Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

Born in Tehran, Iran. The first son of Reza Shah, he ascended to the throne upon the abdication of his father in September 1941 when British and American forces had forcibly entered Iran in a bid to protect the country's oilfields from the advancing German army. His first real test came in 1949 when the nationalist politician Mohammad Mossadegh chose to do battle with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (and by default the British government) over the cause of oil revenues. This made him very popular throughout the country and he used this as a base to accrue more power and to oppose the Shah.

The Eisenhower administration in the United States did not like the way this was going so put into effect Operation Ajax, a plan to do away with Mossadegh and his Tudeh (proto-communist) party compatriots for good. This plan - which involved the installation of a puppet Prime Minister in place of Mossadegh with the intention of triggering a coup and thus allowing the Shah to remove the nationalist as a traitor - worked and a period of martial law followed. During this time the Shah formalised his secret police force, SAVAK, and banned most of the previous political parties and in their place constructed a docile two-party system to play the parliamentary game. Under a series of pliant Prime Ministers the Shah developed a series of land distributions programs and, in 1963 launched the White Revolution - a number of populist measures, including extended suffrage to women, to curry favour with the electorate.

Not one to usually pursue a cult of personality the Shah's head obviously started to swell in the late 1960s for in 1967 he eventually got around to his long put off coronation ceremony, at the same time having the parliament confer on him the title of Arya-Mehr - Light of the Aryans. Four years later he organised a celebration of the Peacock throne and over two and a half centuries of uninterrupted royal suzerainty from the time of Cyrus the Great to the present. These celebrations grated with a lot of the country though as they were of pharaonic proportions and mostly for the benefit of foreign guests; ordinary Iranians being frozen out altogether. Things were coming to a head.

The years following these celebrations saw a gradual decline in the Shah's popularity, despite the gains being made by the country's economy and the more importance Iran was beginning to exert in the region. As more and more protests began to be made and the profile of the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (qv) began to rise the Shah tried and failed to find a solution, eventually going into exile in January 1979. He died the following year.

Length of Rule - Thirty Four years

Nobody can overthrow me. I have the support of 700,000 troops, all the workers, and most of the people. I have the power.

     Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

Related Links

Declassified CIA documents regarding the Mossadegh coup

The Pahlavi Dynasty


Blood and Oil

Manoucher & Roxane Farmanfarmaian

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