Mosaddegh and the Shah

The anniversary of the watershed event of August 19th,1953 reinvigorated the debate between monarchists and supporters of Dr. Mosaddegh, once again. Among all accusations and counter-accusations exchanged between the parties on this site, one attracted my attention the most, for its continued significance even today: one side claimed that, “Mosaddegh was an obstacle to modernization and progress”, which was countered with, “just compare the amount of bills passed during his reign as Iran’s prime minister, and it wasn’t just the quantity of the legislation he was able to get through, but the quality of each law and the social-historical significance they had for that under-developed society we had back then.” (Both here)

I wondered if both claims could be true. Here are some thoughts: With the exception of a few steps taken by progressive reformists such as Amir Kabir and Ghaem Magham, the Qajar Dynasty’s contribution to the creation of the contemporary Iran is limited to a grudging acquiescence to the Constitutional Reform of 1906, which it reneged on, afterward. The Iranian educated and cosmopolitan middle class is a creation of the Pahlavis. We must give credit where credit’s due. However, as many members of that class knew then, and even more know now, Iran’s middle class was – and still is, as of 2010 – a caricature of what is both the engine and engineer of democratic societies. What Pahlavis created – intentionally or not – was a collection of bureaucrats and technocrats who were not empowered to legislate, but to rubberstamp and implement the HM’s wish list. Whether that is what our monarchs chose to do or not is not the point. The point is that their brand of “modernization” repudiated modernity. Similarly, their concept of “progress” (a.k.a. ‘Great Civilization’) did not envision any role for a civil society. 

If one is looking for the reason behind the middle class’s apparent ‘disloyalty’ toward the last monarch, it is the absence of a deliberated pact between the two sides – contrary to the Shah’s claim. The middle class was never convinced of being a recognized partner, which it was not anyway. This disconnect between the Shah and his subjects was his undoing. And, it was his middle class’s undoing as well, who reflexively joined the opposition. However, as we all witnessed, it was easily disowned by the revolutionaries and pushed to the margins of the society, and to voluntary exile. But, I am digressing.

My point is, it is wrong to solely blame our leaders, or for that matter our rulers– past and present – for our own shortcomings. When it comes to active participation in the making of decisions that impact our daily life, we have more often than not, in words and in practice, been wiling to delegate our affairs to the supernatural deity, or to those claiming ‘divine grace’ (“far’r-e ee’zadi”, in Ferdowsi’s magnificent discourse). Rather than earning its right to actively participate in the decision-making process, this “under-developed” nation of ours, has willingly consented to follow blindly one presumed savior after another. Mosaddegh’s extraordinary stature among the Iranian intelligentsia is a testimony to this same shortcoming. Both his ascent to power, and his descent were products of our insatiable appetite for miracles. Let’s face it; Mosaddegh failed because he could not free us from our own impotence. He could not win our support – when needed – because he could not convince the rest of us that his cause was ours.

Despite their colossal differences, in this regard at least, he and the Shah were similar. We were not ready for Mosaddegh’s vision. We couldn’t legitimize the Shah’s. Have we changed?

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