified by the trial, the Islamic court ignored notions of due process, impartiality of the judge, allowing the defendant to consult legal options. Many pundits have come to conclude that the verdict was already made by the likes of Ayatollah Khomeini before the trial ever commenced. Abbas Milani, in his book The Persian Sphinx, translates Khalkhali's indictment of Hoveida:
The composition of the trial's proceedings reflected the style in which the indictment was designed and promulgated. Many of the charges were never substantiated and often reflected uninvestigated rumours of the day. Abbas Milani agrees with this notion when he described the essence of the court's ambience:
It became clear that rules of evidence, notions of innocence until proven guilty, and a dispassionate judge, dispensing impartial judgments based on incontrovertible evidence, were all alien to this court … Gossip had the authority of fact, as evident in article fifteen of the indictment, and unsubstantiated rumours were taken as proof of guilt.
On April 7, 1979, Hoveida was transported to Qasr Prison, once a getaway palace for monarchs of the Qajar dynasty. Quickly shuffled back in front of Khalkhali's tribunal, he once again heard the court's indictment at three in the afternoon. There is some speculation as to who ordered the resumption of the trial. Bani Sadr, one among many leaders of the Provisional Revolutionary Government who advocated a public trial, states that only Khomeini himself had the authority to make such an order. Behind locked doors, Hoveida's fate, which had already been decided upon by Khomeini days earlier, was sealed. After final efforts at stalling his execution ended in failure, the ex-Prime Minister was taken into the prison's yard. Before reaching the area designated for firing squad executions, a man from behind pulled out a pistol and shot Hoveida twice in the neck. As he fell to the ground, a mercy shot was fired off, ending his life.
Hoveida's corpse was held in Tehran's morgue for several months after his execution, before it was secretly released to his immediate family and buried in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in Tehran as an unknown deceased.
Following his execution, his residence in A.S.P. Towers was looted by revolutionaries. According to some witnesses he rarely had any items of luxury nature. His prized possessions were a rocking chair and a library of few hundred books.