Mossadegh saved the Shah
The prime minister's inaction paved the way for
the Shah's return to power in 1953
September 9, 2003
Stephen Kinzer's All
the Shah's Men depicts events
that led to the fall of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh's
government in August 1953. As
usual, the return of the Shah
after he fled the country, has been
attributed to a coup conducted by the CIA. I have to take issue
with this commonly accepted thesis.
I must confess that I too believed the story for some years.
Nevertheless, I changed my opinion as early as 1957 when I started
the impact of our ancient mythology on our society. I ended up
with a totally different view: In fact, it was Mossadegh who
saved the Shah's throne!
I was in Iran in the fateful days of August 1953, on home leave
from UNESCO. My plane landed in Tehran on a hot summer's day,
a few hours after the Shah escaped to Baghdad
his then queen Soraya.
My brother-in-law, Hassan Ali Mansour,
was waiting among the crowd of greeters who were discussing with
and agitation the latest news. Once out of the customs
area, he informed me about the latest developments. He had
difficulty driving in the capital's avenues as large groups of
were marching and shouting anti-Shah and pro-Mossadegh slogans.
Near Tehan University mobs were toppling statues of the Shah
and his father. Diverse political factions had taken to the streets
chanting "Death to the Shah", "Long live Mossadegh", "Abolition
monarchy; installation of arepublic", "Mossadegh for president",
and so on.
Mossadegh had made himself unavailable to all. He had shut himself
in his house and would not answer calls, even from his cabinet
members who were speaking to mobs and to the press. Mossadegh
made no public appearance and refused to issue any statement.
Some of his ministers spoke against the Shah and even called for
the creation of a republic.
and other cities were in turmoil. The upper classes remained
cautiously inside their residences in Northern Tehran. Some had
bodyguards on alert. Everybody from the top to
the bottom of society were waiting for some official anouncement
from the Prime Minister. But nothing came on the state-controlled
radio. Only the rumor mills were active.
The Shah, before getting away, had nominated General Zahedi to
replace Mossadegh. My brother-in-law told me about the ties between
the new Zahedi and the CIA. Like most of the upper class,
he was worried for he had heard from his American diplomatic contacts
that the CIA station chief had ordered his staff to
leave Iran for Beirut. It seemed initial plans for a coup
Foreigners and many well-to-do Iranians thought a communist
seizure of power would happen rapidly.
prominent politicians were preparing to get out of Iran through
Turkey or other routes. Financial capital had already fled
toward Europe and the United States. The economy was in shambles
the British and Western boycott had shut down the oil industry.
Judging from what I was seeing and the discussions I had with
friends from the right, and also from the center and the left,
that most Iranians expected Mossadegh to come out of his
seclusion at any moment and proclaim his intention to overtake
responsibilities as head of state, either as a new monarch
or president of a republic.
It seemed a large majority of
Iranians were ready for a change of regime. However, Mossadegh
did not come out and remained silent. Even his followers were
stunned by his conduct. Indeed his popularity was such that the
would have elected him president or even king. Yet Mossadegh
refused to act.
I was still in Tehran a few days later when a paid mob of thugs
led by Shaban "Brainless" Jafari invaded the streets
brandishing posters of the Shah and General Zahedi. Shots were
fired around the army staff offices and police headquarters.
I even saw a solitary tank near the Foreign Ministry. A few hours
later, the state radio announced the installation of Zahedi
Minister and the imminent return of the Shah.
on, after his arrest, Mossadegh could have refused to recognize
the competence of the military court. Such
an action would have shaken the legitimacy of the
Shah and his regime, especially considering that the CIA was
already boasting that it had restored the monarchy.
Instead, Mossadegh elected to defend himself, meaning that he recognized
and legitimacy of the regime and the king!
Why did Mossadegh submit? This question kept disturbing me for
a couple of years. I mulled it over and over until I thought I
had found some clues about his personality.
I had met
Mossadegh a few times in 1945
and 1946. But as a junior politician, I barely spoke to him and
just answered his questions. He told me that he knew my father
of my family. On each visit, accompanying elder relatives, I
noticed that younger people, including his son Gholam, observed
silence in his presence. The same trend existed in all families
where fathers dominated their off-springs.
In 1957, while participating in a psychiatric gathering in Paris,
it dawned on me that the so-called Oedipus Complex did
not apply in Iran . In fact its reverse influenced our society.
This is evident in the story of the legendary Iranian superman
Rostam, who inadvertently kills his son Sohrab. At that time, I
Syndrome" in order to explain the eminent role of authoritarian
fathers, both in Iranian society and family life. [See: "The
Mossadegh too followed ancient Iranian traditions.
Even though he was much older, Mossadegh would kiss the Shah's
hand because he considered the monarch the "father" of
the nation and himself a respectful "son". It never
occurred to him to replace the Shah.
In fact Mossadegh's insistence
on the implementation of the 1906 constitution, which limited
the monarch's powers, was not aimed at undermining the Shah's
position. On the contrary, it was to protect the monrach
period of nationalization of the oil industry and the expulsion
of the British oil company that had constantly interfered in
Iranian affairs. Indeed, if nationalization
had failed, it would have been the responsibility of the prime
minister and not the Shah.
Moreover, Mossadegh was aware of the
danger represented by the Tudeh communist party and its ties
to Moscow. He was
trying to contain them. When the Shah, in cahoot with the CIA,
the country, Mossadegh could have easily dethroned him. But he
was too respectful of the "father" of the nation and
feared the possible seizure of power by the communists. He therefore
deliberately refused to follow the advice of some of his cabinet
members to proclaim a republic.
By the evening of August
15, the authors of the coup thought they had lost their bid
But the prime minister's inaction and silence during the following
three days allowed them to act again and prevail.
it was Mossadegh who saved the Shah's throne, not the CIA.
Yet the monarch chose to believe in the plotters' version
of events and always remained persuaded that his old prime minister
wanted to topple him. Instead of enlisting Mossadegh and
his nationalist followers, the Shah fantasized about far-fetched
The fact that the nationalization of the oil industry
was linked to Mossadegh's name displeased him. He therefore embarked
on a continuous fight against the consortium of companies that
had replaced the British monopoly on Iranian oil. His aim in this
struggle was to prove that Mossadegh had only "nominally" nationalized
the oil industry while he, the Shah, had practically and completely
wrenched oil out of the hands of foreign companies in the sole
interest of Iranians.
It is true that the Shah played a determining role
in the sudden rise of oil prices. It is also true that by 1977
Iran was in total charge of its oil, from extraction to distribution.
But to Iranians, as well as foreigners, Mossadegh remains the
politician who raised the flag of revolt against the British
and nationalized Iran's oil fields!
At any rate, in my opinion, attributing the toppling of Mossadegh
and the return of the Shah in 1953 to a CIA plot is rather
insulting to the Iranian people themselves.
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