Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, (Persian: محمدرضا شاه پهلوی, pronounced ) (October 26, 1919, Tehran – July 27, 1980, Cairo), styled His Imperial Majesty, and holding the imperial titles of Shahanshah (King of Kings), and Aryamehr (sun of the Aryans), was the monarch of Iran from September 16, 1941, until the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979. He was the second monarch of the Pahlavi House and the last Shah of the Iranian monarchy.
While a Muslim himself, the Shah gradually lost support from the Shi'a clergy of Iran, particularly due to his strong policy of modernization and recognition of Israel. Clashes with the religious right, increased communist activity and a 1953 period of political disagreements with Mohammad Mossadegh, eventually leading to Mossadegh's ousting, caused an increasingly autocratic rule. In 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright stated:
"In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Massadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.
Various controversial policies were enacted, including the banning of the Tudeh Party and a general suppression of political dissent by Iran's intelligence agency, SAVAK. Amnesty International reported that Iran had as many as 2,200 political prisoners in 1978. By 1979, political unrest had transformed into a revolution which, on January 16, forced the Shah to leave Iran after 37 years of rule. Soon thereafter, the revolutionary forces transformed the government into an Islamic republic.
On February 21, 1921, Reza Khan together with Seyyed Zia'eddin Tabatabaee staged a successful coup d'état against the reigning Qajar dynasty of Persia. Years later, on December 12, 1925, Reza Khan was declared Shah by the country's National Assembly, the Majlis of Iran. He was crowned in a ceremony on April 25, 1926; at the same time, his son Mohammad Reza was proclaimed Crown Prince of Iran.
As a child, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi attended Institut Le Rosey, a Swiss boarding school, completing his studies there in 1935. Around the same time, his father officially asked the international community to refer to Persia by its internal name, "Iran". Upon Mohammad Reza's return to the country, he enrolled in the local military academy in Tehran; he remained in the academy until 1938.
In the midst of World War II in 1941, Nazi Germany began Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union, breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This had a major impact on Iran as the country had declared neutrality in the conflict.
During the subsequent military invasion and occupation, the joint Allied and Soviet command forced Reza Shah to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He replaced his father on the throne on September 16, 1941. It was hoped that the younger prince would be more open to influence from the pro-Allied West, which later proved to be the case.
Subsequent to his succession as Shah, Iran became a major conduit for British and, later, American aid to the USSR during the war. This massive supply effort became known as the Persian Corridor and marked the first large-scale American and Western involvement in Iran, an involvement that would continue to grow until the successful revolution against the Iranian monarchy in 1979.
In the early 1950s, there was a political crisis centered in Iran that commanded the focused attention of British and American intelligence agencies. In 1951 Dr. Mossadegh came to office, committed to re-establishing democracy and constitutional monarchy, and to nationalizing the Iranian petroleum industry, which was controlled by the British. From the start he erroneously believed that the Americans, who had no interest in the Anglo-Iranian Oil company, would support his nationalization plan. He was buoyed by the American Ambassador, Henry Grady. However, during these events, the Americans supported the British, and, fearing that the Communists with the help of the Soviets were poised to overthrow the government, they decided to remove Mossadegh. Shortly before the 1952 presidential election in the US, the British government invited Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA to London and proposed they cooperate under the code name “Operation Ajax” to bring down Mossadegh from office.
In 1951, under the leadership of the nationalist movement of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the Iranian parliament unanimously voted to nationalize the oil industry. This shut out the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which was a pillar of Britain's economy and political clout in the region. A month after that vote, Mossadegh was named Prime Minister of Iran.
Under the direction of Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., a senior CIA officer and grandson of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, the CIA and British intelligence funded and led a covert operation to depose Mossadegh with the help of military forces loyal to the Shah. This plan was known as Operation Ajax. The plot hinged on orders signed by the Shah to dismiss Mossadegh as prime minister and replace him with General Fazlollah Zahedi, a choice agreed on by the British and Americans.
Despite the high-level coordination and planning, the coup initially failed, causing the Shah to flee to Baghdad, then Rome. After a brief exile in Italy, the Shah returned to Iran, this time through a successful second attempt at the coup. The deposed Mossadegh was arrested, given a show trial, and condemned to death. The Shah commuted this sentence to solitary confinement for three years in a military prison, followed by house arrest for life. Zahedi was installed to succeed Prime Minister Mossadegh.
The American Embassy in Tehran reported that Mossadegh had near total support from the nation and was unlikely to fall. The Prime Minister asked the Majles to give him direct control of the army. Given the situation, alongside the strong personal support of Eden and Churchill for covert action, the American government gave the go ahead to a committee, attended by the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, Kermit Roosevelt, Ambassador Henderson, and Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson. Kermit Roosevelt returned to Iran on July 13 and on August 1 in his first meeting with the Shah. A car picked him up at midnight and drove him to the palace. He lay down on the seat and covered himself with a blanket as guards waved his driver through the gates. The Shah got into the car and Roosevelt explained the mission. The CIA provided $1 million in Iranian currency, which Roosevelt had stored in a large safe, a bulky cache given the exchange rate of 1000 rial = 15 dollars at the time.
The Communists staged massive demonstrations to hijack the Prime Minister’s initiatives. The United States had announced its total lack of confidence in him; and his followers were drifting into indifference. On August 16, 1953, the right wing of the Army reacted. Armed with an order by the Shah, it appointed General Fazlollah Zahedi as prime minister. A coalition of mobs and retired officers close to the Palace, attempted what could be described as a coup d’etat. They failed dismally. The Shah fled the country in humiliating haste. Even Ettelaat, the nation’s largest daily newspaper, and its pro-Shah publisher, Abbas Masudi, published negative commentaries on him.
During the following two days, the Communists turned against Mossadegh. They roamed Tehran raising red flags and pulling down statues of Reza Shah. This frightened the conservative clergies like Kashani and National Front leaders like Makki, who sided with the Shah. On August 18, Mossadegh hit back. Tudeh Partisans were clubbed and dispersed.
Tudeh had no choice but to accept defeat. In the meantime, according to the CIA plot, Zahedi appealed to the military, and claimed to be the legitimate prime minister and charged Mossadegh with staging a coup by ignoring the Shah’s decree. Zahedi’s son Ardeshir acted as the contact between the CIA and his father. On August 19 pro-Shah partisans, organized with $100,000 in CIA funds, finally appeared, marched out of south Tehran into the city center, where others joined in. Gangs with clubs, knives, and rocks controlled the streets, overturning Tudeh trucks and beating up anti-Shah activists. As Roosevelt was congratulating Zahedi in the basement of his hiding place, the new Prime Minister’s mobs burst in and carried him upstairs on their shoulders. That evening, Ambassador Henderson suggested to Ardashir that Mossadegh not be harmed. Roosevelt gave Zahedi $900,000 left from Operation Ajax funds.
The Shah returned to power, but never extended the elite status of the court to the technocrats and intellectuals who emerged from Iranian and Western universities. Indeed, his system irritated the new classes, for they were barred from partaking in real power.
The Shah was a strong supporter and patron of the Iran Scout Organization. A stamp showing the Shah in Scout's uniform was issued in 1956. In 1960 during a state visit the Shah was awarded the highest award of Pfadfinder Österreichs (Silberner Steinbock am rot-weiß-roten Band), the National Scout Organisation of Austria.
The second attempt on the Shah's life occurred on April 10, 1965. A soldier shot his way through the Marble Palace. The assailant was killed before he reached the Shah's quarters. Two civilian guards died protecting the Shah.
According to Vladimir Kuzichkin, a former KGB officer who defected to the SIS, the Shah was also allegedly targeted by Soviet Union, who tried to use a TV remote control to detonate a Volkswagen which was turned into an IED. The TV remote failed to function.
The Shah supported the Yemeni royalists against republican forces in the Yemen Civil War (1962-70) and assisted the sultan of Oman in putting down a rebellion in Dhofar (1971). Concerning the fate of Bahrain (which Britain had controlled since the 19th century, but which Iran claimed as its own territory) and three small Persian Gulf islands, the Shah negotiated an agreement with the British, which, by means of a public consensus, ultimately led to the independence of Bahrain (against the wishes of Iranian nationalists). In return, Iran took full control of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa, three strategically sensitive islands in the Strait of Hormuz which were claimed by the United Arab Emirates.
During this period, the Shah maintained cordial relations with the Persian Gulf states and established close diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia. Relations with Iraq, however, were often difficult. Then in 1975, the countries signed the Algiers Accord, which granted Iraq equal navigation rights in the Shatt al-Arab river, while the Shah agreed to end his support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels.
In July 1964, Shah Pahlavi, Turkish President Cemal Gürsel and Pakistani President Ayub Khan announced in Istanbul the establishment of the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) organization to promote joint transportation and economic projects. It also envisioned Afghanistan joining some time in the future.
The Shah also maintained close relations with Pakistan. During the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, the Shah provided free fuel to the Pakistani planes, which landed on Iranian soil, refueled and then took flight.
The Shah of Iran was the first Muslim leader to recognize the State of Israel, although when interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes by reporter, Mike Wallace, he criticized US Jews for their control over US media and finance.
During his reign however, it was reported in the New York Times (1982), that half of the arms to Iran were "being supplied or arranged by Israel".
With Iran's great oil wealth, Mohammad Reza Shah became the pre-eminent leader of the Middle East, and self-styled "Guardian" of the Persian Gulf. He became increasingly despotic during the last years of his regime. In the words of a US Embassy dispatch, “The Shah’s picture is everywhere. The beginning of all film showings in public theaters presents the Shah in various regal poses accompanied by the strains of the National anthem... The monarch also actively extends his influence to all phases of social affairs...there is hardly any activity or vocation which the Shah or members of his family or his closest friends do not have a direct or at least a symbolic involvement. In the past, he had claimed to take a two party-system seriously and declared “If I were a dictator rather than a constitutional monarch, then I might be tempted to sponsor a single dominant party such as Hitler organized”.
However, by 1975, he abolished the multi-party system of government so that he could rule through a one-party state under the Rastakhiz (Resurrection) Party in autocratic fashion. All Iranians were pressured to join in. The Shah’s own words on its justification was; “We must straighten out Iranians’ ranks. To do so, we divide them into two categories: those who believe in Monarchy, the constitution and the Six Bahman Revolution and those who don’t... A person who does not enter the new political party and does not believe in the three cardinal principles will have only two choices. He is either an individual who belongs to an illegal organization, or is related to the outlawed Tudeh Party, or in other words a traitor. Such an individual belongs to an Iranian prison, or if he desires he can leave the country tomorrow, without even paying exit fees; he can go anywhere he likes, because he is not Iranian, he has no nation, and his activities are illegal and punishable according to the law”. In addition, the Shah had decreed that all Iranian citizens and the few remaining political parties must become part of Rastakhiz.
The Shah used imprisonment and torture to maintain power. Amnesty International estimated the Shah's political prisoners at 60,000 to 100,000 in number.
In October 1971, the Shah celebrated the twenty-five-hundredth anniversary of the Iranian monarchy. The New York Times reported that $100 million was spent. Next to the ruins of Persepolis, the Shah gave orders to build a tent city covering , studded with three huge royal tents and fifty-nine lesser ones arranged in a star-shaped design. French chefs from Maxim’s of Paris prepared breast of peacock for royalty and dignitaries around the world, the buildings were decorated by Maison Jansen (the same firm that helped Jacqueline Kennedy redecorate the White House), the guests ate off Ceraline Limoges china and drank from Baccarat crystal glasses. This became a major scandal for the contrast between the dazzling elegance of celebration and the misery of the nearby villages was so dramatic that no one could ignore it. Months before the festivities, university students struck in protest. Indeed, the cost was sufficiently impressive that the Shah forbade his associates to discuss the actual figures.
However the Shah and the supporters of the Shah argue that the celebrations opened new investments in Iran, increased better relationship with the other leaders and nations of the world, recognition of Iran and keeping the history of Iran alive among other different arguments.
Cottam has argued that the longevity of the Shah’s rule was due largely to his success in balancing his security chiefs against each other.
On January 16, 1979, he and his wife left Iran at the behest of Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar (a long time opposition leader himself), who sought to calm the situation. Bakhtiar dissolved SAVAK, freed all political prisoners, and allowed the Ayatollah Khomeini to return to Iran after years in exile. He asked Khomeini to create a Vatican-like state in Qom, promised free elections and called upon the opposition to help preserve the constitution, proposing a 'national unity' government including Khomeini's followers. Khomeini fiercely rejected Dr. Bakhtiar's demands and appointed his own interim government, with Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister, demanding "since I have appointed him he must be obeyed." In February, pro-Khomeini Revolutionary guerrilla and rebel soldiers gained the upper hand in street fighting and the military announced their neutrality. On the evening of February 11 the dissolution of the monarchy was complete.
Reluctantly, on October 22, 1979, President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to make a brief stopover in the United States to undergo medical treatment. The compromise was extremely unpopular with the revolutionary movement, which had been angered by the United States' years of support for the Shah's rule. The Iranian government demanded the return of the Shah to Iran to stand trial.
This resulted in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and the kidnapping of American diplomats, military personnel and intelligence officers, which soon became known as the Iran hostage crisis. According to the Shah's book, Answer to History, in the end the USA never provided the Shah any kind of health care and asked him to leave the country.
He left the United States on December 15, 1979, and lived for a short time in the Isla Contadora in Panama. Finally he returned to Egypt, where he died on July 27, 1980, at the age of 60. Egyptian President Sadat gave the Shah a state funeral.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is buried in the Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo, a mosque of great symbolic importance. The last royal rulers of the two monarchies are buried there, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran and King Farouk of Egypt, his former brother-in-law. The tombs lie off to the left of the entrance.
Shortly after his overthrow, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi wrote an autobiographical memoir Réponse à l'histoire (Answer to History). It was translated from the original French into English, Persian (Pasokh be Tarikh), and other languages. However, by the time of its publication, the Shah had already died. The book is his personal account of his reign and accomplishments, as well as his perspective on issues related to the Iranian Revolution and Western foreign policy toward Iran. The Shah places some of the blame for the wrongdoings of SAVAK and the failures of various democratic and social reforms (particularly through the White Revolution) upon Amir Abbas Hoveyda and his administration.
In the 1990s and the decade following 2000, the Shah's reputation has staged something of a revival, with many Iranians looking back on his era as time when Iran was more prosperous and the government less oppressive. Journalist Afshin Molavi reports even members of the uneducated poor - traditionally core supporters of the revolution that overthrew the Shah - making remarks such as 'God bless the Shah's soul, the economy was better then;' and finds that "books about the former Shah (even censored ones) sell briskly," while "books of the Rightly Guided Path sit idle.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was married three times.
He subsequently indicated his interest in marrying Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, a daughter of the deposed Italian king, Umberto II. Pope John XXIII reportedly vetoed the suggestion. In an editorial about the rumors surrounding the marriage of "a Muslim sovereign and a Catholic princess", the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, considered the match "a grave danger, especially considering that under the 1917 Code of Canon Law a Roman Catholic who married a divorced person could be excommunicated.
- When later he was asked in an interview by Barbara Walters if he had said this, he answered "Not with the same words, no.