Eminent Persians

Abbas Milani

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Artwork by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Copyright Adagp 2008

Eminent Persians

The Men And Women
Who Made Modern Iran,
1941-1979

Abbas Milani

Syracuse University Press and Persian World Press

Abbas Milani

Abbas Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University where he is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution,Lost Wisdom: Rethinking Modernity in Iran and Tales of Two Cities: A Persian Memoir

Eminent Persians

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As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution approached, it became clear that very little, if any, attention had been given to the entire prerevolutionary generation. Political upheavals and a tradition of neglecting the history of past regimes have resulted in a cultural memory loss, erasing the contributions of a generation of individuals. Eminent Persians seeks to rectify that loss. Milani’s groundbreaking portrait of modern Iran reveals the country’s rich history through the lives of the men and women who forged it. Consisting of 150 profiles of the most important innovators in Iran between World War II and the Islamic Revolution, the book includes politicians, entrepreneurs, poets, artists, and thinkers who brought Iran into the modern era with brilliant success and sometimes terrible consequences. These biographies and essays weave a richly textured tapestry of lives, ideas, and events that reveals an authentic tableau in the life of a nation during these decades.

Eminent Persians covers the broad area of politics, economics and culture. Each section is accompanied by an introductory essay that places the individual stories in their broader historical context. Drawn from interviews, extensive archival material, and private correspondence, Eminent Persians provides a panoramic narrative through the lens of individual lives. Detailed portraits of these eminent participants in history, represented by their foibles and flaws, as well as by their virtues and achievements, offer a compelling and highly readable account of this remarkable period of Middle East history.

Foreword

As I walked the halls of Ellis Island one spring day in 2003, there to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and as I watched fellow nominees search for their ancestors among the engraved names of some of the twelve million immigrants to America, I wondered what future generations of Iranian-Americans would think brought us Persians to these shores. Did we come by choice or by force of poverty, because of lack of opportunity or because of religious persecution in our home country? Would they know that we were an educated, successful people with a twenty-five-hundred-year-old history, heritage, and culture, driven out by homegrown zealots full of hatred and greed masquerading as religious piety?

Of all the immigrant groups who sought refuge and opportunity in America and the rest of the Western world during the second half of the twentieth century, the least known—and arguably the most talented—were, and are, the Persians.

Some came as students during the days of the last shah of Iran; most—now numbering, with their offspring, close to three million—followed as refugees from the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which tore down the twenty-five-hundred-year-old monarchy, imposed sharia, executed politicians and military leaders, persecuted intellectuals, and confiscated the possessions of businessmen and pro-Western traders. This Iranian diaspora has made America the world’s second largest Persian-speaking nation. Its members brought with them more education, skill, capital, and technical and medical know-how than perhaps any other immigrant group, while hiding the light of their talents and success, for the most part, under a bushel basket.

Who are these Persians? Among them are successful architects, builders, developers, educators, doctors, researchers, bankers, retailers, and entrepreneurs. Their Western educated children are among the most successful first generations anywhere.

Although there have been many books written about Iran before and after the revolution, none has been written about Iranians from the often-neglected perspective of biography—a book that would focus on the significant role played by individual Iranians in developing the country during the Pahlavi era, between 1941 and the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

As the Iranians of that generation were aging, this crucial aspect of that period’s history was fast on its way to being lost forever. The current regime shows no interest in the predecessors they had ousted; Persian historians in exile weren’t paying attention; the traditional Persian perspective on history tends to overlook the role of individuals in favor of a few figures, external forces, and conspiracy theories. Present and future generations of Persians were at risk of losing firsthand accounts of recent history and their direct ancestors’ accomplishments.

Eminent Persians was conceived not as a political treatise that advocates or admonishes a certain policy, but as an attempt to provide accurate, impartial, scholarly, and readable accounts of the lives of those who helped shape the economic, cultural, and political life of the era. It seeks to bring appropriate recognition to a generation of our countrymen whose names and lifelong achievements might otherwise be forgotten.

Eminent Persians is living history, a kaleidoscope of adventure and achievement, a record of intrigue and romance filled with revelations of individual courage, betrayal, and great literary and musical talent. Even as age claims these personalities, this book hopes to preserve for posterity the lives and times of the men and women who made this history. It sheds light into the hitherto ignored corners of a nation that, in one generation, went from being the West’s most reliable ally to becoming its putatively most dangerous enemy in the Middle East—a nation whose people, culture, and character are and always will be of global significance and timeless value.

Chosen from hundreds of candidates, these profiles chronicle the lives of the most important innovators of the last shah’s reign, when Iran made a giant leap forward. Represented are industrialists, financiers and bankers, builders, engineers and architects, merchants, publishers and journalists, politicians, government officials, legislators, economists and planners, educators, scholars and teachers, writers and poets, historians, artists, lawyers and jurists, doctors, women’s rights advocates, military leaders, religious leaders, athletes, movie directors, philanthropists, opposition figures, and thinkers. There is everything from heroism to villainy—sometimes in the same person. Three introductory essays—on politics, the economy, and culture—set the scene for the reader and illuminate Iran’s struggles with modernization and with the West, and lay bare the roots of its revolution.

Initially, a list of approximately 700 prominent Iranians was created by peer review. An advisory panel of eight distinguished individuals in a wide range of professions and businesses met on two occasions in New York and reduced the number to about 200. Upon further research, the author suggested further cuts, bringing the final list to 150 Iranians. It was decided that the inclusion of advisory panel members in the book would be at the sole discretion of the author. There is no doubt that there are many “Eminents” who have made significant contributions but were left out owing to space and time constraints.

Dr. Abbas Milani was commissioned to write Eminent Persians five years ago. A well known author and professor, he is currently the director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, where he is also co-director of the Iran Democracy Project and research fellow of the Hoover Institution. He has won acclaim for both the scholarship and the impartiality of his distinguished work The Persian Sphinx, a biography of Abbas Hoveyda, who served the shah for thirteen years and then was executed by the infamous “hanging judge” appointed by the Islamic regime to try him.

Dr. Milani traveled for four years conducting hundreds of interviews and consulting now-declassified British and American archives, piecing the stories together with the help of research assistants based in Tehran, Europe, and the United States. The book is a treasure-trove of original material, most of it appearing in print for the first time. Dr. Milani was granted exclusive access to deathbed letters, private correspondence, and other primary sources. A number of the “Eminents” have died since the project was begun. This book is thus their last authoritative word.

Attempts were made to interview all living candidates and their families, friends, and collaborators, as well as all independent sources of verification that were available. Each life was placed in its proper historical context, thus affording the readers both a micro and a macro account of Iranian history. Neither the advisory panel nor I had any editorial discretion over the interviews Dr. Milani conducted, the material he collected, or what is written in this book. The judgments are his own, as befits an author of his stature, and have not been reviewed by the advisory panel.

The funds required to research, write, edit, and publish this book were substantial. I have invested a great deal of time, energy, and most of the costs in the preparation of this book because it will preserve our history, pass Persian culture to the next generation, honor those who deserve honor, and introduce the eminent men and women of Persia to America and the west. A few others took great interest in the book and also contributed generously.

Sponsoring a book of this magnitude would not have been possible without the help of others who were more familiar with modern Iranian history than I am. Aside from my childhood, I have spent less than ten years in Iran during the subject period. I want to thank the following people who donated their time, ideas, and profound insights to this project: Abolfath Ardalan, Eskandar Arjomand, Siavosh Arjomand, Ali Ebrahimi, Ebrahim Golestan, Farhang Mehr, M. Reza Moghtader, Mehdi Samii, Dr. Nasrollah Khosrowshahi, Vahid Kooros, Maryam Panahy Ansary, Sir Eldon Griffiths, and Mary Selden Evans.

Akbar Alex Lari
May 21, 2007
New York, N.Y.

Introduction

There is no history, only biography—Ralph Waldo Emerson

History, Herodotus tells us, is an attempt to save the great deeds of great men from the oblivion of time and the frailties of memory. When the corrosive power of time is augmented by the trauma of revolution, as it has been in Iran, and when the dislocations of life in diaspora combine with the discomfiture of hybrid (or hyphenated) identity to further contribute to this oblivion, then preserving for posterity the deeds of great women and men becomes even more urgent.

In Iran, where there has historically been a glaring dearth of biographies, where erasing the memory of past dynasties and elites has been an infectious malady of history, and where the handful of reliable modern biographies has covered only the lives of the royal family and a very few prominent politicians, posterity was likely to know little about the lives of the men and women whose feats and failures, hopes and aspirations shaped Iran in the years after World War II. These breaches in the field of cultural memory meant that the recent Iranian past was already becoming a distant country, with no maps—aside from literature—yet drawn to navigate its highways and byways. Eminent Persians is a first step in filling this lacuna and drafting such a map.

But choosing 150 people out of a population that was in 1979 almost 40 million, affording them the privilege of eminence, and trying to make sense of their lives, their dreams, and their defeats from shards of memory and few reliable archives and documents, then cohering the narratives into two volumes of less than a thousand pages each, was fraught with apparently insurmountable challenges. Some of these challenges were rooted in the tumult of revolution and its incumbent dislocations and in the cultural aversion to archives and biographies in Iran, but others arose from the limitarions of biography as a genre.

Biography as narrative is as old as the five-thousand-year-old tablets of Gilgamesh, yet the English word “biography” was only coined in the seventeenth century. Although in Iran the Achamenid tablets, more than twenty-five-hundred years old, were filled with biographical details, the advent of Islam in Iran put an end to biographical efforts. In fact, the Persian language has yet to settle on a native word for biography, using instead either the French word, or a litany of others—Hadithe Nafs, Nafs-al Hal, or Zendegi-nameh.

Every biography is a form of mummification. Biographies traffic in language, and thus, even under the most ideal conditions—where archives and letters, libraries and private logs can offer the biographer a rich mine of information—biographers must perforce reduce the vibrant complexity of life into the static linear structure of language. As Nietzsche reminded us a hundred years ago, language can only describe what is dead. To trim any life to a number of pages and to corral into a cogent, readable, reliable, and suspenseful narrative the complex interplay of memories and desires, dreams and defeats, forces of history, and tenacious individual talents is a Herculean task. In Eminent Persians, my mandate as the biographer was made more Procrustean by the handful of pages afforded each of these individual lives. This difficult task was rendered reasonable and rewarding by the deplorable alternative of allowing these lives to drift into oblivion.

These difficulties were made still more daunting by the fact that in the case of some of these eminent Persians, there was no consistent archival or scholarly data available about their lives. That is why the work of a biographer has been compared to that of an archaeologist—reconstructing lives from “fair or faux” artifacts.1 Sometimes the weight of “received opinion,” or of myths and rumors about a character, can cast a heavy shadow on the biographer’s mandate of impartiality. Other times the complete absence of useable artifacts renders the work of interpretation even more daunting. In reconstructing the lives of a handful of these eminent Persians, I had to rely on nothing save interviews with the personalities themselves, and with their friends and foes. The human tendency to remember the past through a self-soothing and sometimes self-serving prism, the inevitable ravages of time on memory, and the exilic tendency to romanticize “home” made reliance on these interviews perilous. I have made every effort to confirm and corroborate potentially controversial claims by any individual with an independent and reliable source.

An independent, rigorous measure of “eminence” was established, and then decisions were made about who among the Persians of a generation fit that measure. Over the course of a year, prominent Persians from different walks of life were asked to nominate a few of their peers as “most prominent.” Then, after extensive discussions with an advisory board composed of men and women with impeccable credentials in different fields—from Ebrahim Golestan and Farhang Mehr to Mehdi Samii and Siavosh Arjomand—it was determined that “eminence” would be defined not so much by judgments of value as by facts of innovation. For the purposes of this book, women and men who had introduced a new industrial or commercial field, or by the sheer quantity of what they produced brought about a radical change in an already existing field, created a new intellectual idea or artistic form, or adopted a new style of management or paradigm of politics would be deemed eminent. Whether the innovation was of positive or negative historic value would be left to the judgment of history.

Using this criterion, the advisory panel reduced the large peer-nominated list to about 200. It was left to me to further reduce the list to its final size of 150. Last, the panel members withdrew their own names from the roster, leaving it to my discretion to include or exclude them from the book. Several of them, in spite of productive and important careers, were not ultimately included. Needless to say, no one was excluded because of gender, race, or religious identity.

My nonnegotiable stipulation was that I have absolute autonomy in writing the book and that only I should have the right to change anything in it. To his credit, Akbar Lari, an avid reader of biographies and a contagiously enthusiastic advocate of this project, unfailingly respected my authorial privilege. He made no effort to influence the substance or style of the narrative. He was also insistent that he be excluded from the list, and relented only upon my insistence. Although he accomplished much in his life in Iran, and even more in America, his vision in recognizing the great vacuum in reliable biographies of the Iranian elite and his relentless dedication to correcting it would have been, in my mind, enough to afford him a place in this pantheon. He spared no effort to afford me every opportunity and resource necessary to make Eminent Persians the best it can be. One of the great pleasures and privileges of working on this project has been his friendship.

I traveled to different corners of the world to conduct some five hundred interviews— more than half of them on tape. I went to Europe three times, to Latin America once, and around the United States many times. I consulted libraries and archives in the United States and Europe. I owe special debts of gratitude to several families, among them the Khademi, Parsa, and Pakravan families, for kindly providing me with their private papers, notes, and unpublished memoirs.

Ardeshir Zahedi has been infinitely generous not only with his time, but with his papers and rich archive. My debt to his half-century of experience at the pinnacle of modern Iranian politics, to his refreshingly frank discourse, free from the faux solemnities of “polite” or “diplomatic” language, and finally, to his legendary hospitality are truly hard to put into words.

According to Umberto Eco, every text has a “model reader,” whose cognitive abilities shape the substance if not the style of each narrative. The “model reader” of Eminent Persians is anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Iran and the Middle East. I have made every effort to render the narrative devoid of esoteric cultural, historical, or literary allusions, and where they were unavoidable, I have explained each point in the endnotes. Sources appear in the endnotes as well.

It is folly to hope that in making all of these choices of exclusion and inclusion I have made no error. Although the initial plan for a one-volume book was perforce increased to two, I still know that there are many whose lives deserve to be remembered, but who were excluded by the dictates of economy and space. I also know that other writers might have made different choices. I am the only person responsible for any errors of selection or of fact. I am only comforted by the knowledge that such errors, wherever they exist, were never the result of malice. I hope that in future editions, any such errors will be corrected. There is today what one critic has called “an extraordinary renaissance”2 of biography, even in “minibiographies” like those found in Eminent Persians.3 For years biography as a genre was spurned—in spite of the centrality of such works as Gilgamesh or Plutarch’s Lives, and in spite of the biographical nature of much of the Bible and many other books of the Western canon—by the academic community. There has been, in the words of one critic, a tendency “to sniff at biography as under-theorized.”4 But in recent years there has been a rehabilitation of biography as an academic endeavor, and a theoretical turn toward explicating the epistemological and methodological foundations of biography. With this change has come a greater acceptance of biography as a work of scholarship.

Avid interest in biographies also has other roots. Readers’ thirst for history, and their aversion to the complexities of increasingly specialized and often jargon-marred scholarly discourse can account for much of this interest.

Eminent Persians is a social, economical, and cultural history of the thirty-eight-year history of postwar Iran (1941–79), but not through the prism of abstract theoretical vistas or obtuse scholarly analysis. Instead, the book tries to provide a panorama of the period by focusing on the concrete minutiae of individual lives. Because individual lives and their interactions are inherently shaped by “interdisciplinary” forces and do not fall neatly inside academic disciplines, Eminent Persians is by necessity, in its texture and content, interdisciplinary—music and architecture, economics and politics, Shiite jurisprudence, and the poetics of fiction, are all a part of its narrative.

Several factors collect the diversity of these individual profiles into an overarching narrative. There is the push and pull of these individuals’ competing ideas and conflicting identities, including the temptation to emulate the West slavishly, or the lure of “returning” to the authentic self of ancient Persia or Islam. In addition, many of these eminent Persians are members of the Zoroastrian, Jewish, or Bahai faith, and the story of their accomplishments underscores both the commendable religious tolerance of the Pahlavi era and the lamentable intolerance of the Islamic period. These historical changes and personal proclivities, the intrinsic suspense of life during times of transition, and the paradigmatic tensions between tradition and modernity provide the underlying connective thread of the book’s narrative.

Ultimately, Eminent Persians tries not just to save the deeds of great men and women of postwar Iran from the oblivion of time, but also to address the key question of how a country celebrated in the Old Testament, praised by Herodotus, and immortalized by Sophocles in his play The Persians, a culture that centuries ago produced the genius of Omar Khayyam and the wisdom of Rumi, whose poetry inspired Goethe and Emerson, and a society that in the 1970s was by most economic indicators at the height of prosperity, brought to power a latter-day Savonarola in the waning days of the twentieth century, a man who denigrated ancient Persia and dismissed economics as the refuge of donkeys.

Writing is never an act of solitary creation. Projects of this magnitude are a collective act, and thus my debt of gratitude to the individuals and institutions that helped in different stages of preparing Eminent Persians are too many to chronicle exhaustively here.

I was given a budget to hire two half-time research assistants for the first year and one part-time assistant for the second and third years. For the first two-and-a-half years, Hamid Shokat was one of my two assistants. His responsibilities were those of any research assistant—searching for and copying documents and essays from archives and libraries, and preparing synopses of oral histories, articles, and books. In a few cases, the assistants conducted interviews with some of the secondary sources for the book. Anita Burdett was delightfully professional in her work of tracing and copying documents in the British Public Records Office (PRO). Alireza Miralinaghi helped with research on some of the artists in the field of music. His impressive knowledge of the history of modern Iranian music was my indispensable guide in understanding musical modernity in Iran. Several others, particularly my dear friend Bahram Moalemi, helped with research in Iran. To them all I owe a debt of gratitude. Without them, it would have been impossible to finish Eminent Persians.

Aside from these assistants, I also enjoyed the voluntary help of several people. Soon after I began work on Eminent Persians, Mahin Afkhami generously offered to help and remained true to her promise for the next four years. She copied hundreds of important documents, essays, and passages relevant to the story of this book. Through her intercession, Effat Yousefi also helped with the project for about a year.

For the last five years, Stanford University has provided me with an ideal, and idyllic, situation for working on modern Iran. Hamid and Christina Moghadam generously endowed the program and the directorship I hold at Stanford. Hamid Moghadam and Esmail Amid-Hozour are only the most important members of a large group of women and men of a new generation of eminent Persians whose vision made the study of modern Iran possible at Stanford and at the Hoover Institution. Bita Daryabari’s generous endowment this year will enable the Iranian Studies Program to offer more courses on Persian poetry and literature. To them all I owe a great debt of appreciation. One of the great pleasures of teaching at Stanford is the brilliance of both the students and my colleagues. A number of my students helped gather data for Eminent Persians, particularly for the introduction to the section on the economy. The help and advice of colleagues like Judy Goldstein, Mike McFaul, and Larry Diamond have helped me to feel at home at Stanford.

Brooke Fox, Melina Rivera, and Irene Munik in Akbar Lari’s office were graceful and efficient throughout the five-year process of writing Eminent Persians. They managed the formidable work of keeping track of the multiple drafts of these 153 essays with competence and congeniality. I am thankful to all three.

I am also grateful to the staff of Stanford University’s Green Library, the Hoover Institution Archive, the Public Records Office in London, the National Archive, and the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Presidential Libraries. At the Library of Congress, Ibrahim Pourhadi’s enthusiasm for the history of Iran has been a source of assistance and admiration.

My brothers, Hassan and Mohsen Milani, and my sister, Farzaneh Milani, were a most reliable source of emotional solace and intellectual support throughout this process. All my life, the generosity of Hassan’s soul has been my source of inspiration and aspiration. Farzaneh, herself an eminent scholar, has been my soulmate since childhood, and a reliable pillar of support. Mohsen has been an effervescent source of joy, wit, and advice. During my many trips to Southern California, I have enjoyed the hospitality of Mahvash Delavarian Milani. Hassan and Mahvash Milani’s recent generous contribution to Stanford University will allow future generations of Iranian students to attend Stanford to research and study different aspects of Iranian society and history. My son, Hamid Milani, is “the light of my eyes,” and his presence affords more meaning and value to everything.

Anne Eckstrom edited a small number of the essays in this book, and Jane Cavolina edited the rest of the manuscript. Jane’s way with words, her attention to details, her desire for simplicity, and the unobtrusive changes she suggested made the task of working with her as the editor of the manuscript a delight. Sir Eldon Griffiths read the first draft of many of the entries, and with his impressive command of modern Iranian history, and his eye for the nuances of language resulting from his many years of service as a prominent editor and journalist, offered valuable advice.

At Syracuse University Press, Mary Selden Evans shepherded the book to publication. Her passion for everything connected to the history of Iran was not only indispensable in expeditiously bringing Eminent Persians into print but has been instrumental in making, in a relatively short time, Syracuse University Press a preeminent source of scholarly material on Iran. D. J. Whyte copyedited the entire manuscript with exemplary attention to every detail of the narrative. John Fruehwirth, managing editor at the press, was not just efficient and dedicated to excellence but unfailingly kind and congenial. To the endless changes I made in the last weeks and days of production, the entire staff of Syracuse University Press demonstrated the patience of Job and the wisdom of Athena.

Maryam Panahi, with her legendary hospitality and her firsthand knowledge of modern Iranian society, was a gracious host every time I visited New York and a generous guide to the social and political salons of Pahlavi Iran.

When I began to contemplate undertaking the task of writing Eminent Persians, my dear friend Parviz Shokat was characteristically generous in offering any help I needed. He is a true scholar manqué, and every time he visited a library anywhere in the world, he used his keen and curious mind to find valuable material for the book. All my adult life, he has been a dear friend, and a source of inspiration for his humanity and humility.

I am thankful to the members of the Eminent Persians panel for the time and effort they put into the project. I owe a special debt to Mehdi Samii. Not only is he the embodiment of probity and honesty, but his dignity and wisdom afford his words particular gravitas. A delightful consequence of working on this project was friendship with Ali Ebrahim, a member of the panel, and a man whose hospitality is matched only by his firm and frank dedication to a free secular Iran.

For the last three years, Bill and Nancy Cregor’s friendship, hospitality, unfailing humanity, and passion for the world of ideas has been an inspiration and a reminder of America at its best. Their house on the Stanford campus is a veritable “city on the hill.”

I am deeply grateful to Ebrahim Golestan for his help and guidance, and to Eminent Persians for making my friendship with him an even more valuable part of my life. He helped me in every stage of the project by offering advice on the overall structure of the book and on smaller details in many of the essays. His encyclopedic knowledge of modern Iranian social history, his dedication to perfection and precision, and his storied penchant for what diplomats call “frank and honest” discourse made him a cherished source of advice.

My dear friend Negar Ghobadi read the entire manuscript with the passion and exuberance of an artist and the studied attention to detail of a scholar.

Last and most of all, my debt to my wife, Jean Nyland, is truly beyond words. From the first moments of the project to its last months, when our life had lost all semblance of normalcy and was consumed by the demands of finishing the manuscript, she was my first and last editor, my advisor, and my moral and pragmatic compass. She helped me navigate through the many intellectual and emotional minefields of a project as complicated as Eminent Persians. She is an endearing embodiment of an independent woman—self-sufficient in every sphere of her life, but endlessly generous in her willingness to help others. While her erudition is rooted in her insatiable appetite for the world of ideas and letters, her magnanimity in sharing all she knows with others has been, for me, an education in humility and selflessness.

Abbas Milani
Stanford University
May 6, 2007

Politics

Purposes Mistook: Politics in Iran, 1941–1979

Politics and Public Administration
Hoseyn Ala
Assadollah Alam
Alinaghi Alikhani
Ali Amini
Jamshid Amuzegar
Hushang Ansary
Hassan Arsanjani
Safi Asfia
Hamid Ashraf
Shapur Bakhtiyar
Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani
Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi
Dr. Manuchehre Egbal
The Entezam Brothers
Akbar Etemad
Reza Fallah
Aziz, Khodadad, Maryam, and Sattareh Farmanfarma’ian
Mohammad-Ali Forughi
Ahmad Ghavam-ol Saltaneh
Reza Ghotbi
Abbasqoli Golshai’yan
Ebrahim Hakimi (Hakim-al Molk)
Aliasgar Hekmat
Sardar Fakher Hekmat
Amir-Abbas Hoveyda
Fereydun Mahdavi
Abdol-Majid and Monir Vakili Majidi
Khalil Maleki
The Mansur Family
Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq
Hushang Nahavandi
Parviz Nikkhah
Nasser and Khosrow Qhashghai
Shapur and Mehri Rasekh
Fuad Ruhani
Khosrow Ruzbeh
Parviz Sabeti
Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi
Seyyed Fakhroddin
Shadman Ja’far
Sharif-Emami Tabataba’i
Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh
Aredeshir Zahedi

Religion
Seyyed Abolqasem Kashani
Ruhollah Khomeini
Ali Shari’ati
Seyyed Kazem Shari’atmadari

Journalism
Aliasqar Amirani
Darius Homayun
Abbas Masudi
Dr. Mostafa Mesbahzadeh
The Towfiq Brothers

Law
Shahin Agayan
Mohammad Baheri

Military
Abolfath Ardalan
Teymur Bakhtiyar
Hoseyn Fardust
Valiollah Gharani
Alimohammad Khademi
Mohammad Khatam
Ahmad Moggarrebi
Ne’matollah Nasiri
Hassan Pakravan
Hadji Ali Razmara
Hassan Toufanian
Fazlollah Zahedi

Notes to Volume One

Purposes Mistook: Politics in Iran, 1941–1979

Introduction to Politics

Politics in modern Iran has been dominated by protracted battles between competing models of politics and society. One formative battle has been between advocates of a secular Iran, its laws emanating, at least ostensibly, from the will of the people, and supporters of an Islamic Iran, ruled not by law but by sharia and personal fiat and legitimized not by popular sovereignty but by divine anointment. In this contested history, a bewildering variety of political movements, ideologies, and forms of government have appeared on the horizon. Movements as far apart as nationalism, constitutionalism, Marxism, Islamic fundamentalism, social democracy, Islamic liberalism, and fascism have each found powerful Persian advocates. Forms of government as different as Oriental despotism and Islamic theocracy, “guided” democracy and authoritarianism, and, finally, liberal democracy have all been tried at some moment of Iran’s modern history.

The effort to create political parties has also yielded surprisingly varied structures. The first attempt to create political parties in the 1940s helped foster a kind of democratic experience, and the two-party system of the late 1950s was often described by the shah as an experiment in “guided democracy.” At the same time, the shah himself had brought both parties into existence, and had placed at their helms a succession of trusted loyalists. From Manuchehre Egbal and Assadollah Alam to Yahya Adl and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, each had their turn as the leader of a party. What he had created, the shah felt entitled to dissolve. In 1975, the shah dismissed all political parties, replacing them with a single party he called the Rastakhiz or Resurgence Party.

Nearly all the elements of this varied collection of political structures can also be found in the West. In Iran, however, they have often assumed unusual forms, shaped by the vagaries of a long imperial history, by the dictates of geography—particularly proximity to most of the world’s known oil supplies and to the Soviet Union, the now-almostforgotten “evil empire” of the cold war—and finally, by the hegemony of a particular form of Islamic culture called Shiism.

The conflict between modernity and tradition did not arrive with Shiism but has underlain Iranian politics from the start of the twentieth century. Beginning with the Constitutional Revolution of 1905–7, modern Iranian politics has struggled with modernity, and with the temptation to emulate the West not just in politics but in every aspect of culture. Seen as an episode in this continuing struggle, the 1979 Islamic Revolution was not the first but was certainly the most successful attempt to turn back the historical clock and dismantle what little progress Iranian society had made toward political modernity.

From a broader historical perspective, the same revolution appears as one of the twentieth century’s greatest political abductions. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his cohorts co-opted a democratic popular movement that enjoyed the near-unanimous support of the country’s urban population and, instead of a democratic polity, created a pseudo-totalitarian theocracy where nearly all power rests in the hands of an unelected and despotic “spiritual leader.”

This abduction was the more daring, and the more anachronistic, because it took place just as the world was seeing an end to despotic and totalitarian regimes. In the mid1970s the world had begun witnessing what social scientists now term the “third wave” of democracy. Regimes based on ideology—long considered the most pernicious form of despotism—were in their death throes. Liberal democracy, with some form of market economy, was beginning to emerge as the victor in the “culture wars” of the cold war era.

In defiance of this important global development, in contravention of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, and in spite of a long tradition of “quietist” Shiite theology, embodied in the person and practice of Ayatollahs Hoseyn Boroujerdi and Seyyed Kazem Shari’atmadari—a tradition that discouraged the clergy from any claim to direct political power and that, in the months after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, was brilliantly exhibited in the personality and practice of Ayatollah Sistani—Ayatollah Khomeini used the chaos of the revolution; the organizational weakness of the democratic forces; the weakness, illness, and vacillations of the shah; the policy confusion in the Carter administration’s handling of Iran; and, finally, the West’s continued fear of Soviet expansionism to create an anachronistic Islamic state in Iran. Neither the dynamics of his success, nor the foundation of the lives of the eminent men and women of Iranian politics, can be understood or explained without some appreciation for the overall contours of modern Iranian history.

Decoding the Iranian Past
Deep-rooted cultural obstacles have hitherto hindered the serious and impartial study of Iran’s political history. A dearth of archives, memoirs, journals, and biographies, and the prevalence of a Manichaean view of history, where the cosmos is torn between the forces of good and evil, have been among the obstacles on the road to a clear, accurate understanding of Iran’s political history.[1]

Another obscuring factor, one that has discouraged attention to the role of multiple individuals in shaping modern Iranian political history, has been the cult of hero worship. The belief in the formative role of “great men” has traditionally shaped the Iranian view of history. The dominance of this view has meant that the few reliable biographies and much of the historical narrative written to date have focused on a few important figures only; as a result, the lives of hundreds of men and women who actually shaped the contours, and determined the course, of Iran’s modern political history, have attracted little or no attention. This section of Eminent Persians is intended to fill in and integrate this incomplete and fragmented historical landscape.

Of course the cultural distrust of individualism is not the only reason for this fragmentation or for the failure to chronicle fully or to appreciate adequately the role of the myriad men and women who actually shaped modern Iran’s politics. Iranian culture has long had a propensity for messianic thought; it has had a need for a savior, or mahdi, to arise and deliver salvation. History shows that messianic milieus are fertile grounds for the development of conspiracy theories; one easily begets the other. In fact, a propensity toward conspiracy theories is often the secular corollary of a messianic proclivity. Shiism, the dominant form of Islam in Iran, is at least partially predicated on the idea that the Twelfth Imam—the Mahdi—will reappear after his long absence, and with his return all injustice and want, all inequality and suffering, will end. Indeed messianism and conspiracy theories—both prevalent in Iran—have much in common. In both, a force outside society, beyond its redress and review, shapes the fate of that society; in both, individual responsibility is abjured in favor of some cosmic or foreign force; in neither do individuals with their foibles, or societies with their failures, bear any responsibility for the calamities that have befallen them. In both, the power of the conspirator correlates negatively with the sense of enfranchisement on the part of the populace. In both, order and meaning are imposed upon a world that appears terrifyingly chaotic and meaningless.

Informed and self-assured citizenries do not need the balm of conspiracy theories. If people lose their faith in the redemptive power of the messiah—as they often do when societies secularize—and do not concurrently develop faith in their own powers as citizens to determine their own political life, then lapsed messianism easily morphs into belief in conspiracy theories.

In this conspiratorial cosmos (what one historian calls the “paranoid style of politics”)[2] the role of the individual has little or no explanatory value. A not insignificant number of Iranians even today believe that much of what has happened in the country, particularly the advent and eventual victory of the Islamic Revolution, was conceived and plotted in Freemasonic lodges acting secretly for the British. Ever since their emergence in Iran in the mid–nineteenth century, the Masons have become the archetypal villains of modern Iranian politics. Behind every event there still lurks, in the public imagination, “the British hand,” of which the Masons are the muscle.

Even the shah himself saw both Iranian and global politics in terms of such conspiracies. In his political vision, there were no accidents, no unintended consequences, and certainly no individual gestures of support or opposition free of ulterior, often sinister, and conspiratorial motives. Every political action was invariably part of the Machiavellian machinations of some big foreign power, usually Great Britain, the United States, or the Soviet Union. He went to his grave believing that the revolution that overthrew him was nothing but a conspiracy concocted by the oil companies—payback for his refusal to reduce the price of oil in 1974 and 1975. At other times, he suggested that the revolution was in fact a conspiracy of the communists and that the mullahs were, behind the façade of their faith, tools and allies of the communists. The apparent contradiction between these two views seems never to have bothered him or his allies and supporters.

Such grand theories of external influence, the self-deluding certitudes of conspiracy theories, have obscured the role of individual Iranians in determining the course of Iran’s political history. Certainly the colonial powers have exercised their considerable economic, cultural, and political power to influence the outcome of political intrigues in modern Iran. Nevertheless, it has been the Iranians themselves who have shaped their history.

The contributions of the many Iranian men and women of import have frequently been overshadowed by the traditional Iranian view of politics as conspiratorial, externally driven, or in the hands of “great men.” The role of these men and women has been further obscured by the preoccupation of historians with a few major figures. Understanding their lives is more than an act of respectful remembrance; it also helps us better perceive the labyrinthine path of Iran’s political history. By the end of this journey, we can hope to have a far more nuanced understanding of the dreams and aspirations, the impressive accomplishments, and the formidable frustrations of a whole generation who tried to turn Iran into a modern polity. Before we start, however, it is important to set the stage for these individuals, to look at the broader backdrop of Iranian history against which they played.

Iran, 1908–1945
The calculus of Iran’s history changed radically in 1908 when oil was discovered in the country. As the West increasingly came to depend on Middle Eastern oil to run its industrial and military machine, the face and fate of Iranian society, and its significance for the West, also changed. In the nineteenth century Iran had been of interest as a “buffer state” between Russia and Great Britain. In the twentieth century, particularly in the years after World War I, oil, as well as proximity to the new emerging Soviet giant, were the ultimate sources of Iran’s strategic value to the West.

History has tragically demonstrated that wealth in oil is never an unqualified blessing. It has become something of a truism that in the absence of democracy and free markets— and the economic and political transparencies they beget—oil becomes nothing less than a political, social, and even economic curse. The sudden infusion of oil wealth turns governments into Molochs free from any dependence on popular support. Even among the population it can create a sense of entitlement, of expecting government handouts, thus undermining the spirit of hard work that is essential to the development of any economy. Countries with long-standing democratic political structures, like Great Britain and Norway, have encountered oil wealth without falling prey to this tragic curse. But most oilrich countries—disproportionately rated among the most undemocratic countries in the world[3]—seem to rely on a social contract entirely different from the kind that characterizes modern democracies. In these oil-rich countries, the government owns the oil assets, receives the revenue—more accurately the “rent”—and controls the “purse” from which it doles out money to docile subjects. In a democracy, by contrast, taxation is the ultimate source of government revenue and thus the “purse” relies on the acquiescence of the people. In the third world and in Iranian politics, in other words, oil has been what the philosophers call a pharmakon: a drug at once remedy and poison. Oil has been a “wonder drug” for the endemic problem of capital accumulation in third-world countries like Iran. In Iran, it has also poisoned the country’s body politic by encouraging despotism.

Just before oil was discovered in 1908, in fact, Iran was struggling to free itself from despotism by reducing the feudal grip of its monarchy. In 1905–7, a constitutional revolution promised to catapult Iran into the modern age. A coterie of intellectuals, of middle-class background and democratic leanings, foremost among them figures like Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, Ebrahim Hakimi, and Allame Dehkhoda, forced the ruling monarch, Mozafaral-Din Shah, to sign into law a new constitution that defined and limited the king’s powers. Democratic laws, grafted from the Belgian constitution, were adopted for Iran.

The hapless ra’yat (subject) and the all-powerful Gebley-e Alam (“Pivot of the Universe”) of traditional feudal Iran were suddenly expected to become the citizen and constitutional monarch of a modern polity. There was to be separation of powers, and a bicameral system, with a house, the Majlis, directly elected by the country’s male population, and a senate whose members were, in equal numbers, elected by the people and appointed by the king. The king was to reign but not rule. At the same time, he was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and laws could be enacted only after he signed them. Much of the executive power was in the hands of a prime minister, chosen by the Majlis and appointed by the king. Some of the inherent ambiguities in these laws later became the source of much contention, particularly during the early 1950s, when Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq was the country’s popular and populist prime minister.

The new 1907 constitution was to be the blueprint for a more or less genuine democratic system in Iran. The only “undemocratic” provision, added to appease the clergy, empowered a committee of five top-ranking clerics to veto any legislation they deemed inimical to the spirit of Islam and its sharia.

Even this truncated democracy proved untenable. Iranians learned, all too soon, that democracy is more than just an idea. It requires an intricate network of institutions; it needs a civil society to act as buffer between the people and power. It is, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau never tired of reminding his readers, a highly sensitive organism, in need of constant monitoring and mentoring. Democracy requires a citizenry conscious of the many perils that threaten it, committed to political patience, and well versed in the rules of tolerance.

In 1907 Iran, the necessary conditions for democracy, particularly a strong and viable civil society, were simply wanting. In addition, a frightening array of powerful forces lined up against the creation of a genuine secular democracy in the country. Indeed, the immediate aftermath of the constitutional revolution was almost two decades of chaos and civil war. The center could no longer hold, and centrifugal forces, sometimes strengthened by the Russians in the north, other times by the British in the south, threatened the territorial integrity of Iran.

With the advent of World War I, the political plague of foreign occupation was complicated by the natural pestilence of famine and cholera. In 1918, the infamous Spanish flu, which killed up to hundred million people worldwide, arrived in Iran and took a heavy toll. Some sources have estimated that over twenty-five years, these outbreaks of cholera and flu together killed close to a quarter of the country’s population.[4] All these troubles combined to hasten the end of Iran’s constitutional era. By 1920, Ahmad Shah, the boy king who ascended the throne in 1909, presided over an increasingly chaotic “congress,” and Iran’s experiment in democracy had turned out to be a flash in the pan. In 1921, Reza Khan, a charismatic officer of the Cossack brigade, joined forces with Seyyed Zia Tabataba’i, a rabble-rousing journalist of eccentric habits and very close ties with the British embassy in Tehran, and together they organized a military coup d’état that toppled the government. They forced the weak, vacillating, hedonistic, and corrupt Ahmad Shah to appoint Tabataba’i prime minister. (Tabataba’i, whose political heroes were Mussolini and Lenin, had actually asked to be appointed “the Dictator” of Iran but the king demurred, suggesting that making such an appointment would ill become the monarchy.) At the same time, Reza Khan was named minister of war.

The new cabinet brought about many changes in the country’s political climate. But it soon became clear that in spite of Tabataba’i’s fierce rhetoric, ultimate power now resided in the hands of Reza Khan. After only a hundred days, a coalition composed of the king, most of the country’s “grandees” and Reza Khan brought an end to Tabataba’i’s dream of dictatorial power. He was stripped of all his power and forced into exile. Before long, Reza Khan himself became not only the country’s all-powerful prime minister, but also, in the king’s stead, commander-in-chief of its armed forces.

As Iran’s new “strongman,” Reza Khan worked to end the virtual independence of the regional warlords, and establish the power of the central authority over the whole country.

Particularly crucial were his victories in the country’s two most important outlying provinces. In the south, he defeated Sheikh Khaz’al, a de facto British subject who ruled oil-rich Khuzestan as a veritable protectorate of Great Britain. In the north, he defeated Iran’s only experiment in Soviet-style socialism—a province that styled itself the “Soviet Republic of Guilan” and was headed by a folksy character named Mirza Kuchek Khan Jangali.

In both of these wars, Reza Khan was helped by a coterie of officers who went on to play important roles in Iranian politics. Foremost in that category was a young, charismatic general who later played a crucial role in the life of the Pahlavi dynasty itself. His name was Fazlollah Zahedi.

In 1925, Reza Khan took the next step. He “accepted” the resolution of a malleable Majlis to depose Ahmad Shah and to name Reza Khan himself king and founder of the new Pahlavi dynasty. Only a handful of deputies—among them Hoseyn Ala and Mohammad Mossadeq—did not vote for the resolution that dissolved the Qajar dynasty and anointed the new monarch. In less than a year, Reza Shah crowned himself king of Persia and named his seven-year-old son, Mohammad Reza, the crown prince.

Although Reza Shah had assumed the traditional trappings of kingship, he was no traditionalist: on the contrary, he was determined to modernize Iran. Reza Shah was an autodidact with little formal education. He had never traveled to the West. But he was a political genius, with an uncanny understanding of what Iran had to do to enter the modern age. His sixteen years in power, along with his son’s thirty-seven-year reign, can easily be considered one of the most transformative periods in the last five centuries of Iranian history.

Reza Shah was helped in his efforts, particularly in his early days, by such formidable intellects as Mohammad-Ali Forughi and Ali Akbar Davar. Later, tireless modernizers like Aliasgar Hekmat joined Reza Shah’s attempt to create a modern Iran. Events in Turkey, and the modernizing efforts of Ataturk there, were also of great importance to Reza Shah.

Reza Shah was by political instinct and inclination a secularist. He moved to curtail the role of the clergy by secularizing the country’s courts as well as the education system. Both had been, historically, the monopoly of the mullahs and one of their chief sources of power and profit.

He was also keen on opening the country to travel, commerce, and industry. In spite of opposition from Great Britain and from such powerful members of the Majlis as Mossadeq, Reza Shah built a railroad that connected the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.[5] He funded this and other massive projects using both oil revenues and a new system of taxation. He seemed, again apparently by instinct, aware of the curse of oil money, and thus ordered that all money earned from oil be kept in a special account and spent only for special projects, particularly the military. He helped build many new industries.

In addition to secularizing the education system, Reza Shah was intent on educating Iran’s brightest minds in modern science and technology. He was a particularly enthusiastic supporter of a government program to send a number of the country’s top students each year to train in Western universities. Many of the most eminent Persians of the postwar years—from Khalil Maleki to Mehdi Samii—were among the students sent abroad on government scholarships.
Reza Shah’s own son, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza, was sent to Switzerland for about five years. The sojourn was to have two long-lasting influences on the young Mohammad Reza’s life. Aside from mastering French, he learned about the ways and values of a liberal and democratic society.

The trip had also another, unintended consequence. In his entourage, carefully handpicked by Reza Shah, there was a young Persian boy named Hoseyn Fardust. Shy and taciturn, Fardust somehow became the future king’s most trusted advisor and would remain so when Mohammad Reza became shah. He also remained a man of many mysteries, rarely making public appearances, but he was reputed to be the shah’s “eyes and ears.” There was about him an aura reminiscent of Rasputin in tsarist Russia. And like Rasputin, Fardust’s real political allegiances are now a subject of immense curiosity and much conjecture. Four decades after their sojourn to Switzerland, in a famous late-1979 television interview with David Frost, a tearful exiled shah had to face the possibility that his old friend might have in fact betrayed him. But in 1931, when Reza Shah chose the son of a lowly lieutenant in the army to accompany the crown prince to Switzerland, he could not have imagined the role this taciturn and self-effacing young boy would play in the future of Iran.

One of Reza Shah’s most controversial decisions, instituted in 1936, was the mandatory unveiling of Iranian women. From the mid–nineteenth century, Iranian women had begun to demand more and more power and presence in the public realm. The incredible life of Gorat-al-ayn marks a fascinating threshold in the history of gender relations in Iran. She was a woman of unusual erudition and an early convert to the new religion introduced by Mohammad Bab—the religion that later evolved into Bahaism. Her voluntary unveiling in the summer of 1848, in a large gathering of men, can easily be considered the first sign of an emerging women’s movement.[6]

In 1936, less than a hundred years after that seminal moment, Reza Shah, well aware of the need to enfranchise women, also began the policy of accepting girls in the education system. By the end of his reign, to the great consternation of the mullahs, coeducational schools had sprung up all over Iran. Women had entered the public realm, never to leave it again.

But Reza Shah’s Achilles’ heel was his unwillingness to accept the dictates of democracy. Despite his many reforms in the 1920s and 1930s, he kept power to himself. He was convinced that his kind of despotism was the necessary, unavoidable, and reasonable price Iran had to pay for progress. Next to his despotism, his personal avarice and his insatiable appetite for wealth and property, particularly in the northern provinces where he was born, were the chief complaints of an increasingly disgruntled populace.[7]

Iran in World War II, 1941–1946
By 1941 Great Britain and the Soviet Union, each for its own reasons, had come to dislike Reza Shah. Great Britain was bitter because, even after the Second World War began, Reza Shah insisted on continuing to receive Iran’s full share of revenues from oil fields leased to the British. Soviet Russia was angry because it had made many gestures of friendship in Reza Shah’s early years, commending him for his anticolonialism, but had never received a favorable response. Reza Shah, indeed, remained an implacable enemy of Soviet communism throughout his reign.

Reza Shah declared Iran to be a neutral nation in the war. He had, by then, taken many steps that hardened the enmity of the Anglo-Soviet allies. In an apparent attempt to use Germany as a countervailing force against British and Soviet influence in Iran, Reza Shah began to court the Nazis. Iran’s trade with Nazi Germany increased substantially. The Germans proved to be the only country in the industrial world willing to sell Iran a steel mill. Such a mill was, in the mind of Reza Shah, the sine qua non of progress. The argument that economic laws of “comparative advantage” and economies of scale rendered such a factory in Iran perpetually unprofitable—and economically unreasonable—made no dent in Reza Shah’s enthusiasm. He never succeeded in establishing his beloved steel factory, but the search for such a symbol of progress would continue unabated by his son.

When the war began, a large number of German technicians and advisors were already living in Iran. Their presence became a source of apparent alarm for the Allies. Soviet and British propaganda began to repeat the claim that “thousands of Germans” lived and worked in Iran, a potentially dangerous “fifth column.” The BBC’s alarming programs on the subject notwithstanding, the actual number of Germans was less than a thousand, and British authorities definitely knew the real number.8 Two facts that no doubt came closer to the Allies’ real concerns were that Iranian oil was needed for the war effort and that the Iranian railroad was an asset of enormous strategic significance.

On July 19, 1941, representatives of the Soviet Union and Great Britain handed the Iranian government an ultimatum, demanding the immediate expulsion of all German nationals. Reza Shah, calling the demand a clear infringement on Iran’s sovereignty, refused. Nazi Germany hailed his defiance; Hitler sent a note praising the king for his “wisdom” and encouraging him to maintain his resolve and “continue [Iran’s] present policy of neutrality.” The führer, as was his wont, also implicitly threatened Reza Shah, suggesting that “the devastation of war” would surely come “into Iranian territory”9 if the king should change his mind.

The Allies were swift in their response. On August 25, 1941, they ignored Iran’s declared neutrality and occupied the country. Although the Iranian army surrendered with only token resistance, the Allies, in an apparent attempt to intimidate the population, continued to bomb the urban centers even after the army collapsed. There is a lingering suspicion among some scholars that Iran’s prime minister at the time, Ali Mansur, known for his close ties to the British, deliberately hid from Reza Shah the seriousness of the Anglo-Soviet ultimatum, and thus paved the way for the invasion. Mohammad Reza Shah himself always believed that it was in fact a British conspiracy that kept his father ignorant of the severity of the situation.[10]

On September 15, 1941, a rumor suddenly spread through Tehran that the Russian army, hitherto camped about two hundred miles from the city, had begun their march on the capital. Reza Shah abdicated immediately, and swiftly left the country. Within hours of his departure, his son, twenty-two-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad Reza, took the oath of office in the Majlis and was proclaimed shah.

Mohammad-Ali Forughi, named prime minister by Reza Shah on the eve of the British-Soviet invasion, and Hoseyn Ala, a distinguished diplomat and politician, played crucial roles in convincing the two occupying governments, particularly the British, to accept the young prince as the new monarch.11 Forughi’s arguments for the necessity of continuing the Pahlavi dynasty were not easy to sell. The British had come to despise Reza Shah. As Sir Reader Bullard makes clear on many occasions, the British felt that Reza Shah, particularly in the last two years of his reign, had humiliated and betrayed them.12 The deliberately cruel treatment they later afforded the once proud soldier and deposed king was, in the words of an embassy dispatch, “the roar” of the much-abused British lion. Indeed, the British would use many occasions during Reza Shah’s exile to humiliate him.

The British were reluctant to see Reza Shah’s son crowned. They toyed with the idea of bringing the Qajars back to power. The surviving Qajar candidate was at the time an officer of the British navy; he also spoke no Persian. They then contemplated turning Iran into a republic and offered the position of president to Forughi. He refused, arguing that monarchy was the best form of government for Iran.

The British and the Soviets begrudgingly and only conditionally agreed to recognize Mohammad Reza as the king. On September 16, l941, Mohammad Reza Shah took the throne, with a pledge to correct the mistakes of his father, to comply with the letter and spirit of the constitution, and to return to the government and people all the assets Reza Shah had illegally confiscated.

The British and Soviets registered their displeasure by boycotting the new king’s official swearing-in ceremonies. The two governments then made it clear that they would be “observing” the new shah’s behavior and would continue their support only so long as he did not meddle in politics.13 These experiences—seeing his all-powerful father exiled and humiliated by the British and feeling himself belittled or ignored by the Allies—left an indelible mark on the soul and psyche of the young monarch. He was particularly angry at the British and would never again trust them. This mistrust was to have farreaching consequences for his thirty-seven-year tenure on the throne.

The end of Reza Shah’s absolutism initiated what would become a decade of democratic experimentation in the country. A variety of parties and groups—some legitimate, others mere tools of greedy, grandiose, or corrupt political figures—sprang up throughout the country. Many public figures who had been relegated to the sidelines or exiled during the reign of Reza Shah returned to the political arena. Among them were Seyyed Zia Tabataba’i, Ahmad Ghavam-ol Saltaneh and Mohammad Mossadeq. All three would go on to play pivotal roles in the postwar politics of Iran.

From 1941 to 1946, the Soviet occupiers served their own interest. The Soviets used the 1941 occupation of Iran to create a local communist party called the Tudeh or “Mass” Party. Many of Iran’s most prominent intellectuals joined the party—among them Khalil Maleki, Ebrahim Golestan, and Fereydon Tavallali. Many more were for a while “fellow travelers” of the Left and showed their support in different ways, sometimes by participating in the “front” organizations the party helped create. At the end of the war, furthermore, the Soviet army refused to withdraw from Azarbaijan, a populous state in northern Iran. Instead they created a puppet government there headed by Ja’far Pishevari. They also demanded concessions to explore and develop the oil of the Caspian Sea. Mohammad Mossadeq used the turmoil of the war and these conflicting demands to introduce a bill prohibiting all oil negotiations with foreign countries during the war. Gradually, this simple demand cohered into a powerful nationalist movement, with Mossadeq as its leader.

From 1939, on the eve of the war, the United States also had become more and more “entangled”[14] in Iran. Diplomatic relations had of course been established long before, and missionaries had come even earlier.[15] The missionaries had soon given up proselytizing in favor of establishing high schools, colleges, and hospitals. One of their creations, the college of Alborz, led for many years by the legendary educator and disciplinarian Dr. Mohammad Ali Mojtahedi, played a disproportionately large role in training Iran’s future elite.

America’s unique place in Iranian politics can be seen in the fact that when Iran was attacked and occupied by the British and Soviet armies, Reza Shah appealed to the United States for help. On the night of the attack, he sent a telegraph to Roosevelt, asking him, in a desperate tone, to “be good enough to interest yourself in this incident. . . . I beg Your Excellency to take efficacious and urgent humanitarian steps to put an end to these acts of aggression.”[16]

Roosevelt was in no hurry to respond. He had been fully briefed about the British plans. He took a full week to respond to the urgent plea. He could not stop or oppose the occupation, he told Reza Shah, but he made what turned out to be a very crucial promise to the king. He would see to it that Great Britain and the Soviet Union committed to the idea that as soon as the war ended, they would leave Iran.[17] Such a pronouncement would be made two years later, at the Tehran Conference, and would prove helpful in the effort to finally push the Red Army out of Iran in 1946.

Roosevelt in fact traveled to Tehran for the 1943 conference. After a lengthy discussion with his special envoy to Iran, General Patrick Hurley, Roosevelt decided to make Iran a “showcase.” The United States was to promote democracy and prosperity selflessly in Iran and show the world what the power of good will could do. Not only Churchill—to whom Roosevelt had sent Hurley’s report that included a blistering attack on British colonialism—but even the U.S. State Department dismissed the idea as “global baloney.”[18]

In April 1945, Truman became president of the United States. One of the most important crises he had to face at the end of the war was the Soviet refusal to leave Azerbaijan. The Soviet government had on numerous earlier occasions declared that the Red Army would leave Iran immediately after the end of the war. But when hostilities ended, Stalin made it clear that concessions for the rights to develop oil in the northern parts of Iran would be the price for Soviet army withdrawal.

By then the cold war had already started. George Kennan’s historic essay on the expansionist nature of the Soviet Union, and the necessity of “containment,” was already gospel in foreign policy circles in Washington.[19] The first major test of this containment strategy, and easily one of the most dangerous confrontations between the United States and the USSR, took place over Azarbaijan. When it became clear that in spite of Iran’s complaint to the Security Council of the United Nations and in spite of the efforts of Iranian diplomats like Hoseyn Ala and Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, the Soviets did not intend to leave Iran, on March 23, 1946, Truman sent Stalin a stern message—some have even called it an ultimatum—demanding that the Soviets comply with their past agreements and withdraw their forces from Iranian territory.[20]

Although the most crucial negotiations about this withdrawal took place during the tenure of Ahmed Ghavam-ol Saltaneh as prime minister, several successive prime ministers had overseen the crisis with the Soviets. The political instability of postwar politics in Iran was evident in this rapid succession of governments that would come to power only to resign a few months, sometimes a few weeks, later. Furthermore, contrary to the common belief that the young shah was apolitical, he began to push for more power as soon as he ascended the throne. Like his father, the shah believed that if progress was to be made in Iran, ultimate power must reside in the person of the king. His efforts met with considerable resistance, particularly from some of the more forceful prime ministers of the time.

Ghavam was a colorful example of such a prime minister. A seasoned and wily politician, and an arrogant aristocrat, he was one of those men who, according to Shakespeare, is “never at hearts’ ease while they behold a greater than themselves.”[21] He had been a powerful prime minister when Reza Khan was only the minister of war and his son Mohammad Reza but a three-year-old child. In consequence, Ghavam considered the shah a political neophyte and a social upstart. The shah, for his part, had grown to despise and distrust Ghavam. On more than one occasion, he had confided to friends and diplomats his fear that Ghavam was grandiose and overly ambitious and that nothing short of the throne would satisfy him. Recently declassified documents from the British and American archives seem to confirm the shah’s worst fears. Soviet archives, still unavailable to scholars, can surely help clear up this aspect of Ghavam’s long career. Whatever Ghavam’s motives, his relationship with the young shah had an important formative influence in the first decade of the shah’s rule.

Ghavam made several controversial decisions that put him at odds not just with the shah, but also with the American and British authorities. For a few months, while the Soviets were refusing to vacate Iran’s northern provinces, he brought into his cabinet three members of the communists’ Tudeh Party. Furthermore, his handling of the Soviet Union gave rise to the suspicion that he might be making a “deal” with the Soviets, and with their “little brother,” the Tudeh Party. At one point, he even broached the idea of bringing in “a few Soviet advisors” to explore for oil and as a temporary gesture of appeasement. The British and Americans were, needless to say, opposed. The shah, along with a number of key members of the parliament, particularly Sardar Fakher Hekmat, categorically rejected the idea of such a compromise. The shah reminded Ghavam that if any Soviet advisors were invited to Iran, it would be all but impossible to get rid of them. Subsequent events in much of the world confirmed that the shah’s suspicions were well founded.

Another important sign of Ghavam’s ambitions was his decision to create a political party, called the Democratic Party of Iran. Some of the eminent political figures of the time—from Ali Amini and Jahanguir Tafazolli to Sardar Fakher Hekmat and Hassan Arsanjani—were active members of the new organization.

Iran’s negotiations with the Soviet Union were made more difficult because during the war, as soon as it became clear that both the Soviet Union and American oil companies (specifically Standard Oil and Sinclair) intended to press for oil concessions in Iran, Mossadeq authored and helped pass legislation that forbade the Iranian government to sign any oil agreements during the war.

Nationalism and the Roots of Terror, 1946–1953
When the war ended, Mossadeq used his mastery of parliamentary rules, his knack for sensing and swaying public sentiment, and his flair for the theatrical aspects of politics to keep oil at the center of the public debate. Two other global patterns helped him fan the flames of the Iranian nationalist movement and focus its ire against the British. First was the gradual decline of Britain as a first-rate world power. Second, during the postwar years, a rapid burgeoning of democratic movements around the world creating what scholars call the “second wave” of democracy.[22] What gave this democratic surge more potency in the countries of the third world was the fact that it combined with the surge of often radical movements for national independence. Iran was no exception. The swift expansion in the ranks of the Tudeh Party, originally spurred by the ominous support of the Red Army, soon turned it into “by far the most important” political grouping of modern Iran.[23]

On February 4, 1949, an attempt was made on the life of the shah; the Tudeh Party, though not clearly connected to the terrorist act, was immediately declared illegal. It was henceforth ostensibly an underground organization, but in fact it operated in full force through many front organizations. More important, the central government lacked the power and resolution to control the party. The actual role the party played in the assassination attempt has become clear only since the Islamic Revolution. As it turns out, Noural-Din Kianouri, a German-trained architect and one of the leaders of the Tudeh Party, played a role in the sordid affair. With his wife, Maryam Firuz, he remained in the leadership of the Tudeh Party for the next half a century. Their tenure ended only when the Islamic Republic arrested almost the entire leadership of the party and for all practical purposes ended its continuous half-century role in Iranian politics.

The attempt on the shah’s life was not the party’s only link to political assassinations. The communists’ powerful clandestine military organization, composed of several hundred officers, and led by Khosrow Ruzbeh, was later implicated in a number of assassinations, including the death of Mohammad Mas’ud, a muck-raking journalist. Nor were the communists the only force using terrorist tactics. Right-wing groups, some with religious ideology, others with varieties of extreme nationalist tendencies, also began to engage in acts of terror. Darius Homayun, the future editor of Ayandegan, and a minister in Jamshid Amuzegar’s cabinet, began his political life as a member of one such group.

The shah used the occasion of the attempt on his life to convene a constitutional assembly to amend the constitution and give himself more power—particularly the power to dissolve the Majlis and call for new elections. The second house of the stipulated bicameral parliament, known as the Senate, was also to be created. Many in the opposition, even some Western diplomats, were against these constitutional changes. They saw them as potential first steps on the slippery slope of a return to despotism.

Mossadeq and twenty of his followers organized a hunger strike to protest the shah’s new powers, and to register their opposition to fraudulent elections. This collective action has often been considered the first practical step toward the creation of what came to eventually be known as the National Front—a loose union of different political parties and prominent individuals who cohered into a unified voice only because of Mossadeq’s charisma. He had set two relatively simple goals for the National Front: to reform the election laws and to nationalize Iranian oil.

Mossadeq was clearly the man of the hour. Lives were lost and reputations permanently sullied in attempts to circumvent his leadership role in solving the oil question. Abbasqoli Golshai’yan never recovered from the stigma of trying to find a solution to the oil conflict that did not, as Mossadeq envisioned, include nationalization. General Hadji Ali Razmara, a military man with high political ambitions, paid an even heavier price. He was named prime minister after he promised the British that he could solve the oil crisis. His appointment had come in spite of the shah’s initial reservations. All his life, the shah remained wary of ambitious and charismatic generals; his own father, after all, had become king not long after assuming the role of prime minister. Eventually the shah succumbed at the strong urging of England and the United States and accepted Razmara’s appointment.[24] But three Islamic bullets, delivered by a fanatic called Khalil Tahmasebi, ended Razmara’s life and career.

Tahmasebi had been a member of a newly founded terrorist organization called Feda’yan-e Islam. Its fiery leader, Navvab Safavi, was a seminarian who advocated a fundamentalist version of Islam and fought to create an Islamic theocracy. The spiritual leaders of this organization were Ayatollah Seyyed Abolqasem Kashani, a well-known mullah with a long history of anti-British activism, and a hitherto unknown junior cleric called Ruhollah Khomeini. The seminaries in those days were dominated by Ayatollah Boroujerdi and his brand of the “quietist” Shiism. He disdained Safavi and came to distrust Khomeini, whom he believed to be the covert source of support for Safavi.[25]

In 1951, the rising tide of nationalism finally swept Mossadeq into power. He was named prime minister on April 29, the day the Majlis also approved a bill that nationalized the oil industry. The shah, who in private opposed Mossadeq and his tactics, publicly supported him and signed the bill into law.[26] The British were deeply incensed—Persian oil had been the cash cow of their colonial empire. Furthermore, at the end of the war, it had become clear that Great Britain’s days of colonial domination were rapidly waning. When Churchill, with his storied reputation as an unrepentant champion of empire, led the Conservative Party back to victory in 1953, holding on to Iranian oil would become for him a point of great symbolic and economic significance.

Not long after Mossadeq’s appointment as prime minister, Great Britain began a policy intended to isolate Iran and overthrow Mossadeq. A strict embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil was put in place. In the meantime, a complicated and protracted legal and diplomatic battle between Iran and Great Britain took Mossadeq to The Hague and the International Court, and to New York and a special meeting of the UN Security Council. In these forums, Mossadeq generally prevailed, and his victories afforded him not only popularity at home, but an international stature rarely matched by another leader of the third world. In 1952, he was chosen Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”

Although the Truman administration made every effort to mediate the AngloPersian dispute, ultimately their efforts came to naught. When the new Eisenhower administration came to power in 1953, they were persuaded to the British theory that with Mossadeq in power, the communists would inevitably take over in Iran. This was a clear departure from what had been U.S. policy analysis until then. As late as February 1953, the CIA, in its now-declassified National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, declared categorically that the communists had no chance, in the upcoming year, to overthrow and replace Mossadeq.[27]

The Fall of Mossadeq, August 1953
The plan to replace Mossadeq was put into motion in mid-August 1953. Several key officers loyal to the shah, including Fazlollah Zahedi, Ne’matollah Nasiri, and Nader Batmanglij, were actively involved. Zahedi’s son, Aredeshir Zahedi, played the crucial role of an intermediary between his father, who was in hiding, and his supporters. The plan called for the shah to sign two firmans, one dismissing Mossadeq, the other appointing Zahedi as the new prime minister.

For two years, the shah had categorically refused to participate in such a move against Mossadeq. To his frustrated supporters, and to the envoys of Great Britain, and eventually the United States, he would offer the same refrain: Mossadeq must be eliminated through constitutional means. Eventually, Anglo-American emissaries convinced the shah that the coup would take place with or without his cooperation and support.

Ironically, it was not only Mossadeq’s own policies that made the shah change his mind, but Mossadeq himself who gave the shah the constitutional opening he sought. Frustrated by an intransigent Majlis, Mossadeq, in spite of warnings by such staunch allies as Khalil Maleki and respected ministers of his cabinet, such as Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi, decided to hold a referendum asking for the people’s vote to dismiss the parliament. The referendum itself was of dubious legality. The Iranian constitution had no provision for such a form of direct decision-making by the people. Furthermore, the conduct of the referendum left much to be desired. The voting booths were set up in such a way that opponents of the government had to vote in separate tents. But the most crucial aspect of the referendum was that once the Majlis was dismissed, the shah had the authority to issue a recess order and dismiss the prime minister. No fewer than eighteen such orders had already been issued in the twentieth century. Mossadeq, himself an astute lawyer, knew these facts. He had also been warned of the consequences by an authority no less respected than Sadiqi. But Mossadeq assumed, in his own words, that “the Shah will not dare” dismiss him. His calculation proved wrong.

The signed firman dismissing him as a prime minister was delivered to Mossadeq near midnight on August 15. Colonel Ne’matollah Nasiri, the messenger who delivered it, was armed and accompanied by soldiers. Mossadeq decided not only to defy the firman but to arrest Nasiri.
In the early hours of August 16, the shah learned of Mossadeq’s defiance. Frightened and dismayed, he and Soraya, the beautiful woman who had been his second queen, since their marriage on February 12, 1951, escaped from Iran in a small airplane.[28] Mohammad Khatam, a pilot in Iran’s air force (and its future head), as well as another aide, were with the shah. They first landed in Baghdad and soon left for Rome, where the shah began planning his future life as a gentleman farmer, possibly in America.

But less than six days later, he returned home, after his supporters, led by his appointed prime minister, General Zahedi, overthrew the government of Mossadeq. To the shah, the August events were a veritable “national uprising” of legitimizing support. To Mossadeq and his supporters, the August events were an illegitimate coup concocted by the CIA and British Intelligence against a democratically elected government.

Whatever the reality, both the United States and the shah paid a hefty price for their victory. The shah won the day but lost the war of legitimacy. He and his government were henceforth saddled with the stigma of being an American creation. The Americans, on the other hand, lost their privileged position in the hearts and minds of the Persians. The “anti-colonialist” image was replaced with that of the “ugly American.”

“Guided Democracy,” 1953–1958
After 1953, the United States began gradually to have a more forceful presence in Iran. Almost immediately after the overthrow of Mossadeq, the Zahedi cabinet began to negotiate for a new oil agreement with a consortium of Western oil companies. The government knew that its survival depended on its ability to deliver on the economic front, and for that they needed oil money. The oil companies, recognizing Iran’s dire needs and still stung by the losses they had suffered when Mossadeq had nationalized oil, played hardball. The English demanded a hefty sum as “damages.” In less than a year, on August 5, 1954, a new agreement was finally signed. Ali Amini, minister of finance in the new cabinet and the chief negotiator for the Iranian side, lived to pay a heavy political price for his role. The agreement was often seen by the people—and even by some in the parliament—as a complete abdication of Iran’s economic and political interests and Amini was, in the public’s eyes, held responsible.

The Zahedi government moved quickly to suppress all opposition groups, particularly the communists. Two years later, it learned to its great shock that the ranks of the military had been infiltrated by the cadres of the communist Tudeh Party. Meanwhile, the harsh tactics used to control and suppress the opposition further tarnished the government’s image. More important, in spite of general Zahedi’s plan to put Mossadeq under virtual house arrest and forgo a trial, the shah insisted that the old man be publicly tried and punished.[29] But Mossadeq was nothing if not a master orator and a genius of politics as theater. He used his trial to ridicule the government and point to the many injustices the oil companies had inflicted on Iran. By the end of the trial, he was a legend, and the government’s reputation further stained.

By 1955, not even three years after the coup, both the United States and Britain were growing more and more concerned about the long-term security and stability of Iran. In spite of generous American aid—it would total close to $1 billion by 1961—the economy was in shambles, disgruntlement was endemic, and, according to at least one CIA report, Mohammad Reza Shah was deemed “incapable of taking necessary actions to implement” desperately needed reforms. Adding insult to injury was the fact that there was little cooperation or coordination between the shah and the Zahedi government, or among the government’s different branches.
What “little cooperation” there had been hardly outlived Mossadeq’s ouster. Amazingly, only days after the shah had returned home from his brief exile, he had begun to move against Zahedi and had soon started planning seriously for his dismissal. These early efforts of the shah, against the man who had saved him from exile, were thwarted by the embassies of the United States and of Britain, who told him, in no uncertain terms, that retaining Zahedi, at least until the oil agreement was signed, was necessary. Furthermore, Zahedi and Abol-Hassan Ebtehaj, who was appointed the head of Iran’s Plan Organization and acted as the de facto economic czar of the country, were not on speaking terms.

In 1955, the shah finally succeeded in his efforts to dismiss Zahedi. He replaced him with Hoseyn Ala, never a forceful political figure and a man known more than anything else for his loyalty to the shah himself. A royal cabal, calling itself the “Polit-Bureau” and composed of Hoseyn Ala, Ali Amini, Assadollah Alam, Ne’matollah Nasiri, and Jahanguir Tafazolli, had worked hard to plan the demise of Zahedi, to decide the composition of the new Ala cabinet, and to prepare public opinion for this changing of the guard.[30]

As the shah’s Anglo-American allies continued to worry about his survival in power, they began to pursue a two-tiered policy. On the one hand, they tried to consolidate the shah’s grip on power by helping create a security police for Iran. The new agency was supposed to combine the functions of the CIA and the FBI. It was eventually called SAVAK, an acronym for the Persian title of the organization. American advisors helped set it up using the same model that had been used in Turkey. The man put in charge of this new organization was General Teymur Bakhtiyar. After the August coup, he had been named military governor of Tehran, and before long he developed a reputation as a tough man, with a weak spot for beautiful women and expensive real estate. Bakhtiyar’s two deputies, on the other hand, were generals with impressive experience in intelligence. One was Hassan Pakravan, a Francophile intellectual and a liberal at heart, and the other was Hassan Alavi Kia, who had long years of service as an intelligence officer. Within a decade SAVAK would become not just a dreaded secret police, but also the subject of repeated criticism from both the Iranian opposition and the Western media. In the 1960s and 1970s, the character and demeanor of Parviz Sabeti, known as the “high-ranking security official” and head of SAVAK’s Third Division—in charge of internal security—came to define the entire organization. The controversies surrounding the work of this division—media reports of arrests, torture, and censorship—would overshadow the work of SAVAK’s other divisions. The Eighth Division, for example, responsible for counterespionage, scored an impressive victory in the mid-1970s when they arrested General Moggarrebi, the Soviet Union’s highest-ranking spy in Iran.

In mid-1950s, however, strengthening the police was only one aspect of the American policy in Iran. The second track of the dual American policy was to encourage the shah toward more liberalism. Eventually, the shah agreed to the creation of a two-party political system. Each was led by one of the shah’s closest advisors. He often referred to it as an experience in “guided democracy.” As numerous reports from the American and British embassies make clear, however, the two parties never succeeded in appearing as anything other than a façade, intended to give the country a thin veneer of democracy.

One of the most important political choices made during the mid-1950s was Iran’s decision to give up its century-old tradition of at least ostensible neutrality and join the Baghdad Pact—later renamed CENTO. Ali Amini and Abdullah Entezam had been the chief advocates of this historic realignment. The final decision was, of course, made by the shah. He was a firm believer in the idea that the Soviet Union was an expansionist country and presented a clear and imminent danger for Iran. His persistent attempts to increase Iran’s military budget—or in the words of one American diplomat, his “obsession” with arms—was, until 1959, the direct result of his fear of the Soviets. In the event of a Soviet invasion, his plan, coordinated with the Americans under the rubric of the “Northern Tier” policy, called for the Iranian army to use the natural barrier of the Zagros Mountains to slow down the advancing Red Army long enough for U.S. forces to come to the rescue. But several events in 1958 and 1959 changed the landscape of Iranian politics and the shah’s military vision.

Shifting Alliances, 1958–1959
On February 27, 1958, General Valiollah Gharani—head of Army intelligence and an officer trusted by the shah—was arrested on the charge of attempting a coup. A number of people were arrested with him. Most sources give the number as thirty-eight; others have gone as high as a hundred. The official governmental communiqué referred to the involvement of certain “foreign powers.” There is no doubt that Gharani had been in touch with the American embassy in Tehran. The purpose of the coup, as it turned out, was not to overthrow the shah but instead to appoint Ali Amini, the minister of finance who had negotiated foreign oil contracts after the fall of Mossadeq, as the head of a new cabinet, and to force the shah to “reign but not rule.”

In spite of the severity of the charges against him, Gharani received a relatively light sentence. He would continue to play a role, albeit marginal, in Iranian politics until the Islamic Revolution, when he emerged as the first chairman of the new Islamic government’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Also early in 1958, the shah, without any consultation with the British or the Americans, invited a secret delegation from the Soviet Union to come to Tehran and sign a long-term nonaggression pact with Iran. Seyyed Zia Tabataba’i and Aliasgar Hekmat were particularly instrumental in advocating this new conciliatory Soviet policy. Soon, the United States and Great Britain learned of the delegation’s arrival. In fact two Iranian officials—Hoseyn Ala and Manuchehre Egbal—both trusted advisors to the shah, decided to inform the British and American governments of the shah’s secret plans. It is not clear whether the two were acting at the behest of the shah and were part of his game of brinksmanship with the West, or if other motives instigated their action. Great Britain had also learned of the presence of the Russians in Tehran on its own—most likely through intercepts.[31]

The United States responded swiftly in the form of a stern, almost threatening letter from Eisenhower. The British sent Sir Denis Wright to have a “frank and serious” conversation with the shah. The letter and the conversation produced their desired effects: the shah “changed” his mind, and finding an excuse in one of the clauses in the agreement, sent the Soviet delegation packing. No sooner had they arrived home than Radio Moscow started a propaganda blitzkrieg against the shah. Iran responded in kind. One of the people responsible for the success of the Iranian propaganda counteroffensive was a timid but highly intelligent bureaucrat by the name of Nasrollah Moinian. He would, in less than ten years, become the shah’s chief of staff.

When in 1958 a bloody and brutal military coup in Iraq overthrew the country’s monarchy and established a republic, the shah grew intensely anxious. Indeed, within a year he changed the whole military posture of Iran. The threat was no longer the Soviet Union, he concluded, but Iraq. The fact that by then Abdul Nasser of Egypt had begun exporting his brand of Arab Nationalism added to the shah’s anxieties. He spared no effort in reminding Western leaders that Nasser and his cohorts were bent on destabilizing and ultimately dismembering Iran.
In the context of these growing local and international tensions, in 1959 Eisenhower wrote a letter to the shah committing the United States to protecting the territorial integrity of Iran. The letter was intended to assuage the shah’s fears and to serve as a surrogate for the mutual defense pact the shah had been demanding for many years. In fact, evidence indicates that Eisenhower’s missive fulfilled its intended purpose. Prominent merchants of the bazaar, men like the Lajevardi brothers, saw the letter as an encouraging sign of long-term security for Iran and began to invest their capital in industry.[32]

Nasser’s increased meddling in the politics of the Persian Gulf also resulted in closer ties between Iran and Israel. From the moment of its creation, the shah had tried to keep
close ties with Israel. The Iranian government had provided free passage and logistical support for thousands of Iraqi Jews who, on the eve of the creation of Israel, wanted to escape Iraq and seek refuge in the Promised Land. By the mid-1950s, the threat of Nasser brought Iran and Israel even closer. In 1958, Israeli advisors helped Iran set up an Arabiclanguage radio station, based in Ahvaz, intended for Arab countries of the Persian Gulf.[33] Economic, military, intelligence, and technological ties were strengthened between the two countries in this period.

The White Revolution, 1960–1963
From 1960, during the Kennedy administration, pressure by the American authorities “convinced” the shah to implement a series of social and economic reforms, later called the “White Revolution.” These were begun during the premiership of Amini, the shah’s nemesis.

Most critics have hitherto seen these reforms as nothing other than dictates of the activist Kennedy administration. In truth, however, the reforms combined some of the shah’s own long-planned ideas with those recommended by the American administration. Ever since his ascent to power, for example, the shah had been advocating land reform. In 1961, this long-cherished goal began to be actualized. Hassan Arsanjani, a rabble-rousing journalist and close friend of Amini’s, was put in charge of the agrarian question. Most scholars believe Arsanjani played a crucial role in radicalizing the reforms and pushing them farther than the shah intended.[34]

The reforms of the White Revolution set in motion changes that were to alter the fabric of Iranian society and the social basis of the shah’s regime. Increased revenues from oil contributed further to the breakdown of traditional structures. New institutions capable of managing these far-reaching changes were simply wanting, and the resulting chaos sparked discontent; charges of financial corruption and oppression on the part of what institutions there were only added fuel to an already raging fire. Ultimately, the Islamic Revolution was to be the unintended consequence of these reforms— particularly of land reform.

The focus of the reform was to end absentee landlordism. Pieces of land belonging to such owners were distributed among the peasants who had until then worked on them. Newly freed and propertied peasants soon left the drudgeries of village life for the lure of the city and their share of oil money. Tehran was a magnet for these would-be urbanites, who brought with them the conservative religious culture of the village. A dangerous divide—cultural, economical, and religious—began to tear asunder the fabric of major cities. The shah’s incessant and grandiose pronouncements about his “great civilization,” and about “catching up” with Japan and Germany, only increased the expectations of this surging mass of new urbanites. As they became increasingly disgruntled, they were the perfect prey for new radical ideologies that promised to deliver bread in this world and salvation in the next. Their first attempt to use this potent brew for political ends came in June 1963.

A law granting American advisors and their families immunity from prosecution in Iranian territory was the spark that turned into a firestorm. The most radical anti-American rhetoric—interlaced with a heavy dose of anti-Israeli and anti-Pahlavi diatribes— came from Ayatollah Khomeini. In June 1963, news of his arrest led to one of the biggest urban uprisings in modern Iran. Assadollah Alam, who had replaced Amini as the prime minister, used the army to forcefully repress the rebellion. Ayatollah Khomeini was eventually exiled to Turkey, and then to Iraq. But 1963 turned out to be the dress rehearsal for the revolution of 1979. In 1979, the same coalition of forces, under the same leadership, would challenge the shah again, but contrary to the 1963 experience, their early efforts would be met with conciliatory gestures by the government, and before long, a protest movement would morph into a full-blown revolution.

Reformists and Radicals, 1963–1965
In spite of its bloody beginning, the reforms of 1961–63, called interchangeably “the White Revolution” or the “Revolution of the Shah and the People,” heralded a new age in Iranian politics. The enfranchisement of women, fiercely opposed by the clergy, led in less than five years to the appointment of the first woman as a cabinet minister. On August 28, 1968, Farrokhru Parsa, a seasoned educator, was named minister of education. Eight years later, a young lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, was named Iran’s first woman judge; much later, she would become the recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Although opponents criticized these changes as superficial and inorganic, women nevertheless entered the political, educational, and scientific arenas in record numbers. Laws based on Sharia and inimical to women’s rights—from laws on marriage that allowed men to have concubines and second wives to laws barring women from becoming judges—began to be changed.

Another important consequence of the reforms was the gradual yet inexorable rise of a new class of experts to positions of political and economical prominence. This new breed, often Western-trained, usually deeply steeped in the discourse of technocracy, replaced more traditional politicians such as Seyyed Fakhroddin Shadman, Hoseyn Ala, and Abdullah Entezam.
Hassan Mansur and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, along with their Progressive Circle, were the epitome of those in this new technocratic group who wanted to change Iran through an alliance with the shah.[35] By the time the Progressive Circle transformed itself into a political party and changed its name to the New Iran Party, it had already begun to take the lion’s share of governmental positions. The second party of Iran’s supposed two-party experiment—the Mardom Party—was consistently relegated to the role of a minor, and marginalized, player. The fact that its de facto leader, Alam, enjoyed unusually close relations with the shah was of little help.

The rise of this new type of politician first manifested itself in the realm of the economy. Before the sudden surge of petrodollars in the 1970s, during the 1960s, something of an economic miracle took place in Iran. Under the leadership of a highly trained group of technocrats—men like Alinaghi Alikhani, Mehdi Samii, and Khodadad Farmanfarma’ian—and with the help of a new class of skilled managers and capitalists, often trained in the west—men like the Arjomand brothers, and the Lajevardi family—a solid foundation for the long-term development of Iranian industry was laid. Barter agreements with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where the USSR received gas in return for industrial investments, was an important part of this group’s innovations. As for the shah, he finally realized his and his father’s dream of having a steel mill in Iran, building it with the help of the Soviet Union.

Despite signs that reform was taking hold, opposition to the shah continued in more radicalized form. By 1965, the shah’s reforms had essentially, in the words of an American observer, “taken the wind out of the sails” of much of the reformist opposition, particularly the National Front. Furthermore, the defeat of the July 1963 uprising, and the appointment of the hard-liner Nasiri to replace the reform-minded Pakravan as the head of SAVAK, had convinced many younger radical members of the National Front to join more radical groups. Ali Shari’ati was an Islamic ideologue who helped pave the way for an Islamic version of this new model of militancy. At the same time, he was instrumental in offering a version of Islam that was free from obscurantism and appealing to the new modern middle class. His lectures at Hosseini-ye Ershad were clearly geared to that educated audience and without doubt worked to pave the way for the Islamic Revolution.[36]

The radical wave of the 1960s in the West also left its mark on the thousands of Iranian students who were studying at Western universities. The shah, realizing that his modernizing programs needed the support of a technocratic class, decided not merely to continue but to intensify his father’s policy of sending Iranian students abroad. The children of the newly created middle classes, and sometimes even those of lower classes, began to arrive in Europe. Parviz Nikkhah was one of them. The son of middle-class parents, he had been sent to Europe in the new wave of students. He returned to Iran filled with the Promethean fire of a revolutionary; before long he found himself in prison fighting for his life, charged with attempted regicide and complicity in the acts of a religious soldier who tried to kill the shah in 1965.

This was the second time an attempt had been made on the life of the shah. Religious forces were responsible for both acts; in both cases, however, the regime laid blame on the Left. The regime’s odd insistence on this point was part of an overall policy that helps explain the dynamics of the 1979 revolution. This policy stemmed from a seriously misguided strategic analysis by the regime of its friends and foes. The shah and his intelligence agencies had come to the conclusion that the main threat to the regime came from the Left and the moderate democratic forces.

Although serious obstacles were placed on their path to keep the Left and the Centrist forces from organizing, the clergy were by and large given a free hand in their activities. Every evidence of the dangers posed by the religious forces was consistently undervalued, while exaggerated stories about the influence of the Left became, for the regime, political gospel. Nikkhah’s charge of regicide was one of the results of this myopic vision. In fairness to the regime, it must of course be remembered that those were still the days of the cold war, and the specter of communism haunted the imagination not just of the shah but of Western governments.

An Independent Stance, 1965–1975
After serving four years in prison, Nikkhah had a change of heart and mind. The opposition, he said, should defend the shah. For him, one of the key signs of the shah’s new progressive rule was his successful attempt to secure more and more income from Iran’s oil. Indeed, from 1965 there was a gradual rise in Iran’s oil revenues, and, with it, the shah’s increasing independence from his Western supporters. In the words of Armin Meyer, the American ambassador to Iran at the time, the shah was no longer “the ward of the United States, as in 1941–1945, nor the vacillating youth of the late forties . . . he is becoming more and more like his father . . . independent-minded, impulsive and autocratic . . . and wants an independent stance for Iran.”[37]

The surfeit of oil income allowed the shah to pursue his long-cherished dream of turning Iran into the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. Great Britain’s declaration that it intented to leave the Persian Gulf by 1971 afforded the shah just the kind of opportunity he had hoped for. The British made every effort to “disabuse the shah” of the notion that he would be allowed to dominate the Persian Gulf region after their departure. Such a domination would make the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, all British “allies,” unhappy. The Persian-Gulf Arab countries themselves, particularly Saudi Arabia, were none too happy at the prospect of a dominant Iran. In tense meetings between Iran and Great Britain at that time, Aredeshir Zahedi, then Iran’s foreign minister, spoke forcefully for the inevitability of Iran’s independence and dominance. He simultaneously succeeded in developing closer ties between Iran and the Arab states, while he failed in his concomitant effort to curtail Iran’s ties with Israel.

At the same time, the United States was rethinking its global position and, under the Nixon Doctrine, decided it was no longer capable of policing the entire globe. Instead, local powers were to be strengthened and assigned the task of protecting their designated areas from the communist threat. The shah’s grand designs for local domination fit perfectly with the new exigencies of the Nixon doctrine.

Iran’s newfound wealth did more than allow the shah to pay for his hegemonic dream. It also led to such excesses as the lavish 1971 party celebrating twenty-five hundred years of monarchy in Iran. The celebration became the opposition’s cause célèbre. They pointed to its many excesses—food from Maxim’s of Paris, expensive toiletries from France—and, more seriously, to alleged financial malfeasence. The potentially positive aspects of the celebration—the creation of Acta Iranica as a forum for serious scholarship on Iran,[38] the building of twenty-five hundred schools and hospitals, the implied attempt to strengthen Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage and diminish the Islamic element of the Iranian identity— were ignored, or overshadowed by the absurd expenditures of the celebration.

Despite such occasional waste, by the mid-1970s Iran was clearly poised to experience the famous “take-off” envisioned by Walt B. Rostow. The shah had by then become a figure of considerable international stature. Iran’s oil revenues allowed him to go on a “lending binge.”[39] Everyone from Yassir Arafat to Hafez Assad, from Pan Am to the Krupp Corporation, even developed countries like France, received a share of this royal bounty.
At the same time, the aging monarch was beginning to worry about the question of transition to his son. Furthermore, there were by then clear indications that Hoveyda and his party had developed a formidable lock on all key levers of local power. The shah decided to search for a plan that would solve all of these problems.

Toying with Reform, 1975–1977
For a while, the shah toyed with the idea of creating a genuine, new reformist party. Mehdi Samii, one of the country’s most respected political figures, was entrusted with the task of creating such a party.[40] But before plans for it could be finalized, the shah had a change of heart. The sudden surge of petrodollars convinced him that the country’s political ills could all find an economic solution. More specifically, he hoped to “buy” the acquiescence and allegiance of the lower and middle classes. He scuttled the Samii party plan, and instead surprised the nation by disbanding all political parties and creating a one-party system.[41]

The shah had grown intolerant of “saucy minions,” so no one dared publicly question the wisdom of this cavalier and clearly unconstitutional act. Instead of opening up the system with Samii, he closed it with a resounding bang. It is fascinating, albeit futile, to imagine what would have happened in Iran if the shah had not given up on the idea of a genuine reformist party led by Mehdi Samii and had opened up the system at the height of his power. As it happened, instead of this opening, the shah’s one-party system—called the Rastakhiz Party—turned out to be a serious political liability.

Complicating the picture was galloping inflation, the enemy of the shah’s economic vision. As with politics, so too in economics he tried to force his way to a solution. The shah ordered Fereydun Mahdavi, minister of trade, to reduce prices forcefully. But economics are immune to royal or revolutionary fiat. Only the stubborn facts of reality, or the mysteries of the human mind and mood, can determine or change economic cycles. The shah’s decision made many entrepreneurs and shopkeepers not just disgruntled, but sworn enemies of the state. And it hastened a loss of confidence among investors. Many industrialists and contractors put their expansion plans on hold.[42] A major flight of capital from Iran began. According to one estimate, more capital left Iran between 1975 and 1977 than in the subsequent two years at the height of the revolution.

Unheeded Warnings, 1977–1978
In those troubled times, Senator Gassem Lajevardi made what turned out to be in retrospect a historic speech to the Senate. He warned of the dangers of lawlessness and reminded his listeners that long-term security and the rule of law are both preconditions for the development of capitalism. But his warning would prove too little, too late. No one in the government even bothered to seek him out for advice.[43]

The election of Jimmy Carter in the United States, and his advocacy of human-rights policy, emboldened the Iranian opposition. Small protests demanding minor democratic changes grew into larger demonstrations, with demonstrators shouting radical slogans including “Death to the shah.” These developments coincided with the onset of the debilitating illness that eventually ended the shah’s life. For the next two crucial years, every political decision the shah made seemed inexplicably irrational, ill-timed, or ill-advised.

The first clear sign of impending change was Hoveyda’s dismissal as prime minister. He had by then served longer than any other prime minister in the modern history of Iran. There were two candidates for his replacement. The first was Hushang Ansary, a versatile but highly controversial minister, with a storied rags-to-riches life; the other was Jamshid Amuzegar, a dour technocrat with little political savvy. For reasons that have never been clear, the shah chose Amuzegar, only to replace him in less than fourteen months. While Amuzegar claims that he was told by the shah to start thinking about his cabinet a full week before he was actually named prime minister, others have suggested that his appointment was apparently the result of a last minute change of heart. They say Ansary was assumed the presumptive next prime minister and that he, too, had begun forming his cabinet.[44] He had certainly been Alam’s choice. Regardless of what the truth is, there is no doubt about one point—the Amuzegar tenure not only was short, but had dire consequences.

By this time, Alam lay on his deathbed in France. He had become increasingly concerned about the future of the shah. In the last weeks of his life, in a letter sober in tone and frank in content, he tried to warn the monarch about the seriousness of the situation. The shah paid no attention to Alam’s words of warning and dismissed them as simply the result of Alam’s sickness, or senility.[45]

The Perfect Storm, 1978
It was early in Amuzegar’s tenure that political demonstrations grew in size. In no small measure, their genesis can be traced to when the shah promised liberalization. In retrospect, it seems clear that as far as the shah and his survival were concerned, this liberalization was started at the most inauspicious time possible. Even in the best of times, it is hard for despotic regimes to successfully manage a transition to democracy. As a general rule, years of resentment and discontent turn into torrents of angry and sometimes irrational demands that invariably overflow the banks of reason and peaceful transition. In Iran, these problems were worsened by bad timing: liberalization was begun when the economy was taking a downturn, the shah was increasingly sick, and power was in the hands of a technocrat with little patience for the vagaries of politics. The combination had the makings of a “perfect storm.”
When Amuzegar took over, economists were already predicting a crisis. But the shah, by then fully convinced that he should, in his own words, “listen to economists and always just do the opposite,” simply “refused to decelerate the rate of economic growth. In fact, the government increased taxes and resorted to foreign borrowing. . . . Iran’s surplus of $2 billion in 1974 was turned into a whopping deficit of $7.3 billion.”[46] New taxes on the salaried class, forced price reductions for the entrepreneurial class, and the traditional hardships of the urban poor in transitional economies interacted with the more liberal policies adopted by the shah to create a growing movement of discontent. Amuzegar paid little attention to these early disturbances. Instead he comforted himself by assuming that they were nothing but the petty machinations of his rivals, particularly Hoveyda and his ally in the secret police (SAVAK), Parviz Sabeti.[47]

Amuzegar’s inability or unwillingness to tackle the political issues resulted in a gradual worsening of the situation. His behavior seems less strange, however, if viewed in the context of a larger historic pattern. Ever since Amini’s demise, questions of national security, foreign relations, and the military had been the sole purview of the shah. Prime ministers, and by extension ministers in every cabinet, had been loath to delve into these areas, lest they rouse the ire of the shah. This time, too, everyone assumed the shah to be in full command of the situation.

Other critics claim that one of Amuzegar’s decision, to end the “subsidies” paid by the government to the mullahs, was the cause of the revolution. Aside from the fact that such arguments reduce the complex reality of a revolution to a single cause, this claim flies in the face of the fact that supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini never “deigned to take money from a government they considered a usurper.”[48] In 2004, after a quarter century of silence, Amuzegar finally answered his critics on this point. He claimed that after the August 1953 coup, it was the White House that had begun making regular payments to the Iranian clergy and that it was Carter, and not Amuzegar, who decided to end the subsidies.[49]

In August 1978, as the country was fast falling into a state of chaos, the last meeting of the Amuzegar cabinet was discussing the absurdly insignificant question of the price of tractors produced by a government factory. Only hours after settling that urgent question, the government was dismissed by the shah, and in recognition of the worsening situation, an attempt was made to create a government of “national reconciliation.”

For reasons hard to fathom, the shah asked Ja’far Sharif-Emami to head this government. There is some evidence that Ayatollah Shari’atmadari played an important role in this strange decision.[50] Whatever the reason, Sharif-Emami was unsuited for the job for a variety of obvious reasons. He was reputed to be notoriously corrupt and self-absorbed. He was, furthermore, known to be the grand master of Iran’s Masonic Lodges, the bane of modern Iranian politics. Finally, in 1960, in another time of crisis, he had been named prime minister and even then, when the crisis was far less serious, he had been incapable of solving the problem. He soon proved to be no more capable of solving the new crisis.
His solution was as simple as it was banal, and it showed utter disregard for the lessons of history. His plan was pacification through appeasement. He wanted to disarm the opposition, particularly the clergy, by agreeing to their every demand. The plan, as expected, backfired. Revolutionary appetite increases by what it feeds on. Every concession only strengthens the revolution’s hunger for more. The desperate attempt to arrest and offer as sacrificial lambs a number of the regime’s most trusted ministers and managers—including Hoveyda, by then retired from his post as minister of court, and General Nasiri, sent to the sinecure of Iran’s embassy in Pakistan—backfired. It not only failed to appease the opposition but further weakened the already frayed resolve of the rapidly dwindling ranks of the regime’s supporters.

It soon became clear that Sharif-Emami’s elixir of offering concessions was in fact a poison to the body politic. Not only was he incapable of containing the movement, but his every move and word seemed to contribute to its further radicalization. Eventually, as Tehran and many other major cities were fast falling into chaos, as the government received intelligence that more bloodshed was planned by the clerics,[51] the cabinet decided to show its muscle by declaring martial law. This important decision was reached around ten o’clock on the evening of Thursday, September 7.

Black Friday, September 8, 1978
Mysteriously, by the time government-controlled media got around to announcing the new “get-tough” policy, it was early the next morning and throngs of demonstrators had already gathered in Tehran’s Jaleh Square. The demonstrators were ordered to disperse. When they refused, soldiers opened fire. The regime claimed that 121 demonstrators and 70 soldiers and policemen had been killed.[52] The truth mattered little in those days. What did matter was that by early afternoon, Tehran was awash with rumors of a bloodbath.

By that evening, the powerful myth of “Black Friday” was born. The opposition talked of thousands killed, of Israeli soldiers used in the firing line. The royalists talked of Palestinians who were used by the mullahs to shoot at the demonstrators, and of Arabic heard spoken on the firing lines. Neither side wanted to accept that what had happened was a purely Iranian tragedy, a native story “of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts / Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters,” and “purposes mistook.”[53]

Last Days
The government of “national reconciliation” failed to achieve even a modicum of conciliation. Pressure began to build for the shah to appoint a military government. Many of his advisors, as well as some in SAVAK, had been arguing that only after establishing law and order could he begin a national dialogue and offer measured concessions from a position of strength. In Washington, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security advisor, was of the same opinion and tried to convey that message to the shah. But Cyrus Vance in the State Department and Ambassador William Sullivan in Tehran were loath to advise the shah on a policy that could lead to bloodshed. Ultimately it was the latter camp that won the day.

Instead of appointing the much-feared General Gholamali Oveissi, the shah appointed the faint-hearted General Gholam Reza Azhari. In a clear sign of the ruling circles’ utter confusion, General Azhari absurdly insisted on receiving a “vote of confidence” from the Majlis, although the very concept of a military government seemed to obviate the very meaning of such a gesture.[54]

But the general was not the only one who was not clear on the concept. The day after this appointment, the shah, weak in appearance, ashen in color, and visibly shaken in spirit, appeared on television and delivered a speech that in form and substance altogether undermined the intended spirit of a military crackdown. The architects of this “gesture of contrition,” so thoroughly negating the martial law “gesture of power,” have not come forward to claim responsibility for their act. Evidence suggests that at least some of the responsibility lies with Reza Ghotbi—a relative of the queen and the all-powerful head of the government-run Iranian National Radio and Television Organization—and Seyyed Hoseyn Nasr, a teacher of Islamic philosophy and for a while chief of staff to the queen.[55]

The Azhari debacle underscored an obvious fact: not only did the government lack a cohesive strategy, but it was altogether unclear who was in charge in the country. Queen Farah, and her advisors and relatives, particularly Reza Ghotbi and Hushang Nahavandi, seemed to play increasingly more prominent roles. As the shah’s mood deteriorated, the queen filled the vacuum. Experienced observers of the Iranian political scene began to become more and more apprehensive about the future. Of these, few played a more crucial role that Ayatollah Shari’atmadari, who at the time still enjoyed enormous popular support on the street. He tried in vain to encourage the shah to take a more positive and active role. At great risk to his reputation and safety, he met secretly with the king’s representative and tried to warn him about Khomeini’s character and the dangers he posed for the country. But Shari’atmadari’s efforts, as well as those of others who tried to bolster the shah’s resolve, were all for naught. The shah had lost his nerve.

The shah’s predilection to leave Iran when faced with a crisis was now augmented by his fight with cancer, and by an increasingly debilitating depression. His suspicion that the British, the Americans, and the Soviets were behind the demonstrations, hand in hand with the reality that the BBC took an increasingly critical attitude toward the regime, finally and fully convinced the shah that the big powers were united in their strategy to get rid of him. The sight of the streets teeming with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, angrily shouting “Death to the shah” broke what little resolve he had.

It further compounded the shah’s problems that the Carter administration, preoccupied with the historic Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, paid scant attention to the deteriorating situation in Iran. When it came to its policy on Iran, the administration was beset with sometimes acrimonious differences of opinion among the State Department; the Defense Department; the National Security Advisor; the CIA; and finally the American ambassador in Tehran, William Sullivan. As the crisis deepened, Sullivan, who according to his own admission was a complete novice on Iran, seemed to follow a foreign policy of his own.[56] It was at best a measure of his estrangement from the realities of Iran—or at worst a sign of his incompetence if not ill-will—that he took a two-month vacation away from Tehran just as the crisis was reaching a point of no return. When the shah most needed the reassurances of the American embassy, the ambassador was away on vacation.

The mistakes of the shah were cunningly exploited by his old nemesis, Ayatollah Khomeini. He had been living in Iraq, and on the occasion of his son’s death in September 1978, he issued a harshly worded condemnation of the shah’s regime. The shah in anger ordered the publication of a now infamous letter, titled “Iran and Black Imperialism.” The letter, vapid in content, and crass in style, suggested that Ayatollah Khomeini was Indian by birth, and it accused his family of being “connected with British colonial centers.”[57] This senseless letter of revenge triggered the demonstrations that finally brought the shah’s government to its knees.
As the crisis deepened in Iran, Saddam Hussein, in a gesture of friendship to the shah, expelled the ayatollah from Iraq. France offered him safe haven. Arriving in Paris in 1978, disguising his ultimate goal of creating a theocracy, Ayatollah Khomeini “played” the Western media. The romantic lure of an exotic turbaned Oriental, his adept handling of reporters, his repeated declarations of his “democratic” intent and of his desire to retire to the seminary and resume his life of contemplation and spirituality, all worked to turn the usually critical Western media into a docile tool of his strategy of dissimulation.

Even the secular National Front fell prey to the ayatollah’s temptations. By then at least three distinctly different strategies had emerged in its ranks. On the one hand, leaders like Karim Sanjabi were eager to jump on the Khomeini bandwagon. Others like Alahyar Saleh refused to meet with either Khomeini or the shah, indicating that the latter must pay for his sins against Mossadeq. Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi, a respected scholar and a revered minister in the government of Mossadeq, had yet a different approach. The country is in danger, he said, and we must put aside our personal ambitions and past grudges to save the nation.

Sadiqi agreed in late 1978 to form a cabinet and to try to avert the rise of the clergy to power. But his comrades in the National Front, at the apparent behest of Ayatollah Khomeini, did all they could either to dissuade him from his heroic attempt or to make it impossible for him to form a cabinet. Furthermore, by then the shah was in a hurry to leave Iran, and Sadiqi had predicated his acceptance of the prime minister’s post on the condition that the shah stay in the country. All of these factors worked to kill the chance of a Sadiqi government, and his cabinet might well have been the last serious chance for a democratic alternative to the revolution.

As the shah showed more and more signs of despondency and irresolution, Western powers, worried about chaos in Iran, decided in a special conference on the island of Guadeloupe to press for the shah’s swift departure from Iran. Not long after that conference, William Sullivan asked for an audience with the shah, and during the tense meeting he indicated, in no uncertain terms, that the American government thought that the shah must leave Iran. The shah was by then only too happy to comply. All that kept him in Tehran was the need to find someone to serve as prime minister.

When Sadiqi failed in his attempt to form a government, Shapur Bakhtiyar, another member of the National Front, emerged as the only opposition leader willing to fight the tsunami that threatened to sweep the clergy to power. The day his government was sworn in, the shah, teary-eyed, left Iran, never to return. The shah’s rule had lasted thirty-seven years; Bakhtiyar’s government lasted only thirty-seven days. For the shah, his departure meant the beginning of a tragic life as a pariah. For the Iranian people, the jubilant celebrations on the day of the shah’s departure soon gave way to benighted years of oppression, war, and hardship. Once again, the promised messiah had become a Moloch.

Passage of Power, 1979
By the time Bakhtiyar became prime minister, Ayatollah Khomeini had extended his disingenuous policy of dissimulation to Western powers as well. In a still-classified letter to Jimmy Carter, he promised cooperation if the American government would end its support of the Bakhtiyar government and convince the Iranian Army to take a neutral position.[58] When on February 11, 1979, the army finally did declare itself neutral, not only the government of Bakhtiyar but the rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, and with it a twenty-five-hundred-year tradition of monarchy, ended in Iran.

Ayatollah Khomeini appointed a provisional government composed mostly of religious members of the National Front. At the same time, his “representatives” in each ministry gradually became the real source of power. Every neighborhood was controlled by “Revolutionary Committees,” each of which was invariably led by a mullah. The army was virtually “decapitated,” and before long, every Iranian general, with the exception of a handful who worked with the new regime, were either retired or sent to the firing squad. In the place of the regular army, the Revolutionary Guards were founded and soon became the chief weapon of enforcement and terror for the new Islamic regime. Indeed, before long, revolutionary tribunals began executing members of the ancien régime. Sheikh Sadeq Khalkhali, the infamous “Hanging Judge,” sent thousands of people to their death. Trials often lasted no more than a few minutes. There were no juries, no attorneys, and no right of appeal. A new criminal code, inspired by Islamic rules of retribution, replaced the existing laws. The constitution that was promised in Paris, which would have allowed Iran to become a democratic republic, was replaced with a new draft where nearly all power was placed in the hands of Ayatollah Khomeini.

In the economic realm, the new regime’s policies and laws were no less devastating. Thousands of people were driven from their homes. Hundreds of corporations were “expropriated” and eventually lumped together in a new concoction called Bonyad Mostazafan, or Foundation for the Dispossessed. Although it controlled more than half of the entire economy of the country, it was placed in the direct and personal control of Ayatollah Khomeini. Even today, the Foundation is the private fiefdom of the “Spiritual Leader.” Managers and technocrats, no less than doctors and engineers, were gradually and inexorably disenfranchised. The dread revolutionary terror, this time wearing the guise of a mullah, wreaked havoc in the lives of millions of Iranians.

Radical students, supported by Ayatollah Khomeini, took over the American Embassy and turned Iran into a pariah nation. The war with Iraq only augmented the air of menace and violence in the air. The economic costs of the war and the embassy takeover have never been carefully calculated, but they surely reach hundreds of billions of dollars. Fifty-two of the most important industrial and commercial conglomerates were nationalized in one radical gesture. Banks and insurance companies were also “nationalized.” Thousands of eminent men and women chose exile, reluctantly leaving behind an Iran that, instead of realizing the democratic hopes and aspirations of its people, had soured into a despotic regime claiming divine legitimacy.

August 2007

Politics and Public Administration Bios

Hoseyn Ala
Assadollah Alam
Alinaghi Alikhani
Ali Amini
Jamshid Amuzegar
Hushang Ansary
Hassan Arsanjani
Safi Asfia
Hamid Ashraf
Shapur Bakhtiyar
Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani
Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi
Dr. Manuchehre Egbal
The Entezam Brothers
Akbar Etemad
Reza Fallah
Aziz, Khodadad, Maryam, and Sattareh Farmanfarma’ian
Mohammad-Ali Forughi
Ahmad Ghavam-ol Saltaneh
Reza Ghotbi
Abbasqoli Golshai’yan
Ebrahim Hakimi (Hakim-al Molk)
Aliasgar Hekmat
Sardar Fakher Hekmat
Amir-Abbas Hoveyda
Fereydun Mahdavi
Abdol-Majid and Monir Vakili Majidi
Khalil Maleki
The Mansur Family
Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq
Hushang Nahavandi
Parviz Nikkhah
Nasser and Khosrow Qhashghai
Shapur and Mehri Rasekh
Fuad Ruhani
Khosrow Ruzbeh
Parviz Sabeti
Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi
Seyyed Fakhroddin Shadman
Ja’far Sherif-Emani
Seyyed Zia Tabataba’I
Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh
Aredeshir Zahedi

Hoseyn Ala

In Shakspeare, the Earl of Warwick is the ultimate kingmaker. Polonius, on the other hand, is a cunning and clever politician, obedient and dedicated to the stiff solemnities of court. In the postwar politics of Iran, there was no War of the Roses, but Hoseyn Ala, an avid reader of Shakespeare, had the discourse and demeanor of a Polonius while playing the role of Warwick more than once.

His public career lasted more than six decades. He faithfully served the Pahlavi dynasty from the moment of its inception. His power increased considerably when Reza Shah abdicated. During the first twenty years of Mohammad Reza Shah’s rule, Ala was something of a father figure to the young king. According to Ann Lambton, the chief architect of British policy in Iran in the postwar years, it was—contrary to the common perception that credits Zoka-al Moluk Forughi with saving the Pahlavi dynasty—in fact Ala who convinced the British Embassy in 1941 that Mohammad Reza Shah’s ascent to the throne was the best option for Iran and for Britain. “We trusted Ala,” said Lambton.[1] The same note of confidence and respect can be seen in the memoirs of Sir Denis Wright, for many years Britain’s ambassador to Iran. He writes of Ala as a man of wit and wisdom, patriotism and profound appreciation for the complexities of world politics. He also had, according to Sir Denis, an “encyclopedic knowledge of men and events.”[2]

Ala had politics in his blood. He was born in 1884 (1262) in the lap of aristocratic luxury, into a family that had been steeped in Iranian politics for decades. His father, Ala al Saltaneh, was a politician and courtier. Hoseyn was only four when he accompanied his father to Russia when he was appointed a consular official; he was later and for many years Iran’s ambassador to Great Britain. Hoseyn went with his father to London and was “educated at Westminster, where he seems to have received rough treatment.”[3] After high school, Ala enrolled in London University, where after about four years he received a degree in law. Immediately after graduation, he worked as a special secretary at the embassy where his father was ambassador.[4]

Hoseyn was created a “GMG” in 1905—a high rank in the labyrinth of British nobility titles—“when he accompanied his father on a special mission to London for the coronation of the late King Edward VII.”[5] Later, when his father was appointed foreign minister, he made his young son his “chef de cabinet,” or chief of staff. Ala remained in that post until 1915, long after his father had resigned. The profile of him prepared by the British Embassy in Tehran gives a detailed albeit brief account of his activities during this period. They write that he was

appointed Minister of Public Works in January 1918. . . .Ala was hostile to Sir Charles Marling, His Majesty’s Minister from 1915 to 1916, and caused repeated complaints to be made to the Foreign Office through his brother, who was then Persian Minister in London. He accompanied the abortive Persian mission to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Appointed Persian Minister at Madrid in 1919 and at Washington in 1920. Conducted negotiations in Washington in 1921–22 for the American Financial Mission to Persian, after he had failed to obtain the North Persian Oil Concession, first for the Standard Oil Company and then for the Sinclair Corporation. Returned from Washington in 1925 and took his seat in the fifth Majlis as a deputy from Tehran.[6]

It was in the capacity of a parliamentarian that, along with three other brave souls, he opposed the creation of the Pahlavi dynasty. Nevertheless, it was a measure of his stature and of Reza Shah’s trust in him that he remained in power for much of the next twenty years. In 1927 he was appointed minister of public works and then sent to Europe as Iran’s delegate to the League of Nations. In 1929, Ala was sent to Paris as ambassador. Not only was his English impeccable, but he was also competent in French. When Iran took its complaint against the British oil company to the League of Nations, Ala was chosen to represent Iran. It would not be the last time he was asked to represent Iran in a crucial international arena. Shortly after these oil negotiations, Ala returned to Iran and, “though he had no particular knowledge of banking,”[7] took over the reins of Iran’s National Bank. Managing the bank was only the first of wide variety of activities. During the next two decades, for example, he was active in creating a branch of the International Red Cross in Iran, called the “Red Lion and Sun.” He was also one of the organizing members of the committee to celebrate a millennium of Ferdowsi, Iran’s epic poet, as well as the first head of Iran’s Sports and Athletics organization. Twenty years later, he was one of the founding members of the committee to celebrate twenty-five hundred years of monarchy in Iran.

After Paris, the Iranian government wanted to send him as ambassador to the Court of St. James. The “transfer was mooted. . . . His Majesty’s Government were unwilling to receive him on the ground that . . . it was difficult to suppose that he was then animated by friendly sentiments.”8 Three years later his transfer was finally approved. Two years after that, he returned to Tehran, and after a brief tenure as minister of commerce, spent the last two years of Reza Shah’s reign without an appointment.

Ala was a true renaissance man. He was raised in a family of unusually cosmopolitan erudition and education. He was an avid reader of both Persian and English classics. Ala was an accomplished cartoonist, and in meetings he sat silently listening to discussions
and doodling. Often he drew profiles of the politicians he knew.[9] In the early years of the shah’s reign, he tried to educate the king by giving him books by Thucydides and George Bernard Shaw.

Ala was a man of few words and a subtle sense of humor. He was short in stature and light in weight. He always carried a small notebook in his pocket, in which he wrote a few words on what had transpired in each of his meetings, as well as aphorisms, poems, even recipes.10 He was a master of protocol, knowing even the most mundane details of diplomatic decorum. He often repeated the poem of Sae’di that said two things are the enemies of wit: silence when it is time to speak, and speaking when it is time for silence.11 He was punctual and polite and deferential to power, yet he was willing to give the monarch frank advice and occasionally stand up to him. Reza Shah was said to despise pocket handkerchiefs; Ala used them, and in spite of the king’s aversion, never changed his habit.12 His decorous behavior was reflected in his attire; all his life, he was impeccably dressed, invariably wearing a tie.

He was said to be the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge called “Mehre.” In spite of the fact that England had at one time refused to accept him as Iran’s ambassador, his Masonic ties, as well as rumors of his “connections” to England, caused some of his critics to call him “a puppet of England.”13 Others alleged that he was “pro-American” because of his role in such deals as bringing Dr. Arthur Millspaugh, an American financial advisor, to Iran.14 On the other hand, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, reluctant to praise anyone with close ties to the shah, called Ala “an active, benevolent, humble and democratic man who takes seriously whatever he is involved in and who has not accepted office merely in order to earn his living, and acquire elevated rank; a sincere and truthful man.”15 These democratic sentiments almost led Ala to join the Jangali movement in 1914.[16]

In July 1927, Ala married Rogiye Garagozlou—a woman of independent wealth and assertive personality. She was “one of the first in her generation to leave off the veil.”[17] Her father had translated The Merchant of Venice and Othello. Rogiye inherited properties throughout Iran and, with their occasional sale, helped sustain the household, particularly in the last years of Ala’s life.[18] They had two children, a son and daughter. Rogiye’s independence was sometimes a source of anxiety for Ala. According to Sir Denis Wright, Britain’s ambassador to Iran, “rumor had it that since the Shah had not, as planned, married her daughter, she would not attend parties where he would be present.”19 Other sources critical of Ala have accused her of “arrogance” and “antagonism toward Iranians,” as well as “having a strange domination over him.”[20]

After the war, with the ascent of the young Mohammad Reza Shah to the throne, Ala was appointed minister of court. For the next twenty years, in many of the most crucial days of the shah’s rule, Ala served at his side, or, as he wrote in a letter to Sir Denis Wright, as the shah’s right hand. In August 1945, he was sent to the United States, where he played a crucial role in convincing the United Nations to take up the issue of the Soviet occupation of Iran. He delivered a now famous speech, laying out Iran’s claim against the Soviet aggressor. When he met President Harry Truman to present his credentials, Ala said, “In this critical situation . . . your country alone can save us.”[21] On the day before the case was to be discussed in the Security Council, the Iranian government was forced by the British Embassy in Tehran to write to Ala and instruct him to withdraw Iran’s complaints. But in consultation with Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, Ala decided to ignore the telegram and claim that they had never received it. The Security Council did take up the matter and pressured the Soviets to withdraw from Iran. During his days in Washington, Ala, on instructions from the shah, also “inquired whether Iran had been considered for membership in the North Atlantic Pact.”[22] This was only the first hint of Ala’s and the shah’s eagerness to have Iran join some military pact with the West.

In 1950, Ala was called back to Iran, where before long he was appointed prime minister. But his tenure was short-lived; he resigned after about six weeks. The Nationalization movement was at fever pitch, and he was by temperament ill suited to the exigencies of the moment. He was again appointed court minister. During nearly the entire Mossadeq era, Ala remained in that post and was the constant link between the prime minister and the shah. He played a crucial role in preserving the monarchy. Finally, under pressure from Mossadeq, the shah was forced to dismiss Ala and replace him with a confidant of the prime minister.

No sooner had the shah returned from exile than Ala was back in his old job. But in December 1953, for reasons that are not clear, the shah contemplated dismissing Ala from his post as court minister. Before making any moves, he contacted the British Embassy and “enquired whether, if [he] dismissed the Minister of Court, Hoseyn Ala, HMG would regard this as an unfriendly act.”[23] The British chargeé was, he said, surprised by the question and responded that the fate of the court minister was “an internal matter.”

By 1955, however, Ala was promoted and named prime minister, replacing General Fazlollah Zahedi. His tenure marked the beginning of a period when the shah himself was acting as his own prime minister. In fact, a cabal of trusted aides to the shah—including Assadollah Alam, Ne’matollah Nasiri, Ali Amini, and Ala—prepared the ground for the demise of General Zahedi and the appointment of Ala. Ala had served as prime minister in 1951, but that had clearly been in a caretaker capacity, before a permanent appointment could be made. In 1955, however, he was the king’s choice for the simple reason that he seemed malleable. The same cabal that paved the way for Zahedi’s removal also decided on the composition of the Ala cabinet.

Even before he took over, there was an attempt on his life, organized by Islamic terrorists belonging to the Feda’yan-e Islam group. Ala survived the attempt with only minor injuries, but his government went after the terrorists, arresting their top leadership and sending Navvab Safavi, the most important leader of that group, to the firing squad. The Iranian government suspected at the time that Saudi Arabia might be involved in funding the terror group and, through the United States and Britain, tried to pressure the Arab kingdom to cease its aid. The Saudis denied any involvement with the group.

Aside from marking the entry of the shah into the center of daily governmental decision making, Ala’s tenure was memorable for a number of important reasons. It was during his term that Iran gave up its three-hundred-year-old neutrality and officially joined the Western camp by becoming a member of the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO). Ala was a chief advocate of this change of posture.
Before joining the pact, Ala wrote a personal memorandum to the U.S. government wherein “he set forth the Iranian price for adherence to the Pact. The price included: a) greater financial assistance by the U.S.; b) recognition of Iran’s sovereignty over Bahrain; c) guarantee that the U.S. and U.K. would come to Iran’s defense in event of the attack.”[24]

The United States was rather dismissive of Ala’s demands. The State Department “instructed embassy to explain to Iran that accession to the Baghdad Pact should not be regarded as a favor to the U.S.”25 After less than two years on the job, Ala was asked to resign. In April 1957, the U.S. government sent a special emissary to Iran—and other countries of the region—to explain the new Eisenhower doctrine. Upon his return to Washington, the emissary was quite pessimistic in his appraisal of the situation in Iran. The economy, he wrote, “[i]s bogged down, feudal outlook, tendency to play both sides, Shah overambitious, great apathy and inefficiency.”26
Ala’s resignation from the post of prime minister did not mean that he exited the political scene. He returned once again to the Ministry of Court, which by that time had come to seem like a family heirloom. He continued to be involved in most of the important decisions of the time.

In 1959, when the shah invited, in “greatest secrecy,” a “high powered Russian delegation” to Tehran, to “negotiate a non-aggression pact,” Ala was one of the three Iranian officials[27] who tried to solicit British and American help in discouraging the shah from pursuing such a policy. When Denis Wright arrived in Tehran to deliver a stern message to the shah, Ala “also urged [him] to speak ‘very frankly’ [with the shah] as he himself had been unable to make much impression”[28] on the king. Later the same day, Ala informed the British of the “arrival of the Russians,” an act Denis Wright described as “a courageous thing to do.”[29] It is not clear whether Ala and the two other officials were “informers” or were acting as part of the shah’s plan to pressure—or “blackmail,” according to American officials of the time—the West into giving him more arms. Knowing all we know about Ala and his ties with the shah, it is more likely that he was part of the shah’s gambit.[30]

Ala was also involved in private aspects of the shah’s life. In the aftermath of the shah’s divorce from his second wife, Soraya, Ala became entangled in the complicated web of intrigue for the shah to marry again. There were many Persian families who were hopeful that the shah would marry their daughters. For his part, the shah was looking to European royalty for a bride, to be the mother of a future king and give him some much-needed royal legitimacy. His first attempt was to sound out the British about the hand of Princess Anne. The request never made it past the embassy—it was, in the words of Sir Denis Wright, “a nonstarter.” A second, more serious effort was aimed at Italy. Ala offered a refreshingly honest assessment of the political costs and benefits of such a marriage. Mixed in, there is a caustic and critical account of court life. He wrote:

Amongst the diplomatic corps, there are different responses to the news of the possibility of Your Highness’ marriage to [the daughter of the last Italian monarch]. Some are very surprised and ask how can a Christian Princess, and a Catholic one at that, marry a Moslem King? The Pope will not permit it, and the Moslem clerics will not stand for it. They think it might well weaken—or even altogether cause the overthrow of—the monarchy; others believe such a marriage will be a great occasion to reform the Court and improve its image, if of course the unsavory characters who are present in the private gatherings of the Shahanhah are sent away and the Princess Ashraf will cease her taftin va mischief, and give up her attempt to dominate the future queen. . . . Other diplomats think that . . . a horde of Italians will converge on Iran to find work and sign contracts.

The news is well received amongst Persian intellectual circles; they are happy that His Majesty is not choosing a Persian girl, thus aborting the jealousies and intrigues of other disappointed candidates and avoiding the expectations of the family of the new queen. They think it is a sign of progress that the King is marrying a foreign Princess. . . . Even these Persians are concerned that Princess Ashraf and also the Queen Mother will interfere in the private life of the Shah and will once again create dark days for His Majesty and his queen. . . . The wife of the Italian ambassador thinks it best to consult with Zanini, the Pope’s representative. . . . It is important that this time . . . you stop the interference and mischief of the royal family . . . cleanse your private parties of unsavory . . . characters . . . (like Jamshid Bakhtiyar, and Shahbari and his friend, Hajebi, and Sylvia Bebe Adl, Felix Agayan, Amir Alai) and instead of parties for gambling and silly games and striptease, engage in intellectual endeavors like theater, concerts, music and dance and bridge, and films and lectures.[31]

Before long, the shah lost any toleration for such brazen honesty. Ala would himself be a victim of the change of heart in the shah.
As the shah began to assemble around him a new breed of technocrats, old timers like Ala, who had seen the shah in his times of weakness and were not afraid to make their opinions known, were no longer welcome at the court. It was just a matter of time before his tenure as court minister would end. Ala was against some of the changes that were undertaken during the White Revolution. When, for example, Sir Denis Wright arrived in Iran in 1963 and submitted his ambassadorial credentials to the court, Ala, wrote Wright, “rather took my breath away by criticizing the Shah’s newly launched reform programs, saying that ‘he hoped I’d restrain HIM.’”[32] Part of this tension, according to Wright, was because, “Ala and his wife were aristocratic survivors from the Qajar regime, swept away by the upstart Pahlavis.”[33]

Whatever the source of the increasing tensions, the event that acted as a catalyst for Ala’s dismissal from court was his decision to convene a meeting of elder statesmen on the evening of June 5, 1963. The government had used the military to put down an uprising by the supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, and Ala invited four people to consult on what to do. At least one invited guest reported the meeting to the shah. Furthermore, after some discussion among the group of five, Ala, accompanied by at least one other person, went to see the shah and suggested that the government of Alam must be dismissed and a new government of reconciliation put in its place. According to the shah, they “even shouted” at him. The king dismissed their warnings, angrily asked them to leave his office, and ordered Alam to arrest them. Alam chose not to carry out the enraged command, but a few days after this hostile encounter, the shah told an American official that he intended to get rid of Ala and his like. They cannot reconcile themselves to the new tempo of change, he said.

Not long after the meeting in the shah’s office, Ala received a call from the court saying that he was no longer welcome there and should no longer come to work. He and his wife both complained about this treatment.[34] In a letter to Sir Denis Wright, Ala wrote, “After more than twelve years continuous service as le bras droit du rois du rois, it was time for an octogenarian to enjoy a lighter occupation and more leisure. In these revolutionary days, the laws of the Medes and the Persians can no longer remain immutable. In fact they are undergoing radical changes.”[35] The letter exhibits Ala’s storied erudition, his mastery of French and English, and his subtle senses of humor and irony.

After the surprisingly bitter end to his tenure at the Ministry of Court, Ala was appointed to the Senate by the shah. But by that time he was old and tired, and his senatorial stint did not last long. On Sunday, July 14, 1964 (23 Tir 1343), he passed away at his home. He was eighty-two years old and had spent more than six decades at the pinnacle of power in Iran.

Assadollah Alam

On September 30, 1975, the New York Times printed an article by John Oaks called “The Persian Mind.” Oaks critically compared the shah of Iran to Louis XIV and predicted that like France after Louis, Iran after the shah might well suffer a deluge.

The next morning, Assadollah Alam, who was the shah’s minister of court at the time, showed the article to the shah. The king derisively dismissed the comparison, claiming, “Louis was the essence of reaction, and I am a revolutionary leader.” A few weeks later, Alam, in a conversation with the shah, offered the “thesis” that the shah and his father were true embodiments of Louis XIV’s famous phrase, “L’état, c’est moi.” This time, the shah was pleased by the comparison.

This revealing anecdote, with its labyrinthine nuances of meanings and intentions described with a brilliant economy of words, is only one example of the myriad fascinating stories and facts that can be found in Assadollah Alam’s Diaries.

For the last decade of his life, Alam regularly wrote entries for his Diaries. He had informed the shah about the project, but taking no chances, he intermittently sent what he had written to the safety of a bank vault in Switzerland. It is hard to imagine that the shah really knew what his trusted friend and advisor was writing in those journals. Today they stand as clear testimony to the qualities and characteristics of Alam, as a man and a politician. They are also one of the most detailed, informed, and sometimes critical accounts of the structure of power during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah.

The narrative is a stunning example of faint praise, heaping sometimes exaggerated words of approbation on the shah for his many accomplishments, but invariably tempering them with cautiously worded critiques of his “master’s”[1] weaknesses, the sycophancy and corruption of other courtiers, and the dangers faced by the country. Alam’s perception of those dangers was acute. Eight days before he died, well before the full torrent of the revolution had begun, Alam wrote a note of warning to the shah. He suggested that if the crisis were allowed to fester, revolution would be unavoidable. The situation, he said, was far more serious than the Mossadeq crisis of 1953. Before sending the letter, perhaps knowing it would be destroyed, Alam showed it to at least one of his daughters. In Tehran, the shah also showed the note to several people, commenting sardonically, “Alam seems to have lost his marbles.”[2] To Alam’s credit, early hints of this concern about the future can also be detected in parts of his Diaries. Even more remarkable is the fact that he asked his family to publish his diaries only after the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty—as if he knew the imminence of its fall.

On the other hand, sharp-sighted as he was about the shah’s faults and their consequences, Alam was less observant, or more reticent, about his own role. The Diaries are chillingly self-congratulatory. Save for a handful of references to the “corruption of the ruling class,” Alam never mentions the role the allegations of his own corruption might have played in fanning the flames of discontent. Yet if American and British embassy reports are to be trusted, in the months leading to the revolution, corruption in high places was among the chief grievances of the people.

In spite of these lacunae, Alam’s monumental seven-volume work[3] is surely the most important single Persian source for any attempt at understanding the character of politics in Iran during the postwar years, as it is for understanding the foibles and strengths of Alam as political figure and as a human being. So replete are the Diaries with subtle criticism of the shah, and so strong is the accumulated impact of his snipes, that some royalists have begun a campaign of whispers questioning the veracity of the text and even hinting that the editor, out to clear a vendetta against the shah, may have tampered with the text. On the other hand, scholars and critics have favorably compared the book with some of the greatest journals by men of politics in Iranian history.[4] More than anything Alam did in his long political career, these seven volumes are likely to immortalize his name and eventually to become the ultimate measure by which his career is evaluated.

In a sense, Alam was a posthumous man. During his life, he was rumored to be financially corrupt, politically a bully, a royal toady, an agent of the British, and culturally a vulgar ignoramus. His weakness for women was legend, as was his propensity for resorting to violence to achieve his political aims. His tenure as the most powerful court minister of the postwar years was marred by stories of financial impropriety, and by whispers that he was the chief procurer for increasingly frequent royal “trysts.” The reality of his life, however, turns out to have been far more complicated.

Assadollah Alam was born in 1920 in the city of Birjand. His father, Shokat-al Mulk, was easily one of the richest men of his time. The Alam family was prominent and reputedly pro-British. The British Embassy described Shokat-al Mulk as “descended from a family the members of which have exercised more or less independent rule in the Qainat [Khorasan and its vicinities] for several generations. . . . Has a long record of friendship with the British and has often been a great help to us. . . . Sir W. Townley obtained for him the governorship of Sistan and Qain in 1913. . . . He presented Reza Shah with an expensive gift on the occasion of the latter’s coronation in 1926.”[5] Shokat-al Mulk was also a patron of the arts, with unusual tastes and sensibilities. He insisted on creating a European atmosphere at his estate, building a tennis court, serving food ordered from Paris’s famous Fauchon, and teaching his family to play bridge and chess. His children, of whom Assadollah was the sole son, were all taught by special tutors, while also attending school. Madam Vigornitsky, wife of an émigré White Russian general, lived with the family and taught the children French.[6]

There was in Assadollah Alam a unique mixture of rustic simplicity, aristocratic refinement, and Machiavellian guile. His critics often assumed him to be a near illiterate. He was, they liked to point out, a graduate of an agricultural college in Karaj, in the suburbs of Tehran—hardly a bastion of scholarship and high academic standards. It was a fact that he had attended Karaj, but it was no indication of his abilities.

After finishing high school, Alam had been on his way to college in Europe, when he accompanied his father to Tehran to be presented at court. In a ritual gesture of deference to the king, Shokat-al Mulk asked Reza Shah for permission to send his son abroad to study agriculture. “Why send him abroad,” the king said, “when we have just built an agricultural college here near Tehran?” Plans for the European trip were scrapped, and Alam was on his way to the new college. But he did not go there alone.

The Tehran journey had two more lifelong consequences for Alam. Reza Shah was in those days searching for suitable husbands for his two daughters, and after much personal sifting of candidates, he had picked two young men from prominent families to be his sons-in-law. One was from the Ghavam family, prominent in the city of Shiraz, as illustrious as the Alam family and no less reputed to have close ties to the British government. (Years later, after Reza Shah had resigned, the British Embassy would still describe the patriarch of the family, Ibrahim Ghavam, as “very friendly to us” and “one of the wealthiest landowners of Persia at present.” They also recalled that “when Reza Shah abdicated and went to Isfahan, it was Ghavam who was sent by the government to obtain Reza’s signature to documents handing over his properties and private fortune to the state and to his son respectively.”)[7]

Reza Shah not only chose one of Ibrahim Ghavam’s sons for his daughter; he also decreed that Assadollah Alam should marry Malek-Taj, one of Ghavam’s daughters. Before the night of their marriage, Alam and his future wife had met exactly twice, both times for a friendly match on the tennis court. As it was never a marriage of love, and as Alam considered philandering a natural right of his aristocratic manly heritage, there would be many flings. And as Malek-Taj was herself a child of affluence, a woman of modern sensibilities, and a future dame d’honneur to queens, she could not remain oblivious to her husband’s infidelities. The marriage was thus destined for rough waters; one unfortunate consequence of these tensions was to be the loss of some of Alam’s diaries.

The other consequence of Alam’s Tehran journey was that through his marriage, Alam joined the Pahlavi court and soon befriended the crown prince. It turned out to be one of the closest, and certainly one of the most enduring, friendships in the life of the future shah. Although rumors of Alam’s ties with the British would be widespread, and although the shah would hear on many occasions about Alam’s financial impropriety, he never moved to seriously diminish his influence. The mystery of Alam’s unusually long tenure has in fact been attributed to the shah’s perception of him as one of Great Britain’s most trusted servants.[8]

At the time of his marriage, however, eighteen-year-old Alam as yet showed no inclination toward politics. His passion lay in farming and hunting. In 1941, after spending three years at the college in Karaj in the company of his new wife and attended by a bevy of household help, Alam returned to his family’s fiefdom. He was dogged in his pastoral love of his birthplace, Birjand, for centuries the seat of his family estate. He took pride in every aspect of the city and its environs. With an almost childish glee, for example, all his life he loved the special thrice-purified liquor that for generations had been made locally from a secret recipe just for the Alam family. He cherished this homemade wine throughout his life, even when the cellar at his palatial home in Tehran—a home it took seven years to build—had hundreds of bottles of the finest French wines. By then he had become something of a wine aficionado. In one purchase, he bought the entire cellar of a British lord, including several bottles of Chateau Petrus, and four bottles of Cognac whose vintage belonged to the time of Napoleon.[9]

Alam spent the first two years of World War II in Birjand, in the company of his father. Shokat-al Mulk was still active in national affairs. The British embassy reported he had been “again Minister of Posts and Telegraphs in Forughi’s cabinet in 1941 when he was very helpful. Returned to his lands at Birjand in 1942, and has since been extremely useful to us in many ways. . . . A very generous, open-minded man.”[10] Then in 1943, Shokat-al Mulk died. Twenty-three-year-old Alam became the head of the vast household at Birjand.
Alam’s first political appointment came the same year. When Ghavam became prime minister, he appointed Alam to Shokat-al Mulk’s old office as the governor of Sistan and Balouchestan.

It was a difficult assignment. The region bordered Afghanistan and Pakistan. Corruption was endemic, and in spite of his family’s substantial reputation in the region, no one took the new young governor seriously. Alam decided to change the atmosphere. The head of the tax office had been particularly intransigent. Alam called for him on a hot day. When the defiant bureaucrat arrived, Alam ordered him tied to a tree, in the burning sun. He then began to play a game of tennis, oblivious to the increasingly desperate pleas of the hapless tax collector. The heat could have easily killed the man. He begged forgiveness and promised henceforth to abide by the young governor’s every wish. Ironically, though the episode smacks of despotic arrogance and illegality, not only does Alam mention it with pride in his Diaries, but his friends legitimize the action by pointing out that no one took him seriously as a governor, and that it was wartime and extreme measures were thus warranted.[11]

Another aspect of his tenure as governor was to serve Alam well in the future. Although Ghavam had appointed him, and although Ghavam was keen on keeping the shah away from the daily affairs of the government and thus marginalizing him, Alam, unbeknownst to the prime minister, sent copies of all his reports directly to the shah. In 1946, with the fall of Ghavam, the shah had finally gained enough power to dictate the composition of a cabinet to his new prime minister, Saed, and insisted on the appointment of Alam. This is how the twenty-seven-year-old Alam thus became the youngest cabinet minister in modern Iranian history. Saed named him to the powerful post of interior minister. If Saed is to be believed, he appointed Alam to that key ministry on the assumption that it was in fact Alam’s father—Shokat-al Mulk—that he was including in the cabinet. As soon as he saw the young man and recognized his mistake (realizing that Shokat-al Mulk had been dead for three years), he reshuffled the cabinet and appointed Alam to a less important ministry.[12] During the early 1950s, Alam began to be more and more identified as a key ally and supporter of the shah. As such, he managed to retain a spot in the cabinet through a series of prime ministers, despite becoming embroiled in a serious controversy in 1951, when he was suspected of complicity in the assassination of Prime Minister Hadji Ali Razmara. Alam had been named a minister in General Razmara’s cabinet, in spite of Razmara’s serious misgivings, at the urgent insistence of the shah. On March 7, 1951, Alam accompanied the prime minister to a memorial service for a public official, held at Tehran’s central mosque. Evidence indicates that Razmara had been unwilling to go the mosque that day and only at the insistence of Alam agreed to attend. As Razmara was about to enter the mosque, an assassin fired three shots, killing him on the spot.

As with nearly all cases of assassination in modern Iran, rumors of conspiracy immediately began to spread. According to one theory, the shah had been trying to get rid of the ambitious general, and Alam had been given the job of leading him into the trap. A few weeks after the assassination, Alam was in fact called before the investigating prosecutor to answer questions about his role. The tenor of the questions, in the record, clearly indicates a suspicion of complicity.[13] This rumor was revived in the years after the Islamic Revolution, when Ja’far Sharif-Emami, the two-time prime minister, brought attention to the role Alam had played in ensuring that Razmara went to the mosque on that fateful day.[14]

Whether or not Alam had served the shah in this particular matter, within a few months after the death of Razmara, as the circle of the king’s trusted advisors shrank, Alam began to play an increasingly important role. In 1952 he was put in charge of all the Pahlavi family holdings inside Iran. In spite of this new prominence, and even though he had emerged as one of the shah’s most faithful friends during the days when these friends faced the threat of arrest by Mossadeq, Alam was saved from prison and persecution only by respect for the good name of his father. Still, Mossadeq ordered Alam’s passport confiscated. It was rumored that he would be exiled to Bandar Abbas. Through an intermediary, Alam inquired about his fate. Mossadeq reassured Alam that if he would go to Birjand and occupy himself only with farming and hunting, no one would bother him.[15] Alam’s friends think of this message not as an offer of asylum, but a forced exile.[16] In either case, Alam took up the offer, and left for Birjand, where he lived through the tumultuous events of August 1953.

Alam was handsomely rewarded for his steadfast support of the shah during the August crisis. After the return of the shah from exile, Alam returned from Birjand. He clearly became part of the shah’s inner circle of advisors. He was again put in charge of the shah’s estate. In 1955, when the shah began to prepare the ground for the forced resignation of General Fazlollah Zahedi, Alam was part of what was sardonically called “the Shah’s politboro.”[17] Once Zahedi was dispatched, and Ala, another member of the “politbureau,” was appointed prime minister, Alam, on direct orders of the shah, was appointed to the crucial post of interior minister. This time, there was no “mistake” in the appointment; Alam had earned his own power. During the remaining years of the 1950s, whether in or out of government, Alam played a key role in shaping Iranian politics. When in 1957 the shah decided to emulate the American model of politics and inaugurated a two-party system in Iran, he put Alam in charge of the Mardom Party (People’s Party). It was a party perpetually assigned the role of the loyal opposition. After a while, Alam resigned the post of party leader, but for the rest of its life the party would continue to be seen as a handmaiden to Alam’s system of personal patronage.

Furthermore, starting in the late 1950s, as the political situation began to deteriorate, and as U.S. and British Embassies and intelligence agencies began to warn of a revolution unless drastic reforms were undertaken, Alam began to meet with key members of the secular opposition. He told some that he was meeting with them at the behest of the shah. From late 1958, for example, he met regularly with Khalil Maleki, the head of Iran’s social democratic forces. From early 1961, he also initiated meetings and negotiations with some of the leaders of the National Front, inviting them to join a coalition government. When the crown prince was born, Alam suggested that Alahyar Saleh, the respected head of the National Front, accept the role of the child’s teacher and mentor.
All these negotiations and attempts at reconciliation came to naught. At the same time, Alam did succeed in gathering around him a team of very respected technocrats, scholars, and poets. Fereydon Tavallali, the famous poet, wrote poems in Alam’s praise, while Parviz Natel Khanlari, Mohammad Baheri, and Alinaghi Alikhani proved willing to join him in the cabinet when, on July 21, 1962, his turn at the helm finally came.

In 1962, the shah came back from a trip to the United States convinced that he could force Amini to resign. No sooner was the issue of a successor raised than Alam was mentioned as a possible candidate—along with Abdullah Entezam, Teymur Bakhtiyar and Ja’far Sharif-Emami.[18] The shah had asked Amini for his suggestions for a successor, and “Amini gave the Shah two names in order of his preference. They were Abdullah AssadollahAlam Entezam, Chairman of the National Iranian Oil Company, and Assadollah Alam.”[19] Entezam was offered the job, but “refused on grounds of ill health.” On July 19, 1962, the shah officially named Alam the new prime minister. American diplomats in Tehran saw the appointment as the “closest thing to direct rule of Shah. Alam completely devoted servant . . . from outset there will be no question in anyone’s mind of independence on part of PM.”[20] They thought of Alam as merely the “instrument and the mouth piece”[21] for the shah. But during an informal meeting with U.S. Embassy officials, Alam himself gave what turned out to be a far more accurate picture of his premiership. He assured the embassy that he “would follow policy of Pro-American and Pro-Western alignment and would consult US on all important problems and issues.” Finally, he told the embassy that he “would be an independent prime minister who would not involve Shah in problems and details of government. He would take full responsibility for his own and . . . would not blame the shah for directing unpopular and unsuccessful policies.”[22] The American Embassy, on the other hand, believed that many of the members of the new cabinet “including Alam have or have had British connections and may have been under British influence.” But they also took comfort in the notion that “British influence is not what it used to be.”[23]

As to the notion of Alam as a close friend of the shah, by mere coincidence, a short time after Alam’s appointment, C. D. Jackson, an American journalist, visited the shah and then wrote a lengthy profile of the king for President Kennedy. During the course of his interview Jackson asked the shah, “Your Majesty, have you any real friends, or friend?” The shah “thought for a minute and sadly shook his head and said, ‘No, I haven’t, anywhere. I have companions for jokes, but no friend to whom I can look up to as wiser than I am, who can give me the right kind of advice.’”[24]

Alam’s tenure as prime minister was, for many reasons, historic. He continued the reform programs that had been undertaken during the days of Amini’s cabinet. Part of his mandate was to continue land reform at a slower pace, and to get rid of the charismatic Hassan Arsanjani, minister of agriculture and by then a popular champion of the peasants. Alam achieved this goal by appointing Arsanjani as Iran’s ambassador to Italy. At the same time, it was in this period that the “New Iran Party,” spearheaded by Hassan-Ali Mansur and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, was inaugurated. The party ushered in a new era of Iranian politics, where politically savvy elder statesmen were replaced by technocrats with no grand political ambition.

It was during this period that the government faced two serious threats in the form of tribal and urban uprisings. On the one hand, tribes in Southern Iran began to once again fight the government. The government used the army to forcefully put down the uprising. On the other hand, in June 1963, during the height of Alam’s tenure, the shah’s government faced and successfully quelled the most serious challenge to its power and survival. By all accounts, Alam played a determining role in this affair.

One of the reforms the shah and Alam tried to inaugurate dealt with election laws. First and foremost, women were to be given the right to vote and stand for office. Second, since 1905, when the Iranian constitution was drafted, members of “recognized” religious minorities, namely Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, were forbidden to hold ministerial posts. Furthermore, the oath of office, for all levels of employment, and ceremonies, was to be taken with the Qur’an. In a small attempt at ecumenical justice, Alam passed a cabinet resolution—which in the absence of Parliament had the authority of law—changing the wording of the electoral bylaws to indicate that the oath must be taken on a “holy book.” The clergy began to agitate against both changes. The government held firm on the question of women’s suffrage, but backed down on the “holy book” issue. The clergy were now emboldened and began a more defiant confrontation with the regime. The secular opposition, too, for reasons hard to fathom in retrospect, sided with the clergy and against the shah’s obviously more progressive position. The height of this confrontation came on June 3, 1963.

Alam’s cabinet had been receiving increasingly alarming reports that the Islamic forces were preparing for a major confrontation with the government. In anticipation of this battle, and fully cognizant of the shah’s inability to stay the course in moments of crisis, particularly if bloodshed might be required, Alam asked the shah for temporary command of the military forces stationed in Tehran. He told the shah that the uprising had to be forcefully suppressed and that he would use what force was necessary to accomplish this goal. If he failed, he told the shah, then the shah could sack him and blame him for the debacle. The shah agreed, and Alam, true to his promise, used the full force of the army to suppress the uprising. Lest the shah change his mind, it is reported, for a while Alam disconnected the phones used by the king. As Alam reveals in the fifth volume of his Diaries, the crisis was so serious that for three days he could not leave his headquarters, and on the third day, when visiting the court, he had to travel in an armored vehicle. All the same, he seems to dispel the rumor that the shah was kept completely out of the picture for those three days.

At the same time, those who served with Alam in those tense days write or talk of his contagious calm in the eye of the storm, of his cool sipping of his soft drink as he ordered the commanders of the armed forces to use their weapons. “These are not toys,” he is reported to have told them, “but necessary tools for days like this. Use them under the authority granted me by the shah.”[25]

Leaders of the Islamic Republic today point to the June uprising as the genesis of the Islamic Revolution itself. The events surrounding that confrontation catapulted the hitherto little-known Ayatollah Khomeini to the center of Iranian politics. The confrontation gave Alam every right to believe, quite correctly, what he would repeat on numerous occasions in his Diaries: that he had saved the crown that day. Far more dangerously, however, the confrontation also led Alam to draw another, false conclusion: that on that fateful day, he had deracinated clerical authority once and for all. Alam never tired of whispering in the shah’s ear that “mullahs are nobody” and that their days of power had ended that June. History proved him badly mistaken, and his miscalculation of the power of the clergy was obviously one of the strategic errors leading to the Islamic Revolution.

Ironically, only days after the uprising, the shah was already planning to replace Alam and “do some housecleaning.”[26] He told his plans to a member of the American embassy, hinting that Mansur would soon be named prime minister. Gradually, to Alam’s bitter disappointment, news of his imminent demise spread throughout the country. For several weeks, he was a dispirited lame duck.

One of Alam’s last acts as prime minister was also one of his most consequential. The shah had been asking the American government for more advisors; the U.S. Department of Defense had insisted that such advisors would arrive only after the Iranian government had signed a Status of Forces Agreement, along the lines of agreements signed by other allies where the United States had troops stationed. According to these agreements, U.S. personnel were exempt from prosecution in local courts for any crimes committed during the performance of their duties.

When Alam first raised the topic in a cabinet meeting, there was strong opposition from some ministers. They saw such an agreement as a revival of the much-reviled “capitulation rights” that were viewed by the people as vestiges of colonialism. Reza Shah, with great fanfare, had ended all these special rights in 1928. Recognizing the strength of the opposition, Alam quietly tabled the issue for later discussion. Ironically, the U.S. State Department too was aware of the sensitive nature of such an agreement in Iran, and had advised against any attempt at its ratification. But the Defense Department refused to allow U.S. advisors to arrive without a prior ratification.

Just days before he resigned from office, Alam wrote a letter to the newly elected Parliament, indicating (falsely as it turned out) that the cabinet had temporarily ratified the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States and recommending that the Parliament follow suit. Realizing how sensitive and important the issue was for the shah, Alam had fabricated the claim of cabinet ratification. Partially on the strength of his letter, the agreement was eventually ratified by the Majlis. It immediately became a favorite topic of attack by the opposition, particularly Ayatollah Khomeini.[27]

On March 7, 1964, Alam’s agonizingly long wait as a lame duck ended, and he resigned. He felt bitter, but did not confront the shah.
Although his tenure as prime minister had ended, Alam’s political life was far from over. Arguably the zenith of his power was still in his future. For the next decade, he would try hard, and unsuccessfully, to mastermind a return to the post he most coveted.
About ten days after his resignation, Alam was appointed chancellor of Pahlavi University. Having established this university with the help of the University of Pennsylvania, the shah was keen on turning it into the preeminent center of higher education in Iran.
Tehran University was identified with his father, and the shah wanted to have his own name identified with a reputable educational institution. Alam used his connection to the shah to increase, substantially, the budget of the university and went on a building binge, expanding the campus and hiring new faculty. Between 1964 and 1968, when his tenure ended, the university’s budget more than quadrupled. Furthermore, he brought in tens of millions of dollars in “special donations” from sources such as the Plan Organization.[28]

Alam’s chancellorship of Pahlavi University was not free from controversy. He appointed as his vice chancellor a man with no academic qualifications and a sordid reputation for financial corruption. Rumors of payoffs in granting of construction projects, and of other misuses of university funds, began to haunt Alam’s stewardship. Indeed, when a new chancellor was eventually named, some six million dollars were discovered to be missing from the university coffers.[29] It was, needless to say, political suicide for anyone to pursue the matter, and gradually the embarrassing issue seems to have died of inaction and inattention. By then, Alam had become, after the shah, easily the most powerful man in Iran.

In December 1966, Alam was appointed as the minister of court, becoming a de facto chief of staff to a shah who had by then amassed in his own hands all levers of power. Alam held this position for more than a decade, until mere weeks before his death. On July 19, 1977, he had his last audience with the shah, the day before leaving for Europe, where he hoped to find some cure for his rapidly developing cancer.[30] Two weeks later the shah called him in Paris and asked him to submit his resignation. But by then Alam had already heard from the media that he had been replaced by his nemesis, Hoveyda. To his friends and family, he complained bitterly about the way the shah had treated him in his dying days. He was also worried about the future of his country, as he had for many years held Hoveyda responsible for the calamitous policies of the government. It is not at all clear whether in these last, bitter days, he made any new additions or amendments to his Diaries.

Alam had begun writing a daily journal sometime in the summer of 1968. He had told the shah of his plan and clearly had convinced him that his purpose was to use the notes one day to write the “definitive” and “real” history of Mohammad Reza Shah’s reign.

Unfortunately, not all he wrote has survived. His wife had noticed his new avocation and one night had asked him what he was writing. He had explained. Later, in his absence, she found his notebook, and read that the shah, after listening to Alam’s complaints about his wife, had asked “why don’t you leave this zanikeh[hag]?” and that Alam had replied “because of the kids.” Alam’s wife became so enraged that she burned what she found of the notes.[31] Another notebook, covering some of the early months, is also missing. (It is also likely that some hitherto unpublished notes have been kept by the family and will not appear in the seven-volume collection.)[32]
After the burning incident, Alam took precautions. He gave up the idea of writing in a notebook. Instead, he used loose paper, of any sort he could find. Every two or three weeks, he folded the notes into some magazines and sent them to a trusted friend in Geneva, who put them in a bank for safekeeping. What has survived begins in medias res. On Thursday, February 13, 1968 (24 Bahman 1347), he wrote “I was supposed to arrive on Tuesday, 22, but my trip from Geneva was delayed for two days. I arrived tonight at ten. I kissed my mother’s hands. Thanks god she is healthy.”[33] It is hardly a fitting first line to a seven-volume monument to the politics of power in petroleum-crazed Iran.

No text is a merely passive tool of its creator; it invariably reveals more than the author’s conscious intent. Alam’s Diaries are no exception. In these volumes, the text betrays much about the author: his sense of self, the nature of his complicated and decidedly ambivalent relationship with his “master,” and the daily routines and tensions of his loveless life with a wife he had obviously married for political and family expedience. Reading his Diaries is not unlike watching Aeschylus’s Persians. As the king and his courtiers boast of their power and hegemony, we the readers know only too well that defeat and tragedy wait around the corner.
Indeed, by volume 5, covering the year 1975, Alam seems diminished. He had been stripped of most of his real power, his role reduced to preparing letters of official greeting and arranging the king’s secret trysts with “guests” flown in from Europe and America. His own love life had by then taken an unusual turn. For the last decade of his life, he was in love with a woman called “Hillary.” He went so far as to introduce her to at least one of his daughters. Eventually, he not only bought her a house but also set up a trust that would afford her a comfortable life.[34] While Alam had a reputation for craving European and “native” models, “Hillary” was by all accounts a portly woman with unexceptional looks. Nevertheless, of all Alam’s many affairs, this was the one that caused Alam’s wife the most anxiety; it led to at least one tense moment, when Malek-Taj went looking for the other woman, pistol in hand. Alam went so far as to ask his daughters to act as decoys.[35] “Hillary” has since married and now lives in California. There are several references to her in the Diaries.

In the earlier volumes, we see a different Alam—a man at the center of all major political decisions in the country, in charge of handling the shah’s troubled relations with his daughter, Shahnaz, and involved even in some of the shah’s personal financial transactions. Ambassadors like Great Britain’s Sir Denis Wright and the Americans’ Richard Helms knew that all contact with the shah, all important foreign policy decisions, were handled at the court and through Alam. In 1973, for example, when Helms wanted to negotiate a highly sensitive confidential agreement with Iran over the use of some of its air bases, he wrote to Alam and asked him to get the shah’s response.[36]

All through these years, Alam was a disciplined and hard-working man. He was an early riser, often up around six in the morning. He gave his time selflessly: before going to his office, he had already met a number of visitors at his house. Occasionally he complains in the Diaries about the number of supplicants he had to meet every day. People from Birjand invariably came to him in search of favors. Because access to him meant power, his butler, Pedram, began to cash in on his position and at times charged people who wanted a meeting with his master.[37] Simplicity seemed a watchword: Alam was polite in demeanor, elegant in comportment, and impeccably dressed; at home, he often wore a simple traditional cape. To his daughters he was generous, affectionate, and surprisingly accommodating. He loved riding and was an avid hunter. Generosity, too, was apparent in his character: one of his last hopes, aborted by the onset of his disease and the revolution, was to found a university in his birthplace, Birjand.[38]

At the same time, Alam used his perch of power at the court for personal and illicit gains. In one case, in return for a hefty payment, he made sure that a German company was given the contract for the construction of a silo. (When the revolution made the completion of the project impossible, the company took Alam and his family to court to retrieve the “payment”!)[39] On another occasion, Alam attended a meeting of the committee in charge of planning and supervising the elaborate ceremony celebrating twenty-five hundred years of monarchy. The queen was present. Usually reticent, she apparently threw her customary caution to the winds and complained that the efforts of the committee were being tarnished by rumors and reports of malfeasance and corruption by a few. Alam, pale and visibly shaken, declared in a tone at once anguished and threatening that as he had been in charge of signing some no-bid contracts that were being questioned, he would, “after reporting to His Royal Majesty the proceedings of today’s meeting resign from the committee.”[40] Alam in fact never resigned, and rumors of his corruption, and the ill will they engendered in the people of Iran, only continued to grow.

Surely the Islamic Revolution was, at least in part, the price for inaction on that fateful day, and the seven published volumes of Alam’s Diaries remain as a memorable, albeit tragic reminder of the pathos and pathologies of their author’s rise and fall. Alam died in his sickbed on April 13, 1978 (24 Farvardin 1357).

Alinaghi Alikhani

It is an often-ignored fact of modern Iranian history that the 1960s—long before the sharp rise in the price of oil—were arguably the most crucial years for the development of the new Iranian economy. The decade saw a rapid rise in the drive toward industrialization, and the conditions necessary for what social scientists called the “takeoff” period were prepared. According to Walt Rostow, the “takeoff” period is when third-world agrarian economies leave the vicious cycle of poverty and paucity of capital and begin a rapid process of growth and accumulation of capital. Iran in the 1960s was surely poised to enter its “takeoff” stage, and one of the influential architects of this transformation was Alinaghi Alikhani. A team of technocrats—committed to change; impeccably honest in financial matters; trained in the West but no longer awed by it; as willing to trade with the East as with the West; and disciplined in their habits of hard work, diligent planning, and bargaining techniques—masterminded this change. Alikhani, along with Mehdi Samii, Reza Moghadam, and Khodadad Farmanfarma’ian, were key members of this team.

Of this group, Alikhani certainly had the most unusual background. His trajectory to power pointed to another crucial moment in modern Iranian history, when SAVAK began to move away from its original intent, and the result had cataclysmic effects on Iranian society and politics. In 1957, the United States, in conjunction with Great Britain, had decided that Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan—the three key members of CENTO—needed to have new security organizations. An institutional model that combined the mandates of the FBI and the CIA had been given to the three countries, and with the help of advisors from the United States, England, and eventually Israel, a new organization named SAVAK was created in Iran.

SAVAK was, at least according to the original idea, supposed to bring together some of the best and brightest Iranians. Like British intelligence, which recruited in Oxford, and the CIA, which searched for candidates in American Ivy League universities, recruiters for SAVAK went to Europe and searched for the best Iranian students studying abroad. Alikhani was one of those contacted. He accepted the invitation and joined the economic analysis bureau of SAVAK.[1]

Gradually, as General Teymur Bakhtiyar, the first head of SAVAK, began to stamp the organization with his own storied brutalities, and as the organization acquired a tarnished reputation, men like Alikhani began to leave. It is interesting to imagine what Iran’s politics would have been like had SAVAK been able to keep capable, thoughtful, analytical, and ultimately democratic-minded men like Alikhani in its ranks. It is also ironic that Alikhani left just as SAVAK, under the leadership of General Pakravan, the new head of SAVAK after Bakhtiyar, was trying to polish its image and return to its original mandate. Pakravan’s tenure was short-lived and the man who replaced him followed where Bakhtiyar had left off.

Alikhani’s rise to power is also important from another, different perspective. In the early 1960s, as the shah changed the fabric of Iran’s ruling elite and forcefully retired nearly every member of the aristocracy that had, for centuries, dominated Iranian politics, the arena was more open than ever to the rise of self-made men, children of the lower classes who had risen to prominence on their merit and education. In the past, the occasional rise of a cook’s son to the pinnacle of power—as in the case of Amir Kabir— was the exception that proved the rule.[2] In the Iran of the 1960s, Alikhani was no longer an exception but one in a long list of eminent men and women who rose from humble stations in life.

Alinaghi Alikhani was born on January 21, 1929 (1 Bahman 1307) in the small town of Khamseh, near the city of Abhar. His father was the manager of royal properties around the city. After a while, he was moved to the village of Varamin, near Tehran.[3] Much of Alikhani’s early life was spent in that small village.

He was in the third year of elementary school when his father moved again, this time to the village of Takestan,[4] outside the city of Gazvin. As World War II arrived, and the omnipotent Reza Shah fell from power, and much of his property became the subject of litigation and public criticism, Alikhani’s father wisely give up his job and returned to Varamin, where he started life anew as a small farmer.

By then, Alikhani was a student in Tehran. He was a good student, but before long politics became his passion. He was not even fifteen when he entered the political fray. Contrary to the fashion of the time, when most of the youth leaned to the Left, Alikhani joined a small group of similar-minded young men who were decidedly anticommunist and wanted to fight the spread of communism in Iran by any means necessary, including terrorism. At least two of his comrades in this youthful clandestine foray into violence and politics would later play important roles in Iranian politics and culture. One was Darius Homayun, who became a journalist and a minister of information in the months leading to the revolution, and the other was a poet, Nader Naderpour, who became a fierce critic of the Islamic Revolution and a melancholy voice of the Iranian diaspora. Alikhani resigned from the group when, as a result of an accident, one of their comrades was killed by a homemade bomb.[5]

In 1946, Alikhani entered the Tehran University’s Faculty of Law, graduating after three years. During this period, he continued his anticommunist activities, no longer through terrorist means but under the banner of a nationalist, anticommunist organization called the Pan-Iranist Party.

Immediately upon finishing his law degree, Alikhani set out for France. He knew little French and spent the first year mastering the language. At the same time, with the help of his comrade Naderpour, he continued his fight against the Tudeh Party. By then the Pan-Iranist Party had come to support Mohammad Mossadeq; that was where Alikhani’s sympathies lay at the time.

Aside from his problem with the language, his work at the university was further delayed for almost a year when he contracted a complicated sinus infection. Eventually, he entered the Economics Department of Paris University and signed up for the Doctor D’Etat, the most academically demanding degree offered at French universities and the equivalent of a Ph.D.

While working on his dissertation, at the suggestion of his academic advisor he spent a year in England, where he mastered English and delved into some of the British sources for his dissertation, which was on the optimum ratio of labor to capital in economic development. In 1957, having finished his doctoral degree, he returned to Iran.

A year before his return, he met and married a French girl. Almost fifty years later, they are still happily married. They have three children—two boys and a girl, all highly successful in their respective careers. In France, Alikhani also honed his love and knowledge of fine French wines. In later years, he was awarded the honorary title of Chevalier du Vin. Love of wine seems to run in his family. Two of his brothers are successful winemakers— one in California’s Napa Valley, and the other in South Africa. Love of fine wine was, of course, also one of the things that connected him to Alam, his future patron in politics.

In France, Alikhani also indulged his love of classical music—particularly the works of Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. He was a collector of fine recordings of these composers’ masterpieces. At one time, his record collection included all their works. All his life, he was also an avid reader of history. He had a passion for the history not only of Iran, but of France and England. As his life in exile showed, he turned out to be a historian manqué.

While in Paris, he met with a representative of the Iranian government, who told him that he was recruiting for the newly established office called SAVAK. Alikhani agreed to join, and upon his return he began his work in the SAVAK bureau in charge of economic analysis. Sensitive matters of foreign policy, like Iran’s relations with Israel and the oil deal that was about to be signed between the two countries, were relegated to this bureau of SAVAK.[6] At the same time, Iran’s relations with third-world countries were part of SAVAK’s mandate. A new front organization, using an innocuous name, was set up to deal with these countries. At the behest of SAVAK, Alikhani took some trips to third-world countries and prepared reports on their economic situations for the government.[7]
One of the most important political analyses prepared by Alikhani at this time was on the nature of policies the new Kennedy
administration was likely to pursue in Iran. The shah had been close to Richard Nixon and had supported him in his presidential bid in 1960. Kennedy, on the other hand, had often voiced criticism of the shah during his presidential campaign. Alikhani’s brief laid out for the shah the possible contours of the Kennedy Iran policy.[8] When Kennedy won the election, the shah grew wary, his anxiety evident even in the customarily perfunctory letter of congratulation he sent Kennedy on his inauguration. Knowing that Kennedy was likely to promote democracy in countries like Iran, the shah wrote of Iran as “the only democratic country” in the region and emphasized the strategic importance of the country for the West, and thus its need for more arms.[9]

Kennedy’s short, perfunctory response to the shah’s long letter, and his studied silence in the letter about the shah’s urgent pleas for aid, only added to the shah’s worries. The shah took another step to assuage his anxieties. He sent General Teymur Bakhtiyar to meet with Kennedy, sending with him a special letter for the president.[10] It was a measure of Alikhani’s prominence in the ranks of SAVAK, and of his closeness to Bakhtiyar, that he was chosen to accompany the general on this important trip. By the time the general came back, the shah rightfully suspected that Bakhtiyar had conspired against him in America. The trip sealed Bakhtiyar’s fate, and not long after the general’s departure from SAVAK, Alikhani also resigned from the organization. For some time, he had been contemplating his resignation, and a change in leadership seemed like a good time.

Several options were open to him at the time. The private sector was just beginning to grow into a viable economic force. Before he could succumb to that temptation, his friend Amir-Abbas Hoveyda invited him to begin work at the Iranian National Oil Company. Alikhani agreed, but his days in the company were short-lived. Not long afterward, he met Assadollah Alam at a conference. There was not much said between them, but about four months later, he received a call from Jahanguir Tafazolli—a close confidante of Alam— and was informed that he should go see Alam for breakfast the next day. “You are going to become a minister,” he was told.

The next morning, Alam offered Alikhani a new ministry that combined the already existing Ministries of Industry and Commerce. The shah had been unhappy with their work, Alam told Alikhani.

The reason for this meteoric rise to power is not altogether clear. Certainly Alikhani was, as he proved in the course of subsequent years, an unusually capable man. But hitherto he had little occasion to show it. Some suggest that SAVAK supported the nomination,[11] while others claim that Alam and the shah had seen in him unusual promise and had thus elevated him. According to Alikhani himself, the shah wanted a new minister who had been trained in the West, but not in America, and Tafazolli had suggested Alikhani. “I was watched closely for a few weeks,” he said, “and then asked to go and meet Alam.”[12]

Once he was offered the job, he was asked what they should call the new ministry. They settled on the Ministry of Economy. Alikhani held the job for the next seven years and through three different prime ministers—Alam, Mansur, and Hoveyda—and many more cabinet reshuffles. After a couple of years, his political star had risen so high that he was, in spite of his youth and relative inexperience, constantly rumored to be a candidate to become prime minister. It was as minister of economy that Alikhani left his most lasting influence on the Iranian economy.

With the shah’s White Revolution, Iran was entering a new economic stage, leaving behind the age-old feudal system, which had been centered on absentee landlords, and entering a new kind of capitalism. Cities were beginning to attract larger and larger numbers of dislocated peasants in search of work. A burgeoning new middle class, bent on investing in industry, was rising on the ruins of the rapidly fading gentry. As Alikhani saw his mission, his chief task was to support the rise of this new industrial class. Iran, he argued, is an arid land, and its future prosperity could and should not be based on agriculture, but on service and industry. For the new industrialist class to grow, the Ministry of Economy decided on protective tariffs for new industries. Furthermore, it began a multipronged policy that was to create a level playing field for the private sector, decentralize growth away from Tehran, acquire new technologies, train Iranian workers and technicians to handle the new machines, and finally subsidize industrial export by Iranian firms.

Probably because of his anticommunist record in the past, Alikhani never feared advocating greater economic ties with the Soviet bloc. His suggestion found a receptive ear in the shah, who was, by 1965, becoming more and more independent of the Americans and more impatient with the limits the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had put on his ability to purchase arms. The shah decided to buy some of his military needs from the Soviet Union, and Alikhani’s suggestion of increased barter agreements with Iran’s northern neighbor was welcome. Furthermore, the Soviet Union’s willingness to give Iran what the shah had long sought—a steel mill—in return for Iranian gas, increased the chances of this barter. The American Embassy in Tehran began to grow concerned about the eastward tilt of Alikhani. In spite of a clash with the shah over the question of a cement factory, Alikhani still enjoyed the support of the king and thus continued on his program for strengthening Iran’s industrial base.

The cement factory episode was characteristic of Alikhani’s mode of operation. To implement the policy of economic decentralization, plans were drawn for each city, particularly Tehran, determining where factories could be built. They offered incentives to move industries to outlying areas of the country, away from the capital. During this time, a request for a license to build a cement factory near Tehran was received by the ministry. It was known that the shah was part owner of the factory. Alikhani ordered that the request be denied. “We must apply the standard to everyone equally,” he said.[13] But the license was issued by another authority. Although Alikhani did not lose his job over his insolence, the decision came back to haunt him later. When at the height of the oil-fueled economic boom the country suffered from a debilitating shortage of cement, the shah, on more than one occasion, quipped, “and that lanky young man did not want us to build a cement factory.”[14]

As his economic plans met with more and more success; as his relationship with Alam, Hoveyda’s nemesis, became closer; and finally, as rumors grew about his emergence as a candidate for the post of prime minister, tensions between Alikhani and Hoveyda grew. By 1969, they had reached an intolerable state for both men, leading to Alikhani’s resignation. He was immediately appointed rector of Tehran University—a powerful position, on par with a minister, but a political minefield. In fact, so perilous was the job that rumors immediately spread that Hoveyda had masterminded his rival’s appointment to destroy him. The rumor was only half true. Alikhani’s political future would be destroyed, but Hoveyda had nothing to do with the appointment.

When he decided to resign, Alikhani consulted with Alam. It is an enigmatic aspect of Alikhani’s career and character that in spite of his own impeccable reputation in financial matters, in spite of his insistence that his aides and assistants were men of probity and honesty, he could become a confidant and ally of a man like Alam, who, in spite of his refinement and many gentlemanly qualities, nevertheless had a reputation for financial corruption.

Alam discussed the question of Alikhani’s desire to resign with the shah. It was the decision of the shah to allow Alikhani to chose his own job from a list of four. He could become the rector at Tehran or Pahlavi University in Shiraz or he could go to Paris as Iran’s ambassador to France or as the head of a new economic bureau dedicated to promoting investments in Iran. Alikhani chose to become the rector of Tehran University, and he certainly got more than he bargained for.

He is generally considered one of the more effective rectors in the history of the university. He had a long list of reforms he intended to implement, and while he accomplished many of them, his efforts were impeded by a number of obstacles he could not surmount. He happened to arrive at the university when a new armed guerrilla movement had begun in Iran. Many of the leaders of this movement were university students, and the SAVAK’s attempt to have the university expel a number of suspected opposition sympathizers put them on a collision course with Alikhani.

More important, he began a large movement to reform the university’s many stale, tradition-bound, and clique-ridden faculties. In the Medical School alone he expelled some three hundred doctors who called themselves professors and rarely taught. He funded the construction of a new building for the Faculty of Economics. He improved food and service at the cafeterias, instituting a three-rate system for students, staff, and faculty. He increased funding for the libraries and began to enforce a system of peer review for promotions.

In spite of these accomplishments, he found the work of leading and controlling the university increasingly difficult. Eventually, when, in 1972, the police stormed the campus without his permission or knowledge, he offered his resignation, and the shah immediately accepted. By then the shah had grown increasingly agitated by the incessant student activism against the government and decided to entrust Hushang Nahavandi, then the rector of the Pahlavi University, with the job of pacifying Tehran University.[15]

By then, Alikhani had had his fill of public service. He wanted to join the private sector he had helped create. This was the beginning of the oil boom, and there was plenty of money to be made—and Alikhani needed to make it rather urgently. By his own reckoning, on the day he left the university, he had forty thousand tooman in his bank account. On the eve of the revolution, six years later, he says his net worth was “at least six million dollars”[16]—though opposition papers claimed that he wired thirty million dollars to his foreign accounts.[17] He also had a library of some six thousand books, many of them rare manuscripts, including his mother-in-law’s rare French books. His collection of classical records, as well as French wine—“I had some rare Burgundy and Bordeaux” he said wistfully18—were also of considerable value.

In the private sector, Alikhani tried everything from industrial production of inflammable material to starting a bank in partnership with the Chase Manhattan. He spent more time with his family, taking them each year to historically educational corners of the world. In 1979, for example, not long before he was forced to leave Iran, he tried to teach his children about Etruscan art.

Exile changed Alikhani’s life in unusual ways. Surely, the financial capital he left behind in Iran meant that he had to work hard to make ends meet. He works as an economic consultant and lives with his wife in a small house in the suburbs of Washington. He spends much time with his nine grandchildren. But the most important change in his life came when the Alam family decided to entrust him with the task of editing Alam’s Diaries for publication. The seven-volume edition—of which six have already been published—is, by scholarly consensus, one of the most important texts about the politics of the Mohammad Reza Shah period. The often surprisingly harsh and critical tone of the narrative has certainly taken many royalists by surprise, some going as far as accusing Alikhani of changing the text. The same people are angry with the lengthy introduction he wrote to the first volume outlining, clearly and succinctly, his many criticisms of the shah and some of his policies.

Regardless of these criticisms, the book is likely to remain one of the most important journals of its kind in the annals of Iranian history. Long after any interest in policies implemented by him to protect Iran’s fledging industry wanes, Alikhani’s name will be remembered as the editor of Alam’s Diaries and as the man Alam and his family entrusted with publishing this rare gem of history.

Ali Amini

ALI AMINI WAS AN ENIGMA OF ENDURANCE.Foralmostfortyyearshewasatthe center of Iranian politics. His longevity is more startling in light of the fact that he was, from the onset of his marathon career, distrusted, if not despised, by the shah.
From 1950 to 1955, Iranian politics was dominated by three powerful prime ministers. The three—Ghavam-ol Saltaneh, Mohammad Mossadeq, and General Aredeshir Zahedi— followed one another to power after fierce and invariably bloody struggles. Ali Amini was a member of cabinets of all three men. He was a protégé to Ghavam, and when Ghavam’s nemesis, Mossadeq, followed him to power, Amini was, to everyone’s surprise, a member of the new cabinet as well. And when Mossadeq was overthrown by General Zahedi, Amini was named minister of finance in the new cabinet. Two years later, in 1955, when the shah secretly created a small team of politicians to help bring about the demise of General Zahedi, Amini, though a member of the Zahedi cabinet, was also a key figure of this secret royal cabal. In fact, most of the meetings of the group took place in his house.[1] Some have accused him of “political opportunism,”[2] others praise him for his pragmatism. To a third group, he traveled in the netherworld between political chameleon and master tactician.

Ali Amini was born on September 12, 1905 (21 Sharivari 1284), to one of the most prominent political families of modern Iran. His grandfather was a prime minister and a man of erudition; his book, Resaleye Majddiye, is praised for its pristine prose and its pioneering support for democratic ideas. His mother, Fakhr-al-Dowleh, was surely one of the most powerful and colorful members of the extended Qajar family. She was the favorite daughter of a king, beloved daughter-in-law of a chancellor, and betrothed to a melancholy aristocrat who was, for much of his adult life, “paralyzed” by grief over his father’s death. In these challenging circumstances, she fashioned for herself a formidable persona: unrelenting and fearless in her advocacy of her family’s cause, and bold, even brash, in her support for her son Ali’s rise to the pinnacles of power. Apocryphal though the story might be, Reza Shah, whose disdain for the Qajars was legendary, praised Fakhr-al-Dowleh as “the only man the Qajar family ever produced.”[3]

Ali was not always the favorite son. He remembers a childhood of discontent in the midst of at least the appearance of affluence. There was parental favoritism in which Ali, to his sad consternation, received less of everything than the more favored child. Their family home, in the famed Park-e Amin-al-Dowleh, was lavish in size, European in design, and usually sad and somber in mood. A Belgium architect had built the house, and its furnishings had been imported from Europe, but the gloomy mood of Ali’s father hung like a heavy cloud over it. Ali and his brothers lived in a separate quarter, attended by an illiterate old peasant woman. The children rarely saw their parents; when they did, few words were exchanged. Father was depressed and distant; mother was often preoccupied by politics and lingering property litigation and thus absent. In Ali’s own words, “my youth was squandered.”[4]

He was particularly disheartened by his father’s political lethargy and his disinterest in the lives of his children. Partly to compensate for his father’s attitude, Ali, from early childhood, was resolved to become a prime minister, “and once again bring to the family” the seat of power it had once occupied. In his attempt to regain what he thought was the family heritage, he was guided and goaded by his mother.

Amini’s unabashed ambition frightened the shah and caught the attention of some foreign embassies, which were soon aware of Amini’s political aims. Ironically, when in 1961 this long-cherished dream became a reality, he was hardly prepared for the challenge. He had assembled no team to work in his cabinet, and even less time had been spent on formulating a program.[5] This stark reality, along with a number of external and internal factors, worked to turn Amini’s long-simmering dream of chancellorship into a short fourteen-month-long nightmare.

Amini went to high school in Tehran at Dar al-Funun, where Sadeq Hedayat was among his classmates. After high school, accompanied by his mother, he left for Europe. He ended up at a small university in the town of Grenoble, where he received an undergraduate degree in law. For him, as he readily admits, law was only a gateway—better yet, the best gateway—to the world of politics.
Upon his return to Iran, he was, like many other eminent men of the time, hired by Ali Akabar Davar to work in the newfound Ministry of Justice. After a brief stint as a judge, Amini returned to France, this time to pursue a doctorate in economics. He wrote a thesis on the subject of the foreign trade monopoly in Iran and returned home in 1931. Once again he joined Davar, who by then had been dispatched by Reza Shah to shape up the notoriously corrupt Ministry of Finance.[6]

Within two years, Amini was married. As in every other major decision of his life until then, the guiding light of this decision was his mother. She had found him the suitable mate: her name was Batul; her beauty was legendary and her political pedigree impeccable. She was the daughter of one prime minister (Vosug al-Dowleh) and the favorite niece of another (Ghavam).

Amini’s rise to political prominence came during Ghavam’s tenure as prime minister. He was a protégé of Ghavam and was named a vice premier. Therein lies at least part of the reason for the shah’s unending animus toward Amini: the king’s hatred of Ghavam extended to his many friends and allies. When Ghavam created a Democratic Party to consolidate his hold on power, Amini was an active founding member. In 1946, he was elected to the Parliament as part of the party’s ticket. Three years later, he was offered his first ministerial portfolio in the cabinet of Ali Mansur. It was a measure of his mother’s influence on his life and career that the appointment was first discussed and offered to Fakhr-al-Dowleh and explained to Amini only later and as a fait accompli.

During the tumult of the early 1950s, Amini was a key player in several cabinets. He served in the Mossadeq government in 1951. In a cabinet reshuffle, he lost his portfolio. They were troubled days in Iranian politics; no sooner had he lost his job than, apparently on the insistence of his mother, he left Iran for Jerusalem and a medical checkup. His trip had the advantage of taking him out of the country during the tense months when the shah and Mossadeq were facing off in a bitter political fight and Iranian politicians were forced to take sides in the acrimonious battle. For many, the side they chose haunted them all their lives. Amini was spared the agony of that choice.

He was back in Iran in 1953 when the August coup overthrew Mossadeq. By his own reckoning, his sympathies were divided. In fact, on the day of the coup, two of his friends—who later became members of his cabinet—wanted Amini to join them in a declaration in support for Mossadeq. Amini counseled patience and prudence. The wait paid off; by the afternoon, it became clear that the day belonged to the shah and his supporters. By the evening General Zahedi was Iran’s new prime minister and, in the early hours of next morning, Amini was named his minister of finance.[7]

When the shah returned from Rome, where he had fled, he talked of his dissatisfaction with the Zahedi cabinet during his first meeting with the U.S. ambassador, Loy Henderson. “Same old faces which had been rotating in office for years. . . . He had been told Americans had insisted Amini be included as finance minister and that Cabinet was selected before his arrival and presented to him as fait accompli. I told him information incorrect. I do not know who had selected Amini. Certainly not Americans.”[8]

In spite of the king’s reservations, Amini stayed in the cabinet and was the lead negotiator in the controversial agreements that turned over Iranian oil to a consortium of primarily American and British oil companies. Although in offering the bill about the agreement to the Majlis Amini admitted that it was not a good agreement but the best Iran could have at the time, the stigma of signing it remained with him for the rest of his life. Amini’s role in these negotiations has been the subject of some controversy. Rumors of a five-million-dollar payoff for his role appeared in the papers, particularly those belonging to the opposition. Amini and his son repeatedly denied the accusation.

Although a key member of the Zahedi cabinet, Amini was also instrumental in its downfall. The shah, dissatisfied with Zahedi’s independence and frightened by his power and charisma, had been trying to get rid of him since he returned from his five-day exile.

The American and British governments would not go along with the shah’s plans until 1955, when the oil agreement was ratified by the Parliament. Then the shah, according to Jahanguir Tafazolli, created a cabal of politicians. Amini was an active member of the group. One of their primary tasks was to facilitate the downfall of Zahedi, who still enjoyed substantial support in the Parliament.
When General Zahedi was finally forced to resign, Amini was given a ministerial portfolio in the new cabinet headed by Hoseyn Ala. It was, in fact, a demotion, from the all-powerful Ministry of Finance to the less-powerful Ministry of Justice. Amini, never at a loss for words, denied at the time that the move had been a demotion, but part of the design to “improve justice” in Iran.

His tenure at Justice was short-lived. After only a few months, he was sent to Washington as Iran’s ambassador to the United States. But before he went on his new assignment, he was, along with Ala and the shah, instrumental in ending Iran’s century-old neutrality and helping form the Baghdad Pact—later named CENTO.

In Washington, Amini was, by all accounts, a successful ambassador. He befriended a number of key political figures, particularly among Democratic Party luminaries. The lore of Iranian politics, strengthened by later accusations by the shah, had it that among Amini’s newfound friends was John Kennedy. In a new biography of his father, Iraj Amini claims that the two men met only once and that the stories of their friendship are highly exaggerated.

The Gharani Affair almost ended Amini’s political career. On February 27, 1958, the Iranian government announced the arrest of thirty-nine people on the charge of attempting a coup. The leader of the plot was General Valiollah Gharani—a key intelligence officer of the regime. According to their confessions, the plotters hoped to put in place a new cabinet led by Amini. The group had certainly been in contact with the American Embassy in Tehran. One of their leaders had also met William M. Rountree, assistant secretary of state at the time.[9] The plotters had also contacted Amini himself, informing him of their plans. His response was typical of his mode of operation: he wrote back telling the plotters that “since I am away from the scene in Tehran, don’t get me involved in this matter.” At the same time, he chose not to inform the Iranian authorities of the impending coup attempt.

When details of the coup became known, Amini was immediately recalled from Washington. Ostensibly the reason for the recall was a speech he made on oil policy without previously clearing it with the shah. The real reason, of course, was the suspicion that he had been involved with the plot. Amini did not immediately return, fearing arrest. He lingered for a while in Europe, returning to Tehran only when his safety was promised by the shah.

In Tehran, he categorically denied any knowledge of or complicity in the plot. “I never knew Gharani,” he said, adding that in Iran, “only His Royal Majesty” can decide who can take over the reins of government. Both his claims about the coup, we now know, were inaccurate. He had in fact met with Gharani when the latter was on a training tour as Iran’s head of military intelligence. Furthermore, he was aware of the impending coup, though he had tried at least nominally to disassociate himself from it.[10]

The Americans were unambiguous in their defense of the troubled ambassador. In a telegram to the embassy in Tehran, John Foster Dulles wrote, “It is in our judgment unfortunate that Ambassador Amini had been brought into matter by Shah. To our knowledge and belief Amini has conducted himself in exemplary role and has loyally and faithfully served Shah. We have had no reports of any conversations by Amini with U.S. reps not wholly consistent with his responsibilities to Shah and Government which he represents.”[11] Although the shah had at the time informed U.S. officials, “with great show of indignation,” that Gharani and his plotters had been encouraged by the American Embassy in Tehran, and though in a meeting of the cabinet at the time the shah had angrily declared that, “I will make Amini take his dream of becoming a prime minister to [his] grave,”[12] in less than three years, Amini was indeed appointed prime minister by the shah.

The country was in the throes of a serious political and economic crisis. For several years now, the CIA had been predicting a revolution in Iran. The economy was in shambles, and the American stability program, underwritten by grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, had yet to put the economy back on the right path. A teachers’ strike had paralyzed the education system and threatened to spread to other workers in the capital. It was in this context that Amini was named prime minister.

Parts of his cabinet—specifically portfolios for the foreign, interior, and war ministries—were chosen by the shah. In return, Amini brought into the cabinet several controversial figures, particularly some who had been on Gharani’s list of candidates. The odd combination of these erstwhile radicals—like Arsanjani—with some of the conservative holdovers from previous governments, made the cabinet an unwieldy, incongruent mix of creeds and affiliations. The fact that the shah was, contrary to his many public pronouncements of support for Amini, fundamentally opposed to Amini, only decreased the latter’s chances of survival and ensured that the army’s top brass never embraced the new government. With the forces of the left and the center opposed to him as well, his failure and fate, in retrospect, seem doomed from the beginning.

Amini’s cabinet was unusual for an entirely different reason. It was the first in the modern history of Iran to have a special advisor on religious questions. Using the advisor—a man named Sharif-al-ulama, who ostensibly enjoyed deep affinities with the clerics—Amini worked hard to mend the government’s fences with the clerical hierarchy. In a much-publicized gesture of reconciliation, he traveled to Qom soon after becoming prime minister and met with some of the most notable ayatollahs. In retrospect, his meeting with Ayatollah Khomeini is of particular interest. As was his wont, Khomeini unabashedly criticized the government, particularly its educational policies. They breed infidels, Khomeini claimed. Amini was no less straightforward in his defense of his government.

His discourse with the mullahs was facilitated by the fact that he was himself a religious man. In his youth, when he traveled to the holy cities of Iraq in the company of his mother, he had toyed with the idea of staying behind and joining a seminary. He was, in those days, convinced that Shiism was in dire need of reformation; he was, furthermore, convinced that he could bring about the requisite changes. At the urging of his mother and her cleric friends in Iraq, he soon gave up the idea of becoming a mullah, but all his life he remained a man firm of faith. He prayed every day, though not always at the exact time prescribed by religious rules. He believed that every society needs religion as the anchor of its moral order. He advised family and friends to raise their children “with firm religious beliefs.” At the same time, he never tired of repeating that if a government tries to “listen to the mullahs, the work of the country will come to a standstill.”[13]

His tenure as prime minister was historic for several other reasons as well. He was surely the last prime minister to have any semblance of independence under the shah. Shapur Bakhtiyar, the shah’s last prime minister, also enjoyed much independence, but he was never able fully to take over the reins of power. Amini tried to reassert the rights of the office of prime minister, and limit the extent of the king’s role in politics. More crucially, under his watch, land reform began in Iran. He brought into the cabinet his close friend, Hassan Arsanjani, a rabble-rousing journalist and protégé of Ghavam who had a penchant for populist rhetoric and a deep distrust of the shah.[14] Amini also tried unsuccessfully to include some elements of the National Front. He wanted to create a government of national reconciliation. For minister of justice he chose Nur-al Din Alamuti, once one of the leaders of the Iranian communist party. For minister of education he picked Mohammad Deraksheh, the leader of the powerful teachers’ union. Interestingly, when Amini had presented the Consortium Agreement to the Parliament, one of the most bitter attacks on the agreement—and on Amini as its architect—had been delivered by Deraksheh. Ultimately, in spite of all his efforts, his attempt to create a government of national reconciliation failed. His own role in negotiating and signing the oil agreement with the Western consortium made him an “untouchable” for much of the opposition.

Amini was a populist, giving speeches bereft of any jargon and with a demeanor free of the haughty quirks of aristocracy. His long, sometimes meandering, often honest talks, broadcast on radio, turned him into a favorite subject of satirists. His warning that the country is “bankrupt,” though accurate and justified in strictly economic terms, was a disaster in terms of its political consequences. The shah never forgave him for the comment, and the satirists never tired of making fun of him for it. Although he was always well dressed, his protuberant eyes and his heavy eyelashes made him an easy and favorite target of the country’s cartoonists.
One of Amini’s most important decisions was to demand the ouster of the powerful head of SAVAK, General Teymur Bakhtiyar. The shah readily agreed. He could thus get rid of a new enemy by an old foe. Ever since Bakhtiyar had visited Washington bearing the shah’s letter to Kennedy, Tehran was abuzz with rumors of Bakhtiyar’s plans for a coup against the shah. Out of office, Bakhtiyar openly began to conspire against the government and use his extensive ties with the security agents to foment trouble. A de facto alliance between him—the butcher of the Iranian communists—and many of the very forces he had earlier suppressed began to take shape. This alliance would, in later years, became the bane of the shah and a source of much anxiety for him.

What finally sealed Amini’s fate was the shah’s official trip to the United States. After meeting with Kennedy, the president agreed, in the course of a news conference, that in Iran the ultimate power must rest with the monarch. By then, the White House had concluded that “Amini was a spent force.” This was, in fact, the judgment of Professor Edward Mason of Harvard, whose words were listened to in the Kennedy White House and who traveled to Tehran at the behest of the administration. He came back convinced that Amini’s days were numbered.

When the shah returned, the question of the military budget became a bone of contention between him and his prime minister. In an apparent attempt to bluff, and to force the shah to reduce the military budget and coerce the Americans to increase their aid to the Iranian government, Amini offered his resignation. To his surprise, the Americans refused to give more aid, and the shah accepted his resignation. On July 19, his brief tenure at a job he had long craved ended.

He was for a while still hopeful of a speedy return to office. By 1965, the shah’s attacks on him and his tenure became more direct, signaling an end to his dream. For the next few years, though he lived the life of a banished politician, he was never much out of the shah’s mind. When Armin Meyer, American ambassador to Iran at the time, indicated at a dinner party that he wanted to meet with Amini, something of a diplomatic crisis erupted. The shah was eventually assuaged only with the promise that the American Embassy would no longer have any contact with Amini. During those years, as embassy documents show, the Americans kept in touch with Amini through an intermediary. His name was Moghadam Maragei. SAVAK, which kept a close watch on Amini and reported his every move, was aware of Maragei’s role.[15]

In forced retirement, Amini’s life was reduced to hosting a political salon. Usually, each afternoon a small group gathered at Amini’s house and whiled away the afternoon with idle chatter about politics. Many of the participants in these meetings were low-level government officials. Ministers, or those hoping to land a ministerial portfolio, avoided any contact with him. Occasionally leaders of the moderate opposition, particularly from the National Front, also met with Amini.[16] Invariably, SAVAK reported on these meetings. The published collection of these reports is interesting only for the repetitious banality of the narrative. Clearly, those in the house seemed to expect that their conversations were “overheard.” A kind of studied superficial caution and conservatism is evident in the reports. For example, in one instance Amini reported that some mullahs wanted to have services for some Palestinians killed in battle with Israelis. As Amini owned the mosque, they had come to ask for his permission. Amini told his friends, “I refused to grant them permission. I said, why should we get involved in politics.”[17]

This caution was for naught. In 1968, the shah, for reasons that were apparently connected to the ongoing oil negotiations, ordered a new round of attacks on Amini. The media began a blitz of accusations, and, more important, the Ministry of Justice was ordered to resurrect an old file that claimed financial malfeasance against Amini and his wife. During her husband’s tenure as prime minister, a piece of land belonging to his wife was sold to the government at allegedly inflated prices. There is now no doubt that such a sale was made. In fact, Iraj Amini, their son, became by accident privy to the plans for the sale and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade his mother from engaging in the deal. He knew by instinct that his father’s enemies would one day use the transaction against him. At the same time, irrespective of the judicial merits of the case, everyone in Tehran seemed aware of the strictly political nature of the accusation.

The early tremors that eventually became the Islamic revolution once again brought Amini back to the center of power. Tehran was filled with rumors of his pending appointment as prime minister. His early reentry into politics had been at the behest of Hoveyda, by then minister of court. As a U.S. Embassy telegram makes clear, Amini’s July 23, 1978, decision to call for a “government of national reconciliation” was made at the suggestions of the court minister and was “an indirect invitation for Prime Minister Amuzegar to resign.” Hoveyda had sensed a serious crisis was on the horizon and wanted Amini back in political action. For a while the shah refused to meet Amini and when he finally agreed to do so, it was already too late. As the embassy concluded at the time, “Amini’s initiative is being viewed with suspicion in view of past allegations that he was a U.S. puppet.”[18] As the embassy further correctly anticipated, Amini did not end up playing “a major role in events” of the next few months. Instead, he became a member of a large bevy of new advisors the shah had acquired. Few reliable sources about exactly what counsel he offered the shah have been available. According to his son, during this period, Amini was, as he had been all his life, an advocate of rapprochement with the clerics, but he also realized that the government must first act forcefully to calm the situation and then negotiate with the opposition.

The day after the shah left Iran, Amini, too, decided to leave—hopeful still that after a brief hiatus, he would return. He made little effort to move any substantial part of his holdings and private belongings to Europe. Instead, he traveled light, with all the appearance of a brief sojourner, not a permanent exile. He was wrong and had become once again prey to his persistent optimism.

The bread of banishment was particularly bitter for Amini. He was instrumental in creating an early opposition group against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Once again he went back to the theme of the necessity of “national reconciliation for the liberation of Iran.” Old animosities between Left and Right, liberals and monarchists, he suggested, must be all forgotten in favor of the unity required to end the destructive rule of the mullahs. When it became public knowledge that the CIA had been funding Amini’s operations, and when controversy about the $100,000 monthly stipend by the CIA hit French courts and Iranian and American newspapers,[19] Amini, glum and disappointed, withdrew from all politics. “It was his simplicity,” his son believes, “that allowed him to be duped by upstart political operatives.”[20] As his reputation suffered, he turned increasingly morose. His much-beloved chauffeur was brought from Iran to live with Amini. His wife almost died of cancer, adding to the mounting agonies of the benighted exile. His sole remaining solace were the solemnities of the life of a lapsed aristocrat. Every day was minutely planned: a full agenda, meticulously mapped out, but with little to do.

He died in Paris in 1992.

Jamshid Amuzegar

In the last week of July 1977, as Jamshid Amuzegar stood with a bevy of ministers on the tarmac of Tehran Airport, all there to bid the king, departing on an official trip, a royal send-off, he was beckoned by an officer to go see the shah for what seemed like another routine disposition of royal orders. But this time, Amuzegar finally heard the words he had craved to hear for at least a decade. From as early as 1966, there were secret police reports indicating that he was rumored to be in line to be appointed prime minister, and that he was even contemplating the composition of his cabinet.[1] Over the next long decade of waiting, many a time he seemed on the verge of realizing his dream. Every time, however, his rival and ostensible boss, Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, somehow found a way to survive and thwart the ambitions not just of Amuzegar but of all other aspirants to the post of prime minister.

Even this time, when change was in the air, Amuzegar almost missed the opportunity. Not long after William Sullivan, the new American ambassador, arrived in Tehran, he opined in a meeting with the shah that in the embassy’s studied view, Iran’s economic development could not be sustained at its current rapid rate. The shah frowned and grew sullen; for two weeks he refused to meet with the ambassador again. While Sullivan claims that he meant nothing other than an economic view, the shah interpreted Sullivan’s words as a hint, a warning, a sign of displeasure with Hoveyda from the new American administration. Jimmy Carter had just been elected president, and the shah was anxious about what the new president’s talk of “human rights” meant for Iran. No sooner had he met the new ambassador than he began contemplating a change in the government.

When the shah began to consider appointing a new prime minister, the leading candidate had been Hushang Ansary, a nemesis of Hoveyda and Amuzegar.[2] Ansary and Amuzegar had long developed the reputation of being favored by the United States. In a SAVAK profile, prepared when Amuzegar was about to become prime minister, he is described as someone “considered by many circles as an American tool” and rumored to “have two passports, one Iranian and the other American.”[3] On that day at the airport the shah told Amuzegar, “Begin assembling a cabinet.” His dream had finally come true.

Carter’s coming, however, had consequences other than simply making the shah nervous; it also emboldened the opposition. The common perception was that the Americans had just declared open season on the shah. As a result, no sooner had Amuzegar began his tenure than mass demonstrations began all over the country.

It was a measure of Amuzegar’s mold of mind, and a telling sign of the Byzantine nature of Iranian politics at the time, that his first instinct in response to the unrest was to think that it was all masterminded by his rival, Hoveyda, and the latter’s chief ally in the secret police, Parviz Sabeti.

Using Ahmad Goreishi, a prominent political figure, as an intermediary, Amuzegar asked his rivals to cease their machinations. Both were flabbergasted at the suggestion and retorted that they had no role in the unrest. In the meantime, with every passing day the demonstrations picked up momentum and the opposition recognized the disarray in the regime. Before long, the movement had such strength that it swept Amuzegar off the seat he had worked so hard to occupy. After a decade of waiting, his tenure had only lasted thirteen months, ending on August 26, 1978. In the shah’s memoir, Answer to History, he wrote that getting rid of Amuzegar was “a great mistake.” He called his short-lived prime minister a “wise and unbiased counselor”[4] and clearly implied that his departure facilitated the rise of the mullahs to power. But the mullahs figured in Amuzegar’s life and legacy at an altogether different angle.

Many royalists continue to blame Amuzegar for the revolution, claiming that his illegal decision to cut off the regular “stipend” the government paid to the mullahs was the trigger, or even the cause of the revolution. Officials of the ancien régime, including the man who was for many years in charge of dispensing the stipend, had tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to answer these critics by revealing that the amount paid to these mullahs by the government was minimal, and that, more important, the real radical mullahs in Ayatollah Khomeini’s camp never “deigned to take our money.”[5] But the rumble of discontent has continued.

After a quarter century of uneasy silence, after repeatedly refusing requests by scholars, journalists, and oral histories for interviews, Amuzegar finally broke his silence and tried to answer his critics by revealing what he claimed was the real story of the stipend. The tone of his essay was surprisingly bitter and critical of the ancien régime. The revolution was, he wrote, more than anything else the result of “the irregularities” that existed at the time in Iran. He simply does not address the issue that he was, for much of that period, a pillar of that regime. He quotes an old Persian text, “Survival of a nation is dependent on one condition: no strong hand should be allowed to overpower the weak.” He goes on to declare that he “knew nothing about suspending the stipends.” Finally, he claims that the money that was paid to the mullahs came, in fact, from the White House, and it had begun after events of August 1953 and was only suspended during the Carter administration.[6] The essay could be seen to confirm the most cynical depiction of Amuzegar as well as the most sympathetic. To his critics, Amuzegar is an arrogant man of dour and rancorous disposition and unable to accept any criticism. His supporters describe him as a man of debilitating shyness, with unfailing competence as a technocrat and kindness as a human being, and a particular affinity for children.[7]

Friends and foes both concur that he was impeccably honest and never enriched himself at the cost of the public coffers. He is a private man who lived nearly all of his life under the often disfiguring gaze of public scrutiny. Since he has yet to publish his memoirs or agree to be interviewed, finding the real person beneath the public persona is in his case even more difficult than in the normal work of biography.
Jamshid Amuzegar was born in Tehran on June 26, 1923 (4 Tir 1302), to a family of letters and politics. His mother was among the first Iranian women to receive a public education, and his father was a journalist and a man of politics who rose up in the ranks to become a senator in the latter part of his life. During his days as a journalist, aside from running a number of papers, he also wrote for Etela’at, the country’s most important daily at the time. A collection of his essays for the paper was the first book published by the company that was created by the paper’s publisher.[8] For a two-month period, he was also minister of culture in a caretaker government that came to power in 1951. Among his many books is one dealing with the necessity of educating women.[9] Three of the children of this ununually cultured family—Jamshid, Jahangir, and Cyrus—entered the world of politics, with Jamshid reaching the pinnacle of power and Jahangir establishing a solid international reputation as a serious scholar of Iran’s economic history and development.

Jamshid went to school in Tehran—Tagrib elementary and Iranshahre high school— receiving his high school diploma with a concentration in literature. The choice was unusual in that most serious university-bound students tended to choose either mathematics or science as their area of concentration. But Jamshid had been influenced by two of his teachers, Jalal Homai and Mohit Tabataba’i, both renowned men of letters. Inspired by parents and by his two favorite teachers, all his life Amuzegar has shown particular affinity for the world of Iranian letters and poetry, prizing himself for the pithy prose he writes and the appropriate poem he can conjure. In his days of glory, some critics scoffed at his use of poetry, suggesting that his literary rhetoric was filled with embarrassing malapropisms, and he became a “subject for satirists.”[10] Nevertheless, among his generation of technocrats, when “technobabble” was the lingua franca, and when, contrary to the old Iranian tradition, mastery of Persian language and literature was no longer a requisite rite of passage into politics, he stood out for his literary bent.

After high school, he entered Tehran University and took the unusual step of taking courses both in the Faculty of Law and Political Science and in the Faculty of Engineering. After two years, he left for the United States, where he enrolled at Cornell University, and received first a bachelor’s degree in public policy and eventually a Ph.D. in a field that was called public health engineering. Between the two degrees, he left Cornell for about two years to take a master’s degree in civil engineering at George Washington University. Before returning to Iran in August 1951, he taught for a short while at Cornell. During the same period, he married a girl of German origins. They remained married for the rest of her life. They had no children, though in acts of philanthropy she often helped with the work of raising orphans. Her last years with her husband were rendered particularly difficult not only by the drudgeries of exile, but also by the difficulties arising from her ill health. Amuzegar was, by all accounts, exemplary in his devotion to her and in the care and affection he lavished on her when she most needed it. Although all his life Amuzegar has been something of a recluse, with a small coterie of friends, in the weeks after his wife’s death he grew even more so, avoiding contact even with his friends. But in 1951, they were a happy new couple, heading back to Iran and an unknown career for Amuzegar.

In Iran, he began almost immediately to work for Point Four, the American aid program involved in public health and hygiene in Iran. Their work was a perfect fit for Amuzegar’s expertise. During his days as a graduate student, he had briefly worked on a UN project studying water supplies in Iran. Amuzegar’s work at Point Four lasted about eighteen months. What he accomplished was impressive by any measure. Even according to sources in the Islamic Republic, he surveyed and established the location for eightyfour wells and drew up the design for water systems for twenty-five different cities.[11]

In 1953, not long after the fall of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, Amuzegar entered public service. His first job was as the director of the office of engineering in the Ministry of Health. Only eighteen months later, he was named undersecretary in the same ministry. He was thirty-two years old. It was during his tenure there that, with help from Point Four, much progress was made finally in eradicating malaria from Iran.
Amuzegar was also active in a different political arena. He was one of the leading members of a nascent group that brought together Iranian graduates of American universities. Many of the technocrats who led the Iranian bureaucracy in the 1960s and 1970s were members of this group. According to SAVAK at the time, the group was more than anything the tool for Amuzegar’s political ascent. There were rumors at the time that this group would soon become a political party and Amuzegar would be its leader.[12]

In 1958, his efforts finally bore fruit when he was appointed minister of labor. From that time until the fall of the shah, there was only a short hiatus when he was not in charge of some ministry. Some have suggested that in terms of the sheer number of years served as a minister, Amuzegar holds the record in modern Iran with almost eighteen years.[13]

He remained in the Ministry of Labor for a little more than a year. He helped draft a new comprehensive labor law for the country and also helped pass legislation banning government officials from entering into business deals with the government. The passage of these bills became part of the pattern of his future appointments: at every new ministry he brought about important, often long-lasting changes.

The best example of these changes came during his next appointment, to the Ministry of Agriculture. While there, Amuzegar helped draft the legislation for land reform. The American Embassy at the time was clearly aware of the public perception of these reforms as something fostered by the United States. In a report assessing the internal situation in Iran, they wrote, “at least four of the technicians and career types who dominate the cabinet come from those Iranians who are trained in the United States and known popularly as ‘American tools . . . ’ e.g. the selection of Jamshid Amuzegar as Minister of Agriculture and guide of the Land Distribution bill and its later implementation.”[14] In a rare intervention in postrevolutionary diaspora polemics, Amuzegar wrote a letter to the editor of Rahavard defending his role in drafting the legislation and insisting that its content and details were all the results of work by him and his staff at the ministry. The Iranian countryside, with its complicated system of harvest sharing and its unique system of qanats—aqueducts that carry water for hundreds of miles in an intricate web of interconnected wells—was, he argued, unique and only the genius of Iranian officials—not the advice of foreigners—could have drafted legislation befitting that landscape.[15] With the fall of the Eqbal cabinet in August 1960 (Shahrivar 1339), Amuzegar’s ministerial days came to a temporary halt. With the help of a few friends, he created a consulting company and entered the private sector. Ironically, it was in this nonpolitical hiatus that he came close to ending his political career altogether.

One of his friends, Mahmood Rezai, was also a close friend of General Teymur Bakhtiyar, the once powerful head of SAVAK. When he was dismissed from his post in 1962, he did not wither away, as old soldiers are supposed to do, but began organizing a coup against the sitting cabinet. But ambitious and charismatic officers like Bakhtiyar were anathema to the shah, and before the general could carry out his ostensibly pro-shah coup against Amini, he was banished from the country, and all who had cooperated with him fell out of favor as well. At least one reliable source has claimed that Amuzegar met with Bakhtiyar at the latter’s behest and was offered but did not accept a ministerial job in the coup cabinet.[16] In fact, not long after Bakhtiyar was banished, Amuzegar returned to the government as the powerful minister of treasury. From that time until a few weeks from the fall of the shah, he was never far from the center of power in Iran. During the late 1960s, long before his appointment as prime minister, Amuzegar had become one of the shah’s most trusted advisors.

Aside from his eight years at the helm of the treasury, he had become the shah’s chosen personal representative in the increasingly cantankerous oil negotiations of the period. In 1971, for example, the shah named him as the head of Iran’s delegation to OPEC. It was in that capacity that he gained international fame and notoriety.

Those were the days when OPEC was demanding substantial increases in the price of oil, and Amuzegar was often, next to the shah, the face of Iran’s militancy. The fact that during several sessions of OPEC Amuzegar was chosen as the chair of the meeting added to his reputation. If that were not enough to garner him international fame, Carlos the Jackal’s daring hostage taking did the rest.

On Sunday, December 21, Carlos, the famous terrorist, and six accomplices (three Germans and three Palestinians), calling themselves the Arm of the Arab Revolution, raided the building where OPEC delegates were meeting in Vienna. Sixty-three delegates and employees were taken hostage. Carlos divided the hostages into three categories—the liberals, the neutrals, and the criminals, with Amuzegar and the Saudi oil minister, Zaki Yamani, heading the criminal list. Carlos intimated that he intended to execute Yamani and Amuzegar and demanded a fueled jet and required that Austrian radio and television read the group’s revolutionary communiqué every two hours.

The plane was provided, and the hostages were taken to it in a bus. Two seats on the plane—one for Amuzegar and the other for Zaki Yamani—were strapped with explosives. During much of the ordeal, Carlos is reported to have repeatedly taunted both Amuzegar and the Saudi minister. After about three days of wandering between Algeria and Libya, not only the hostages, but Carlos and his band, were set free. It was alleged but never confirmed that Iran and Saudi Arabia paid Carlos twenty million dollars for the release of their oil ministers. The experience must have left an enduring mark on Amuzegar, but he has been reticent to talk about the details of the ordeal.

As his international reputation grew, so did his political status at home. During the 1970s, he was more powerful than any other minister and on almost equal footing with the prime minister. He met directly with the shah and took orders only from him. During his tenure at the treasury, among his most important contribution was drafting a new tax law. His tenure at these important ministries helped create an enduring image of him as a dour but dedicated technocrat with no knack for politics, a fair but exacting man, ambitious but cautious, honest and willing to work hard to clean up the bureaucracy but also willing to look the other way when faced with the corruption of those more powerful than himself.

The big turn in his domestic role came in April 1973 when he was moved from Treasury to the Interior Ministry. By then the entire bureaucracy was controlled by members of the ruling Iran Novin Party, and it was a measure of Amuzegar’s power as a technocrat that he retained his role in spite of his refusal to join the ranks of the party. Moreover, at the Interior Ministry, holding elections was among his chief responsibilities. Within a year, helped by Gholam-Reza Afkhami and Amin Alimard, two technocrats he had appointed as his undersecretaries, Amuzegar convinced the shah to allow for a limited experiment in holding relatively free elections. Hitherto, not only the candidates but the winners were decided by the government. In two small cities in the northern part of Iran, the normal governmental channels chose the two candidates, but then the two were allowed to run a serious campaign, and the ultimate winner would be the person who actually won the majority of votes. This experiment was to be the first phase of an eventual easing of government control not of elections themselves, but on who would win them.

But all of this experimentation came to naught when the shah scuttled the existing system and created a one-party system, and this time everyone, including Amuzegar, was required to join. For a while, he was the leader of one of the two “wings” in the party, and then he was promoted to the post of secretary general. Clearly this was the last step before the realization of his long dream of becoming the prime minister.

His eventual appointment as prime minister led, as expected, to a flurry of rumors, some wild and fantastical. To most observers, his appointment was a nod to the new Carter administration. Some saw it as a victory for Princess Ashraf over the queen, who had been exerting more and more influence on the Hoveyda cabinet. Amuzegar and Ashraf had been friends for many years, and some observers considered the new Amuzegar cabinet filled “with members of the Ashraf gang.”[17] Those less inclined to conspiracy theories simply believed him to be a competent technocrat getting a promotion he had long deserved.

His brief tenure in office was significant as much for what happened as for what did not. He was slow in responding to the rising unrest, focusing instead on the austerity program he had implemented. By the time he came to lead the cabinet, Iran had witnessed a sharp downturn in its oil revenue. Buoyed by the shah’s repeated grandiose promise of the “Great Civilization” and of standards of living comparable to Western Europe, the austerity measures were particularly unpopular and added fuel to the fires of discontent.

Easily the most controversial event of his days in power was the big fire in the Cinema Rex in the city of Abadan. More than four hundred innocent spectators burned to death. The government was slow to respond. Its attempt to lay the blame on the opposition fell on deaf ears. Although in retrospect the dastardly act has all the hallmarks of Islamic terrorism, and although in future years evidence emerged showing the culpability of the clergy, the people at the time blamed the government. Amuzegar was surely a competent technocrat, but he was without the savvy and political gravitas required to weather the storm. He realized the futility of clinging to power. He offered his resignation a little more than a year after he assumed the premiership. Before long, worried particularly about his wife’s deteriorating health, he left the country, never to return.

In exile, he steered clear of émigré circles and exile politics. The private life he seemed to crave all his life was now, by force and choice, his to cherish.

Hushang Ansary

Hushang Ansary is one of the most enigmatic characters in modern Iranian politics. His meteoric rise was more than matched by the incredible rise in his personal fortune. His detractors attributed his sudden wealth directly to his political power and the alleged abuse of his position to enrich himself. They see in him a man of steely determination. Everything in his life, they claim, from his marriages to his politics, was part of a grand design for success. His defenders, on the other hand, suggest that his wealth was simply the confirmation of his brilliant mind, his tireless energy, his personal skills, and his entrepreneurial acumen. They point to the fact that he made a second fortune in exile, far greater than the one he made in Iran.

In spite of the controversy over his character, several things are usually not contested: Ansary was a highly intelligent politician and a businessman with uncanny intuition. His mind was more agile than erudite, his determination was relentless, and his generosity was calculated and rooted in the complicated trajectory of his character. His ability to master languages from Japanese to English was legendary, and, according to many sources, it was his initial ticket into the inner circles of power. He had a knack for surrounding himself with good lieutenants and assistants, and though he was a stern and demanding taskmaster, he showered those around him with gifts and bonuses.

His generosity and his hospitality were inseparable parts of his reputation. He gave away millions while in exile, much of it, in the early years, to causes unrelated to Iran. In 1998, he was ranked the 147th greatest contributor to the Republican Party in the United States, and most of his philanthropic donations are to causes dear to his friends in the upper echelons of that party. He contributed millions of dollars to stem cell research, donated one hundred thousand dollars to George W. Bush’s inaugural and gave “a check to the GOP for $250,000 in unrestricted ‘soft money.’”[1] But like much else in his life, these contributions were not without controversy. The contributions of two of Ansary’s staff to the Senate campaigns of Robert Torricelli, Alfonse D’Amato, and Robert Dole became the subject of inquiry and controversy when it was alleged that the employees had made the donations with the understanding that Ansary’s company would reimburse them—a potentially illegal act.[2]

Ansary’s myriad talents afforded him the ability not only to reinvent himself constantly, but to succeed in each of his reincarnations. His ambitious soul, and his unerring ability to measure the mettle of his opponents, helped him overcome any handicap that resulted from his lack of any obvious physical charisma. In fact, some sources have claimed that Ansary’s shortness was one of the reasons the shah fostered his promotion. The shah, it is true, had a complex about height—a fact confirmed by many sources—and he chose Ansary, these sources claim, because he offered no threat in an area where the king was most vulnerable.[3] While it is impossible to verify such long-distance Freudian analysis, their common currency shows the important place Ansary occupies in the public imagination.

He was born in 1927 (1306) in the city of Ahwaz. Little is known of his childhood, save that he did not come from one of the “thousand and one families” that ruled Iran for much of the twentieth century. It is a measure of the kind of controversy that swirls around every aspect of his life that critics have claimed that his childhood name was in fact Mostamande Shirazi and not Ansary.[4] He was an outsider bent on beating the insiders at their own game. His father was a bank clerk, and economic hardships were a fact of Hushang’s early life. He had an affinity for the worlds of journalism and photography as a young man and worked for newspapers and magazines in both his city of birth and then in Tehran.
He had some education in England, the extent of which is not clear, with some sources suggesting he received a master’s degree and others claiming that he simply took a number of courses and spent most of his time taking photographs. Then in 1954 he went to Japan. What he did there is also not clear. Ebtehaj, for example, known for his tongue-lashings, dismissively calls him “an office boy” (padow) at the Iranian Embassy in Japan.[5] Others suggest that he worked as a trade representative for some Iranian businessmen and was noticed by Iran’s ambassador to Japan, Abbas Aram. By then Ansary had married a Japanese woman and mastered the Japanese language. Eventually, helped by Aram, he came to the attention of the shah, who asked Ansary to come back to Iran.

He did, and in 1961 he was appointed an undersecretary in the Ministry of Commerce. In short order he served as ambassador at large in Africa, and ambassador to Pakistan. It was the period of heightened tension between India and Pakistan, and Ansary came into direct contact with the shah as he kept the king abreast of developments in the subcontinent. In 1966, he was named minister of information. Reports of his style of work in that sensitive ministry offer ample clues to his managerial system. He established close ties with editors, publishers, and journalists, inviting them to meetings and encouraging them to aim big. According to Ali Behzadi, a well-known journalist and editor in Iran, Ansary told a gathering of editors that everywhere in the world, publishers and editors are amply rewarded for their work and have no financial worries; why shouldn’t it be so in Iran? He also invited them to parties where sumptuous meals were served and generous gifts were given in tasteful surroundings.[6]

His meteoric political rise, as well as his attention to decor and decorum and the tastefulness of his parties, was said to be in no small measure the result of his second marriage. Not long after his return home, he divorced his Japanese wife and remarried—this time to a Persian woman. His mentor, Aram, had been something of a surrogate father to Maryam Panahi, an unusually accomplished young woman who was as comfortable in the corridors of Washington power as in the labyrinth of the Pahlavi court. She also had extensive contacts with powerful men and women in Iran and in the United States. The powerful head of the CIA at the time, Richard Helms, had been a neighbor and family friend in Washington, and in Tehran Aram was only one of her many conduits to power. At his instigation, Maryam and Hushang met and before long they were married, in 1964. They had two children—a girl and a boy—and remained married for almost three decades, while Ansary rose even more in the hierarchy of power in Iran. By then, he had developed a reputation as “an American favorite,” while General Hoseyn Fardust,[7] the shah’s close confidant, claims in his consistently critical memoirs that he was close to the British, writing, “while in Japan, Aram decided that Ansary was the right person, and introduced him to the British.”[8]

All through these years of political and emotional change in his life, Ansary was also a full-time businessman. When he initially returned to Iran he was made partner, and eventually director, of a company called Fakhre Iran. It was part of the Nemazee empire, and according to the Nemazis it had been losing money. Ansary turned the company around, and in the early 1970s, when the country was flush with cash, and when the shah ordered that ministers must not have concurrent business activities, he sold it to the government. The details of the sale are murky. The final sale price has been said to be anywhere from seventy million to four hundred million tooman [$10 to $50 million]. It is also not clear how much the partners received, nor what the real value of the company was. There seems to be a consensus among different sources that the price was certainly more than the partners expected, and the result of a “sweetheart” deal with the government, masterminded by Ansary and Dr. Abdolkarim Ayadi, the shah’s close confidant and his physician.[9] When I interviewed Hassan Nemazi, one of the partners, he denied knowledge of any wrongdoing, adding that his family, as majority owners of the company, were “very happy with the deal and with what Ansary had done for the company.”[10]

His business did not interfere with his politics. After his first ministerial portfolio, Ansary was made Iran’s ambassador to the United States—the most important job in the Iranian foreign ministry. On May 26, 1967, he presented his credentials to President Lyndon Johnson.[11] Ansary’s tenure as ambassador was extremely consequential, both for himself and for Iran. Those were the days when the shah was trying to replace Britain as the hegemonic force in Iran. Even before the election of Richard Nixon, and the Nixon doctrine, Ansary was trying to convince the Americans that “the Shah [was] rather hoping that U.S. will pick Iran as its ‘chosen instrument’ in the Middle East.”[12] At the same time, as the American Embassy in Tehran reported, Ansary was known for “assiduously cultivating high-ranking contacts,”[13] and that trait was certainly evident during his ambassadorial days in Washington. The fact that his wife, Maryam, was connected to the highest echelons of power in America, and that she was a hostess of impeccable taste, was of considerable help in Ansary’s attempt to cultivate these ties. During his days of exile, these contacts became crucial in his attempt to fashion a new career for himself.

His days as an ambassador to Washington were without any major crisis. Aside from the issue of Iran’s future role in the Persian Gulf, Ansary spent most of his time relaying messages between the shah and the U.S. government on the issues of oil, arms, and the shah’s growing fear of Nasser. He also tried to mend fences between the shah and those in the U.S. government—such as Senator William Fulbright—who occasionally criticized the shah.[14] One issue he handled was the shah’s angry response to meetings between U.S. officials and Ali Amini. The shah was worried about U.S. agencies—like the CIA—contacting Iranian opposition figures. Amini was one example of such sensitivity. Another instance was the alleged contacts between some U.S. officials and student demonstrators in Tehran.[15] It was an example of Ansary’s style of work that in May 1968, in anticipation of a visit by the shah, he traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the shah was to receive an honorary degree and “personally walked through the proposed proceeding” and raised “a lot of concern . . . about possible threats to shah’s personal safety.”[16]

After about two years in America, Ansary was recalled, only to assume the key Ministry of Economy. Before long, the Ministry of Treasury was combined with his ministry, making Ansary, after the shah, the de facto economic tsar of the country and the shah’s advisor in all economic matters. As early as 1968, there were also rumors that Ansary would “shortly take over the premiership.”[17] By the mid-1970s, he was, according to a CIA report, considered part of “the Shah’s Inner Circle,” along with sixteen other political figures.[18] While others such as Amir-Abbas Hoveyda and Assadollah Alam, and even Jamshid Amuzegar, had a paragraph or two describing their role and relationship with the shah, as a newcomer to the group, Ansary received only a passing reference. But by then he was a permanent fixture in the court’s limited social circle. To no small degree, his entry into that circle was as much the result of his own accomplishments as of his wife’s extensive web of connections to the key elements of that circle, particularly to Alam.[19]

Although in the 1970s Ansary was a member of the cabinet, he was also one of only three ministers—with Amuzegar and General Reza Azimi—“with independent prestige and direct line to HIM which represent competitive threat to Hoveyda’s authority.”[20] Even as minister of economy, he was sometimes used by the shah as a conduit for messages to the United States and the United Kingdom over negotiations with the oil Consortium.[21] Nevertheless, if Alam is to be believed, Ansary was dismayed that the oil negotiations, by law under his jurisdiction, were, on the orders of the shah, primarily handled by Amuzegar.[22]

It was also during this period that Iran went on what the CIA called “The Shah’s Lending Binge,”[23] committing Iran to over $1.3 billion in aid and grants in 1973—including millions of dollars for London’s water system. Ansary played a key role in dispensing this part of Iran’s petrodollars around the world. Moreover, during this period he was the cochair of the joint Iran-U.S. Economic Commission, created at the suggestion of Henry Kissinger.[24] In that capacity, Ansary ultimately signed a $15 billion agreement with the United States that called for, among other things, the construction of eight nuclear power plants in Iran.[25] Iran also invested millions of dollars in often-troubled European and American companies, and Ansary, whose brother was in charge of Iran’s overseas investments, played a crucial and sometimes controversial role in these decisions.

According to William Shawcross, Ansary “was one of the richest men” in Iran.[26] It was believed by some scholars that through these investments and the extensive network of connections he had created in the United States, Ansary wanted not only to consolidate his network of friends in the West, but also to “reinforce” the “sinews of the American-Pahlavi connections.”[27] It is ironic that in spite of his ubiquitous presence in this crucial role, in Answer to History, the shah’s postrevolution memoir, there is no mention of Ansary, and in the queen’s Enduring Love, written in 2003, she only says that after the revolution, Ansary was among a handful of “important people” who “managed to get through to the king and give him their support”[28] Moreover, many who had witnessed his actions were unwilling to talk about him even in exile, at least on the record. For example, Abolqassem Kheradju, the esteemed chairman of the Industrial and Mining Development Bank of Iran, simply says, “Since I don’t have a good view of him, I don’t want to talk about it.”[29]

All of this power meant that in 1976, when the shah decided to replace Hoveyda, Ansary was one of the two main contenders. In fact, Alam told him that he had been picked by the shah as the next prime minister. Bouquets of flowers began to arrive at his houses in Tehran and in the South of France, where his wife was staying at the time. But for reasons that are still not clear, the appointment never came, and much to his consternation, Ansary was forced to serve as a minister in the cabinet of his rival and nemesis, Amuzegar. In retrospect, some of Ansary’s supporters think that had the shah chosen Ansary, a revolution might have been avoided in Iranian politics. Even according to Maryam Panahi, Ansary’s now estranged wife, “not appointing Hushang was one of the shah’s two biggest mistakes, leading to the revolution.”[30]

In 1977, there was still no sign of a revolution, and it was still possible for Ansary to hope that his dream of becoming the prime minister would one day become a reality. By then he had also become involved in party politics. When the shah created the Rastakhiz one-party system, Ansary was named as the leader of one of the two wings of the party. In September 1977, as leader of the Constructive wing, he issued a statement asking for “free flow of information . . . which is like the flow of blood in the body.”[31]

The uneasy peace between him and Amuzegar was resolved when, after the death of Dr. Manuchehre Egbal in November 1977, Ansary was named chairman and managing director of the NIOC. At that time he was “considered by many Iran-watchers to be a shifty-eyed ambitious maneuverer . . . and one of the most powerful figures in Iran.”[32]

His tenure at the oil company was short-lived. As the early signs of a gathering storm appeared on the horizon, Ansary began to think about leaving Iran. Some visitors to his opulent house, “full of expensive rugs and antiques,” noticed that gradually the most expensive of the house’s appointments and decor were disappearing. When he began to complain of chest pain and of shooting pains in his arms, not everyone believed him.[33] His resignation in 1978 and his claim of a heart problem became the subject of controversy and criticism. His defenders claim that his resignation was the result of his “disgust over their lack of freedom to act.” They even suggest that Ansary had boldly told the shah, “you cannot have a liberal-economic system together with an autocratic setup.”[34] Critics, however, suggest that “his resignation as Chairman and Managing Director of the NIOC for ‘personal’ reasons” actually happened while he was in Europe in November 1978, and “when the revolution was well under way.”[35] Some of these critics have even alleged that Ansary took his private plane to the south, supposedly to visit oil facilities in the region, and then simply flew to Europe, whence he wrote his letter of resignation to the shah.[36] His former wife, Maryam, rejects these rumors and declares categorically that he was, in fact, having heart problems.

In exile, Ansary began to fashion a new life for himself. Although he had clearly come to America a very rich man—Forbes called him a “multimillionaire refugee”—he made a bigger fortune here by what Forbes called “Creative Financing.”[37] The connections he had made during his days of power in Iran came in handy. He established partnerships and companies with such American luminaries as Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and James Baker. In one case, for example, he purchased SunResorts, which consisted of “two hotels, a casino, and a car rental agency in the Caribbean tax haven island of St. Maarten,” and after giving it “a glow of profitability,” adding big names such as Kissinger’s to the company’s board of directors, and using “creative financing,” the company ended up with a paper value of fifty million dollars. In another case, he made an initial investment of five million dollars in a company called IRI; when he took the company public, he made more than seven hundred million dollars in the initial offering.[38]

But as he was amassing his newfound wealth, there was trouble in his private life. His marriage to Maryam came to a bitter end, and he married another woman, Shahla. It is interesting that in the three distinct phases of his life, Ansary had three different wives—a Japanese wife in Japan, Maryam in Iran, and Shahla in exile. He continues his business while spending some of his time and money on philanthropic endeavors.

Hassan Arsanjani

Hassan Arsanjani was a rabble rousing journalist, a charismatic orator, and a self-styled social democrat with a big appetite for power and for the limelight. He also had a lucrative law practice. His resilience and his instinct for political survival were evident in the fact that though he was closely allied with at least three of the shah’s chief nemeses—Ghavamol Saltaneh, Valiollah Gharani, and Ali Aminiand was a key figure in the intrigues that led to a failed coup attempt against the Iranian government in the late 1950s, he nevertheless survived these adversities to become one of the most powerful ministers in the shah’s thirty-seven-year rule. There was even talk that he might be named prime minister. Ultimately, he quickly fell from the pinnacle of power to what must have been to him an abyss, a life bereft of politics. To the surprise of many, his exit from the political scene came more with a whimper than a bang.

Hassan Arsanjani was born in Tehran in August 1923 (1302). His mother, Hajar, came from a religious family, and his father, Mohammad Hoseyn, was a clergyman and a farmer in the town of Arsanjan. Hassan was only six when he lost his father. His mother took charge of the family and moved to her brother’s house. At the same time, she took up sewing to make ends meet. She spared no effort to ensure that her children—Hassan and his brother and sister—were well educated.1 In her efforts, she was helped by her own father, who owned a small farm and a store in a village not far from Tehran. Hassan saw the difficulties faced by Iran’s poor peasants and farmers—at the time about 90 percent of the Iranian population. The importance of these early experiences became apparent in his populist, pro-peasant rhetoric and his radical activism during his tumultuous tenure as minister of agriculture. At the same time, his childhood experience led to an unusually strong, life-long bond of deep affection between the son and his dedicated mother.

Hassan attended the newly established Pahlavi elementary school—one in a series of schools that taught a modern curriculum and were rapidly replacing the traditional mektabs. In spite of his uncle’s dogmatism, and buoyed by his mother’s support, Hassan even joined the Boy Scouts, the bane of traditional Iranian families of the time, who simply could not fathom the idea that a boy would appear in public in shorts.

Hassan was a good student. According to his brother, even as a child he was “something of a bully, and fearless.”[2] Preemptive attacks on his enemies were a style he began to hone as a child. As a young boy he was a voracious reader and showed an early knack for writing. He began learning French, and he was only seventeen when he decided to translate his first book—Montesquieu’s Persian Letters. He worked as a tutor to help his mother with household expenses.

After high school, he entered the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Tehran University. At the same time, he began his career as a journalist. He worked with Mohammad Mas’ud, the most controversial and fiery journalist of his time. He also wrote for other papers. Sometimes he published his essays under the pen name of Sheikh Hassan Mahalati. “Sheikh” was an inside joke between him and his friends. They jokingly called him that because he always carried a large string of worry bead in his hands.[3]

There was another name friends and colleagues used to refer to him in those days. They called him Hassan Iradi—Hassan, the Constant Complainer. He was notorious as a “nabob of negativism.” When he wanted to find another pen name for himself, he played around with Iradi and came up with Daria—otherwise a word without meaning in the Persian language. He was by then barely twenty years old. It was an early measure of his penchant for self-promotion and grandiosity that he published articles under the name Dr. Daria.[4]

The same two traits meant that he could not take orders from an editor. He needed to have his own paper. But he was only twenty-two, and the law required that editors be at least thirty years old. With characteristic brio, he moved on two fronts to solve the inconvenient age limit. He convinced a relative to “front” as the publisher, and, more important, he filed a petition legally to change his date of birth, making him nine years older, thus qualifying for a license.[5] The paper he launched, Daria, soon established its reputation on the strength of Dr. Daria’s relentlessly aggressive editorials against the status quo. The paper was temporarily suspended on numerous occasions, but Arsanjani would find another magazine to publish his essays.

By then he had graduated from law school, and after passing the bar he began to practice law. Practicing law became a temporary albeit highly lucrative respite from the toils and turmoil of politics. In addition to his legal and journalistic activities, in 1945 he also established a party of his own. His Freedom Party soon fizzled away in the context of dozens of other parties created by political activists.

His first effective foray into politics came when he was chosen by Ghavam to be a founding member of the party Ghavam was creating. They had met in 1945 and, not long after, Arsanjani devoted a lead editorial to promoting his new friend for the job of prime minister. In the next election, Arsanjani was elected to the Majlis on Ghavam’s party’s slate but he never took his seat because his credentials were challenged and rejected by a coalition of forces opposed to Arsanjani and Ghavam. Arsanjani had been elected from the city of Lahijan, a town known as one of Ghavam’s seats of power, and the fact that Arsanjani had never actually lived in that city made the job of his critics much easier. Furthermore, an editorial Arsanjani had written in March 1946 strengthened the hand of these foes. He had argued that the continued Soviet occupation of Iran after the end of the war was not altogether without legal justification. The editorial was seen by many as legitimizing the Soviet occupation, and that fact alone, argued Arsanjani’s critics, disqualified him from holding a seat in the Majlis.[6]

His consolation prize was the job of editor for the party’s organ. When after about two years the cabinet of Ghavam fell, Arsanjani was out of a job. He returned to the private sector and his lucrative law practice. In 1951, after Mohammad Mossadeq’s resignation, Ghavam was again appointed prime minister. His first order of business was to appoint Arsanjani—who was no more than thirty years old—deputy prime minister in charge of public relations.

Ghavam’s new tenure lasted all of six days. Arsanjani later published an essay describing the events of those six crucial days. He dispelled the common notion that he was the author of the famous speech Ghavam delivered on the radio minutes after his appointment to the post of prime minister. Ghavam had threatened the people with prison and dire punishment if they opposed him and, waxing poetic, declared with bravura bordering on hubris that there was a new sheriff in town—one who would tolerate no opposition. The arrogant tone has been said to have helped solidify opposition to the new cabinet.

After the debacle of the six-day cabinet, Arsanjani spent the next few years out of the limelight. He went back to school and finished a doctorate in law at Tehran University, writing a dissertation on the question of sovereignty and international organizations.

His next major political entanglement was in the Gharani affair, which began in 1955. He befriended General Valiollah Gharani—who was at the time the head of military intelligence—and began planning a coup against the government. The plan called for installing Amini as prime minister and having Arsanjani as a minister of the cabinet.[7] While he was engaged in these clandestine activities, he was also negotiating with Assadollah Alam, and through him with the shah, about establishing a new political party. By 1956, the shah was bent on creating political parties in Iran, and Alam considered Arsanjani a prime candidate for heading one of these parties. After long hours of negotiation, they agreed to mutually satisfactory terms, and Arsanjani founded the Freedom Pary. Among the people he convinced to join was Malekal Shoara Bahar, the famous poet. The party was short-lived. The coup, too, was defeated in January 1958, and Arsanjani landed in jail for a few weeks.

Such were the vagaries of Iranian politics at the time that in less than three years, Amini was appointed prime minister and Arsanjani was not only the spokesperson for the government, but far more important, he was given the key post of minister of agriculture.

A centerpiece of the new Amini government’s platform of change was land reform. The shah had talked about such reform for many years, but the resistance of the clergy had convinced him to delay action. The first land reform law was passed in May 1960. When Arsanjani set to work on reforming the system, he realized that the existing law was lax in language and limited in scope. In January 1962, at his behest, and with a nod of approval from the shah, the cabinet passed a special resolution “augmenting” the law. Before long, Arsanjani had made land reform his own and was, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, widely “credited with having given the original impetus to Iran’s land reform program.”8 In fact, as early as the 1940s, Arsanjani had often suggested in his editorials that “Iran shall not progress until and unless we eradicate feudalism.”[9] Then in 1950, when Hadji Ali Razmara was prime minister, Arsanjani, in an effort to get close to the new government, wrote him a letter outlining the contours of a plan to reform the landholding system in Iran.[10] There is a consensus among scholars and observers that his stamina and radicalism made the initial plans for the land reform far more radical than the shah, or Amini, had envisioned.

So crucial was his role in the process that when Amini resigned and Alam replaced him at the helm, he asked Arsanjani to stay on. The Amended Land Reform Law of January 1963 was praised by some scholars as a work of “genius,” and the most crucial part of the gamut of land reform laws was the work of Arsanjani.[11] At the same time, landlords increased their attacks on Arsanjani as a rebel “against the constitution, the laws of religion, and the civil laws of the country.”[12] He served as a minister in the next cabinet, which was also headed by Alam. But relations between Arsanjani and the shah had begun to sour and soon became strained at best.

As minister of agriculture, Arsanjani had particularly close ties with Israel’s embassy in Iran. Long before his arrival at the ministry, the Israelis had been active in training Iranian experts in the work of creating and maintaining agriculture cooperatives. Israel also had a keen interest in developing agribusiness companies in Iran. In his memoir, the Israeli ambassador—an Iranian-born Jew who became a citizen of Israel and was for many years that country’s effective envoy to Iran—called Arsanjani one of Israel’s “good friends.” It was a friendship that began after Arsanjani’s initial refusal to meet the ambassador, saying, “ I don’t like foreigners, particularly Iranians who serve foreign countries.”[13] He eventually warmed up to the ambassador and became instrumental in facilitating the establishment of important Israeli industrial farms in Iran. As a result of this close friendship, when Arsanjani’s mother—with whom he lived at the time and on whom he doted— got sick, she was sent to Israel for medical care. It was to visit his hospitalized mother that Arsanjani first traveled to Israel. He made three other official trips to that country and was afforded special treatment. In one trip, Golda Meir, the prime minister, gave a gala dinner in Arsanjani’s honor.

On some of these trips, Arsanjani had with him one of his long list of “beautiful girl friends.” Although he was short (163 cm), bald, plump, and hardly a heartthrob, he was in his days as minister something of a playboy. Power is, as Henry Kissinger reminded everyone, an aphrodisiac and a strong potion that bestows sexual charisma on those who wield it. Arsanjani in those days wielded great power and carried with him the promise of even more.

At that time, he received a love letter from a young girl in Germany whom he had never met. He used to receive many such letters in those days. In fact, some months earlier, an eighteen-year-old girl had made a bet with her friends that she could ensnare the eligible bachelor through anonymous calls and letters. Eventually she published her story in one of Tehran’s magazines. Although the prey’s name was not mentioned, it was an open secret that it was Arsanjani.[14] The girl in Germany was of mixed parentage and seemed serious in her affection. Her name was Maryam Daftari—apparently a relative of MatinDaftari, who had been prime minister on the eve of World War II. She had seen Arsanjani on television and fallen in love. After professing her love, she and her beloved began talking on the phone. The long-distance conversations sometimes lasted for hours. Eventually, he invited her to visit Iran. By the time she came, he was on his way out of power. There were more than twenty years between him and his young love.

His habit of having thousands of peasants bused to the cities, where, in a frenzied pitch of populism, he delivered long, rousing speeches against the injustices of feudalism, created for him many fans among the poor and many foes among the rich. Many people saw him as a dangerous demagogue. Others close to the shah worried about the fact that Arsanjani’s ambition knew no bounds. Eventually the tone and tenor of the choreographed mass meetings began to attract the ire and anxiety of the shah. He had, after the 1953 experience, resolved never to allow any politician to develop an independent political base of his own, and Arsanjani was dangerously courting precisely that. When the shah asked Meir Ezry, the Israeli ambassador to Iran, what he thought of the minister of agriculture, he responded that Arsanjani was not “Minister of Agriculture but Minister of Peasants. That was a warning to the Shah. As soon as he could he shipped [Arsanjani] out of Iran.”[15] In February 1963, Arsanjani was dismissed as a minister and named Iran’s ambassador to Italy.

There was little for him to do in Italy. Such ambassadorships were often sinecures for politicians past their prime. That certainly was not how Arsanjani saw himself. Early in 1964, he approached the shah and asked his permission “to expound certain theoretical views on economics and government.” In an interview with an Iranian magazine, Omid Iran, a few months earlier, and in a television interview in August 1963, he had given a summary account of his views. The shah agreed to Arsanjani’s request. Arsanjani described a social democratic theory of governance, but in this article, he took it one important step further and criticized the Mansur government that had only recently come to power. A few days after the article’s publication, he tried to convince the shah that his views were shared by the Americans and that the “U.S. was actually supporting the democratic socialists in Italy, and according to reliable information available to him, also in England and Germany.” He told the shah he had evidence for his claims. The “evidence” turned out to be an article by the USIA entitled “The Semantics of Socialism and Capitalism,” and he had erroneously described it as a “CIA document.”[16]

In early September 1964, Arsanjani gave an interview to a small group of journalists in Rome. He directly criticized the Mansur government’s policies. He again repeated the idea that capitalism as promoted by the Mansur government “is an obsolete form of that system that has long been rejected by western democracies.”[17] The publication of these articles, and the fact that Arsanjani had been coming back to Tehran often from his post in Rome, gave rise to rumors that he would “soon return for good, and that he would found a ‘social democratic party.’”[18] Others talked of his appointment to an even more important political post.

On September 17, three days “after he had made his highly critical remarks about” Mansur government’s economic policies, he was summarily removed from his position as ambassador to Italy. The shah was angry and told the American Embassy that Arsanjani had “gone too far and that is inadmissible that an Iranian ambassador should publicly attack the government he was supposed to serve.”[19] According to the embassy report, Mansur had complained to the shah about Arsanjani’s back-biting.

When Arsanjani returned to Iran, he was not alone. In Italy, he had married the young girl he had first met through letters and long lingering phone conversations. They married in a simple ceremony attended only by Israel’s ambassador to Tehran, who traveled to Rome for the occasion and bore a gift from the government of Israel, and Saed Maraghei, one-time prime minister of Iran, and at that time Iran’s ambassador to the Vatican. Before long, the couple had a son. In Tehran, Arsanjani returned to his law practice. He was by then among the most famous lawyers in the country, and thus his practice became increasingly lucrative. He also began to accept cases that were of dubious legal merit but offered great financial rewards. In one case, for example, he agreed he received one million tooman ($150,000 in those days) for defending a notoriously corrupt businessman. Surely, as a lawyer, he was entitled to defend anyone accused of an alleged crime. But his practice was in sharp conflict with his past rhetoric about the evils of capitalist greed. He was amassing substantial sums of money, and he was stashing some of it away in a bank in Israel. “I want the people to know,” he told the Israeli ambassador, “that they can save here and not just in Swiss banks.[20]

One night in June 1969, he had a lavish party at his house. Later that evening he called doctors and complained of chest pain. He died before he reached the hospital. In addition to the history of rumors of foul play that invariably follow the death of every prominent modern Iranian politician, there was also the added factor that Arsanjani had been denied his passport for a while before his death.[21] His brother claims that he saved the glasses from the party and had them analyzed in foreign labs, and they confirmed the existence of poison.[22] The culprit in his brother’s narrative is a mysterious Marlyn, a beautiful woman who befriended Arsanjani shortly before his death and disappeared immediately after. It is not clear who masterminded the alleged conspiracy. Arsanjani’s friends point to his history of heart problems and to the fact that he did not pay any heed to earlier warnings by physicians. His only concession to them was that he walked from his office in Shemiran to his offices in the heart of the city every day. He was forty-seven years old when he died.

After his death, his family became involved in a bitter feud over money. His marriage had come to a relatively quick end. The controversy between his wife and his family bled into the pages of Tehran’s gossip columns and daily papers. His brother claimed that thirteen months before his death, Arsanjani had written a will clearly stipulating who should inherit his wealth. His wife’s lawyers contested the legality of the document on a technicality and won in court. At the same time, the brother claimed that his deceased brother had no money outside Iran.[23] He was wrong. Eventually the case became entangled in lawsuits in Israel, and the Israeli courts ruled in favor of his wife.[24]

Safi Asfia

Safi Asfia was the technocrats’ technocrat. He had the petulance of a prodigy, and his intense intelligence was an essential component of his identity and reputation. He had a way with numbers and figures, charts and plans, that bordered on wizardry. He was erudite and educated, disciplined and hardworking, with a knack for survival, and the combination of these attributes made him a consummate bureaucrat. He was among the small number of ministers of the ancien régime who decided not to leave Iran on the eve of or after the revolution, and he paid dearly for his decision. In the darkest hours of revolutionary terror, he was in prison and, by all accounts, conducted himself with exemplary integrity and grace, seeking solace in Sufi poetry.[1]

The prison experience, or maybe the harsh realities of the revolution itself, chastened him, making him wary of participation in anything that might appear political. Instead, he reinvented himself by returning to electronics, the passion of his youth, and now spends countless hours with his computer, in the safe harbor of the Internet. He was well into his seventies when he learned how to program computers and wrote a program “for celestial bodies calculations for every day use of astronomers.”[2] In the same period, he joined the board of the Zirakzadeh Science Foundation, which is committed to creating science centers for children and young people.

His life of relative isolation changes once a year when he travels for a few weeks to France, where he stays with his only daughter. Even during these summer sojourns, he is reluctant to rekindle many friendships, lest his friends are involved in politics. He even refused to be interviewed for this book.[3]

Although his reluctance was partially the result of his understandable anxiety about what might await him in Iran, even in his days of power he was known to be haughty, cautious, averse to the limelight, distant, even arrogant. He was never a man of many words. For him, as for Shakespeare’s Polonius, “brevity is the soul of wit.” He was known as a man “sparing in words, most cordial and appreciative.”[4] Friends and foes concurred that he was one “of the ablest of the Iranian technical and administrative men.”[5] They describe him as “a redoubtable little man, a flyweight with the punch of a heavy, like some of those lightweight greats.”[6]

Along with the common profuse praise come also a few acerbic words of criticism. Even some of his friends accuse him of too much accommodation. During the reign of the shah, there were three kinds of technocrats. There were those who were corrupt, and in retrospect their number was far smaller than the public perception at the time, when corruption was deemed to be pervasive and had become one of the people’s main complaints. There were those who were impeccably honest, and tried to stop any kind of corruption, even if they ended up paying a price themselves. The third group were those who were honest but looked the other way when witnessing corruption. Safi Asfia was, according to some of his detractors, of the last group—no doubt honest but unwilling to stand up to the corruption of others. One of his friends, Khodadad Farmanfarma’ian, accuses him of “giving up something [he] believed in without any fight at all.”[7] Critics like Fardust, on the other hand, go so far as to claim that Asfia even accommodated the corrupt practices of others, and they accuse him of giving big awards to the shah and the queen’s friends and family.[8] Asfia had an unusually close relationship with the queen, whom he has described as “a charming, fine girl, a good mind, intelligent and capable,” adding that, “she was in school with [his] daughter.”[9]

In spite of the occasional rumblings of critics, there is consensus that he was one of the most efficient, honest, and beloved officials during the last quarter century of the shah’s rule. The judgment of Khodadad Farmanfarma’ian—the same man who also had a few words of criticism for him—is typical of views often articulated about Asfia:

Safi Asfia served for fourteen years at the Plan Organization. Few could match him in terms of education or depth of knowledge. During those years, I rarely saw anyone who could match his technical know-how. He was no economist but easily understood these questions and as easily determined what was in [the country’s] best interest. He was not after political power, nor was keen on showing off the power he had. Even when he felt like he had power, he never bragged about it. There was a special calm and tranquility about him. He never insisted on his own views. We could go and convince him. In meetings, he would calmly say a few words, and then sit back and watch. But I must tell you that in those years. . . . I never saw a minister be as popular as Asfia. Anytime a minister had a problem, they went to him, and he was something of a arbiter.[10]

The engineer-technocrat-arbiter was born in Tehran in 1916 (1295). Some sources say he was born in 1915.[11] He was something of a child prodigy, and was only fifteen when he completed high school. In spite of his youth, he was the top student in the country. His age was an obstacle to his participation in the national exam used to select the recipients of government scholarships for studying abroad. As soon as he was of age, he took part in the exam and, not surprisingly, he won one of the coveted scholarships.[12]

He went to Paris, where he was accepted to France’s most prestigious school of engineering—the famous Ecole Polytechnique of Paris. Set up at the time of the French Revolution, the school was intended to train public servants in the sciences. It was where the elite of French society study. The school’s motto is “Pour la patrie, les sciences et la gloire.” Among the schools alumni are Henri Poincare, Auguste Comte, and Valery Giscard d’Estaing. Even in that august company, Safi stood out. He was only twenty-three when he graduated with degrees in engineering and mining.

Soon after finishing college, he returned to Iran and began to teach at the university. He loved teaching and maintained his contacts with the university long after he had joined the government. He even published books on Iran’s natural resources.[13] His first job outside the university was in the Ministry of Mines, where he worked for eight years. It was during these years that he helped develop blueprints for the Tehran water system; before that there was no system for distributing water in the city and each household had to fend for itself. He also completed a study of Iran’s underground water resources.[14] Although in those years the whole country was caught in the passion of nationalist politics, Asfia essentially steered clear of any political entanglement. He was a true bureaucrat, in the sense meant by Max Weber, who introduced the concept into social theory. Bureaucrats, Weber said, are apolitical experts who maintain continuity and stability in democracies where elections intermittently change the government. Asfia also worked part-time in the private sector as a consultant. His employer was Majid A’lam, who owned one of Iran’s biggest construction firms. But Asfia’s life changed in 1954.

Abol-Hassan Ebtehaj was appointed the director of the Plan Organization, and in 1954 he created two new offices—the technical office and the economic bureau—and began recruiting the best and brightest Iranians for posts at the organization. He had heard of Asfia, and after much effort he convinced A’lam to “lend him Asfia” for only four months. For the first few months, Asfia refused to become a full-time government functionary, receiving instead monthly checks as a “special advisor.” Ebtehaj eventually convinced Asfia to stay on, losing A’lam’s friendship as a result.[15] Thus began Asfia’s stellar career of public service, where he became, according to many, “one of the most important officials responsible for Iran’s economic development.”[16] He served at the Plan Organization for the next fourteen years, beginning as consultant to Ebtehaj and within seven years becoming the director himself.

During his tenure there, the Third Plan was implemented and the Fourth Plan began to be developed. He had a crucial role in the development of the Khuzestan Development Project, put in place with the help of American companies led by David Lilienthal. Both Lilienthal, whose company drew up the plans for the entire ambitious project, and AbdolReza Ansary, who was for many years the Iranian director of the project, praise Asfia and commend him for fighting off the many foes of the plan. In Ansary’s words, “with power and prudence, he oversaw and safeguarded the completion of the [Khuzestan] project.”[17] Asfia also played a crucial role in planning and building two of Iran’s most important dams, Karaj and Dez. In recognition of his role in the Khuzestan Development Project, a research center connected to the dam was named Safiabad.[18]

As the director of the Plan Organization, Asfia was also responsible for developing a comprehensive new system for categorizing contractors and determining the size of projects they could bid for. Moreover, he was keen on decentralizing some of the work of the Plan Organization, for example allowing local governments to oversee some of the construction projects themselves, something that had been anathema to Ebtehaj.

At the end of his tenure at the Plan Organization, Asfia became deputy prime minister, in charge of social and economic development. For almost the entire thirteen years of Amir-Abbas Hoveyda’s tenure as the prime minister, Asfia was at his side—his trusted confidant, advisor, and troubleshooter.[19] There were few development projects undertaken in this period in which Asfia did not play a role, however small.

Not only was he at the center of power for much of the last two decades of the shah’s rule; he was also connected by marriage to other powerful men in the regime. His sister was married to Abbas Khalatbari, Iran’s foreign minister in the early 1970s, while his own wife was the sister of Taher Ziai, a leading entrepreneur and a powerful senator.

His long years at the center of power and his blood ties to prominent figures of the shah’s regime combined to land Asfia in jail when the Islamic Revolution came. Those were the days when Khalkhali, the infamous “hanging judge,” was wreaking havoc on the lives of generals, ministers, senators, and entrepreneurs of the ancien régime. In terms of the importance of the posts they had held, or the longevity of their days in power, few of those arrested or executed could match Asfia. It has been claimed that what saved his life was more than anything the fact that Mehdi Bazorgan, the prime minister of the new Islamic government, knew Asfia from their days in Paris and thus “[he] was spared death.”[20]
After prison, Asfia returned to science and mathematics, the passions of his youth, and found new avocations in the field of computer technology. The studied silence he has maintained has only added to his mystique as the engineering prodigy who entered politics and remained true to the values of the prestigious school he attended in Paris, “For country, science, and glory.”

Hamid Ashraf

To the Shah, he was an obsession. Beaming with the successes of the early 1970s oil boom, eagerly anticipating hundreds of world leaders to help him celebrate twenty-five hundred years of monarchy, and anxiously attempting to portray Iran as an island of security in a turbulent area, almost every day the shah asked his increasingly agitated security chief, General Nasiri, about him. For the SAVAK, keen on reinforcing its image as omnipotent and omniscient, and for its chief, bent on keeping the king satisfied, he had become an embarrassment and a political liability. The general knew only too well that on occasions too numerous for comfort, he had slipped through their fingers. One time, he slipped out of three lines of encirclement around his hideout.[1] Even his enemies had come to praise his mental and physical agility, his unfailing instinct for finding a way out of dangerous situations, and his cool fearlessness in times of trouble and danger. To the shah and his secret police, he was a heartless terrorist, a bank robber, an agent of “foreign forces” ill at ease with the shah’s unbending stance on increasing the price of oil.[2] To a whole generation of young Iranian activists, he was the icon of a new kind of revolutionary: fearless, free from orthodox Marxist dogma, armed and ready to die and kill for the cause. His name was Hamid Ashraf and his cause was “armed revolution” against the shah, or, in his own words, “the treacherous regime and its imperialist lackeys.”

A badly rebuffed attack on a small military outpost in the village of Siahkal on February 8, 1971, became a celebrated seminal event for a handful of radicals who called themselves the Feda’yan Khalgh (martyrs for the masses). At that time, their number was so small, their organization so miniscule that they did not want to call themselves an organization. Ashraf became the public face of this movement. Their tactic of choice was terrorism. Nothing in his decidedly middle-class past hinted at what lay ahead in his life. The longer he escaped arrest, the more successful acts of terror he and his group engaged in, the more prestigious they became.

When the regime put a price on his head, and when his picture (along with eight of his comrades) was published throughout the country, he became a household name. Before long, this group combined with a couple of other similar-minded ones and formed what they called the Organization of the Feda’yan Khalgh.[3] They also established a logo that combined the traditional communist red star and hammer and sickle with the raised machine gun that was in that decade fast becoming the symbol of armed guerrilla movements. Thus was a myth born.

Hamid Ashraf was born on December 31, 1946 (10 Dey 1325) to a family of middleclass means and manners. His father worked for the Iranian railroad system. After the events of 1953 and the fall of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, Hamid’s father was named the head of the railroad offices in the city of Tabriz. His older brother, Ahmad, by then already fully immersed in the world of politics and an advocate of Mossadeq, became a mentor to Hamid and instilled in him a love of the fallen prime minister and disdain for the shah.

Hamid’s first brush with Marxist ideas came when he was in the third grade of elementary school in Tabriz. His teacher was a devout Marxist and taught his young and impressionable students about class struggle and the evils of capitalism.[4] As a child, Hamid was taciturn and quiet. As an adult, he remained a man of few words. He listened more than he talked. He had piercing, observant eyes that combined with his calm and quiet manner to give him an air of mystery.[5] He was polite and deferential to others, particularly his elders. He was organized to a fault, and disciplined in all he undertook. When he set his mind on a task, he was tireless and relentless in his pursuit of his goal. These traits served him well in his days of underground struggle.

By the time he was in high school, the family had moved back to Tehran. Always a student of sterling academic achievement, Hamid was admitted to the much-coveted Alborz high school. But his defiant manners and his inability to tolerate stern authority put him on a collision course with the school’s renowned disciplinarian principal, Dr. Mojtahedi. Eventually Hamid was thrown out of Alborz.

In 1961, as he was attending summer school at Kharazmi and looking for another high school, he met Farokh Negahdar. The school was rumored to have been founded by erstwhile communists; it also had a reputation as one of the best schools of its kind. It attracted highly intelligent but often political-minded students.

Before long, Ashraf and Negahdar became close friends, joined by their common passion for politics and social action. Of the two, Negahdar was the more seasoned activist. They visited Tehran’s working class ghettos and often discussed the perfidy of the system that allowed such disparity of wealth.[6] They also began to read works of literature, philosophy, and Marxism. Occasionally they worked all day and night to copy, by hand, a whole Marxist manuscript they had been lent. After spending a year at Hadaf high school, Hamid joined his friend Farokh at the Dar al-Funun high school, the country’s oldest institution of modern pedagogy, famous in the fifties and sixties as a hotbed of student radicalism. At least five of the students in Hamid’s class were killed in armed confrontations with the shah’s regime in the course of the next decade. Hamid spent his last two years of high school there.

For Hamid, as for a generation of students, a conjunction of internal and external factors worked to shape the ideology and practice of their new brand of radicalism. The Cuban revolution and the romance of Che Guevara, the itinerant revolutionary; the Algerian revolution, with Franz Fanon and his apotheosis of violence; the war in Vietnam and its advocacy of “wars of national liberation”; Nasser of Egypt with his brand of Arab, anti-shah radical nationalism; and finally Mao’s model for revolution in the third world, provided the global backdrop to this new revolutionary movement.

In Iran’s internal politics, the reforms fostered by the Amini government in 1961 had brought about a revival of the activities of such traditional and hitherto dormant groups as the National Front, or moderate religious forces led by Bazorgan. Also emerging was Ayatollah Khomeini’s new rhetoric of an Islamic revolution, and even a new group claiming to be a revival of the communist Tudeh Party. But the relatively peaceful activities of these groups all came to an abrupt end on June 5, 1963, when an uprising in support of Ayatollah Khomeini was forcefully put down. The shah’s “White Revolution,” with its land reform, enfranchisement for women, and workers rights, was, in the words of a United States government analysis, taking the wind out of the opposition’s sails. But Ashraf and his small but dedicated group of students took a different lesson from these events. They decided that the time for peaceful transition and political reform had ended and that the only solution to Iran’s problems was “armed struggle.”

The problem was, of course, “the complacency” of the masses, which seemed unwilling to participate in any revolution. For Ashraf and activists like Bijan Jazani, sold on the cult of the proletariat and its revolutionary zeal, this complacency was temporary and only the result of the regime’s oppressive policy. The people, they felt, had become intimidated. They falsely assumed the regime to be invincible. The solution that Ashraf and like-minded radicals envisioned was simple: a small band of dedicated radicals, ready and willing to die for the cause, must take heroic action to break the regime’s veneer of invincibility. They must show the people that the regime was, in fact, vulnerable and become “the motor” for starting the revolution of the masses.[7] This theory was being propagated at about the same time in much of Latin America by the Castro revolution and in the writings of such radicals as Michelle Debre and Carlos Mariguella of Brazil. More important, it had deep roots in the Iranian cultural heritage and in the annals of revolutionary thought as well.

One of the most tenacious tenets of Iranian Shiism is the cult of martyrs. Hoseyn and his small band of friends were martyred to keep the cause alive. The word feda’y clearly conjures this cultural memory.

Furthermore, in the history of the nineteenth century, when the romance of redemptive revolution was enshrined in radical thought, the figure of Sergei Nechaev played an often ignored but crucial role. His Catechism for a Revolutionary is eerily similar in tone and texture as well as content and intent to what Ashraf and his cohorts believed. A small dedicated group of “professional revolutionaries,” single-minded in their commitment to the group, ready to kill and die for the cause, must use any means necessary to achieve the goal of fermenting a revolution. It was in the smithy of this eclectic mix of “local” and global ideas that Ashraf’s ideology was shaped.

In 1965, Hamid was accepted to Tehran University’s Faculty of Engineering, reputed to be another hotbed of student radicalism. About this time, he joined a loosely organized, highly secretive organization committed to “armed struggle in the cities and the countryside.”[8] The group was led by Bijan Jazani. Before long, Jazani was arrested as a student activist. His role as the leader of this nascent organization remained unknown to the regime for several years. When the regime learned of it, when they realized that he had been leading the movement from inside the prison for some time, they exacted a brutal revenge. In what is arguably the most brazenly brutal and illegal act of the shah’s entire reign, Jazani and eight other prisoners—two of whom had tried to escape and had been caught[9] —were taken from prison to the wilderness around the infamous Evin prison and shot to death. Newspapers claimed they had been shot while trying to escape.

In the meantime, during his university days, Ashraf tried never to take the leading role in any of the student actions. Only once did he agree to become part of the student committee chosen to meet with the chancellor of the university after a particularly bitter strike. In that meeting, Ashraf took the lead and attacked the university’s policies in particularly harsh terms. He was later reprimanded by his comrades for risking their underground work by such an overt show of sentiment.[10] Not long after that meeting, Hamid was forced to go underground, and thus began a new phase of his activities.

He had become the kind of full-fledged “professional revolutionary” Nechaev and Lenin had talked about. But Ashraf’s brand of revolution, focused on armed and violent battle with the regime, was different from Lenin’s more “political” path. After several months, Ashraf wrote a brief note to his parents telling them he was safe. He was fast emerging as one of the leading members of the still embryonic group.

The life and activities of this group were almost aborted by a member of SAVAK who had infiltrated it. Much of the leadership was arrested. Ashraf escaped and took upon himself the task of reviving the organization. A few years later, after the group had begun open confrontation with the regime, Ashraf was apparently involved in an action that killed—or, in the parlance of the group, took part in the “revolutionary execution” of—the man who had betrayed their organization, Abbas Shahriyari. He had come to be known as “a man with a thousand faces.” He was arguably the secret police’s most effective weapon in infiltrating opposition groups. In fact, he created from scratch a whole new supposedly “revolutionary organization” connected to the Tudeh Party. He was also involved in the SAVAK’s successful attempt to kill General Bakhtiyar, once the powerful head of SAVAK and by the mid-1960s an enemy, and another of the shah’s obsessions.[11]

In 1974, Shahriyari reappeared in Tehran with a new identity. Ashraf and his friends found him and tracked his movements; as he left his house on the designated day, a team that apparently included Ashraf approached him, opened fire and, after making sure he was dead by firing a shot to his head, distributed pamphlets describing their action, as was their wont, then disappeared into the crowd.[12] Of course in the murky world of radical underground politics, where survival is dependent on leaving no trace, where everything is on a “need to know” basis, and where curiosity really does kill the cat, it is hard to establish beyond a reasonable doubt whether Hamid Ashraf was personally involved in this action. There is, however, no doubt that at the time it took place, he was the leader of the organization.

Indeed, after the attack at Siahkal, literally the entire leadership of the nascent organization had been either killed in the confrontation or arrested and later executed. Hamid was the sole surviving founding member of the group.[13] The actual quality of his leadership is buried in an avalanche of hagiographies on the one hand, and speculation and hearsay on the other. Some call him the “Great Comrade” and a shining light in the movement against the shah. Others accuse him of pursuing “Stalinist practices,” ignoring internal democracy, and engaging in “Machiavellian problem solving.”[14] They write of his role in executing several members of the organization “for wanting to leave” the group.[15] What is clear is that he was less a man of theory and more a man of action. He wrote little. He was so busy with the work of running the organization and planning and executing its attacks that he had little time for romance or for attending to his family. He avoided all contact with them, in fact. The police tried to put pressure on him to surrender by arresting his younger brother, but the move had no effect. He seems to have been romantically involved with one woman, also a member of the underground group.

There is some evidence to indicate that as the situation his group faced grew more desperate, he considered accepting help from the Soviet Union, but when the Soviets required “intelligence on the Iranian military,” he refused to provide it and ordered his representatives to break off all discussions with them.[16] What is also clear is that with every day that he escaped arrest, he became more of a myth—and produced more of a headache for the SAVAK.

What made his arrest particularly urgent, and contributed to the sense of danger, was the fact that the regime had planned, for almost twenty years, a massive party to celebrate twenty-five hundred years of monarchy. According to Hamid Ashraf, the shah wanted to show the world that Iran was an island of security, ripe for investments from Western companies. Ashraf’s group, on the other hand, had set up as one of its immediate goals the disruption of these celebrations.[17] Although they only succeeded in destroying a few electrical relay stations and robbing a few banks—in one case their haul was a mere three thousand tooman, or four hundred dollars, while their biggest heist brought in six hundred thousand tooman, or about eighty-five thousand dollars[18]—and though they never numbered more than fifty members in all of Iran, and often could distribute no more than three thousand leaflets,[19] the shah and his secret police panicked when they learned of the group’s existence and went on an all-out war against them. Ashraf and his group were caught off guard by the massive show of force by the regime. They paid dearly for their miscalculation.

The more the regime panicked, the more the group’s reputation and prestige increased. A dangerous game of one-upmanship seemed to exist between the regime and the group. Every action by one side—the assassination of a general or the execution of a political activist in prison—brought about reprisals from the other side. Ashraf and his group also targeted American interests in Iran, though they did not kill any Americans in these actions.

Reports about torture in Iran’s prisons—a public relations fiasco for the shah’s regime throughout the 1970s—and tales of heroism in face of this brutality, began immediately after members of this group arrived in prison. Furthermore, stories about Ashraf’s repeated daredevil escapes and of his mockery of the SAVAK by slipping through their traps, made him a cultural hero and icon to some, and a dreaded and despised nemesis to others. His continued ability to escape finally forced the secret police to extreme measures. An elaborate trap was set up for him, on the outside chance that he would fall for it. In his words, the “golden rule” for a successful guerilla was “absolute mobility, absolute distrust, and absolute vigilance.”[20] The plan would work only if Ashraf failed to follow those rules.

Early in 1976, SAVAK arrested a member of the organization who had been in touch with Ashraf. After a few months, the regime decided to free him but to track him closely in the hope that Ashraf would contact him. By then the organization had suffered numerous hits and lost many of its members. After about two months, Ashraf called his freed comrade. Keeping in mind his own “golden rule,” their conversations were always brief—less than a minute—so that the police could not track the call.

Frustrated after a few weeks, the SAVAK was about to give up on the scheme when one of the agents suggested a last-ditch effort. In those days in Iran, the sudden existence of new phone lines led to repeated disruption in services. All too often lines would get jammed or crossed. Unexpected overlapping conversations had become a fact of life. The SAVAK decided to jam the line when Ashraf called, and just as he began to talk, they would begin a particularly scintillating conversation, filled with juicy political gossip about the regime. Their hope was that Ashraf would be enticed by the gossip to stay on the line long enough for them to track it.

He took the bait. Ashraf stayed on to hear the overlapping conversation, and the police tracked the call to a public phone in a lower-middle-class neighbor near Tehran’s airport. After carefully and discreetly keeping the neighborhood under close surveillance, they located Ashraf’s house and began to plan their attack. On the designated day (June 29, 1976), they had close to seven lines of encirclement around the house and the neighborhood. When they tried to arrest him, he and those with him in the house fought back. As it turned out, the police had attacked on the day when the remaining leaders of the organization were holding an emergency meeting in the house. All ten present were killed, including Ashraf. He was killed on the roof as he was trying to escape once again. A sniper in one of the many helicopters that were used in the attack shot him in the forehead. The shah was called almost immediately. He wanted them to make sure they had positively and correctly identified the body. They had.[21] The papers that night declared in big headlines that Hamid Ashraf was dead. By then he was the oldest living member of the Feda’yan organization. His family was ordered not to hold a wake for him. Three years later, the Islamic Revolution came, and with it the Left used its cultural clout to begin the apotheosis of Hamid Ashraf.

Shapur Bakhtiyar

Mahshid Amirshahi is an angry Iranian woman. She is also a clever writer, with an eye for the foibles and fantasies of human beings, and a talent for prose that pulsates with the vigor and tempo of life itself. The drudgeries of exile have embittered her already exacting disposition toward the men and women of her country.

In her two scathing novels about the days leading to the Islamic revolution and about the émigré life in Paris in the post–Islamic Revolution period—each a combination of journalist reporting and roman à clef—the moral, cultural, political, and emotional center of the sprawling narratives is a character unmistakably modeled on Shapur Bakhtiyar. In one of the books, he is actually called Bakhtiyar. When the narrator first hears that Bakhtiyar has accepted the post of prime minister, she “feels first a sense of security and then joy. So it turned alright after all. The wish of people like me finally became reality. From tomorrow, we can begin to live—protected by a popular government, which will take control, begin reforms, establish order.”[1]

For Amirshahi these were not mere words of praise, written in the comfort of exile or with the privilege of hindsight. She was that rare intellectual who dared to swim against the tide of revolution and bravely declare herself a supporter of the Bakhtiyar government.[2] Later, in an interview with a popular magazine, she hailed Bakhtiyar as “the embodiment of human perfection, and intellect.”[3]

In the midst of the deracinated souls who inhabit her two novels and never miss an opportunity to show their moral, intellectual, financial, and political mendacity, Bakhtiyar is unfailingly fearless and clever. He is urbane and erudite, as much a cosmopolitan as a patriot, equally at home with Hafez as with Victor Hugo. He is honest beyond reproach, generous to a fault, and humble to the point of self-effacement. He is a social democrat in the most idealized sense of the words—dedicated to both economic justice and political democracy for all.

Amirshahi’s apotheosis of her beloved Bakhtiyar is typical of one pole of reaction to the man who was active in Iranian politics for thirty-seven years but entered the annals of history when he defied most of his friends and comrades and became Iran’s prime minister for thirty-seven days. Was he, as supporters like Amirshahi suggest, a true patriot and statesman who risked life and limb, and the reputation he had worked thirty-seven years to build, to save the country from its march to madness and clerical theocracy? Or had he come to save a moribund monarchy, as his leftist critics allege, while catering to his insatiable appetite for power? Was he a weak politician with a heavy opium addiction, or was he a strong leader with a constitutional aversion to any addiction?

The shah, when referring to Bakhtiyar, only offered the kind of faint praise that smacks of bitterness. He wrote, “It was with some reluctance and under foreign pressure that I agreed to appoint [Bakhtiyar] Prime Minister. I had always considered him an Anglo-phile and an agent of the British Petroleum. . . . I finally decided to name Bakhtiyar Prime Minister after my meeting with Lord George Brown, once Foreign Secretary in Britain.”[4]

In Queen Farah’s account of the appointment, prepared a good quarter of century later, there was no mention of the British role. Instead, she wrote that the head of SAVAK, General Nasser Moghadam, and the notoriously hard-line General Gholamali Oveissi were the ones “who put forward the name of Shapur Bakhtiyar.”[5] The contentious question of Bakhtiyar’s character and legacy followed him in exile and was further complicated by rumors that he had accepted money from Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein to maintain his government in exile. While the debate about his role and intention continued unabated among Iranian émigrés, assassins—apparently hired by the Islamic Republic of Iran—were busy worming their way into Bakhtiyar’s tightly guarded inner circle. They had come to kill one of the most intriguing personalities in modern Iranian politics.

Shapur Bakhtiyar was born on June 26, 1914 (4 Tir 1293) among the Bakhtiyar tribe. Half a million strong, the Bakhtiyaris were nomads, moving between their summer and winter grounds in the southern half of the country. In the first half of the twentieth century, they were one of the most influential tribes in Iran. Many of their members played significant roles in the politics of the country. One of Shapur’s relatives, Teymur, was for four critical years the powerful head of the secret police, SAVAK, while another relative, Soraya, was the shah’s famously beautiful second wife. Shapur’s maternal grandfather was Samsam-al Saltaneh, a key political figure of his time who had held numerous ministerial portfolios and had even been prime minister.

Shapur was seven when he lost his mother. He was sent to school in Shahre-Kurd and Isfahan and eventually to Beirut, where he enrolled in a French high school. In the years before World War II many of Iran’s elite families sent their children to Beirut to be educated. French and American schools of all levels afforded these young Iranians a chance to get a first-rate education yet also to be relatively close to home. Shapur was a charismatic member of this group. It was there that he first dabbled in social democratic politics and ideas. His love of French language and culture began in those days and remained with him for the rest of his life.

Bakhtiyar planned to go to France for college after he finished high school but tragedy changed his plans. In 1934, the Iranian government, in an attempt to forcefully settle all nomads, executed his father along with four other relatives. Shapur had no choice but to return home. While family exigencies required him to stay in Iran for the next two years, his heart and mind were in Paris.

When he finally went to Paris in 1936, he immediately enrolled at the Sorbonne, from where he graduated in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. His education was disrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Bakhtiyar then made the unusual decision to join the Orlean Battalion of the French army.

After a two-year term in the French military, he resumed his education. In 1945 he earned a doctoral degree in political science from the Sorbonne. Not long afterward, he returned to Iran and began to work in sundry jobs. By then he had married a French woman named Madeleine, and they had four children—Giv, Viviane, Patrick, and France.

Late in life, when he was in exile, the septuagenarian Bakhtiyar married again, this time to a Persian woman named Shahin. She was his distant relative and many years his junior. Together they had one child, Goudarz. The union was kept a close secret for several years. He and his aides feared that the prudish and brutal propaganda machine of the Islamic Republic might use his marriage against him.

When it became apparent that the regime in Tehran was complicit in Bakhtiyar’s assassination, one of his daughters sued and won a still uncollected judgment against the Islamic Republic for the murder of her father. The second wife, Shahin, and her son are also suing, in American courts, for similar damages. They are still waiting for a court date.[6]

After receiving his doctorate in Paris, Bakhtiyar returned to Iran, where he was soon drawn to the arena of politics. In 1949 he joined the Iran Party—a party of middle-class values and ways—and was soon named the head of its youth organization. As a member of the party, he also joined the National Front in 1949, of which he remained a part for the next three decades. During the days of Mohammad Mossadeq’s government, Bakhtiyar was still on the margins of leadership of the nationalist movement. His highest appointment during Dr. Mossadeq’s tenure as prime minister was undersecretary of labor. After the events of August 1953, Bakhtiyar spent a short time in prison. By 1961, he had emerged as one of the leaders of the National Front and a fierce proponent of Mossadeq.

The years after August 1953 were a period of agony and defeat for people like Bakhtiyar. Mossadeq was in prison, and his movement was in retreat. There was a sense of despair in the air. Bakhtiyar, like many leaders of the National Front, tried to combine prudent caution, tactical silence, and strategic enmity to the shah. The little political activity he engaged in was done under the rubric of what was called “the National Resistance Movement,” in cooperation with figures like Mehdi Bazorgan and Ayatollah Taleghani.[7] Both later became central figures in the first Islamic government in Iran.

In the meantime, Bakhtiyar was biding his time. He began to work in the private sector, managing factories or acting as an advisor to big companies. The shah tried to combine a policy of appeasement and cooption with one of containment and suppression toward the National Front. The shah occasionally attacked the leaders of the National Front, particularly those like Bakhtiyar who were members of the Iran Party, for complicity with the communists and with Mossadeq—“they had drunk champagne” with the secessionists of Azerbaijan, the shah often railed against them—but nevertheless allowed these leaders to find jobs that allowed them to survive. At the same time, those who made their peace with the shah were generously rewarded. Fereydun Mahdavi, a leader of the National Front’s youth organizations in the early 1960s, was by the early 1970s a powerful member of the Hoveyda cabinet.

In Bakhtiyar’s own words, the advent of the Kennedy administration in 1961 was a great impetus for the revival of the National Front, or, more exactly, for the creation of what is often called the Second and Third National Front. From 1961 to 1964, under heavy pressure from the United States, the shah was forced to consider a coalition government with the National Front. There were intense internal debates within the National Front about whether to join such a coalition. On the one hand, those still deeply embittered by the events of August 1953 wanted nothing to do with the shah and his regime. On the other hand, people like Bakhtiyar advocated a policy of using any opportunities to negotiate with the shah and try to bring to power a more democratic and nationalist government.[8]

Ultimately, the leaders advocating a no-contact policy won the day. They proved unwilling to enter into a coalition with any of the shah’s prime ministers—from Amini and Alam to Mansur and Hoveyda. Ironically, the same leaders were surprisingly amenable to the idea of a coalition fifteen years later, when Ayatollah Khomeini offered them a minor role in a transitional government. In the 1960s, Bakhtiyar was one of the few voices advocating a more nimble policy. In 1978, he was again one of the lone voices opposed to a coalition with the clergy. In both periods, he directly attacked some of the most venerable leaders of the Front as ineffectual, passive, and dogmatic. His motto, he said, had always been that “true men of action dare take chances, and accept risks.”[9]

Of all the leaders of the National Front, he was particularly prominent for his uncanny combination of feisty, sometimes reckless militancy, and a Machiavellian pragmatism that preferred tactical flexibility to ideological purity. He was, in consequence, always ready to negotiate and talk not only to the shah and his regime but to foreign embassies as well. As early as 1951, he was willing to discuss the political views of the National Front with the British and American Embassies.

These meetings might have been at least partially responsible for the charge by his critics and foes that he was an Anglophile. Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani, for example, in 1951 one of the most important allies of the National Front, claimed that when he and his party activists attacked the famous Sedan house, where the head of the British oil company lived, and confiscated his papers, they found evidence among them that Bakhtiyar not only worked for the British but had received at least once a ten-thousand-tooman payment. Sometimes the British even prepared his speeches, Baqa’i-Kermani claims.[10]

Bakhtiyar, for his part, dismissed the documents as fabrications. “Only Baqa’i had ever seen them,” he said sarcastically, when asked about them.[11]

Other times, his fiery character, his fierce independence, and his frankness created problems not just for him, but also for his comrades in the National Front. In the early 1960s, for example, as the National Front was trying to reorganize, nearly the entire leadership deferred to Alahyar Saleh, the elder statesman of the Front. But Bakhtiyar openly and defiantly asked Saleh to step aside and allow new blood into the leadership.[12] He also gave a fiery speech at a tour de force mass rally organized by the National Front at the Jalaliyeh racetrack, in which tens of thousands of people participated, advocating not only an end to Iran’s membership in CENTO but complete neutrality for Iran. Once translations of the speech found their way to Washington, the American government grew wary of the National Front and support for it began to dampen.

But these qualities mattered little in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The shah was on the offensive at that time. He had made wide-ranging reforms and had tried to take the wind out of the opposition’s sails.[13] Some of the most radical activists in the National Front had given up on the idea of peaceful reform and opted instead for terrorist activities—or guerrilla activities, in the parlance of the time. The confluence of these factors led to a tactical retreat for the democratic opposition and people like Bakhtiyar. But then Jimmy Carter was elected president in America, and his repeated references to the human rights records of the shah injected a spirit of optimism into hitherto dormant groups like the National Front. The shah was now vulnerable, they assumed, and they reentered the political fray.

In fact, in early 1977, Hoveyda, by then court minister, cognizant of the gathering storm, was convinced that Amuzegar lacked the political temperament to face the coming crisis.[14] He invited the leaders of the National Front, including Bakhtiyar, to reenter politics. Before long, Bakhtiyar and two other leaders of the Front—Karim Sanjabi and Darius Forouhar—signed and published an open letter to the shah asking him to respect the constitution, disband the single-party system, and free all political prisoners. The country was in crisis, the three leaders claimed, and the source of the crisis was the shah’s “style of management . . . that is contrary to the letter of the Iranian constitution and to articles of Declaration of Human Rights.”[15] After the letter was published, Bakhtiyar was among those beaten up by thugs and arrested by the police. But their arrest did not last long. The tide was turning in their favor. In fact, one of the three leaders—Sanjabi—was taken directly from prison to the palace to meet with the shah.

As the crisis deepened and the increasing role of the clergy, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, became more evident, the leadership of the National Front was split into different camps. While the bulk of the leadership joined Sanjabi and jumped on the Ayatollah Khomeini bandwagon, a handful joined Sadiqi and Bakhtiyar to do all they could to forestall the advent of a theocracy. Within days of one another, the two leaders accepted the challenge of forming a coalition government to try to thwart the clergy’s grab for power.

Between these two leaders, there was, however, a crucial point of difference. While Dr. Sadiqi predicated his acceptance of the post of prime minister on the shah staying in Iran, Bakhtiyar’s condition was that the shah must leave. Was this only a tactical difference, or did it imply different strategic goals for the two men? Did Sadiqi want to preserve the monarchy but reduce it to a ceremonial role? Was Bakhtiyar bent on dismantling it? Of all the leaders of the National Front, Bakhtiyar was the most vocal and unabashed in defense of secular democracy and in his willingness to criticize the clergy openly. From the cracking of clergy’s sandals, he famously said, he heard the sounds of fascism.

On the late December night when Bakhtiyar was having his first press conference as the prime minister designate, the shah was watching the program while paying cards with three of his closest friends. Journalists were asking barbed questions, and Bakhtiyar answered them with aplomb. The shah, impressed with the performance, turned to Majid A’lam and said, “Do you see how he handles the press? I wonder where he has been all of these years?” A’lam gingerly responded that Bakhtiyar had, all these years, worked for A’lam, and that even his work in the private sector had been opposed initially by SAVAK.[16] A’lam’s reply pointed to a crucial fact of history: During the 1960s and 1970s, all political parties, including the moderate National Front, were denied any place or voice in the political process. The only exception to this rule was the clergy, and they had used the opportunity to create an elaborate political network that reached into every neighborhood. By 1979, they possessed the only nationwide network of sympathetic cells, which could be found in every corner of the country. The secular democrats, on the other hand, were dispersed, disorganized, and dispirited. The odds, in other words, were heavily stacked against Bakhtiyar when he agreed to become prime minister.

Aside from this structural imbalance, which favored his foes, other factors also made his decision to accept the post as much an act of patriotic heroism as the delusion of a quixotic political knight-errant. The army was deeply suspicious of Bakhtiyar and when General Fereydun Jam refused to join the cabinet—either because the shah refused to grant him command of the army as Jam claimed, or because Jam too had demanded that the shah must leave Iran, as the shah claimed—Bakhtiyar’s fate was sealed. Moreover, President Carter sent General Robert E. Huyser to Iran on January 5, 1979, without Bakhtiyar’s or the shah’s knowledge. His job was to convince the army that the United States would not support a coup in favor of the shah. Most generals interpreted this gesture as a sign that the days of the Pahlavi dynasty had ended and that America had already made its peace with the new revolutionary regime. The American Embassy, too, was by late 1978 convinced that nothing short of “regime change” could bring stability to Iran.

Bakhtiyar’s comrades in the Front announced his expulsion from their ranks even before the official declaration that he had agreed to form the cabinet had been made. Of the many secular intellectuals who shared Bakhtiyar’s vision, and his fear of theocracy, only a handful dared to support him publicly or join his government. Nevertheless, in spite of these formidable odds, in his first public appearance as the prime minister designate, he tried to sound optimistic, defiant, even heroic when he recited a poem and declared that he was a bird of many storms and would not shirk this one.

Only minutes after he received a vote of confidence from the Majlis, the shah, anxiously waiting at the airport, left the country. Bakhtiyar knew that he had only a small window of opportunity to turn the tide, calm the situation, implement drastic reforms, and consolidate his hold on power. He wanted to cash in on the notion that he had forced the shah off the Peacock Throne. At the same time, he knew that if he went too far in celebrating the shah’s departure, or in his reforms, he might lose the tenuous support of the army—at the time his mainstay of support.
He dismantled SAVAK and promised swift judgment against corrupt officials of the ancien regime. He freed all political prisoners and lifted all censorship. More than once in the tone of a jeremiad he reminded the nation of the dangers of clerical despotism, and of how the fascism of the mullahs would be darker than any military junta. He suggested that he would build a Vatican where the clergy could exercise their sovereignty. Repeatedly he declared that he would use any means necessary to block Ayatollah Khomeini’s climb to power.

He made a concerted effort to contact moderate clergy and solicit their help in isolating Ayatollah Khomeini. To the last person, while they often voiced concern over a clerical despotism, they declined, out of pragmatic considerations, to criticize Khomeini publicly. Moreover, according to Bakhtiyar, they all demanded large sums of money for changing their allegiances, and what they wanted was far more than he had at his disposal.[17]

In the end, his reforms, his rhetoric, even the incipient fears of the middle class were all too little too late to save Bakhtiyar. Not only could he not get prominent members of the opposition to join his cabinet, but many of his ministers were refused entry into their ministries by striking workers or employees. Even the Regency Council that was created on January 13, 1979, proved a disaster, as its chairman resigned as soon as he arrived in Paris, ostensibly to negotiate with Ayatollah Khomeini.

It all came to an end on February 11, 1979, after the army declared its neutrality. By early afternoon, Bakhtiyar could hear the clamor of the jubilant crowds moving toward the prime minister’s offices. He had no choice but to take a helicopter to a hideout where he spent the next few weeks. He was convinced that if the army had continued to support him for a few more weeks, he could have calmed the situation and held on to power. Instead, he lived in hiding in Tehran for a while and then, with the help of a foreign intelligence agency, and his friends, possibly even the new Islamic prime minister, Bazorgan himself, he fled Iran and before long, became a powerful center of political opposition to the clerical regime in Iran.

With Mehdi Samii acting as a mediator, Bakhtiyar and Ali Amini, along with Prince Reza Pahlavi, tried to create a unified opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran. After three lengthy negotiations, a draft declaration announcing the creation of the unity front was prepared. But then for reasons that were never made clear, the unity broke down and was replaced with considerable acrimony.[18]

Bakhtiyar continued his fight against the regime in Iran. He created a government in exile by reassembling his cabinet—those who had successfully fled to the West. His cabinet met regularly and he paid them a stipend. He clearly had considerable funds at his disposal and dispensed it with his characteristic largesse. A number of émigré intellectuals—poets and journalists, scholars and writers—received monthly stipends from him. Counting on the possible future military assistance of the nomadic tribes of Iran, he also paid hefty monthly stipends to at least three of the tribal leaders living in the diaspora. While the rumored source of these funds—Saudi Arabia or Saddam Hussein—undermined some of Bakhtiyar’s legitimacy, fights over the money and over access to Bakhtiyar led to intense rivalries and jealousies among his entourage. Nevertheless his organization published a paper and broadcast a radio program to Iran that was stationed first in Cairo and then in Baghdad and Paris.

But it all came to an abrupt end on August 6, 1991. It had almost ended a decade earlier, when in 1980 there was an assassination attempt on his life in the Paris suburb of Suresnes. He had survived the first attempt, and the French police had beefed up security around him. One of his children was by then an officer of the French police, and he used all his knowledge and connections to ensure his father’s safety. But on August 7, assassins who had gained entry into the compound as supposed supporters and allies of Bakhtiyar knifed him to death. It was believed that the Islamic Republic was behind the murder. The assassins were eventually freed by the French government.

Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani

From the time of Plato and the genesis of political theory to the days of Machiavelli and the advent of modern social science, the word “politician” has invariably conjured controversy. It often carries pejorative connotations. For Plato, the word was synonymous with depravity of soul, dearth of principles, surfeit of ambition and greed, and a proclivity to use any means, evil or ethical, to achieve ends that are driven by personal interests rather than the dictates of social justice. Politicians, on the other hand, often try to portray themselves as public servants, forgoing private gains for the public good. No figure in modern Iranian politics has captured in his life as much of the complexities and controversies that swirl around the word as has Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani.

To his supporters, Baqa’i, who taught ethics at the university, was the perfect practitioner of what he preached. They compare him to Socrates, living and dying for a life dedicated to ideas and truth. He was, to them, a man of principle, who spent his life in pursuit of lofty goals. Saidi-Sirjani, a writer of considerable reputation who was killed in the prisons of the Islamic Republic, referred to Baqa’i as “the most ethical politician I have known in our time” and a “true student of Socrates.”[1]

To his detractors, he was a man of infinite ambition and no principles, who would make any deal with anyone as long as it facilitated his rise to power. To an impartial observer, he was certainly one of the most colorful, controversial, and pivotal political figures of postwar Iran. In his almost half-century-long political career, he was involved in nearly every major political event of the era. Moreover, his shifting alliances—most of them ending in acrimony—involved nearly every major political figure of the time.

During the early days of the oil nationalization movement, he was one of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq’s chief allies and advisors. It was a measure of his significance that when Mossadeq went to the United Nations to present Iran’s case against Britain, Baqa’i was among the handful of advisors that accompanied the delegation. Even his staunchest critics agree that in this period, Baqa’i was “next to Mossadeq the most prominent” personality of the movement, and that contrary to other leaders, “he did not owe his fame and reputation to Mossadeq.”[2] In the late 1940s he and Khalil Maleki established the Toilers Party, the largest, most organized foe of the Tudeh Party and of Soviet influence in Iran.

After an acrimonious split in the party and a public break with Mossadeq—during which he flippantly compared Mossadeq to Hitler—he joined forces with Ayatollah Kashani against Mossadeq. He was suddenly one of the pivotal foes of the government. In the months leading to the 1953 coup that toppled Mossadeq, Baqa’i became a close ally of General Fazlollah Zahedi. But this alliance did not last long either, and there was a bitter break in 1954. Throughout this period of shifting alliances, what remained constant in his politics was his devotion to the monarchy. He wanted the shah to reign, not rule.

In the polarized world of Iranian politics of the fifties, the opposition generally dismissed Baqa’i as a royalist, if not a traitor to the cause of Mossadeq. Moreover, the intensity of his views, the bitterness of his breaks, and his often abrasive manner meant that not just his politics but his personal life, too, became favorite subjects of often vicious rumors. A biographical sketch of him prepared by the CIA in 1953 offers a glimpse into this aspect of his life by reporting that Baqa’i is “known to have been a near-alcoholic and widely rumored to have taken dope.”[3] Even his sex life, particularly because he had never married, became the subject of rumors and innuendo. But most important of all, he was said to be involved in murder.

During that era, there were two political assassinations that shook the country’s political tectonic plates. The first was the murder of General Hadji Ali Razmara when he was the prime minister. The other was the brutal killing of General Mahmoud AfsharTous, Mossadeq’s loyal chief of police. Baqa’i was allegedly involved in both assassinations. In the case of Razmara, it was reported that a group of secular leaders, including Baqa’i, met with Navvab Safavi, the leader of Islamic terrorists, and agreed that Razmara must be assassinated. As for Afshar-Tous, those convicted of the murder claimed that the plans for the kidnapping and killing of the police chief were made in Baqa’i’s house, and under his direct instruction. In fact, the man implicated in the kidnapping and assassination, Hoseyn Khatibi, claimed in his confession that secret and sensitive documents found on Afshar-Tous, related to his plans for an impending purge of all CIA agents from the Iranian police, had been turned over to Baqa’i.[4] Baqa’i consistently denied any involvement in either of these two acts. He claimed that Razmara was killed on the orders of the shah.[5] But in a speech in the Majlis, Baqa’i openly praised the assassin of Razmara as a patriot and a hero.[6] While friends and foes disagree on the exact nature of his involvement in these two pivotal assassinations, they generally do concur that Baqa’i lived an eventful life, never shying away from the limelight or from taking controversial positions.

Mozaffar was born in the city of Kerman to a middle-class family. There is some discrepancy about his date of birth. Some sources have suggested that he was born in 1908 (1287);[7] he said he was born on July 23, 1912 (1 Mordad 1291).8 His father was a judge. After a while, he took on the job of principal in the city’s first modern school. Around town, in the days before last names became mandatory in the country, Mozaffar’s father was simply known as Mirza Shahab, the principal. The family were said to be members of the Sheikhi sect—a small Shiite sect that was popular in parts of Iran in the early years of the twentieth century. His father was also one of the advocates of the Constitutional Revolution. He was eventually elected to a seat in the Majlis and moved to Tehran, taking his son with him.

Mozaffar finished high school in Tehran. He attended two of the city’s most famous schools—first Dar al-Funun, and then the equally storied institution called Saint Louis that was run by French Jesuits. In 1929, he won one of the coveted government scholarships to study in Europe. Another student selected was Issa Sepahbodi, who became Baqa’i’s closest friend and confidant for the rest of their lives. Sepahbodi turned out to be a controversial figure—a Svengali type, according to some of Baqa’i’s critics.[9] Yet, in spite of the heavy political cost, Baqa’i remained loyal to Sepahbodi and never wavered in his support.

Upon winning the scholarship, Baqa’i was sent to France to study philosophy. He enrolled first at the Ecole Normale, in the city of Limoges, and then at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Saint Claude. Most of his courses were in the area of morality and aesthetics, psychology, and the history of religion.[10] He had, he claimed, finished all his required classes and exams for a doctoral degree; all that remained for him to receive his degree was to defend his thesis. He had written it on the subject of the concept of ethics in the writings of Ebn-e Meskawayh, a medieval Muslim scholar of theology, philosophy, and alchemy.[11] Baqa’i never explained why he did not attempt to publish his finished thesis. He claims that before he could successfully go through the defense and receive his degree, Iran broke diplomatic ties with France over a silly joke in a French paper. As a result, Baqa’i was forced to leave France. In February 1938, he returned to Iran, having been away almost nine years.
In Iran, he began to teach at a high school as well as at the Teachers College. The law required that only those with a doctorate could teach at Tehran University. Eventually he somehow convinced the Iranian Ministry of Education to accept his work in France as the equivalent of a doctorate. He immediately began calling himself Dr. Baqa’i. In those days, Iran had few graduates of foreign universities, and the title gave him cachet and considerable political capital.[12] After serving the mandatory two years of military service, he began teaching at Tehran University’s Faculty of Literature. At the same time, he was an avid reader and an intellectual, and these qualities helped him befriend some of the country’s most famous intellectuals, particularly Sadeq Hedayat and Jalal Al-e Ahmad.

Soon after the establishment of the Tudeh Party, Baqa’i was invited to join. One of the party’s founders had been a friend of his father’s. Although Baqa’i had been, from his days in Paris, a dedicated foe of communism, he entertained the idea of joining the new party on the assumption that it was a social democratic party. Some sources have claimed that he actually joined the party and stayed in it for a while. He offered a different version, suggesting that he only attended one meeting of the party’s “fellow travelers” and never actually joined.[13] World War II ignited Baqa’i’s interest in politics. With a few of his father’s friends, he helped establish the National Union Party, dedicated to promoting democratic and nationalist ideas. But like about a hundred similar organizations and parties that had mushroomed in the years after the fall of Reza Shah, the National Union did not last long. Not long after it was established, he was appointed the head of the Office of Education in his native city of Kerman. He took a leave from his post at the university and in a practical sense embarked on the life of a professional politician.

In Kerman, helped by his family’s name and reputation, he quickly succeeded in developing a large and dedicated following. He was simply known as “The Doctor” or “The Leader.” The people found him charismatic, and they were impressed with “his knowledge, his magnificent voice and manner, his style and poise.”[14] After a while he decided to join forces with Ahmed Ghavam-ol Saltaneh and his new Democratic Party. It was on this party’s platform that he was first elected to the Parliament. This alliance, too, did not last long. With the help of a small group of party members, Baqa’i organized a split.[15] In spite of the split, he eventually came to believe that Ghavam had been the best politician of postwar Iran.[16]

It was in the mid-1940s that he first met the shah. It is not clear whether the meeting was specially set up or took place as part of the normal meetings between members of the Majlis and the shah. What is clear is that from the beginning, Baqa’i established a special two-track relationship with the shah. Publicly he was an advocate of constitutional monarchy and the theory that the shah should reign and not rule. As late as 1978, when the revolution seemed imminent, he still quixotically held on to his constitutionalist belief. At the same time, he consistently tried to maintain for himself and his group some legitimacy as members of the opposition. All through those years he had a secret and close relationship with the shah, and he even facilitated keeping the court informed about developments in the opposition, particularly in the Tudeh Party.[17]

By the late 1940s, his political activities put him in touch with Dr. Mossadeq. Both men were members of the Majlis, and both worked to rouse the nationalist sentiments of the country. In 1950, as the two became closer allies, Baqa’i joined forces with Khalil Maleki—a prominent political figure who had earlier split from the Tudeh Party—to create what was called The Toilers Party. The party, according to its platform, was dedicated to the establishment of “a constitutional monarchy, elimination of upper-class privilege, encouragement of small industries, national independence from all forms of imperialism, including Russian imperialism, and alleviation of class tensions between employees.”[18] It was the most successful attempt of forces allied with Mossadeq to find a base among the working class and challenge the Tudeh Party for this crucial group. Baqa’i’s constitutionalist, nationalist, democratic, and monarchist footprints can clearly be discerned in the party’s eclectic ideology.
Because of Baqa’i’s immense popularity, on at least a couple of occasions in this period the shah discussed with him the possibility of appointing him as the prime minister. For reasons that are not entirely clear, it never materialized.[19] Moreover, the Toilers Party soon went the way of most other political alliances in Baqa’i’s political life. The split was bitter. According to a CIA report, the split was the result of “long-standing differences over domestic policy and party organization.” According to Maleki and his allies, “the open break came as a result of Baqa’i’s intention to participate in the ‘Zahedi conspiracy’ to overthrow Mossadeq with the view of enhancing his own political position. Baqa’i was said to be looking toward the prime ministership at some point in the future.” Baqa’i and his allies, on the other hand, accused Maleki of wanting to move the party toward a more radical socialist path.[20]

In fact, Baqa’i soon did join forces with General Fazlollah Zahedi, and he certainly harbored ambitions to become Iran’s prime minister. From the early 1950s to the early 1980s, the hope and temptation of becoming the prime minister was an important part of Baqa’i’s political life. On many occasions, he openly declared his willingness to accept the job if it was offered to him. In 1953, months before Baqa’i’s open break with Dr. Mossadeq, the two had a series of increasingly contentious meetings. Baqa’i complained that in spite of documents showing that two of Mossadeq’s closest allies—Ahmad Matin Daftary and Dr. Hoseyn Fatemi—were agents of the British, he kept them in power. The documents were part of what was famously known as the “Documents from the Sedan House.” Sedan was a British oil company executive, and his house had become a center of activities against the government of Mossadeq. Baqa’i and his Toilers Party activists had, in fact, kept the house under surveillance and used an opportune moment to climb the walls and confiscate the documents. But ignoring documents from the Sedan House was not the only point of contention between Baqa’i and Mossadeq.

Baqa’i also opposed Mossadeq’s desire to rule by emergency powers. He was against the government’s decision to hold a referendum on the fate of the Majlis. On more than one occasion, he warned Mossadeq of the fate of democrats in Central Europe—particularly in Czechoslovakia—and reminded him that communists seized dictatorial powers after an initial period of alliance with democrats. By August 1953, Baqa’i had come to believe that Mossadeq was a despot, and that he had secretly conspired with the Tudeh Party to overthrow the monarchy. On the other hand, he saw the army, and General Zahedi as its de facto leader, as “a bulwark against communism.” Months before the coup, when General Zahedi began meeting with a number of disgruntled army officers to organize action against Mossadeq, Baqa’i was among the handful of civilians who were invited to attend.

Ironically the fall of his nemesis Mossadeq also seems to have brought an end to Baqa’i’s importance, even his raison d’etre. In subsequent years, he never regained the prominence and power he had in fighting Mossadeq and the communists. With General Zahedi in power, Mossadeq in prison, and the Tudeh Party under attack by the new hardline government, Baqa’i had lost much of his relevance. He was nothing if not a fighter, however. He continued to fight for free elections and the rule of law, but in contrast to the 1950–53 period, he was no longer at the center of the political arena. He became an increasingly marginal figure, closely watched by SAVAK and happy occasionally to write broadsides against the government and its excesses.21 At the same time, he continued his contacts with the shah, mostly through letters. He claimed to have written a total of at least one hundred letters to the shah and to have received answers to only two of them.[22]

Another example of his modus operandi can be seen in his behavior in the crisis that followed Parliament’s ratification of extra-territorial rights for American forces in Iran in 1964. On the one hand, he wrote a harshly worded statement condemning the agreement and condemning colonial designs on Iran. On the other hand, he wrote a letter to the American Embassy, reassuring them of his friendly attitude toward the United States and suggesting that he was forced to issue the anti-American statement only to keep with the spirit of the times and to keep his political fortunes alive.

Indeed, his policies during the tumultuous early 1960s were a clear indication of his pragmatic style. As Ayatollah Khomeini and some of his clerical allies rose against the shah’s reforms—from the rights of women to land reform—Baqa’i was among the handful of opposition figures who did not join the Khomeini bandwagon. Like many other opposition parties, particularly those of the National Front, the Toilers Party had become active again in 1960. Baqa’i’s initial response to Khomeini’s stern opposition to reforms was to order his party to stay clear of any demonstration in favor of the ayatollah. But gradually, as the ayatollah’s popularity increased, Baqa’i was pressured by his own comrades to support the clergy, and he changed his views. In a long, meandering, and patronizing open letter to the clerical leadership, he called for the global acceptance of Ayatollah Khomeini as the leader of the Shiites.[23] At the same time, in private, he often dismissed the clergy as unable to offer serious leadership for the country. Iran is headed for a revolution, he said, and the often implied and occasionally explicit solution was the appointment of himself as prime minister. On more than one occasion in the period he declared his readiness to accept the post and save the monarchy from the disease of sycophants, and the country from the dangers of a revolution.[24]

Even when he was no longer actively involved in politics, the same caution, and the same duality between public and private views, could be seen. During the Harvard Oral History interview, he was asked whether he approved of the shah’s policy of establishing de facto diplomatic ties with Israel. He answered that he “was not opposed to recognizing Israel. Arabs were never our friends. . . . I shed no tears when the Palestinians were thrown out.”[25] At the same time, he insisted that “this aspect [of his views] need not be made public.”[26]

The crisis leading to the Islamic Revolution provided Baqa’i with a last chance to take center stage. As the shah began to seek help and advice from some of Baqa’i’s peers—once important political figures who had been marginalized after the White Revolution and the establishment of the shah’s increasingly personal rule—he was invited to meet with the shah. He describes a deeply distraught man. They talked of the impending crisis, and how to solve it. “The country needs another Ghavam,” he told the shah. Clearly, he implied that he was that new Ghavam. Baqa’i expected to be offered the job of prime minister, but the offer never came. “The Shah wanted me to volunteer for the job,” he convinced himself later, “but if I did that, I could not then set any conditions.”[27] In December 1978, as the situation worsened, he was contacted by Aredeshir Zahedi, who asked him to come “and fix the situation. I said I am willing to accept if you are willing to accept my conditions. What then are the chances for success [Zahedi asked]? I said, ten percent chance for the Shah to survive. Twenty percent, the preservation of monarchy, and the rule of the Crown Prince. Khomeini’s success, seventy percent.”[28]

Zahedi took the message to the shah, who was unhappy with the percentages. The shah wanted to know whether there were any ways to improve them. By the time the message got back to Baqa’i, he had revised his numbers. The chance of survival for the shah himself was all but nonexistent, Baqa’i responded.

Baqa’i describes a similar conversation with the queen, who, in his rendition, was weeping throughout the conversation. He further claims that he told the shah and the queen that the king’s policies were responsible for what had befallen the country. Had the shah only listened to Baqa’i, none of this would have happened. Neither in the shah’s Answer to History, nor in Queen Farah’s An Enduring Love is there any reference to these meetings with Baqa’i. Aredeshir Zahedi confirms meeting Baqa’i and arranging his meeting with the shah.[29]

Baqa’i even claims that he was a serious candidate for the post of prime minister after the Islamic Revolution. He believes that at least two influential clerics “were my advocates. One of them was Mr. Pasandideh [Khomeini’s brother]. I told them if they dismiss the Revolutionary Committees and dissolve the Revolutionary Guards, I might accept.”[30]

The alleged offer, once again, never came. By then Baqa’i knew that the end of his career was not far away. On the eve of the revolution, he delivered a three-and-a-half hour lecture to a small group of his devoted followers. The speech has since been published by his fans as his last testament. Its title reveals their reverential attitude toward their leader. It is called He Who Said No.[31]

Not only was he a powerful orator, but throughout his public life he was also an indefatigable journalist. In the days when the Toilers Party was at the height of its power, he regularly wrote the lead editorial for the party paper. His style, in editorials or speeches, was simple, though never parsimonious. In his last testament, he waxed eloquent about the ethical basis of his past politics and called on the party to find and train new leaders who could follow in his footsteps.

Baqa’i’s end, like his beginning, was unusual. Although he was by the mid-1980s living in the United States and could easily continue to live there in safety and comfort, he ignored pleas from family and friends and decided to go back to Iran. There had already been several indications that the Islamic regime was no fan of his. After the assassination of Hassan Ayat, once a follower of Baqa’i and a powerful member of the new Islamic regime, Baqa’i had lost his most important defender. But he chose to ignore all the omens and indications. When he arrived in his hometown of Kerman, the local authorities arrested him. They did not keep him long. He had been in prison before—first in 1949 for allegedly insulting the honor of the army. But the Islamic Republic’s system of punishment and prison, particularly in its early years, was altogether different from that which existed during the shah’s reign. The goal was not just depriving people of their freedoms or rights, as it was during the shah’s reign, but total destruction of their character and annihilation of their humanity, as was common in totalitarian systems. When they arrested the septuagenarian Baqa’i, they claimed they had found “a great deal of illicit documents and things” in his house. They said they had released him early because he was “old and sick” and they alleged that only a month after his release, he died of a recurrence of syphilis on November 17, 1987 (26 Aban 1366).[32]

Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi

Ever since Plato and Aristotle,the“womanquestion”hasbeenacentralproblem for political and social theory. For Plato, men and women were equal in every respect, and women were as qualified as men to become philosophers and to rule the ideal Republic; women were once, in the primordial moment of bliss, united with men in an androgynous species. Then they were torn asunder, leading to a relentless ontological longing and the desire to regain this lost unity. Plato’s student, Aristotle, on the other hand, argued only a few years later that women were the “weaker vessel” and even played a secondary role in the process of procreation—with men providing the “seminal” role and women simply being the vessels for reproduction. For the next two millennia, varieties of similarly misogynist theories were developed to legitimize denying women their rights.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, thinkers of both sexes began to call for equality for women. From John Stuart Mill, the theorist of continental liberalism, to Karl Marx, the prophet and philosopher of radical communism, and from feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft in Britain and Gorat-al-ayn in Iran,[1] the question of women and their role in society, and the need for them to have full equality in every sphere, became a central preoccupation of men and women of politics and letters.

In mid-nineteenth-century Iran, the activities of Gorat-al-ayn, an erudite follower of the new religion of Bab, were the harbingers of the Iranian women’s movement. Her defiant decision to appear in public without a veil caused such an uproar that one man took a knife to his own neck while another stormed the stage and tried to kill her. Eventually she was brutally murdered on the orders of the king, Nasir al-din Shah. During his reign, another woman was a center of power in the country. She was the king’s mother, the Dowager Empress Mahde-Olia. Among her many important acts was her role in masterminding the death of the powerful reformist prime minister Amir Kabir.[2]

If Mahde-Olia exercised her power behind closed doors and from the isolated quarters of the andarun—the inner sanctum of the house set aside for women and children—in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 women for the first time took a direct role in politics. During the reign of Reza Shah (1925–41), women found a staunch supporter in the country’s king; it was during this time that education for girls became mandatory, and veils became illegal by royal fiat. Many scholars and activists, including many women, have criticized the despotic manner of this unveiling.

When Mohammad Reza Shah came to power, he gave in to pressure from mullahs to lift the ban on veils and to end the practice of coeducational schools.[3] At the same time, the shah, much like his father, was committed to the idea of affording women equal rights. During the early days of his reign, women’s organizations, many of them inspired by ideas of the Left, had emerged, and they took issue with the idea that women’s rights were something that the king can “give” or “take away.” These rights were, they argued, inalienable, and they need no man to give them their rights and wouldn’t allow any man to take them away.

At the same time, a small fissure appeared in the heart of this burgeoning women’s movement, with orthodox Marxists disparaging the idea of an autonomous feminist movement, arguing instead that the women question is an inseparable part of the “class struggle,” and that only when classes are abolished will women achieve true equality. Where all feminists from the center and the left concurred was the idea that “royal actions and declarations” about women’s rights lack genuine substance and are nothing but window-dressing. The fact that the shah’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf, was for many years the leader of the Women’s Organization in Iran, and the fact that her reputation was deeply tarnished by rumors of corruption, added fuel to the fire of discontent against government-sponsored organizations advocating equality for women.

When the shah launched his “White Revolution” in 1962 and enfranchisement of women was one of its six principles, Shiite clergy, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, rose in opposition to the idea. But the clergy lost that battle, and before long, women were not only voting but sitting in Parliament as members of the Majlis and the Senate. Less than a decade after the launch of the revolution, Dr. Farrokhru Parsa became the first woman in Iranian history to become a minister. Throughout those turbulent years, Mehrangiz Dowlatshahi was never far from the center of the debate and action.

She was born in Tehran in 1919 (1298)[4] to a family of culture and power. Her mother was of the Hedayat family, whose scion was Sadeq Hedayat, and her father was an enlightened man with progressive ideas about equality between men and women.[5] When Reza Shah first came to power, Dowlatshahi was among his close advisors and worked at the court ministry as chief of protocol. Mehrangiz was five when she and her sister began to be tutored in Persian letters and literature. She attended an elementary school founded by the Iranian Zoroastrians. Neither her father nor her mother made any pretense of piety at home. According to Mehrangiz, her father was one of the two people—the other being Teymurtash—who constantly tried to encourage Reza Shah to end the mandatory practice of wearing chadors, Islamic veils that covers women’s bodies from head to toe. He also read stories about Napoleon to Reza Shah.[6] Dowlatshahi’s niece, Esmat, became Reza Shah’s fourth and last wife. She remained his companion and lived by his side in South Africa until the last days of his tragic life.

Mehrangiz was only fifteen when she finished high school in 1936, spending her final school years at an institution run by American missionaries. Even before Reza Shah ordered the lifting of veils, she and a number of other students in her school, as well as a handful of other brave women, would appear in public simply wearing a hat. For several years, she had been asking her father to allow her to go abroad to continue her education—a rare practice in those years. But much to her grief, her father died when she finished high school, and her maternal grandfather, more traditional in matters relating to women, became her legal guardian. He was against the idea of sending a single young girl to Europe and agreed to her departure only when he was reassured that she would go for a brief sojourn, and only in the company of relatives—a husband and wife assigned to an Iranian embassy. Accompanied by her relatives, she went to Germany, where she stayed in Berlin for about ten months.

When she returned home, at her mother’s instigation she was married to a relative who had also gone to school in Germany. Before long, she realized her dream of traveling back to Germany in the company of her husband, who was part of a team of engineers sent by Iran to take possession of the steel mill equipment Iran had bought from Nazi Germany. By the time they arrived, World War II had begun, and the couple spent much of the war years in Berlin. Nevertheless, she worked to realize her dream, and in spite of the howling of the “dogs of war,” she enrolled in college, taking courses in communication and sociology. She wrote a thesis on the role of newspapers in the Constitutional Revolution, and by the end of the war she had received a bachelor’s degree.

Her journey had taken seven years.[7] The last months were spent in the city of Dresden, where she lived through the infamous bombing of the city for forty-eight hours. The bombing, depicted in the great antiwar novel Slaughterhouse Five, led to the single greatest loss of life in one day in World War II—even greater than Hiroshima. After this ordeal, and after months spent trying to get back to Iran through a circuitous route that took her to Egypt and India, she finally arrived home.

In Iran it did not take her long to join the political fray; she was the first woman to join the Democratic Party created by Ghavam. Her sister was married to Mozzafar Firuz, Ghavam’s controversial right-hand man. In descriptions of her career, she and her supporters have often claimed that she was “the first woman to become an active member of a political party.”8 In fact, long before her decision to join the Ghavam party, dozens of women had already become active members of the Tudeh Party.[9] By the time she joined the party, she was pregnant with her first child.

In 1949 she accompanied her husband, who was sent on another government assignment to Germany, this time to settle the fate of the industrial equipment Iran had paid for and never received. They lived in Stuttgart and became friends with Abdullah Entezam and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, who were both working at the Iranian Embassy. More than anything, Mehrangiz was interested in resuming her education. She went back to school, and before she returned home in 1953 she had completed all the required work for her doctoral degree except for the dissertation, which she finished when she returned to Iran.

Back home, she began working for the American aid program, Point Four. There she began her first bureaucratic involvement with the question of women, when she was assigned to work in the section of the Point Four offices dealing with “Women’s Activities.” Less than two years later, she was one of the nine founding members of a new women’s organization called Jam’eyate Rahe Now, Society for a New Way. The group was an element of Iran’s nascent civil society and was dedicated to teaching women about the rights and responsibilities of full membership in society.[10] In her capacity as a leader of this society, she also joined an international organization that brought together similar organizations from around the world.

As she became more involved in a rapidly rising political career, tensions between family life and professional responsibilities finally broke her marriage. It was an amicable breakup, and she was granted guardianship of their child. But as a single mother, even in Iran where family and friends often help with the work of raising a child, she could not keep up with both her duties as a mother and the demands of her career. In 1958, after consulting with her husband, she followed a path often taken by members of the Iranian economic elite and decided to send her son to a boarding school in Germany. She accompanied him to Germany and only after helping him settle in to his new environment did she return to Iran.

One of the many career demands was her role in organizing the International Women’s Fair in Iran in 1960. Her Society for a New Way was the chief organizer of the fair. But those were the days of the White Revolution and of the enfranchisement of women. She was part of the first group of six women to be elected to the Majlis. She was sent to the Parliament from the city of Kermanshah, though it was not clear what her relationship with the city was. Her tenure lasted three consecutive terms, after which she became the first woman to be named an ambassador. She was sent to Denmark, where she served until the revolution overthrew the shah’s regime.

During her parliamentary days, she played an important role in the passage of a new family protection law that in many ways improved the lot of women in Iran—particularly in terms of their ability to file for divorce (hitherto a monopoly right of men). The government was obviously acting with great caution in this arena as it did not want to anger the clergy and bring about a political crisis. One aspect of Dowlatshahi’s role that caught the attention of the media at the time was her support for keeping in the law provisions allowing men to have four wives, as Islamic Sharia demanded. Some applauded her pragmatism, while others wondered why a supporter of women’s rights would support such a provision. What made the issue even more fascinating at the time was the fact that it coincided with the days when Tehran was awash with rumors that the shah had fallen in love with a young girl and was about to marry her.[11]

After her three active terms as a representative, her diplomatic days in Denmark were relatively quiet. Her ambassadorial days were cut short by events in Tehran and the fall of the shah. Instead of returning to Tehran after the revolution, she chose Paris as her place of exile. She occasionally goes back to her youthful interest in history and makes an effort to lay out the history of her illustrious family.[12] The travails of exile were in her case augmented by personal tragedy when on July 9, 2001, her only son passed away.[13]

Dr. Manuchehre Egbal

To some, Dr. Manuchehre Egbal was the tragic epitome of sycophancy and its dangers. It was, surely, during his forty-month tenure as prime minister that the shah consolidated his absolute authority over all branches of the government, and Egbal became instrumental in reducing the hitherto powerful post of premier to a mere malleable chief of staff to the king. In appraising the shah’s rise to absolute power, the American Embassy in Tehran describes Egbal as “the zealous administrator” who, like other prime ministers after him, was a “willing instrument charged with carrying out the Shah’s commands.”[1]

Others saw Egbal as a consummate, ambitious technocrat, a capable physician, and an astute politician who dedicated his life to public service. Some praise him for his reputation for financial probity and his advocacy of the famous Az Koja Averdeyee [Where did you get it from?] law requiring public servants to explain the sources of their wealth. Still others chastise him for the rampant corruption that continued in each of the offices he directed. At least one journalist has found his first name, Manuchehre, noteworthy. It is a Persian and not an Arabic word and Egbal, he claims, was the first in a long line of new technocrats whose families discarded Islamic names in favor of Persian ones.[2]

Friends and foes concur that Egbal had mastered the art of survival and remained at or near the center of power for almost forty years. He has been called the one person in the twentieth-century history of Iran who ran the gauntlet of the top ten political appointments in the government hierarchy—from prime minister and cabinet minister to governor and ambassador.[3] His tenure in each office was often marred by ignoble events or controversial decisions. His longevity in power did little to satiate his appetite for the pomp and perks of authority. No job, no appointment, was too small for him. During the twilight of his long and eventful career, he was not only chairman of the board of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), but also a member of the board or a director of more than seventy institutions. These auxiliary jobs ranged from the mundane membership in the Society for the Friendship Between Iran and Turkey to the significant position of Director of the Iran Medical Association—a job he stubbornly clung to for many, many years.[4]

Manuchehre Egbal was born on September 15, 1909 (24 Shahrivar 1288) to an old aristocratic family in the city of Meshed. He was one of twelve siblings; he had five brothers and six sisters. His father wrote his date of birth on the frontispiece of the Qur’an, adding next to the date, “May he, god willing, be a god-worshiper.”[5]

Politics was in the family blood, and the family had been a permanent fixture in the political and economic elite of their province. Nearly every one of his male siblings followed the family calling and ended up in some position of public or political prominence. His sisters, too, followed suit by marrying into prominent political families. Manuchehre’s father was a member of the Constituent Assembly, and when he went to Tehran to serve his term he took Manuchehre with him. Manuchehre finished high school in the famous Dar al-Funun high school and not long after set out for Europe to continue his education.

He ended up in France, settling first in Montpelier and eventually in Paris. In both cities, he studied medicine. He finished his training in 1933 and wrote a dissertation on early onset of the mumps. His thesis won the university’s prestigious silver medal. By the end of his life, Egbal had won many other academic honors, including several honorary doctoral degrees and membership in the important French Academy of Medicine.[6]

Soon after finishing his medical training, Egbal returned home. He was not, however, alone. He had married a French girl named Alice. Together they had two daughters. Of the two, one eventually chose the contemplative life of a nun, and the other first married one of the shah’s brothers and, after divorcing him, married a son of princess Ashraf.[7]

The fact that the young girls were, like their mother, Christians, and that they wore crosses around their necks—or in the anti-Christian language of the SAVAK report, that they were khaj-parast or cross-worshippers—caused a small ripple of discontent.[8] But to the shah’s credit, neither the marriage nor the girls’ avowed Christianity and its inadvertent political cost impeded Egbal’s ambitious political plans.

Those plans were put in place not long after his return home. He settled in his hometown of Meshed and enrolled in the army, where he was put in charge of a military hospital. His medical acumen helped him rise faster after he cured Reza Shah, according to some reports, of a bad infection. As recompense, he was moved to a bigger hospital.[9] In 1936, after having finished his two-year military service, he moved to Tehran to teach in the newly founded medical school at Tehran University. Throughout the rest of his political life, he never completely severed his academic ties to the university and the world of medicine. His tenacious hold on the job of directing the Iranian Medical Association was the most obvious manifestation of his affinity for medicine as well as a sign of his raw ambition.

In spite of his academic attachments, the world of politics was even more tempting. By 1942, he already had his first important appointment when Ghavam picked him to become an undersecretary in the Ministry of Health. Although Egbal owed much of his initial rise to power to Ghavam, and although he was a minister in Ghavam’s cabinet, he had no qualms in taking a lead in the 1946 shah-orchestrated move to force the resignation of his mentor. He now had Princess Ashraf and eventually the shah himself to rely on.[10] Moreover, his emotional ties with the shah were further cemented on the day in 1949 when there was an assassination attempt on the shah. Egbal was a minister at the time and in the line of dignitaries meeting the shah upon his arrival. Moments after the failed attempt, Egbal helped the wounded shah to the car and from there to the hospital.[11]
None of this was of any avail when in 1950 he was listed as a “J category civil servant.” These were people deemed unfit for employment in the civil service by a committee of venerable political figures appointed by the prime minister, General Razmara. The list never became a law, or operational, but the damage to Egbal’s reputation was permanent.

As a result of this designation, and with Mohammad Mossadeq’s rise to power, Egbal was forced out of the political arena from 1951 to 1953. At the end of this temporary hiatus, he was named the rector of Tehran University. His tenure was particularly eventful. He took over the university when it was still more or less occupied by the military forces. He asked the armed forces to leave and after a while arranged for the return of some of the National Front leaders who had been professors before August 1953 and had since been barred from teaching.[12] In those days, the United States was also pressing the shah to ease the pressure on that group.

While still a rector, on June 2, 1956 (12 Khordad 1335), Egbal was appointed court minister. These appointments to two of the most sensitive positions of power at the time were a clear indication that Egbal’s star was on the rise, and that he was trusted by the shah. By all accounts, he tried to bring about rapid improvements at the court, too. For example, in spite of his close ties to some members of the royal family, he attempted to curtail the illicit economic activities of other members.[13] By then he had cultivated close ties with a group of prominent journalists and editors. He was clearly angling for the job of the prime minister, and there was little surprise when on April 4, 1957, he was appointed to the post he coveted.

His appointment was initially met with the approval of many in the Iranian media. A new leaf had been turned, some suggested, and better days were to come. In fact, Egbal’s tenure was tumultuous and consequential. His political persona—a zealot reformer and a frank talker—changed so drastically that some of the editors who had once praised him talked of a “Jekyll and Hyde” transformation.[14] Many of the decisions made during his days at the helm were to remain the subject of controversy for many years.

During his first day in office, Egbal ordered an end to military rule in the capital—a lingering remnant of the August 1953 events. It was also during his early days as prime minister that SAVAK was created. Egbal also bore the infamy of being the first prime minister to sign his letters to the shah with such humiliating titles as Golame Khanezad, or “Your Humble House-born Slave.” He was the first prime minister openly and publicly to declare that foreign policy was the sole purview of the shah. All too often he attacked the press and the Parliament for their temerity in criticizing a “servant of the Shah.” The man who had carefully cultivated an image as a “zealot administrator” was becoming a champion of sycophancy. It was more incredible still that in spite of his repeated public profession of fealty to the shah, he often complained to the British and American diplomats in private about his inability to bring about change because of the shah’s interference and because of the shah’s recalcitrant aversion to change.[15]

It was during Egbal’s forty-month tenure that Iran signed a highly controversial oil agreement with an Italian company. The agreement was intended to loosen the power of the oil consortium that had taken monopoly control of Iran’s oil after the August 1953 coup. It was also during this period that Iran came close to signing a long-term nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. In fact, Egbal was one of the two Iranian officials who, in “confidence,” warned the British and American governments of the presence of a secret Soviet delegation in Iran. Egbal wanted the United States and Britain to help dissuade the shah from his decision to sign such an agreement with the Soviets. Both the American and the British governments reacted angrily to this development.

On January 30, 1959, President Eisenhower wrote a tartly worded letter to the shah about Iran’s intention of signing a “new treaty with the Soviet Union.” Eisenhower told the shah that his “friends would be unhappy” if he should do so, and that such a step “would imperil your country’s security.”[16] The British sent Sir Denis Wright to warn the shah.[17] The threats worked, and the shah walked away from the brink. But the question remains whether Egbal acted of his own volition or had “confided” to the Americans and the British at the behest of the shah. Considering his unfailing loyalty to the shah, and given that he was appointed to important posts in subsequent years, it is more likely that the shah used him to bluff the West and that Egbal’s secret contacts with Western diplomats were on the orders of the shah.

Another such royal order was for the creation of a two-party system, much along the American model. Egbal was the founder of one of the two parties—the Melliyune—while another confidant of the shah, Assadollah Alam, established the other.

What brought Egbal down in 1960 were the elections to the twentieth session of the Majlis. Even by the standards of the time, they were an embarrassment. As the furor over them continued unabated, the shah needed someone to blame, and Egbal was the best candidate. Much to his chagrin, Egbal was forced to resign, and, before long, he was appointed rector of Tehran University. He did not last long in his new post. Students, angry at his record in office, attacked his car and set it on fire. Egbal was whisked away by the police. Rumors of his imminent arrest spread through the city. But suddenly he left Iran, leaving behind rumors that he was only allowed to leave because he knew too much. The shah had in fact worked to arrange for his safe departure.

His hiatus from power was short-lived. After a few months, he was appointed Iran’s representative to UNESCO, and before long he was called back to Iran, where he was named chairman of the National Iranian Oil Company. His arrival at an otherwise traditional company was initially met with strong opposition from the staff. He was said to be flagrantly ignorant of the intricacies of the oil industry.[18] He overcame these objections and remained at the helm of the NIOC for a record fourteen years. His long tenure was remarkable only for the degree to which he was completely out of the loop on critical decisions on oil policy. By then the shah handled the country’s oil policy and used Jamshid Amuzegar as his emissary. Egbal was a true figurehead, happy to enjoy the perks of power—including a special elevator he had set up for himself and his guests.

During these years, he was not altogether free from the temptations of politics or of a return to the center of power. He brought together a group of about seventy people, called Yaran (Friends) whose sole point of convergence was their dedication to Egbal and his political fortune. During these years, along with numerous other jobs, he accepted the presidency of the government-sponsored Pen Association, created to overshadow the Writers Union that was being launched by opposition writers, poets, and playwrights at the time.

Early in his career Egbal had joined a Freemason Lodge. But there was also an altogether different side to his character. Throughout his career he was a member of a Sufi sect and considered himself something of a “darvish”—a word that in Persian connoted an aversion to worldly attachments. In a profile prepared by SAVAK, he is described as “extremely arrogant, selfish, and pretentious.”[19] Every adjective used in the profile is the opposite of what is expected of a selfless darvish. In November 1977, Egbal was asked by the shah to resign from his post at the NIOC. Around this time, he wrote a letter to the king warning “that people are unhappy in this country.” The shah dismissed the words of warning, responding only that Egbal “had lost touch” and that the shah “knew better.”[20] This kind of epistolary jeremiad is, ironically, a recurring theme of the lives of some of Egbal’s peers. Only when they are out of power do they exhibit clarity of vision and searing, fearlessly honest discourse. It is, of course, an old adage of the Persian language that after they are deposed, even despots turn Sufi saints. On the night of November 25, 1977, Egbal died of a heart attack, or, as many of those who knew him well suggest, of heartbreak.

Egbal had begun his career in politics as a wunderkind of politics—bright, educated, honest, and disciplined. By the end, all that could be said of him is that he, too, succumbed to the temptations of power and all but gave up on the ideals of his youth.

The Entezam Brothers

For the almost fifteen years that he was out of royal favor, Abdullah Entezam spent nearly every day in a small corner of the exclusive French Club in Tehran, lunching with friends. His demise had begun on June 5, 1963. He was among the group of five elder statesmen who went to the court on the afternoon of that day, reprimanded the shah for the army’s bloody suppression of demonstrations, and suggested that he should dismiss the government of Assadollah Alam and attempt a rapprochement with the opposition. In those days, Entezam was the chairman of the National Iranian Oil Company.

On that June day, the shah angrily dismissed the suggestions, even ordering the prime minister to arrest them all. Alam delayed the implementation of the order and eventually convinced the shah to change his mind.[1] But before long, the shah, as he had told a member of the American Embassy, began a “housecleaning” and threw out nearly the entire old guard of Iranian politics, including Abdullah Entezam and almost everyone who had dared criticize the shah’s policy. He talked of Entezam specifically as a member of “another useless group.”[2]

Fifteen years later, in 1978, the shah felt beleaguered by the rising tide of discontent. He decided that maybe Entezam wasn’t “useless” after all. Abdullah was invited to the court and even asked to form a government of national reconciliation. Although Entezam demurred, there was no hint of rancor or revenge in his attitude.[3] In fact, he did all he could to help convince the opposition, particularly his friends among the National Front, to join such a coalition. He was, for example, involved in the meetings that led to Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi’s ill-fated decision to accept the post of prime minister.[4]

During the last days of the shah’s reign, some of Entezam’s time was devoted to his ultimately failed effort to save his protégé, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, who had been arrested and was in danger of being offered to the opposition as a “sacrificial lamb.”[5] It is a measure of Abdullah Entezam’s longevity in politics that while he was playing a key role in 1979, he was also considered one of Iran’s political elite by the British Embassy in Tehran as early as 1943. They described him as someone who has served “the Foreign Ministry since about 1921 . . . a pleasant and go-ahead young man.”[6] His younger brother, Nassrullah, was at that same time described as “a quiet and attractive young man” who had by 1943 already held some of the most important diplomatic posts in Iran’s foreign service.[7] The two brothers went on to become two of Iran’s most accomplished, internationally recognized diplomats and political personalities. They both enjoyed sterling reputations for honesty and probity.
Abdullah was born in Tehran in 1895 (1274), the oldest son of a career diplomat. The father was also a Sufi, a member of the Safi-Alishah order. Both diplomacy and Sufism became inseparable parts of Abdullah’s character and career.

He was educated in Tehran—at the German Technical School, Dar al-Funun, and the School of Political Science—and upon the completion of his education he joined the Foreign Ministry. His younger brother, Nassrullah, born in 1897, followed his brother’s footsteps, and took the exact same trajectory to the Foreign Ministry.

Nassrullah began working at the ministry in 1927. For the next few years, he held a variety of jobs, beginning at Iran’s embassy in France. One of his most politically sensitive jobs was in 1933 when he presented Iran’s case against England at the League of Nations.

The job that made him a witness to Iran’s history in one of the country’s most crucial moments was his role as chief of protocol at the court in 1941. In that capacity, he saw nearly everything that happened in the days before and after the abdication of Reza Shah. His memoirs of those days offer fresh and important insights into the behind-the-scenes developments.[8]

In 1943, Nassrullah was appointed minister of health, and that was only the beginning of his ministerial career. He went to hold a number of portfolios. Nassrullah owed his ministerial appointments, at least according to British Embassy in Tehran, to the support of the shah, and to the fact the prime ministers wanted to placate the king.[9] After a number of such portfolios, Nassrullah was sent as Iran’s representative to the San Francisco Conference establishing the United Nations. For the next decade, he worked intermittently as Iran’s ambassador to the UN or to the United States. It was at the UN that he established his international reputation. In 1948, he was chosen as the chairman of an ad hoc political committee of UN’s fourth General Assembly. Finally, in the fifth, he was elected president of the General Assembly, the only Iranian ever to hold that position. The presidency of the General Assembly was the crowning glory of his career, rightfully affording him the aura of an international statesman.

He was Iran’s ambassador to the United States when Mohammad Mossadeq became prime minister. Surprisingly, Nassrullah survived for a few months, and only after Mossadeq came to the United States was Entezam replaced with one of the prime minister’s own confidants. When on October 8, 1951, Mossadeq did not allow Entezam to participate in a meeting with American officials, Nassrullah knew his days as an ambassador were numbered.[10] In his memoirs, Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA operative who went to Iran and helped organize the coup against Mossadeq, wrote about meeting with Entezam while the latter was still ambassador, and about his surprise at the ambassador’s unambiguous opposition to the government. Other American officials found Nassrullah to be a “reasonable, and friendly” Iranian politician.[11]

After the fall of Mossadeq, Nassrullah regained his old job and returned to Washington, where he served until 1956. When he returned to Iran, he no longer had a central role to play in the Iranian political process. Aside from brief appointments in the Alam cabinet, the only public display of his power came in 1975, when he agreed to chair the first convention of the Rastakhiz, Iran’s only party at the time. Contrary to his brother, who was known for his modest demeanor, Nassrullah was impeccably dressed and given to the solemnities of the diplomatic world. He never married and died in Tehran on December 18, 1980. If Abdullah lacked the sartorial flamboyance and elegance of his brother,[12] he had a solid reputation as a consummate diplomat, an erudite intellect, and a man of impeccable integrity.

Abdullah’s first posting was to the United States, where he served as secretary to the legation. While there, he not only worked at the embassy, but he also returned to school, this time studying mechanical engineering. Making things, and learning how they worked, was a passion of his all through his life. He also married. His wife was a daughter of one of Washington D.C.’s most prominent families. Entezam and his American wife had a son named Hume. (He later took the name of his mother’s second husband and became Hume Horan.) Horan joined the State Department, was a polyglot, and went on to become one of the most noted “Arabists”—State Department officials with deep knowledge of Arab culture and language. Horan was often referred to as “Lawrence of America.” He had a storied life himself. His last posting was to Saudi Arabia. It is not clear why he left his post and quit the State Department. He followed a woman he loved to a small Pacific island where the two ran a small school for girls.[13]

Abdullah’s marriage ended before his tenure at the Iranian embassy did. He would not remarry for another two decades. In May 1958, he married again, this time to an Iranian woman named Farah Ansary.[14] Between these two marriages, he was appointed to nearly every important post in the Iranian diplomatic services. They included appointments in Tehran, in the Foreign Ministry, and in such European capitals as Bern and Prague. During the months after the invasion of Iran, he was put in charge of the politically sensitive job of getting rid of citizens of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy who were living in Iran at the time. After a couple of years, he left for Paris, where he lived before his next appointment, to Stuttgart.

Abdullah was a man of formidable intellect with an eclectic mind and erudition; he was at the same time a Francophile. He was an omnivorous reader, regularly devouring everything from Reader’s Digest to esoteric texts of mysticism. He loved classical music, and Beethoven was his favorite. He had an impeccable reputation for financial honesty and for frankness. He was—along with Mehdi Samii and Ja’far Sharif-Emami—one of only three people who refused to kiss the hand of the shah when the gesture was made mandatory for Iranian officials. He was also a Freemason, a member of the Forughi lodge, and it was apparently at his behest that Amir-Abbas Hoveyda also joined the ranks of the controversial organization. Abdullah was himself a Sufi and remained dedicated to this tradition all his life. Although for some members of the Iranian elite, particularly in the 1960s, becoming a Sufi was something of a fad—the way Kabala is a fad in Hollywood today—in his case, it seemed earnest. He showed a decided disdain for worldly riches all his life, living in Tehran in a small apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of the city.

In Paris, Entezam held something of a salon. Many of Iran’s future elite were regulars at these meetings, where Entezam talked on everything from the mysteries of classical Persian texts to mundane cures for the common cold. Among those who attended was Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, who took Entezam as a surrogate father. For the rest of his life, regardless of Entezam’s position, Hoveyda would call him patron, French for boss.

After a period of waiting in Paris, Abdullah was put in charge of Iran’s new embassy in Germany. He served there for about three years; his first ministerial appointment came in 1951 when he was named foreign minister in the short-lived cabinet of Hoseyn Ala. When the cabinet was about to fall, Entezam’s name, according to the American Embassy in Tehran, kept “cropping up” as a candidate for prime minister.[15] His next big appointment came in the Zahedi cabinet, after the fall of Mossadeq, when he was again foreign minister. During the first months after his new appointment, he was in charge of the politically charged issue of reestablishing relations with Britain.[16] He was also part of the team that negotiated a controversial oil agreement with a consortium of oil companies. Most of those involved in these negotiations, particularly the head of the Iranian team, Ali Amini, never fully recovered from the political liability of signing the agreement. Entezam, however, seemed untouched by the negative consequences. He managed both tasks with his usual combination of patience and prudence. The fact that he was known as a Freemason made both jobs, particularly the work of normalizing relations with England, even more difficult.

It was also during his tenure at the Foreign Ministry that Iran joined the Baghdad Pact—with Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan as permanent members and the United States and the United Kingdom as observers—ending Iran’s three-hundred-year declared neutrality. Although in later years he indicated to his friends that he personally had been against the idea, he nevertheless worked hard to make the pact a reality.[17]
After the Foreign Ministry, Entezam served from 1956 to 1963 as chairman of the National Iranian Oil Company. Before his appointment to that post, there was once again talk of his appointment to the post of prime minister.[18] It was during this period that he hired Hoveyda as an aide at the oil company, and with his support the latter launched a new magazine called Kavosh, intended to bring a measure of reconciliation between the members of the opposition and the regime.[19] Entezam’s days at the NIOC came to an inglorious end when the shah, angry at Entezam’s criticism of Alam’s handling of the 1963

religious riots, dismissed him from his job. For the next fifteen years, Entezam was not offered any other posts. Then in 1978, when the regime was in crisis, Entezam was offered the post of prime minister; he refused, feeling that he could do nothing to turn back the tide of the revolution. He spent his fifteen years of forced retirement on many different projects—from working in his engineering workshop to translating and writing works on Sufism, which he published under pseudonyms. In these he advocated “self-abandoning” and relying on “remembrance of God” as a way to truth and salvation. “For Self-abandoning after Self-Vigilance . . . we attempt, slowly, to remove all thought from the head, even the thought of Remembrance of God.”[20] When he died in March 1983, his old friend, Sir Denis Wright, wrote that Entezam was “a man of charm, modesty and considerable ability. . . . [He] had a great capacity for friendship and was respected by all who knew him. The Shah would never have lost his throne had he listened to and made full use of men such as Abdullah Entezam.”[21]

Akbar Etemad

Iran’s nuclear program has been the subject of increasing international concern. The nature of the program, the extent of its development, the degree to which Iran possesses the knowledge base necessary for the production of a bomb, and how far the Islamic Republic is from having a nuclear weapon are some of the most pressing issues facing the international community.

The genesis of the program goes back to the years when Mohammad Reza Shah still ruled Iran. A rapid rise in the price of oil gave Iran the capital necessary to begin a nuclear program. Mohammad Reza Shah wanted it completed as quickly as possible and allocated two billion dollars a year to the project. Akbar Etemad led it in its early phase. Assadollah Alam, the shah’s trusted court minister and confidant, clearly stated more than once in his Diaries that the shah wanted the bomb but did not talk about it. But even Etemad himself was not sure of the ultimate goal of the program he launched and directed.

Akbar Etemad was born on January 9, 1933 (19 Dey 1311), in Hamadan. The city was in those days still a hub of east-west as well as north-south trade, and one of the most prosperous in the country. It was unusually multicultural, with large Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Christian minorities living amicably with the Muslim majority. Akbar’s father was one of the most respected and affluent members of the city’s political and economic elite.[1] His mother, a deeply devout Muslim, came from a family of small landholders. His family was steeped in Iranian tradition. Akbar was one of nine children, but by the time he was born, his parents were no longer young, and his education and supervision were entrusted to his elder brother.

His father was the de facto liaison between the government and the people. The city had long, cold winters that entailed months-long isolation from the outside world. During those long winter months, the hundreds of aqueducts that provided irrigation and drinking water for the city and its farms had to be kept clean, and the poor had to be provided for. The city’s elite, under the leadership of people like the elder Etemad, pooled their resources to tackle these problems. They contributed to a fund that would eventually bring electricity to the city and create a de facto welfare system. They hired a German engineer to launch the city’s electrical plan. He turned out to have been a Nazi spy; a radio he had brought from Germany was a covert communication device.

Akbar was schooled in the city’s private and public schools. He also had private tutors. He had an unusual proclivity for mathematics and a love of literature. For high school he was sent to Tehran to the famed Alborz American college in 1946. By then, Hamadan had one of Reza Shah’s model high schools. Called Pahlavi, these schools were unusually modern for Iran. They had laboratories, art studios, sport facilities, and theaters. But Alborz had a unique academic reputation, and that is why Etemad continued his schooling there. After living with one of his older sisters, he decided to rent a house with three of his classmates. Etemad began to experience the freedom of living away from the rules and rituals of his deeply traditional family.

A far more important change in his life took place at this time. In Hamadan he had shown no interest in the country’s increasingly tumultuous political developments. In Tehran, all his elder brothers had joined the newly formed communist Tudeh Party. He, too, joined the party’s youth organization, and he rose rapidly in its ranks.[2] By 1949, the party had been forced to go underground, and Etemad continued his activities covertly. His job was to help publish the party’s daily paper. It meant collecting articles from the writers and money from those who sold the paper. “By the end of each day,” he remembers, “I had a suitcase full of cash that I took to the bank.”[3]

He gradually began to feel estranged from the party and its policies. Utopian idealism, as well as the natural urge to follow in his brothers’ footsteps, had led him to the party, but his recognition of its servile attitude toward the Soviet Union and the undemocratic nature of inner-party affairs convinced him to leave the organization in 1950. One of the causes of his split was the party’s refusal to allow him to go abroad for his education. Once free, he set out for Lausanne, Switzerland.

His school of choice was the Polytechnique of Zurich, but he had to show mastery of German before he could be admitted. He had learned enough French in Iran to enable him to study electrical engineering in Lausanne. There he established his reputation as a brilliant student. When, on the occasion of his father’s death a few months after his arrival in Switzerland, the stipend he received from home was temporarily suspended, the school offered him a scholarship that allowed him to continue his education.[4] Even his boardinghouse agreed to let him stay although he could no longer pay rent.

Iran was in the heat of a struggle between the shah on the one hand and Mohammad Mossadeq and the Tudeh Party on the other. Etemad decided to revive his ties to the party. He and a small group of like-minded Iranians formed a cell. He traveled to countries behind the Iron Curtain to participate in international conferences. When the Iranian government and the Swiss authorities learned of these trips, the Iranian consulate refused to renew his passport, and Swiss police questioned him about his activities. By 1954, after new disappointing encounters with unsavory aspects of the party, Etemad once again left its ranks, this time not to return. Henceforth, all of his energy and talent was focused on physics and mathematics.

In 1957, he received his engineering diplome d’ingenieur electrician and was hired as a researcher for the Swiss company Brown Boveri and Cie. He was a troubleshooter, assigned to solve difficult engineering problems. He had married Mahshid Ghaznavi, the sister of one of his close friends.
By sheer accident, Etemad came across an article that changed his life. He read about new developments in nuclear physics at a French center for research called Institut National des Sciences et Techniques Nucleaires, located at Saclay. He immediately wrote to the school and applied for entrance. His brilliant record gained him access, but when he went to the French Embassy to apply for a visa, his past caught up with him. The Swiss police reported on his communist activities, and France, involved in those days in a bloody war in Algeria, was wary of allowing potential Algerian sympathizers into the country. His visa application was rejected, but when authorities heard that he had been accepted at the Saclay Institute to study nuclear physics, they gave him a temporary tourist visa. His wife stayed behind in Switzerland to continue her education.
The French government refused to give him the student visa he coveted. He lived in a hotel, and for several weeks he was on constant watch, lest the police, who were making nightly roundups of suspicious foreigners, catch up with him. Eventually, he took refuge in the Iranian Embassy and asked the ambassador, Abdullah Entezam, to intercede on his behalf. Entezam was a much-respected man in the French foreign office, and his intervention was all that was needed. Etemad was issued the visa and continued his education with peace of mind.[5]

He received a graduate degree in nuclear physics, a master’s from the Saclay Institute, and then he returned to Switzerland in December 1959 to work for the Institut Federal de Recherches en Matiere de Reacteurs, at the same time continuing his graduate studies in nuclear physics at the University of Lausanne. In October 1963, he received a doctoral degree. He had published close to fifty articles and papers on various aspects of nuclear physics and electrical engineering in different scientific journals and conferences[6] and was, for a while, chair of the group responsible for reactor shielding.

In September 1965, he decided to return home. “I felt the time for my productivity had arrived,” he says, “and I wanted to be productive in Iran.”[7] But the decision came at a cost. His wife, a member of the Bahai faith, was unwilling to return to Iran and, after a decade of marriage, they decided to divorce. Etemad was wary of what SAVAK might do to him because of his past, and though he had cut all ties with the Tudeh Party, he still had lingering doubts about whether the shah’s regime truly worked for the benefit of the Iranian people. What convinced him was the signing of the agreement with the Soviet Union for the construction of a steel mill in Iran. “The mill had become a national obsession,” he says, “a source of humiliation. When the shah succeeded in constructing it, I knew he meant well for the country, and that I could well work with the system.”[8] He talks of the day he read about the agreement in the paper, and how tears of joy welled up in his eyes.

In Tehran, he heard that the shah had been very dissatisfied with the slow pace of development at Tehran University’s small nuclear reactor. The reactor was a gift from the United States, part of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. The shah ordered the Plan Organization, then under the leadership of Safi Asfia, to take over the job of building a new reactor. Etemad went to see Asfia, told him about his education and experience in Europe, and offered to work on the nuclear project. Etemad also told him the story of his political involvements and insisted that the shah know all the facts before he started work. Asfia agreed, and when the shah heard about Etemad, he ordered that he be hired. He said, “The past is not important. He wants to serve his country now and we must use him.” In nine years he would take the helm of the new Iranian Atomic Energy Organization.

He rose rapidly in the ranks of the Iranian bureaucracy. He began at the Plan Organization, where he was part of the technological staff supervising the development of the nuclear reactor. For a couple of years, he worked in the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, where he helped found and direct the Institute for Research and Planning for Science and Education. The institute’s mandate was to develop common curricula and texts for Iranian institutions of higher education and to help expand a unified cataloging system for the country’s libraries. It became one of the most effective centers for pedagogical planning in Iran.[9]

In 1969, he met and married Roshanak Zarabi, but his life was dedicated primarily to his work. Like many other technocrats of the time, sixteen-hour days were not unusual.

In October 1972, he was named rector of the new Abu-Ali Sina University in Hamadan. All universities before this had been built on Western models. Etemad suggested that instead of embracing all that is modern and Western and discarding Iranian tradition as useless and retrograde, they begin with what has worked well in Iran’s tradition and enrich it with the wisdom of science. The other innovation at the university was the combination of practice and theory. Students were to spend one semester in class and the next working in the field.[10] Etemad loved his work at the university. It offered him a chance to innovate and to give back to the city of his birth. “All my life,” he says, “my father was my model. In everything, I try to do what I imagined he would do.”[11] His father had helped the city all his life, and now the son had a chance do so too.
But all of that changed with a phone call in March 1974 from Reza Ghotbi, the queen’s cousin and the head of Iran’s National Radio and Television Organization. The shah wants to build a nuclear program, Etemad was told, and he is going to name you as its head.[12] Within twenty-four hours, a royal decree appointed Etemad director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. The shah gave him two weeks to develop a plan. In their next meeting, Etemad gave him the thirteen-page-long report. The prime minister, AmirAbbas Hoveyda, was also present. The shah read it carefully, then went over it a second time. He handed the document to Hoveyda and said, “This is the country’s nuclear program.”[13] It was one of the most ambitious programs undertaken by Iran under the shah and, according to Etemad, “one of the components of an ambitious energy plan based on optimum utilization of energy resources.”[14]

There was, of course, another reason for the nuclear program, and that was its possible transformation to military use. Iran had been one of the first countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but the treaty was flawed. It allowed countries to remain within the legal bounds for as long as it was necessary for them to develop the technology, and then to withdraw from the treaty and make the bomb. The North Korean experience is a perfect example of how this pattern could be abused by a rogue state. Etemad wrote of his decision to find out what the shah’s real intentions were in this area.

Etemad began by trying to teach the shah the rudiments of nuclear physics. For six months, he met the shah on a weekly basis and taught him what he needed to know. He finally asked the shah whether he wanted Iran to have the bomb. The shah responded with a two-hour narrative, explaining “the geopolitical position of Iran . . . the basic instability of the region, the overwhelming presence of the Soviet Union . . . the vital need for the free flow of oil. . . . Under the existing circumstances the military nuclear option would create tensions . . . and upset our foreign policy. . . . The only factor that may bring about a dramatic change and weaken our position is the acquisition of nuclear weapons by one of the countries in the region.”[15]

It was Etemad’s job, he said, to prepare for this eventuality. He allowed “dual-use” technologies not only to prepare for the day when the shah would make the decision to go nuclear, but also because he believed the distinction between military and peaceful use of nuclear technology was arbitrary.

Before long, the West became suspicious of the shah’s intentions. If we are to trust the words of Alam, they were right to be. In his Diaries, on more than one occasion, he offers opinions like this: “[The shah is definitely thinking of getting the nuclear technology (although he denies it).”[16] As the shah invested heavily in uranium enrichment plants in France and developed secret ties with South Africa, Americans began to believe that the shah intended either to develop the bomb or to master the process of enrichment to the point where Iran could enrich weapon-grade uranium. When the United States tried to “impose restrictive conditions on the management of the nuclear fuel cycle . . . [d]uring more than four years of negotiations, I refused, with the full support of the Shah, to surrender to America the sovereignty of our nuclear fuel cycle management.”[17] An agreement was eventually reached, but the revolution came before it could be signed.

Iran’s atomic program was demonized by the new Islamic rulers as yet another example of the shah’s willingness to spend billions of dollars in frivolous programs that enriched the West. The program was halted, and Akbar Etemad had to go into hiding. After spending several fearful months in Tehran, he left the country. With the help of a foreign government, and in an elaborate operation reminiscent of a James Bond film, he was whisked away under an assumed name. He now lives in Paris.

Reza Fallah

IN A LIST of “Intermediaries and Influence Peddlers” prepared by the American Embassy in Tehran, Reza Fallah is described as

a long time member of the Iranian oil industry who began his career as a petroleum engineering student in England under an Anglo-Iranian Oil Company scholarship. As the second man in the NIOC, after the chairman . . . and as a close advisor to the Shah on oil matters, Fallah uses a network of associates from his former days in the oil industry who are now his subordinates in the NIOC to funnel opportunities for pay-offs and kick backs to him. He received pay-offs from IMEG during the preparation and execution of the IGAT pipeline and to the embassy’s certain knowledge, has offered his services to whichever would pay the most of a group of foreign companies bidding for large NIOC construction contracts. He has survived several drives to clean up corruption in the NIOC by deflecting disciplinary action to subordinates who were involved with him in corrupt practices.[1]

In the often cautious language of diplomatic discourse, such definitive statements about the corruption of an official are indeed hard to find. But it is also hard to find a character from the last two decades of the shah’s reign more controversial than Reza Fallah.

In the rumor mill of 1970s Iran, Reza Fallah occupied an almost mythic position. It was something of a parlor game to guess his net worth, his most recent escapades, his alleged partners in crime, or the legendary excesses of his house in the most fashionable neighborhood in Tehran. Even his private life—his reputation as a womanizer, his notoriously tense relations with his wife, and his long entanglement with a paramour for the last decade of his life—was the subject of gossip and curiosity. The parties at their palatial home in Tehran and the ruckus between husband and wife were the talk of society.

In exile, the stories and allegations continued. The London émigré community is still abuzz, almost three decades after the revolution, with rumors about the extravagant party he threw at his summer estate, outside London, with liveried servants and cauldrons of beluga caviar. But there were also interesting stories recounted by reliable sources that gave credence to even the most exaggerated gossip. Meir Ezry, for many years Israel’s de facto ambassador to Iran and famously informed about the intricacies of Iranian politics and culture, wrote in his memoir of two episodes that shed light on Fallah’s fortune.

“One day, Egbal [the chairman of NIOC] insisted that I find for him a copy of Petroleum Intelligence, published in America and only for subscribers who pay a thousand pounds a year. A noted Israeli writer named Meyer had written in an issue of the magazine that Fallah had invested one billion dollars in an oil project.” Ezry quotes Egbal saying that he gave the copy of the article to the shah, who threw it in the garbage and said, “they have nothing better to do than write nonsense.” Egbal, according to Ezry, ended his story by saying, “I don’t know what is going on between the Shah and Fallah.”[2] Ezry offered no direct judgment on whether the claims in Petroleum Intelligence were accurate, but he went on to add that after the revolution, “I saw Fallah in London and he told me an American company is on the market for nine billion dollars, and if I could find two partners, I could buy it . . . incredulously I asked, is your three billion investment ready, and he said, ‘yes, that will be no problem.’”[3]

When I asked Fallah’s daughter, Gina, commonly known as Gougouli, about this story, and about the other allegations of corruption, she flatly denied them, saying stories of her father’s wealth are greatly exaggerated. “This apartment and the small summer home in the country,” she said, “are all that is left of my father for us.”[4] The apartment we were meeting in is located in the most fashionable neighborhood of London, and the liveried servant added extravagance to the large apartment, which was decorated with modern masterpieces of painting. Friends and foes agree on one thing: Reza Fallah was one of Iran’s most talented oil experts and a man of intense intellectual capabilities. “I think he was a genius,” his doting daughter suggested.[5]

Reza Fallah was born on September 15, 1909 (24 Sharivar 1288), in the city of Kashan to a family of middle-class means. After spending his early years in his city of birth, he finished high school in Tehran at the top of his class. He was sent on a British Petroleum Company scholarship to England, where he enrolled in the University of Birmingham. In 1932, he received a bachelor’s degree with honors, and two years later a Ph.D. in petroleum engineering. Before returning to Iran, he married an Iranian girl also studying in England. Her name was Mahin, and though the two remained married for the rest of their lives and had three daughters, the last two decades of their life together was fraught with tensions that often bubbled to the surface.

In 1939, the couple returned to Iran, and Fallah started work in the oil industry. After a short tenure as deputy director of the office of research and development of the oil company, he got a job in academia, where he was named dean of the Abadan Technical Institute.[6] He also taught in the school, and many of Iran’s future oil engineers and oil company operatives were his students. In the mid-1960s, when he was clearly the most important expert in the National Iranian Oil Company, and the most familiar with the intricacies of the oil industry and pricing, he used his former students—who had been given the nickname “Fallah’s men”—to curtail the power of the company’s chairman, who was the nominal head of the institution.[7]

Fallah gained fame and became the center of a controversy in 1951, when he was entrusted with keeping the refinery up and running after Mossadeq nationalized the oil industry. British engineers and technicians were no longer allowed to work in the Iranian industry, and it was Britain’s hope and belief that the Iranians would be incapable of running the refinery on their own. Fallah proved them wrong. In those days, the refineries were sometimes called “Fallah’s Flames.” By that time he had a reputation as an Anglophile, as someone too close to the British, and thus the appointment was opposed by many of Mohammad Mossadeq’s allies. The fact that in later years Fallah’s name appeared on the list of members of the Forughi Lodge of the Freemasons confirmed his British ties in the public imagination; Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani for example, called Fallah “a British spy.” But other Mossadeq confidants considered Fallah the only person who had the gravitas and the engineering knowledge to keep the refinery running.[8]

The fall of Mossadeq ended the political careers of nearly everyone who had sided with him, but it did not end Fallah’s power. In fact, his power, surprisingly, increased. He was a member of the negotiating team that signed the oil agreement with the consortium of oil companies. Gradually his influence grew, and by the early 1960s, he was the shah’s closest confidant in oil matters.

In the 1970s, an American businessmen named Marc Rich—later made infamous in America when Clinton pardoned him in one of the last gestures of his presidency—began to frequent Iran. He was interested in the purchase of oil on the spot market. He ended up making billions of dollars, by some estimates. It has been suggested that his partner in Iran was Fallah.[9] These stories, along with those of close ties to the shah, gave rise to more rumors about Fallah as the shah’s “bagman” in the oil company.

As his power and wealth were on the rise, he began building a controversial, ostentatious mansion in Tehran—with artisans brought from his birthplace, Kashan, to decorate the ceilings with elaborate carved designs. According to Israel’s ambassador to Iran, Fallah spent the staggering sum of twenty million dollars on the house.[10] Then tragedy disrupted what seemed like a charmed life. One of his daughters died after a car accident. She was only nineteen, and her death left his parents deeply grieved, exacerbating the already tense relationship between husband and wife. It is hard not to imagine that the weight of this grief, the problems of marriage, and his ultimate exile contributed to his slide toward drugs and alcohol.11 It also led to Fallah’s more open relationship with a new lover. Even in exile, Fallah and his paramour continued their relationship, and much to his family’s consternation, he made sure she was amply provided for after his death.

As it turned out, there were other controversies connecting the Fallah family to the problems of the ancien régime. In his memoirs, Jack Anderson, the famous muckraking American journalist known for his acerbic columns against the shah, revealed that one of Fallah’s daughters had been his “inside source” in Iran. He wrote of meeting the daughter in an “elegant Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park” after the revolution. He revealed that in the past, during the days of the shah, when she was an intimate part of the shah’s court, “she would occasionally make excuses in Tehran about having to fly to London or Athens or Johannesburg to shop; when her sole reason for the visit was to call me from an untapped phone . . . and [report on the] excesses of the Shah and the cruelty of his secret police SAVAK.”[12] Another of his daughters was part of Tehran’s jet set.

In the oil company, Fallah was known as a workaholic. He came to work around six in the morning and stayed longer than most employees. His desk was notoriously clean. There was never a paper or a file on it. He was also averse to signing notes and documents. Some say that despite his many years at the oil company, there is not a single document or agreement that bears his signature.

He was an avid reader, with particular affinity for the classics of Persian literature and poetry. He was also a fan of films. Golf was his favorite sport, and he was also a good rider. His wife was a collector of fine antiques, and he had an interest in fine Persian calligraphy. When the family left Iran for the last time in December 1978, it is claimed that they succeeded in bringing out some of their wealth in the form of this collection.[13] In exile, Fallah had bought a big estate in the British countryside where he could tend to the garden.

On December 6, 1982, he died at his home at Windsor. As in life, so too in death, rumors were tied to his name. In his obituaries in the New York Times and the Times of London, it was claimed that the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic, Mehdi Bazorgan—who had worked with Fallah during the days of Mossadeq—had asked Fallah to come back to Iran to take over the management of the oil industry.[14] It is impossible to verify that claim or its source.

Aziz, Khodadad, Maryam, and Sattareh Farmanfarma’ian

Aziz Farmanfarma’ian is a jovial man, at once amiable and self-assured. His intense gaze is occasionally broken by a crescendo of loud laughter. His long and decidedly democratic education in prewar socialist France has mitigated whatever aristocratic airs he inherited from his family and their occasional proclivity to attach the title of prince or princess to their names.[1]

His large and spacious apartment in Paris, facing an exuberantly green park, is the perfect metaphor for his complicated, cosmopolitan sensibilities. Magnificent Persian rugs—some specially designed and woven for his Francophile father-in-law—and an ample supply of fine Persian antiques cohere tastefully with a brazenly blue painting of a menacing industrial facility with an ominous white cloud hanging over it. On another wall not far from it hangs a small exquisite Persian miniature.

His education and taste, at once modern and traditional, worked to create in him an architectural style known for its clever combination of traditional Persian motifs and the efficient functionalism of modern architecture. In Western modern architecture, the house is viewed a “living machine” designed for the comfort of the individual; in traditional Iran, a complicate set of rules about andarouni and biruni, or the private and the public, about climactic exigencies, and finally about constricting cultural parameters to protect the living space from the intruding gaze of the outsider, shaped the feel and the flow of traditional Iranian architecture. Aziz’s goal and achievement was to combine the two and arrive at what he calls “a genuine modernity” and a “true connection to the Persian source.”[2] His philosophy of architecture and aesthetics, as well as his political disposition toward aristocratic privilege, were all evident in the tasteful opulence of his apartment.

Across the English Channel, in an austere office not far from London’s financial districtor “The City,” as it is called—works his brother, Khodadad Farmanfarma’ian. He is one of the directors in the offices of the Henduju brothers. In the 1960s the brothers were upstart Indian businessmen in Iran, “wheeler-dealers” who tried everything, including importing Bollywood films to Iran, to make a fast fortune. Khodadad, on the other hand, was in those days one of the most powerful and respected technocrats in Iranian government, with successful tenures as governor of the Central Bank and director of the Plan Organization—two of the most important financial nerve centers in the Iranian economy. At one time, his name was even mentioned as a possible candidate to become prime minister.

Khodadad is credited as being a member of a team of impeccably honest, economically erudite, and managerially experienced young men who engineered the Iranian industrial and economical expansion of the 1960s—before the avalanche of petrodollars changed everything. With no discernable hint of rancor or self-pity, Khodadad talks with disarming honesty and candor of his past, his present, and of his family and his friends. Hints of the past grandeur of his family abound in the small apartment he shares with his wife in one of London’s more fashionable neighborhoods. Pictures of his father and grandfather, of his mother and brothers, of Persian royalty in their hour of glory or past their prime, all in ostentatious attire with the smiles of affluence on their faces, adorn the walls and table tops, along with an impressive and tasteful selection of classical Persian calligraphy.

Halfway around the world, to the south and to the north, live two Farmanfarma’ian daughters. In Tehran, Maryam was under virtual house arrest by early 2000, after having spent several years in prison. In her youth she was the Iranian Lou Andreas-Salomé of her generation. A few of Iran’s prominent intellectuals—from Sadeq Hedayat to lesser figures who aspired to greatness—were besotted by her wit, wisdom, and beauty. The wealth of her father and the power and prominence of her extended family only added to her allure and luster. She was also much beloved of her otherwise stern, diffident, and distant father, the famous Shazdehor The Prince, as he was called by his children.

Despite her many suitors, and the possibility of a life of riches and ceremonies, she eventually settled on Nour-al Din Kianouri, a flamboyant, ambitious, and adventurous leader of the Tudeh Party. For much of the rest of her life she lived with him in exile in Eastern Europe. She embodied the ideological sclerosis of a generation for whom the Soviet Union was the mecca—no dose of reality could shake their convictions. After the revolution, she and her husband returned to Iran, and in spite of their party’s unflinching support for the Islamic regime and its excesses, she and her husband, along with the entire leadership of the Tudeh Party, were eventually arrested. In forced public confessions reminiscent of the worst of the Stalin era, most of the leadership—many septuagenarians— confessed to spying for the Soviets and all manner of treason. She remained resolute in her ideology. Even after the death of her husband, she remained committed to the ideas and ideals of her past. In her apartment, his collection of pipes sat prominently on the table, and every day she dusted them. She prepared a still-unpublished memoir. Her death in May 2008 brought a flurry of eulogies from past comrades, admirers, and family.

While Maryam was undergoing the travails of radicalism, another Farmanfarma’ian daughter, Sattareh, lived a life of exile in California. She is the fifteenth child of Shazdeh. He married several wives, each out of some pragmatic exigency. Class and lineage were not for him deciding factors. Some of his wives did have an aristocratic lineage; others were daughters of his employees. Sattareh’s mother was of the latter group. As a rule, he treated his children equally, regardless of their mother’s rank. The only exception were the children of his first wife, herself a Qajar princess. But in his mind, all his children were Farmanfarma’ians. To cultivate in them a sense of difference and superiority, Shazdeh insisted on giving his children unusual names—thus names like Alidad, Khodadad, and Sattareh.[3]

Sattareh is ambiguous about her age. Referring to a picture in her memoir, she writes that it was taken in 1931, offering only that she must have been about ten years old when it was taken. In another part of the narrative, she writes that the Qajars were still in power when she was born.[4]

She went to school in two of Tehran’s best institutions. Shazdeh was keen on affording his children the best education possible, and it was an indication of his ecumenical sense that Sattareh first attended a school run by the Bahais—Tarbiyat School—and then went to a high school managed by Protestant missionaries in Iran. With the help of one of these missionaries, in 1943 she was accepted at the University of Southern California, where she majored in social work. By the time she finished her education, she was married to a man from India. They had a daughter together, but the union eventually split under the weight of his family’s objections.

By the early 1950s, she was working under the auspices of the United Nations in Iraq. It was there that she accepted the invitation of Abol-Hassan Ebtehaj to come back to Iran to help establish institutions of social work. She returned in 1956, and by 1957 she succeeded in establishing the first College of Social Work in the country. Before the establishment of the school, social work was, by and large, the pastime of affluent ladies and mosques. With the advent of the school, a cadre of rigorously trained professionals emerged. Aside from the college, in the course of a few years she helped create a number of other important social welfare institutions in Iran. They ranged from the equivalent of Planned Parenthood in poorer sections of major cities to offices dispensing a wide array of services. Her professional training in the field, her impressive experience in Iraq, and her family name helped her establish a reputation as the mother of modern social work in Iran.

Queen Farah and Princess Ashraf, both keen on leaving their mark in the field of social work, helped her in her efforts. In the long run, however, Sattareh’s association with the royals came back to haunt her. When the Islamic Revolution came, she was harassed, even temporarily arrested, by the new authorities on charges of complicity with the ancien régime. Her memoir of her triumphs and tribulations during this time is also a paean to the grandeur of the Farmanfarma’ian family.[5]

They are surely one of the most colorful families in modern Iran. In them, the decreasing opulence of a dying aristocracy, the wounded pride of the Qajar dynasty, the deserved pride of a modern extended family of singular accomplishment, the clanlike unity, and an acute but sometimes exaggerated sense of history have combined to make them unique. Shazdeh, the patriarch of the family, was one of the wealthiest, most cosmopolitan, and most controversial men of Iran in the early part of the century. Born in Tehran in 1857, he was on both his maternal and paternal sides a descendent of Qajar kings. In 1883 his father was given the title of “He who issues firmans,” (orders), and when family names became common in Iran, he chose the title, with a small change, as the family name. His first wife, Ezat al-Dowleh, was the daughter of Mozafar-al-Din Shah. Shazdeh went on to marry many more times and had thirty-six children. He was steeped in politics and occupied some of the most important posts in the Qajar bureaucracy—including that of prime minister in December 1915. Many of the legendary officers of colonial England in the Middle East—from Pico to Sykes—had met him, and in their respective memoirs and reports offered widely differing accounts of his character and quality.

After World War I, Shazdeh’s political fortunes began to decline. His son Nosrat alDowleh became involved in one of the most infamous cases of bribery in modern Iran, when it was learned that along with two other politicians and the king, Ahmad Shah, he had accepted money from the British government to help pass the 1919 Agreement, which would render Iran a virtual colony of the British. For this walk on the dark side, Nosrat al-Dowleh ultimately paid with his life.

During the same period, Shazdeh was the governor of Fars. In the mid-1990s, Sir Denis Wright, using British government documents, claimed in an essay that Shazdeh had been in this period in the pay of the British. The large Farmanfarma’ian clan joined in protest. The essay had been intended for publication in Encyclopedia Iranica, but the family outrage and the power of their purse convinced the encyclopedia to withdraw it. The article was published in other venues, however, and also translated into Persian and printed in Iran. Some of the Farmanfarma’ian children went on to publish essays that tried either to deny the Wright accusations or to put into the right historical context the money that was allegedly paid to Shazdeh. Among their suggestions is the idea that the money he received was intended to defray the cost of saving the bankrupt local governments of the region.[6]

The 1921 coup was a further blow to Shazdeh. He was among the first of the three hundred “grandees” who were arrested by the masterminds of the coup. The British Embassy found itself in a double bind. It supported the new coup cabinet, and its leaders, Seyyed Zia Tabataba’i and Reza Khan, but it also wanted to offer help to friends of the British. After a few weeks, Shazdeh was freed, but he knew his days of power and glory were behind him. In a letter to one of his sons, written after his release from prison, he wrote, “the political situation is very bad for us . . . and it is getting worse by the day . . . never in history have I felt so defenseless. . . . I had noticed that even the king [Ahmad Shah] no longer takes us seriously nor considers us a confidant.”[7] For Shazdeh real tragedy came when the son accused of accepting the British bribe died in Iranian government custody in 1937. The patriarch himself died in November 1939, leaving a larger-than-life but contested image and a impressively large number of highly educated, ambitious children who went on to occupy important positions of political and economic power in the years after World War II.[8] In spite of his vast fortune, Shazdeh made sure there were no petty money squabbles among the large bevy of children by setting up a file for each child and designating while he was still alive precisely what each would receive as an heir.[9] Moreover, he had left strict instructions with the executors of his will that expenditures for his children’s education took priority over all other expenses.[10]

He lived in a big compound, with four of his wives each occupying a building of her own. The size and opulence of the compound has become, for the children, a matter of some controversy. While Sattareh claims that two thousand people worked there, another Farmanfarma’ian daughter, in her sympathetic biography of her father, has provided a list of everyone who lived in the estate, including members of the family, staff, and their dependents. The total number in this reckoning is seven hundred and one.[11]

Shazdeh lived in a quarter by himself. The children would line up every Friday morning before lunch and each give a brief report of their lives. What he was most interested in was their education. He also read their report cards with particular care. He had a notebook where he marked the educational progress of each of them. His grave authority, on the other hand, meant that for the children, a mere hint of his displeasure brought terror to their youthful hearts. Khodadad, for example, was in elementary school when he failed a class in Arabic. He next met his father during a masquerade ball—itself an interesting indication of the kind of cosmopolitan life the family lived in Iran. “No sooner did he lay eyes on me,” Khodadad said, “than I pissed in my pants.” It is a measure of Shazdeh’s charisma and authority and of his relationship with his children that there was no rancor when Khodadad recounted the story. He added that his father had such an influence on his life that when he became governor of the Central Bank and needed to sign the new currency, “I noticed that unwittingly I had copied my father’s signature. The A of his first name had just become a K.”[12]

Khodadad was barely fifteen when, accompanied by two of his other brothers, he was sent to Beirut. He finished high school in an institution run by American missionaries. After a brief journey back to Iran, he was sent to Britain and one of its dread boarding schools. Eventually he ended up in the United States, where another of his brothers, Hafez—who later became a noted historian of the Middle East and worked for many years at the University of Texas—lived at the time.

Khodadad spent the next few years pursuing degrees in economics. For his bachelor’s and master’s degrees he attended Stanford University. For his Ph.D. he went to University of Colorado, where he wrote a dissertation on economic development in third-world economies. Before he went to Stanford, he spent a few months at Colorado State College of Education in the city of Greeley. Playing bridge was a favorite pastime of his, and during a friendly game he met a young woman named Joanna Parkhurst, and he was besotted. She was an X-ray technician. Before long, they married and moved to California. “I have lived with her over fifty-three years,” he said, “and every day I enjoy her more than the day before.”[13]
Not long after graduation, he was hired to teach economics at Princeton. But then he met Ebtehaj, who invited Khodadad—or Khodi, as he is affectionately called by his friends—to go back to Iran and work at the Plan Organization. Even as a student, directing the Plan Organization had been his dream job.14 With a little nudge from Ebtehaj— who used the good offices of a friend in the White House to convince Princeton to give Khodadad an extended leave of absence—he returned to Iran in 1957 and began to work in the new Office of Economics set up at the Plan Organization. He considered Ebtehaj his mentor and teacher. “He taught us patriotism; he taught us principles; he taught us discipline.”[15] Even in exile, when some criticized Ebtehaj for his stern management style long after his death, Khodadad wrote a passionate letter defending every aspect of his mentor’s character and style.[16]

Like the shah and many in his own generation, Khodadad believed that “deliberate” state intervention could override or replace market mechanisms to spur economic growth.[17] He delved into the heady waters of planning under the tumultuous leadership of Ebtehaj. One problem for Khodadad was that his Persian, particularly when discoursing on technical matters, was rusty, and he was prone to errors. Like many of the new technocrats ascending to positions of power in Iran at the time, he was more fluent in the jargon of technocracy than in the nuances of Persian language and poetry.[18] For his father’s generation, the subtle curves of their calligraphy and the supple sophistication of their prose was far more important than mastery of a foreign language; for Khodadad and his coterie of technocrats, mastering the language of social science, or knowing French or English, was the true badge of honor.[19]

After the fall of Ebtehaj, Khodadad became deputy director of the Plan Organization, in charge of economics. In 1961, when Ali Amini was named prime minister, the power of Khodadad only grew as a result of his family ties and his own friendship with the new premier. On more than one occasion, Amini sent Khodadad on sensitive and secret missions. Discussing with Robert Kennedy the Kennedy administration’s treatment of the shah is one example of such missions.[20]

Amini’s tenure was short-lived. Even shorter was Khodadad’s ability to work with him. The break-off was difficult for both men. For nine months, Khodadad was unemployed, and when in 1963 Mehdi Samii was appointed governor of the Central Bank of Iran, he appointed Khodadad as his deputy. After six years he was named governor, and then in a few years his lifelong dream came true and he was appointed director of the Plan Organization.

He successfully worked on Iran’s Fifth Plan and began to implement some of the ideas he had long entertained about economic growth. He assembled a high-powered group of technocrats around him. But his rapid rise to power was followed by an equally rapid fall. His demise, in his own view, was precipitated by the fact that his name was mentioned as a potential prime minister. That possibility, he writes, turned Amir-Abbas Hoveyda into an enemy and spurred him to plan for his rival’s fall.[21] Khodadad resigned and never worked in the government again. He spent the eight years before the revolution as managing director of the Industrial Bank of Iran.

In the Plan Organization, one of his most difficult decisions involved his brother Aziz and the competition to build the one-hundred-thousand-seat stadium being built on the occasion of the Asia Games. Aziz was by then the head of the biggest architectural firm in Iran. A complicated computer program commissioned by the Plan Organization, had classified different firms by a number of factors, from the size of past projects to the number of employees and their level of education. Aziz Farmanfarma’ian and Associates was the biggest company in the country, and he and his partners were awarded the contract for the stadium. But Khodadad, as the director of the Plan Organization, which had funded the project, was reluctant to accept it, lest it appear that cronyism was at work. Aziz did finally get the contract, and the stadium was built—with plans purchased from a firm in San Francisco that were used for a similar stadium in Mexico City. Aziz reminisced about the stadium and his family with the jocular ease of someone who has seen much and forgotten little.

Aziz was born in Tehran in 1920, just at the time when his father’s fortunes were changing. He spent his first seven years in the large family compound. He remembers his father as “a pharaoh who sat on top of the pyramid and controlled everything.”[22]

To Aziz’s terror, one day when he was about eight, he was summoned to Shazdeh’s room. When he entered, he noticed that two of his brothers and one of his father’s secretaries, Ali Asghar Khan, were also in the room. He was told that he was being sent to Europe and that Ali Asghar was to be his guardian. He was frightened by the prospect of living in a land he had never seen and whose language he did not speak, but at the same time he rejoiced in the prospect of freedom from the starchy solemnities of life in the compound. He and his brothers arrived in Paris in the summer of 1928. Before long, the guardian went back to Iran, having found a family to take Aziz in as a boarder.

He spent the next few years in a French family. Gradually he learned the language and new rituals of everyday life. “I was a mediocre student and lived a melancholy life.”23 The France of his early youth was dominated by the Left, and the egalitarian ideas they espoused left a mark on his mind. In 1935, he was beckoned back home. Shazdeh was unhappy with his less-than-sterling academic record. By then the young Aziz had forgotten much of his Persian. Even stranger to him were the rituals of the house, and the patriarch’s expectation that his sons kiss his hand or feet in deference. The strict honorifics he had to heed, and the stark inequalities he witnessed were hard for him to bear. He no longer felt at home. The French lycée was, he said, “now more my home than any house in Tehran.”[24]

In spite of some resistance from his family, he eventually was allowed to return to Paris. He almost took a detour through Spain. Appalled by all the inequalities of the feudal system he had witnessed in Iran, and temporarily spurred by the romanticism of youth, he contemplated joining the Spanish Civil War to fight on the side of the anti-Franco revolutionaries. News of a massacre of communists, however, changed his mind.[25] In Paris, he was finally inspired to finish his education. “Suddenly a light was aglow in my mind,” he said. He realized his facility with math, and more crucially, he learned how to study. He was now on a determined course. He wanted to be an architect. Beaux-Arts was his ultimate goal; a lesser school—Ecole Special D’Architecture—was where he began.

In the meantime, events in Tehran began to cast a shadow on his life in Paris. In 1939, his father died, and his monthly stipend was suspended. He traveled to Romania, where one of his brothers-in-law was Iran’s ambassador. The next year turned out to be one of the most difficult in his life. No money came from Iran, and when he was not enjoying the hospitality of his sister he was often on the verge of hunger.

By September 1940, frustrated by the problems he was experiencing in Europe, he returned to Iran. He was an early specimen of a breed that was to become more and more prevalent in the higher echelons of power in Iran: at home neither in the Europe of his youth nor in the Iran of his childhood.

He was employed in the mayor’s office in Tehran. His salary was barely enough to support one person. At the same time, his mother wanted him married. As a foreigntrained young man, fluent in French, and a handsome member of a well-known affluent family, he was certainly an eminently eligible bachelor. But his bifurcated sensibilities made it difficult for him to become interested in the traditional Iranian girls he met.
But then he met Leila Gharagoslou—the daughter of a rich family with deep ties to France and its culture. Her mother was French, and the family was steeped in the solemnities of French haut-bourgeois culture. “They were as rich as us,” he said, “but more refined. They had finesse. Their servants always wore white gloves.”[26] Before long they were married. They had one son, and lived together for almost sixty years. “She died two years ago,” he said with sad resignation on his face.

In the years after his marriage, his mind was still set on architecture and Beaux-Arts. In 1946, he went back to Paris, this time with his wife, and enrolled in the school of his dreams. It took him four years to graduate. They lived with his in-laws, and he “was perfectly happy” with the arrangement. Finally, in 1950, he returned to Iran. He was hired to teach in the College of Arts and Architecture at Tehran University. He was also put in charge of the university’s construction department.

He stayed in that post for the next three years, including the years when his relative, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, was prime minister. He found Mossadeq a “demagogue and despot” and said that only “when Mossadeq was overthrown hope came back to Iran.”[27]

By that time, Aziz had decided to leave the university. “I was never meant to be a teacher,” he said. He set up his own firm, and his first major commission was the mosque at Tehran University. Elegantly simple, recognizably modern in its articulation of lines and spaces, the building immediately established Aziz’s name as one of the best architects of his time. In the next two decades, the company he built expanded into the biggest of its kind in Iran. Many of Iran’s top architects and engineers began their careers in his office. Not all of those associations remained cordial. When, for example, in the years after the revolution Nader Ardalan wrote an essay on modern architecture for the Encyclopedia Iranica, Aziz wrote a blistering critique suggesting that the Ardalan essay was self-adulating and that the author was taking credit for many buildings that were, in fact, built by Aziz Farmanfarma’ian’s firm.[28]

Regardless of this controversy, Aziz had clearly established his reputation as a master architect by the mid-1970s. His style had gradually undergone a radical change. In his early years, he wanted, “to emulate the Beaux-Arts style in Iran. I wanted to bring modern architecture to Iran.”[29] Some of his earliest buildings were the houses he built for his many brothers, and they were all in the French style he had learned in Paris. But by the mid-1960s, he had begun to incorporate more and more elements of traditional Iranian architecture. He became part of the paradigmatic shift that was occurring in Iranian architecture. “I regret,” he said, “that in some of my earliest works, I simply forgot the Persian element.”[30]

His talent and his vast network of friends and powerful relatives helped him develop the company that began in the garage of his mother’s house into one of the Moslem Middle East’s most accomplished firms. By 1975, the company had four hundred engineers, architects, draftsmen, and service employees in its offices in Tehran. They also opened another office in Athens, where many construction plans were drawn and where another 120 people worked. Several governmental commissions—including the shah’s new palace in Niavran, the Ministry of Agriculture, Tehran’s Master Plan, and finally the big Tehran stadium— were the projects that garnered him the most publicity. His last commission was to build the new headquarters for the National Iranian Radio and Television Organization.

When the revolution came, his company was among those confiscated by the new Islamic regime. At Christmas in 1978, not long before the fall of the shah, he finally left Iran, settling in Paris, which had always been his second home and where his wife had already settled. And just as he, Khodadad, and Sattareh were leaving Iran, Maryam, their sister, was returning home from her long year of exile in the Soviet empire to join the incipient revolution. The moloch she and her husband helped to create soon devoured them.

Mohammad-Ali Forughi

Mohammad-ali Forughi (zoka-al mulk) is the ultimate scholar-statesman of modern Iran. He stands peerless among politicians in terms of his erudition and his contributions to modern Iranian letters and politics. He was tutor to two kings and present at the creation of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905–7, the League of Nations, the Versailles Treaty, and the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925. In 1941, he was, arguably more than anyone else, responsible for the preservation of that dynasty. He was also a prolific scholar.

Forughi was born in the city of Tehran, in July 1877 (1256). His father, Mirza Mohammad Hoseyn Forughi, was among the educated elite of his time. He was a friend and a scribe to the famous Etemad-al-Saltaneh, whose journals are the most important books about late Qajar Iran. The elder Forughi worked at Dar-al Tarjomeh (Office of Translation), headed by Etemad-al-Saltaneh. It was Etemad-al-Saltaneh who asked the king for a title for his friend, and thus Forughi became known as Zoka-al Mulk, or “the Light of the Realm.”1 The elder Zoka-al Mulk’s stipend of a hundred tooman was similarly requested by Etemad-al-Saltaneh and approved by the king.2 For the last three years of his life, the elder Zoka-al Mulk was named the head of the Office of Translation. Eventually, his son inherited the title and for much of his life Mohammad-Ali Forughi was simply known as Zoka-al Mulk.

In an age where the aristocracy was notorious for leaving the education of their children to nannies and tutors, when indifference and aloof despotism were the sine qua non of paternal authority, the elder Forughi was, by all accounts, a man of unusual tenderness. He paid close attention to the education of his children and was particularly keen on tutoring his eldest son, Mohammad-Ali. Every morning, according to the son, the father would lovingly wake him up with a poem or two and invite him to stroll in the garden, where he would wax eloquent about the beauties of nature and the mysteries of flowers.[3]

About the family lineage there is some controversy. In an introduction to his own collected essays, Forughi offers a family tree tracing his ancestors back for some four hundred years. By his reckoning, all paternal ancestors were of the merchant class from the city of Isfahan; nearly all were known by the title of Hadji, indicating some measure of Islamic piety and an unmistakable Islamic faith. Several were also known as Arbab, or “The Boss,” a word usually used for men of wealth.4 A variety of foreign sources—from the British Embassy in Tehran to the Israeli Ambassador to Iran—have claimed that the Forughis were, in fact, Jewish, and converted to Islam only in the nineteenth century; as the British write in their own inimitable style, they were “converted Israelite[s].”5 A usually reliable Iranian source claims he was from a family of Jewish merchants in Baghdad who came to Iran for trade, settled in Isfahan, and converted to Islam.[6]

Mohammad-Ali’s early education was under the supervision of his father, who insisted on teaching his young son not only Persian and Arabic, but French and English as well. The son eventually entered Dar al-Funun, where he first dabbled in medicine. But science and medicine had little appeal for him. His forte and his favorite topics were politics and letters. He followed in his father’s footsteps and was hired at the Office of Translation when he was seventeen years old. It is said that his first job was to deliver the daily paper published by the Office of Translation and intended for governmental bureaucrats. His mastery of French soon led to his promotion. He was thirty years old when, upon the death of his father, he inherited the title of Zoka-al Mulk. In the same year, he married into the prominent Mafi family.

In spite of his scant formal education, Mohammad-Ali soon developed a reputation as a man of impressive erudition, impeccable command of French, and unimpeachable honesty. In his early years, he had shown a particular affinity for law. Indeed, by 1898, he had begun teaching at the College of Political Science, the country’s first modern institution of higher education and its first secular law school. His father was dean of the school, and the young Mohammad-Ali was asked to write the text for the history of Eastern societies. “This was the first text ready for use by the students,” he wrote.[7]

The young Forughi was then asked to teach a course on economics, and in preparation for that class he translated The Wealth of Nations from the French. When his father died, Forughi was named dean. As he recounts, the job of running the school was made more difficult by the clergy, who had hitherto enjoyed a monopoly of the judicial system and rightly saw the College of Political Science, where new lawyers and judges were being trained, as their nemesis.[8]

Forughi’s judicial and linguistic reputation led to his choice as the person to translate into French the new constitution that was adopted for Iran in 1906. But his scholarly and academic career was cut short when he was elected to the Parliament in 1909. In the next term, he was elected to the powerful position of Speaker of the Majlis. During those turbulent years, when the country was torn between the forces advocating democracy and change and the defenders of despotism, Forughi clearly stood with the liberal faction. At the same time, he joined the Freemasons, becoming a founding member of the Bidariye Iran Lodge in January 1908.[9] In Iran, where Freemasons have long been something of a political obsession of the populace, this decision was to cast a long and lingering shadow on the rest of his political career. In the eyes of the populace, he was sometimes seen as beholden to the British, while the same perception occasionally led to his rise in power— most notably in 1941, when a beleaguered Reza Shah imagined that Forughi’s appointment as the new prime minister might calm the British then occupying Iran and allow Reza Shah to remain on the throne.

Of course Forughi’s ministerial career had commenced long before that. In 1911 Forughi was appointed as minister of finance, and for the next thirty years he would serve or head numerous cabinets, often during the most pivotal times in Iranian history. Soon after his first appointment, he was named minister of justice. In 1915, he was again appointed to the Ministry of Justice, where he attempted to implement a series of judicial reforms. On the heel of these two ministerial portfolios, he was named the chief of the Court of Appeals, developing a reputation as a learned jurist and a fair judge.

In 1909, when the young Ahmad Shah was amed king, Forughi was among the group entrusted by the Parliament to tutor the under-age king. Two decades later, when Reza Shah decided to send his son to Europe for his education, he also ordered the crown prince to send letters regularly, in his own handwriting, both to Reza Shah and to Forughi, who was then to report on the ability of the future king to write Persian. It is a sign of Forughi’s energy and enthusiasm for the world of ideas that throughout these years, in spite of his many important political appointments, he also consistently worked as a contributing editor to the journal Tarbiyat, established by his father in 1899. Important as these essays were, his most important scholarly contributions would come later, after he fell from political grace.

At the end of World War I, Forughi was in Paris as a member of Iran’s delegation to the Versailles Conference. In a pithy dispatch from Paris, he laments the fact that neither the Iranian government nor many members of the country’s delegations were cognizant of the perils that threatened the country’s autonomy. Although he was all his life known as an Anglophile and was often reviled as a “Freemason,” and although British officials in Tehran referred to him as the only Persian “on whose support Britain could count,”10 in the letter he criticizes the British for what he calls their attempt to “devour all of Asia.” He further criticized them for their constant and ultimately successful attempt to thwart any effort by the Iranian delegation to be accepted to the Versailles Conference.11 At the same time, contrary to the common habit of many Persians, he was not prone to the selfcomforting tendency to blame only foreigners for Iran’s miseries. Repeating one of the refrains of his own political creed, he also placed part of the responsibility for the plight of the country on the Iranian government and part on the Iranian people. “We have no nation,” he wrote, and thus “we have no public opinion.”12 There is no hope for the future, he suggested, if there is no “public opinion.”

In 1921, Forughi returned to Iran and resumed his presidency of the court of appeals. Two more ministerial appointments in 1923 placed him again at the center of the rapidly changing Iranian political arena. By then, Reza Khan was the man of the hour, and Forughi soon joined forces with him. When Reza Khan was named prime minister, Forughi served in two of his cabinets as foreign minister; when Reza Khan began a campaign to turn Iran into a republic, Forughi was an avid supporter. And when, under pressure from the Shiite clergy who saw a republic as synonymous with secularism and a loss of clerical authority, Reza Khan changed his mind and decided instead to topple the Qajar dynasty and become king himself, it was Forughi who played a crucial role in making Reza Khan’s dream come true.

In 1925, Forughi, as acting prime minister, helped convene a Constituent Assembly that named Reza Khan as king. With Reza Shah on the throne, Forughi was named prime minister. On the day of the coronation, Forughi delivered an exceptionally eloquent speech, praising the new shah for the strength of his vision and reminding him of the glorious royal heritage he had inherited. The darker days of Iran’s history had ended, he said, and a new beacon of hope had arisen.[13] By then Forughi had developed a reputation as a great orator. Parsimony and precision, as well as rich allusions to Persian letters and philosophy, became hallmarks of his speeches. He almost never prepared his talks, but instead delivered them extemporaneously.[14]

Forughi lasted about a year as prime minister. In fact, much of the power now rested with the king, his minister of court Teymurtash, and Ali Akbar Davar. On June 1926, two months after the new king’s coronation, Forughi resigned and was given the titular post of minister of war. He was soon sent to Turkey as Iran’s ambassador, entrusted with the task of finding a solution to the border disputes between the two countries. By April 1930, he was back in Iran, and after a brief stay at the new Ministry of National Economy, he was again named foreign minister. It was in that capacity that he traveled to Europe to participate in meetings of the League of Nations. He eventually served a term as president of the League.

In August 1933 he was again named prime minister. This time, his tenure was shortlived. Reza Shah ordered the execution of Vali Assadi, implicated in the turmoil in the city of Meshed over the question of lifting the veil. Assadi’s son was married to Forughi’s daughter. The conditions of his dismissal are not clear; some sources claim that he tried to intervene on behalf of his relative,15 while others claim that in the police search of Assadi’s house, a letter from Forughi that was deprecatory to the king was found. When the letter was shown to Reza Shah he angrily demanded Forughi’s resignation.16 Embittered, Forughi fell from political grace for six years, which turned out to the most productive scholarly years of his life. He is reported to have said that they were also the “happiest days of his life.”[17]

Forughi was arguably the person in twentieth century Iran most responsible for forging a modern Persian language capable of tackling the problems of a modern polity, social and human sciences, and philosophy. His three-volume History of Philosophy in Europe is surely the most readable, erudite introduction to the history of Western philosophy. He also translated into Persian Descartes’ Discourse on Method and a volume on Socrates and his philosophy.18 More important, his translations and writings helped fashion a lexicon of Persian terms capable of articulating complex concepts and problems of philosophy.

In fashioning this modern discourse, he avoided neologisms at all cost. He mined the classics of Persian letters and philosophy to find words and concepts that could be refashioned into words befitting a modern philosophical discourse. With words culled from the Persian philosopher Mulaadra, for example, he wrote elegantly about Hegel.

This aversion to neologism, coupled with his insistence on using the classics to find modern words, was in fact part of his overall assessment of the Persian cultural legacy and the role it can play in a cultural renaissance. His first intervention on the topic came in his essay for the journal Kaveh, in which he talked about the perils as well as the necessity of borrowing words from other languages.19 Contrary to many cultural pundits of his time—who disdained all that was Persian and believed that Iran could embrace modernity and progress only if Iranians embrace Western values and ideas and shed their own tradition—he believed that Persian culture was not only rich but was the only foundation on which a genuine renaissance could be created.[20]

This rich cultural legacy is, in his opinion, based on the foundation of the works of Ferdowsi, Sa’di, Hafez, and Rumi. His masterful praise of Sa’di’s prose is itself a masterpiece of modern Persian prose.21 In the same essay, he offers seven practical ways to preserve and embrace the value of these canonical cultural figures, including publishing critical and annotated editions of their works and their biographies, and dedicating libraries to their lives and times. When he was in a position of political authority, he used his office to implement these ideas, and when he was out of the political limelight, he used his time working to bring out editions of the works of these four poets. The creation of the Academy of Persian Language (Farhangestan) during one of his tenures as prime minister, and his classic, often-quoted message to the academy counseling it to moderation, are prime examples of his political interventions. On the scholarly side, for more than a generation his Complete Works of Sa’di was the standard text.[22] He worked with Habib Yagmai to bring out editions of Sa’adi and Shahnameh.

His life of quiet contemplation and long days of hard work came to an end when Iran was occupied by the British and Soviet forces. Reza Shah immediately, and apparently very reluctantly,[23] sent for Forughi and offered him the post of prime minister. To the consternation of his family, who knew him to be in frail health, and who well remembered the Assadi fiasco, he accepted the offer, telling his relatives, “The country has opened all doors to me for sixty years and now that the head of state needs me, how can I refuse?”[24] The British Embassy in Tehran reported that Forughi suffered from “angina pectoris.”[25]

Forughi’s role in the historic events that followed has been subject to some controversy. Twenty-one days after his appointment, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate. His letter of abdication was prepared by Forughi and is in his handwriting. Some sources credit him with saving the Pahlavi dynasty and rebuffing British suggestions that he accept the role of president in a new republican Iran. Without his intervention, they argue, the Pahlavi dynasty would have ended. Others claim that in fact Reza Shah’s departure was the work of Forughi, and that it was he who told the British that the only solution to the problems of the country was for Reza Shah to go.[26] The young shah, referring to the history of bad blood between his father and Forughi, confided to the British Ambassador that Forughi “hardly expected any son of Reza Shah to be a civilized human being.”[27] On the other hand, eyewitness accounts testify that Forughi tried unsuccessfully to convince the crown prince not to leave the country with his abdicating father.[28]

There is, however, little controversy about Forughi’s role in getting Britain and the Soviet Union to sign an agreement that would guarantee Iran’s independence at the end of the war and force the occupiers to leave the country. That agreement played a crucial role in finally forcing the Soviets to leave Iran in 1946.

But the country’s increasingly fractious politics were more than Forughi could master. He was forced to resign in March 1942 after a little more than a year in power. Sir Reader Bullard, British ambassador to Iran, captures the dilemma of the time by taking another of his famous digs, writing that Forughi “was not made to deal with such a crisis . . . he believes in the power of reason, a commodity in small demand among the Deputies of the Majlis.”29 He was appointed minister of court and made a political tutor to the young and novice king. Eventually the shah tried to get rid of him by offering him the post of Ambassador to the United States. Before he could depart, reluctantly, for his new assignment, he died on November 26, 1942 (5 Azar 1321).

Even his staunchest critics agree that he was an honest man. His friends write of his utter disdain for worldly matters. He had, at his death, little by way of worldly possessions. He was polite to a fault and congenial in conversation. He was an avid fan of Persian poetry, and a good line from a poem brought tears to his eyes or laughter to his countenance. To his inferiors he was impeccably polite. He never smoked. After the early death of his wife, he never remarried and, emulating his father’s path, carefully attended to his children’s education. He was religious about not allowing his friends or relatives to use his office for personal gains. He was an avid walker, often using his trademark cane on his walk to work. In his discourse, he was cautious and careful and averse to hyperbole. He dressed impeccably and kept a well-groomed beard all his life.30 He also wore his famous wire-rimmed glasses and recounted, with jocundity, how early in his career many traditional Iranians saw the eyeglasses as a sign of heresy. As prime minister, he delegated authority to his ministers and hardly ever interfered in the business of each ministry. He was a statesmen-scholar in an age more at home with demagogues and despots.

Ahmad Ghavam-ol Saltaneh

In August 1906, a sickly Mozafar-al-Din Shah was kept in isolation by his German physician. One of the two men who were allowed to visit him was his private scribe, a talented young man and the scion of an aristocratic family that had been a permanent fixture at the court and in the corridors of power for at least a century. His name was Ahmad Ghavam. A few years earlier, he had been given the title of Ghavam-ol-Saltaneh— the Strength of the Throne—by the shah. The title was ironic; the throne was in imminent danger, and, through the rest of his life, Ghavam was anything but a reliable source of “strength of the throne.” In the summer of 1906, pressure had been building on the shah to sign a firman inaugurating constitutional government in Iran. On August 5 (14 Mordad 1285), a hesitant king approved a proclamation declaring the advent of a new age in Iran. Ghavam, known for his fine calligraphy, had in fact penned the firman. For the next half century, he was in the center of every event that shaped modern Iranian politics. He was often accused of harboring dictatorial ambitions himself, and his retort to all such accusations was the same: the constitutional firman was in his own handwriting.

Nearly everything about Ghavam is enveloped in mystery. Even his date of birth is uncertain. Some sources, including his nephew, claim it is November 1877 (Azar 1256). Mehdi Bamdad in his famous biographical dictionary of the last century’s Iranian elite suggests that 1873 (1252) is the more likely date.[1] Both sides of his family were aristocrats. His mother was the sister of Amin al-Dowleh, the patriarch of the Amini family. His father, too, was from a prominent family of courtiers. For much of the twentieth century, offspring of the two families were part of the country’s power structure. Ghavam’s elder brother, Vosug al-Dowleh was also one of the most important political figures of modern Iran. They lost their mother early in childhood and were raised by their father and uncle.

Ahmad began his traditional education in Tehran, first under tutors and then at the Marvi School. He had a particular talent for calligraphy. His Nastealig—one of the more famous styles of classical calligraphy—was known for its elegance. Some of his works of calligraphy are today considered collector’s items.

Ghavam also dabbled in poetry. A few of his poems, in classical meter and rhyme, have been published. He was a voracious reader of Persian poetry and prose. In one of his many periods of political hibernation, he wrote out the whole of Sai’di’s book of poems, Bustan. He knew many by heart, and in the tradition of Persian scribes of the past, he often used them in his letters, directives, and talks.

His talent in calligraphy gained him entry into the Qajar court. He wrote out in his florid style the whole Monajate Ali (Ali’s prayers) and his father offered it as a gift to Nasir al-din Shah, an avid worshipper of Ali. The gift impressed the shah, and Ghavam was hired as a Dabir Hozour, or “scribe in attendance.” He kept his job even after the shah was killed and a new king had come to the throne, and thus Ghavam traveled to Europe in 1903 as part of the royal entourage.

He was named undersecretary of interior in 1909, his first important political office. Two years later, he was minister of war in a cabinet headed by Sepahdar when constitutionalist forces converged on the capital after defeating Mohammad-Ali Shah’s attempt to dismantle the Majlis and restore the old regime. In an attempt to bring law and order to the city, the government made an effort to disarm the constitutional forces. Sattar Khan and Bagher Khan, two of the most famous leaders of the constitutional movement, refused, and on August 7, 1910 (15 Mordad 1289) the government, under the leadership of Ghavam, attacked their Park Atabak temporary headquarters. Sattar Khan was wounded, and his forces were badly beaten. The blemish of conspiring against revered leaders of the revolution remained with Ghavam for the rest of his life.
Ghavam married a distant descendent of the Qajar family. Although late in life he took a second wife, his first wife stayed with him for the rest of his life. They had no children. With his second wife, he had a son.

On January 30, 1918 (10 Bahman 1296), Ghavam was named the governor of the state of Khorasan. The civil war that erupted in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution—pitting Lenin’s supporters against other leftist groups and tsarist forces—often spilled across the border into Iran. Furthermore, peasant uprisings, often instigated by leftist activists, made the region ripe for a revolution. The combination of Soviet agitation and internal conditions favorable to a revolution made the situation a dress rehearsal for what was to happen in Azerbaijan in the aftermath of World War II. If in 1946 Ghavam was an almost omnipotent prime minister, in 1918 he was a powerful governor. He used coalitions with local grandees and tough military action against radicals, and finally his friendship with a powerful military commander, Colonel Pessian, helped him keep Khorasan from falling into the hands of Iranian or Soviet Bolsheviks.

His governorship was emblematic of his overall political persona. The region was rife with rumors of an illicit fortune he had amassed. He seems to have toyed with the idea of declaring the region autonomous, and himself its ruler. In some public ceremonies, he ordered his picture displayed in the place reserved by tradition for the king.

His days as a governor came to an end in January 1921 when Seyyed Zia Tabataba’i and Reza Khan’s coup gave them the reins of power in Tehran. When Seyyed Zia, the new prime minister, issued an order to all the governors, Ghavam was one of the three who refused to comply. On Seyyed’s orders, Ghavam was arrested on April 2, 1921 (13 Farvardin 1299), and his properties confiscated. It was said that four hundred thousand toomans, a fortune at that time, was found in his house. He was transferred to Tehran.

Fortunately for Ghavam, Seyyed Zia’s tenure lasted only one hundred days. Ghavam was taken from prison directly to the court and named prime minister. On her way to Tehran, Ghavam’s wife wrote a letter to the prime minister, asking whether she would be allowed to go back to the house she owned with Ghavam. The telegram she received was reassuring: “Go to your own house,” the note said. It was signed by the new prime minister, Ghavam himself.

Ghavam did not take his revenge against Seyyed Zia immediately. Twenty-four years later, when Ghavam was again the prime minister, Seyyed Zia returned from his long years of banishment. At that time, Ghavam had him arrested on trumped-up charges. His attempt to take vengeance against Reza Khan backfired. In 1923, a plot to assassinate Reza Khan was aborted, and four men confessed to the crime and implicated Ghavam. He was arrested but was spared prosecution when Ahmad Shah interceded on his behalf. He would not be put on trial if he agreed to leave Iran. He began his first period of exile in Europe. The exact nature of his role in the assassination attempt has never been made clear.
He spent the next years in Paris. Before his departure, he sold one of his houses to the Egyptian embassy for fifty thousand toomans. This house was after a while sold to the Israeli embassy in Tehran; after the Islamic revolution in 1979, it was turned over to the Palestinians as their embassy.

Eventually, Reza Shah agreed to allow Ghavam to return to Iran after he promised not to interfere in politics and to live on a tea plantation he owned in Lahijan. For a few years, he became a gentleman farmer, and took a peasant girl as his second wife. His only son, Hoseyn, was the result of this marriage. Although his parents doted on Hoseyn, he had a deeply troubled life and died young as a result of complications arising from addiction.[2]

Ghavam’s forced “retirement” from politics ended not long after World War II began. Reza Shah abdicated and before long Ghavam offered himself as a candidate for the post of prime minister. His relationship with the new king, Mohammad Reza Shah, was testy. The shah considered him a conspirator who wished to seize power for himself. For his part, Ghavam considered the young shah and the whole Pahlavi family to be peasant upstarts who had usurped powers that rightfully belonged to Ghavam and his class.

In addition to the shah’s opposition, Ghavam’s rise to power faced another obstacle. The British thought he was a German agent. Even as late as 1944 they reported:

It was at the interview of the 29th of January that I informed the Shah that His Majesty’s Legation no longer considered Ghavam . . . a suitable candidate for that post [of prime minister]. I showed His Majesty the note drawn up by British Security authorities and based on good evidence showing that Ghavam at least connived at fifth column activities when he was prime minister. The Shah was not sorry to have his original dislike of Ghavam justified. . . . I gave a copy of the note to the Soviet Ambassador.[3]

It has been suggested that in early 1940 Ghavam sent an emissary to Nazi Germany to try to solicit their cooperation in a coup against Reza Shah. Later on, when the Nazis sent their own operative to Tehran to arrange for a possible coup in favor of Germany, again Ghavam was among those with whom the German spy met.[4]

On later occasions, Ghavam also tried to convince the British and the Americans to help him seize power and put the country’s house in order. His gestures were rebuffed. There is some evidence that he tried in vain to reach a similar understanding with the Soviets.

When he did become prime minister for a second time, in August 1942, he did everything he could to marginalize the shah and his role in politics. He even used public rebuke and ridicule to cut away at the new monarch’s legitimacy; he arranged to arrive at official ceremonies later than the shah, or got a step or two ahead of the king. In private they belittled and criticized one another. The British and American embassies reports of the time often refer to the shah’s “fear” and “distrust” of Ghavam, and to Ghavam’s dismissive attitude toward the shah. The shah was not the only figure who suffered from Ghavam’s arrogance. It has been reported that he ordered all chairs but the one behind his desk removed, lest any visitor sit in front of Hazrate Ashraf, or His Noblest Highness.

His first attempt to become prime minister came about with the demise of the Mohammad-Ali Forughi cabinet. Ghavam withdrew his name from consideration when the shah “asked him to withdraw in favor of Suhaili,”[5] he later claimed to friends. The truth, of course, was far more complicated and had to do with British objections to the premiership of someone they considered a “fifth column” of the Nazis. But on August 13, 1942, Ghavam’s turn finally came and he was named prime minister. Ghavam’s insistence on keeping the Ministry of War for himself put him on a collision course with the shah. Control of the military was the shah’s ultimate power. Nearly all the serious crises of his regime occurred when a prime minister—first Ghavam, then Mohammad Mossadeq— tried to take control of the army and the Ministry of War.

On December 8 and 9, Tehran was rocked by bread riots. Since the beginning of the war, the British had used their control of the wheat supply as a tool to get concessions from the Iranian government. In spite of repeated warnings by the Americans and by the Iranian government, the British failed to provide enough wheat for the capital. In modern Iranian history, a shortage of bread or an increase in its price is an unfailing trigger for mob violence. The British and the Americans believed that the shah had been at least tacitly behind the bread riots and that he had used the army—or failed to use it—to undermine Ghavam. The ploy worked, and a few weeks later Ghavam resigned.

This time Ghavam used his forced retirement to cement his relations with the Soviets. He realized their power was increasing in Iran; their handmade Tudeh Party had emerged as the biggest political party. They also controlled Azerbaijan and after a decision by the Central Committee of the Soviet Community Party, they had created a movement there that apparently sought autonomy but was, in fact, a tool of Soviet hegemony.[6]
In January 1946, Ghavam was again named prime minister. It would be his longest tenure in office—twenty months—and would provide him his best chance to consolidate power. He created a Democratic Party whose oath of allegiance, like those of the European Fascist parties, was to him personally. He used the party and his close friends and confidants, particularly Mozzafar Firuz and Hassan Arsanjani, to attack the shah and undermine his authority. In party meeting halls it was Ghavam’s pictures that hung on the wall—not the shah’s.

Ghavam had come to power to solve the Azerbaijan crisis. In the course of his efforts, he created the most enduring myth about himself. Ghavam went to Moscow, according to the myth, with the intention of outwitting Stalin. He told Stalin that if he withdrew his forces from Iran, he would, with the approval of the Majlis, give him the rights to the Caspian Sea oil the Soviets so desperately coveted. Stalin fell for the trap, according to the myth, and once he withdrew his forces, Ghavam, who had never intended to live up to his promise, had the Majlis, which was dominated by his supporters, reject the bill authorizing the oil agreement with the Soviets. Little of this story is true.

On his return to Iran, in fact, Ghavam did try to convince the Majlis, the shah, and Britain and the United States that such an agreement was necessary. In other words, he wanted to keep his promise to Stalin. He toyed with the idea of giving them an oil concession, as well as permission to start a private airline.[7] Only after stern opposition did Ghavam change his tune.

Second, a threat by the American government—scholars disagree on whether it was a formal ultimatum or only a harshly worded threat—also played an important role in the Soviet decision to withdraw from Iran.[8]

Before his trip to the Soviet Union, Ghavam had agreed to form a coalition government with the Tudeh Party; it was the only time in modern Iranian history that active members of the communist party were in the cabinet. Now that Ghavam no longer had any use for his coalition partners, he unceremoniously dumped them.[9] Ultimately the Soviets left Iran, and there is today near consensus that tension over the crisis was in fact the dawn of the cold war.

After the resolution of the Azerbaijan crisis, the shah publicly commended Ghavam for his services and gave him the title of Hazrate Ashraf and yet behind the scenes he worked hard to undermine him. Ghavam’s increasing arrogance and continuing stories of corruption undermined his authority and helped the shah mastermind a cabinet coup.

Among those stories was the tale of a bribe he received to reappoint an Iranian as ambassador to France.[10] With the shah and his twin sister working behind scenes against the prime minister, all but one of his cabinet ministers suddenly resigned on December 4, 1947. It was even alleged that the shah agreed to pay the gambling debts of the Speaker of the Majlis in return for his help in overthrowing Ghavam. The writing was on the wall that Ghavam had lost the fight with the court, but he quixotically refused to resign.[11] He appeared in the Majlis, where he received a vote of no confidence.

Worried about the wrath of his many enemies, Ghavam left for Paris soon after his resignation, where he followed the situation in Iran. When the shah decided to amend the constitution to enhance his own power, Ghavam wrote him a long note reminding him that with increased power came increased responsibility, and that if a dark cloud ever appears on the horizon, it will be the throne that will be in jeopardy, not the cabinet or the prime minister. The shah did not respond. Instead, he had his court minister Ebrahim Hakimi deliver a blistering attack on Ghavam that questioned his loyalty and his honesty. The title of Hazrate Ashraf was taken away. The correspondence is still a key document in understanding the nature of power during the shah’s period and a fascinating window into the political persona of Ghavam.

With the rise of Mossadeq and his successful effort to nationalize Iranian oil, Iranian politics entered a new phase. Ghavam, reassured of his safety by the shah—who was becoming increasingly worried about Mossadeq’s rising power and popularity, and who was encouraged in issuing this “pardon” by the British—returned to Iran. As tension increased between Mossadeq and the British, Ghavam met with embassy officials and promised that he would “solve” the oil problem in an equitable fashion. On July 16, 1952, Mossadeq suddenly tendered his resignation. The issue, once again, was the Ministry of War. The Parliament immediately showed its “inclination” to have Ghavam named the new prime minister. The appointment was supported by the British and American embassies. Ghavam accepted on the condition that his coveted title of Hazrate Ashraf be restored. He had once again trumped the shah. The king reluctantly agreed. At the same time, though, he informed Mossadeq’s allies that Ghavam did not have his support.

The harsh tone of Ghavam’s first speech and his disdain for popular sentiment worked hand-in-hand with the shah’s disapproval and weakened Ghavam’s power. Finally, the Tudeh Party came out against the man who had thrown them out of the government only a few years earlier. July 21 was declared a day of “National Uprising.” Furthermore, Ghavam’s attempt to appease Ayatollah Kashani and form an alliance with him also did not work. His final term as prime minister lasted only four days and was a disaster.[12]

Back in power, Mossadeq punished Ghavam for his insolence. He requested permission from the Parliament, as the constitution stipulated, to file charges against Ghavam. It was granted, and Ghavam was questioned about his actions of July 21, particularly whether he had had a role in the killings of sixty-three people—officially declared “martyrs” by the Parliament—by the army and police. When he was called to appear before the Special Tribunal, he claimed ill health.

By then he was a broken man, physically and emotionally. To some he was a corrupt and ambitious politician, to others he was a pro-American man of politics who not only tried to give the American companies an oil interest in Iran as early as 1920s, but was also instrumental in increasing their power in postwar Iran. At other times, he was accused of being in concert with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Others saw simply a wily politician who was prime minister five times. It is far from hyperbole to claim that Ghavam is one of the most enigmatic Persians of the twentieth century.

Three years and two days after the July 21 events that proved to be his futile attempt to resurrect his political life, he died in Tehran. Politics, it seems, was his raison d’etre.

Reza Ghotbi

When in 1959 a young girl named Farah Diba married the shah and became the queen of Iran, the man who “gave her away,” in lieu of her deceased father, was Mohammad Ali Ghotbi. The Ghotbi name was unknown at the time. By 1978, it was ubiquitous and conjured not only Mohammad Ali, but his son, Reza Ghotbi—the former for allegations of corruption and cronyism and the latter for his politics and his controversial management of the country’s official media.

Reza Ghotbi’s name had become synonymous with radio and television, and with a management style that was considered enlightened and liberal by many and simpleminded, even treacherous, by others. To some royalists, Reza Ghotbi and the television network he ran were the cause of the revolution. Tensions over this even manifested themselves in exile, when eyewitnesses recount how, on more than one occasion, the shah angrily disparaged Reza for his role in lingering political problems in the last months of the monarchy in Iran. Although in the 1970s Reza Ghotbi was a permanent fixture at court parties, and the queen’s closest confidant and advisor, by the time of the shah’s exile he had become anathema to the king and almost never visited the royal family. Moreover, it is reported that the shah often talked about Ghotbi in harshly disparaging terms.[1]

Reza Ghotbi was born in Tehran in 1938 (1317). He was six months older than his cousin Farah, the future queen. When Farah lost her father, she and her mother moved in with Reza’s parents. His father, Mohammad Ali, was the brother of Farah’s mother. Reza and Farah spent much of their childhood together; in the queen’s words, “Reza became the brother” she had never had.[2]

Reza went to school in Tehran, and like many intelligent and diligent boys of his generation, he attended the famous Alborz[3] high school. He showed an affinity for Shahnameh, the grand epic of Persian culture and literature. His interest in that book seemed as much political as literary. Reza was a nationalist, and Shahnameh was a gospel for many Iranian nationalists. In fact, Reza’s days in high school coincided with a period of political ferment and activism, and Reza too became active, developing ties with a group called the PanIranist party. They were a pseudofascist organization, deeply anticommunist and devoutly nationalist. They often provided the muscle for the forces fighting communism and were occasionally known to assault their opponents.[4] Reza engaged in this kind of physical confrontation with the communists at least once. He was still in high school at the time. He was stabbed in the scuffle and ended up in the hospital.[5] Ever since those youthful indiscretions, Reza’s political affiliations were a lingering subject of controversy and curiosity.

After high school, Reza and his cousin Farah set out for Paris. There, too, Reza had ties with his Pan-Iranist comrades, who had by then become opponents of the shah. These contacts, and the close ties between Reza and his cousin, Farah, later gave rise to rumors that the queen had also been a member of the opposition before her marriage.

But Reza was now more focused on his education than on politics. He was studying to become an electronic engineer, and he had a particular affinity for math. But all semblance of normalcy in his life ended when the little girl he had grown up with was chosen to become the queen of Iran. Reza returned to Iran as soon as he finished college with an engineering degree in electronics. Not long after that, the shah decided to launch a government-sponsored television station, and Reza was picked to direct the new endeavor. The fact that he had no background in management gave the appointment an air of cronyism. On the other hand, Reza’s engineering background afforded him a privileged position in managing the new technologies. Moreover, before long he developed a reputation for competent management. He was said to be a good judge of character, with a desire to surround himself with talented men and women. He freely delegated authority to others, and in return expected excellence.

Once ensconced in his new job, he used his proximity to the queen, and the fact that the shah wanted his message taken to as many households in the country as possible, to expand the fledgling new station into a vast national network. He increased the hours of broadcast and invested heavily in new programs. After a few months, the shah ordered the existing private television station to be bought and included in the government station. After that time, there would be no private broadcasting in Iran. Most important of all, Ghotbi used his considerable political capital to hire many dissidents who had either just come out of prison or were banned from their jobs by SAVAK. The political cognoscenti among the opposition knew that often the only government office that would employ them was Ghotbi’s rapidly expanding organization.

In March 1967, the new Iranian National Television Organization began, and because of its large budget and the protection provided by Ghotbi, many of the country’s filmmakers, theater directors, and artists also joined the staff. By 1971, Iran’s official radio station was merged with the television station, in spite of resistance from the staff, creating a media juggernaut that brought under one roof —and in Ghotbi’s orbit—all broadcasting in the country.

Early in the life of this organization, before the merger with radio, Ghotbi and a group of his managers began to develop a mission statement for the television service. What they crafted was partly influenced by the BBC model in England and PBS in the United States—trusted by the people, independent of the state, and dedicated to high art and sophisticated programming. Advocacy of government policies or being a tool of government propaganda was not part of their stated mission.[6] A clash between the stated mission and the purposes of television that the shah and the SAVAK envisioned was inevitable. Moreover, the “high art” model left many viewers thirsting for the kind of light entertainment that had been offered by the private station. Ultimately, three stations were developed, one for “high art,” another for lighter entertainment, and a third in English, intended for the increasingly large number of Americans living in Iran.

One of the first sources of tension between Ghotbi and more traditional royalists was his decision to stop the practice of making the deeds of the royal family, regardless of their insignificance, the top of the news every day. A couple of years later, as the shah’s cult of personality grew, Ghotbi had no choice but to join the national chorus of praise and apotheosis of the shah. Once again the shah and his family led the news every day. But tension about the order of the news was, in fact, only the most overt manifestation of a wider breach that existed in the shah’s center of power.

Beginning in late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, there were at least two different paradigms about how to deal with the changing landscape of the Iranian society. They were never clearly articulated, but it is easy to piece them together from the practices and words of their advocates. Although the queen claimed in her memoirs that “my husband and I actually had no basic differences,” when it came to politics they advocated and often implemented glaringly different approaches to social and political problems.

The shah, and people like Assadollah Alam, believed that an iron fist, an authoritarian king, a powerful state, and a dread secret police were the tools necessary for modernization. The regime’s allies, in addition to the military and the police, were the clergy (but not Ayatollah Khomeini) and the middle class, induced into submission by economic incentives.

The other paradigm was advocated by the queen, and most clearly articulated in the work and management style of Ghotbi as a media tsar. The queen’s other close confidante, Lily Amir-Arjomand, who managed the Organization for the Intellectual Development of Children at the time, was also an advocate of this approach. They believed that the regime should unite with the middle classes and co-opt the intellectuals. Iranian National Radio and Television (INRT) was a haven for lapsed or lingering communists, leftists, democrats and disgruntled intellectuals. It advocated innovative cultural productions like Parviz Sayyad’s Octopus.[7] Some consider this serial among the best ever produced in Iran. But easily the most celebrated and controversial innovation of the queen-Ghotbi team was the Shiraz Festival that began in 1967. It was where some of the most radical theatrical groups in the world were invited to perform.8 At the same time, the left, the center, and the conservative clergy joined forces to condemn the festival for its “insensitivity” to the mores and values of the masses.

For almost fifteen years, there was a tug of war between the queen-Ghotbi camp and the shah-SAVAK group. Alam’s memoirs are replete with instances in which some program on radio or television caused the ire of the shah, the secret police, or some other powerful figure, and only the protection provided by the queen kept Ghotbi on his job. Ultimately, the shah had come to believe that INRT was staffed by communists and subversives, whose goal was to overthrow the regime.[9] The discovery of a conspiracy to kidnap the queen and the crown prince by some of the television employees strengthened the shah’s suspicions.[10]

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the shah could dictate the terms of his paradigm and leave little room for any other vision, but from 1973, when he was diagnosed with cancer and gradually slipped into debilitating depression, inaction, and paranoia, the queenGhotbi team took on more power and their ideas became more prevalent. According to some royalists, this change is what led to the revolution. They offer the events of July 7, 1978, as an example.

Early in the afternoon of that day, the cabinet and Iran’s National Security Council decided to declare martial law in Tehran, beginning the next morning at six. An order was sent to Ghotbi from the prime minister, asking that radio and television programs broadcast the news about martial law every half hour. That way, they hoped, people would learn of the new rules and would not go to the streets and confront the soldiers. For reasons that are not clear, the order was not executed. Only past midnight, when most people were already asleep, was the news broadcast. Was it sabotage, some asked, and if it was, what role did Ghotbi play?11 Some concluded that the radio and television organization had by then become “an instrument of propaganda for the opposition.” They also point to the fact that the ostensibly official media in those days even refused to broadcast news that was favorable to the regime.[12]

In spite of these allegations, Ghotbi remained the queen’s most trusted advisor, and as she gained more and more power in the waning days of the Pahlavi regime, his power, too, increased. On November 18, 1978, when the queen traveled to Najaf and tried to solicit the support of Ayatollah Khoi, one of Shiism’s most venerable ayatollahs, Reza Ghotbi was with her and participated in all their meetings.[13]

Ghotbi’s most controversial decision was to help draft a speech with Seyyed Hoseyn Nasr that the shah delivered on prime-time television on November 6, 1978. The speech came the day after the shah had appointed a military cabinet, hoping to show the opposition the regime’s muscle. The speech, however, was pathetic in tone, pitiable in delivery, and defeatist in attitude. It was the clearest sign that the shah had given up the idea of saving his throne and was now desperate simply to save his life.[14]

Ghotbi’s final political intervention was to help arrange a meeting between the shah and Shapur Bakhtiyar, leading to the latter’s thirty-seven day tenure as prime minister. Even this role has not been without controversy. Sadiqi had already accepted the task of forming a cabinet, and he was deemed by many to be the only man capable of saving the throne. Why did the queen-Ghotbi team suggest Bakhtiyar instead? Had Sadiqi already given up? Eventually, Ghotbi’s demise was brought about when he resisted the orders of Sharif-Emami, the new prime minister. This time even his cousin could not save his job. In September 1978 Reza Ghotbi was relieved of his duties, and an era in Iranian broadcasting came to end.

His royalist critics point to his excessive independence in those years. Even the shah, they claim, could not always get Ghotbi to do what he wanted. In fact, tensions between the shah and the de facto brother of his queen had come to a boil behind the scenes in the mid-1970s. At that time, Ghotbi received a letter from the shah’s office asking for an explanation for how an American company had received a contract. In a terse letter, Ghotbi laid out in detail the process whereby the company was awarded the contract, forcefully insisting that no sweetheart deal existed with the American company.[15] In an age when many politicians and technocrats were accused of malfeasance, Ghotbi was deemed to be free of financial taint. The same could not be said of his father. He had, by the 1970s, become a bone of contention in the battle against corruption. General Hoseyn Fardust, the shah’s “eyes and ears,” claimed that in the last two decades of the shah’s rule, Ghotbi’s father illicitly received many government contracts.[16] Documents from the British Embassy also make it clear that the elder Ghotbi had developed a badly tarnished reputation.

Exile was particularly hard on Ghotbi. Not only had he lost his powerful perch, but also his parents had gone through a rancorous divorce and his relationship with the shah had reached a new nadir. For a short while, when royalists tried to launch a radio program intended to undermine the Islamic regime in Tehran, it was Reza “who set up a [royalist] resistance network.”[17] But it did not last long. Soon Ghotbi faded from the public view. He works as a consultant and surfs the Internet for the news of the land he has lost.

Abbasqoli Golshai’yan

Abbasqoli Golshai’yan was born in 1902 (1281 in Tehran. His family was connected to the then-ruling Qajar dynasty through blood and service. His father was a greatgrandson of Abbas Mirza, the reform-minded crown prince whose hopes of changing and modernizing Iran were aborted by an early death. His mother was the daughter of the chief telegraph operator for Nasir al-din Shah. Abbasqoli, the fifth child in a family of seven children, was only five years old when his father died of cancer. There was, as a consequence, a sharp decline in the family’s financial situation. In his own words, much of his “childhood and youth was spent in misery and poverty.”[1]

Abbasqoli was first educated in a traditional maktab, where discipline was hard and the curriculum consisted of heavy doses of Arabic and the Qur’an, with some dabbling in the classics of Persian poetry and prose. He was later enrolled in a French-run school called the Alliance Française. Eventually, in 1920, he entered Dar al-Funun,[2] and then enrolled in the new law school created by the Ministry of Justice. Two years later, after he completed the required courses, Abbasqoli was hired to work at the ministry.

Two other personal events of Golshai’yan’s early years had a long-lasting influence on his life. He began taking lessons in playing the Persian instrument the tar from Darvish Khan, who became, Golshai’yan later recalled, “like a real father” to him.3 And at Darvish Khan’s behest, in April 1924 Golshai’yan became a darvish himself, joining the Akhvane Safa branch of the sect.

In 1929, Golshai’yan was engaged and soon married to Vahideh, a daughter of another Qajar family. By his own account, theirs was, and remained to the end of his life, a marriage of love. They had three children, two boys and a girl.

Golshai’yan’s political career began in the 1920s. At the Ministry of Justice, he met and soon became a protégé of Ali Akbar Davar. With a combination of his own disciplined hard work and the sponsorship of Davar, he rapidly rose in the ranks of Iran’s new modern and secular bureaucracy. At the ministry, he first served as a judge and then as Tehran’s chief prosecutor.

It was as chief prosecutor that Golshai’yan handled the case, and wrote the official report, of the controversial death of Teymur Tash. Teymur Tash had been one of the most powerful men in Reza Shah’s inner circle when he was arrested. He died in prison. His sudden arrest and death became immediately shrouded in a thick veil of mystery and conspiracy theory. He was reported to have been a Soviet spy and, even more dangerous, planning to take the reins of power from his monarch. His death in prison was and is believed to have been ordered by the angry king.

After a while Davar, who himself eventually would run afoul of Reza Shah, arranged for Golshai’yan’s transfer to the Ministry of Finance. There, on May 17, 1941, Golshai’yan was named acting minister. His hard work and early success on the job gained him the favor of the king and ensured that his temporary appointment was quickly made permanent.

Golshai’yan was part of the cabinet when British and Soviet troops occupied Iran in 1941. He witnessed, firsthand, Reza Shah’s abdication as well as the ascent of the crown prince to the throne. During the interim days, when the resigning monarch was preparing to leave Iran and his young son had yet to seize the reins of power, the cabinet and Golshai’yan played a crucial role in facilitating a more or less peaceful transition of power. In spite of early British and Soviet pressures, the cabinet preserved the monarchy, while avoiding chaos in the cities, and ensuring the long-term territorial integrity of the country. Golshai’yan’s account of these developments, his knowledge of the behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Iranian government of Prime Minister Forughi and representatives of the occupying British and Soviet governments, his observations on the character of the young shah and the deposed Reza Shah, are among the most valuable components of his memoirs.

Recalling these early years, Golshai’yan would also draw an unabashedly positive portrait of his mentor, Davar. Golshai’yan’s account remains to this day one of the most detailed, and informed, portraits of a person who played a singularly important role in consolidating Reza Shah’s rule, secularizing the Iranian judiciary, and modernizing the bureaucracy in general, and the Ministry of Finance in particular. Furthermore, as Golshai’yan would make clear, the existing portrait of Davar was only a small part of a greater work he had begun to prepare on his mentor’s life. It was at the instigation of a friend, Dr. Gassem Ghani, that he had begun to work on the subject, and he had prepared extensive notes for it. Sadly, his notes seem to have been lost.[4]

In spite of these important contributions, and in spite of his significant role in Iranian politics during the war years—in a series of prominent positions including many ministerial portfolios and his tenure as the mayor of a Tehran caught in the chaos of war—Golshai’yan’s political legacy was primarily shaped, to his dismay, by his role in the ongoing oil negotiations of the late 1940s. It was as minister of finance that he signed, on behalf of the Iranian government, a draft oil agreement that came to haunt him for the rest of his life.

With the rise of nationalism in postwar Iran, a controversial 1933 oil agreement between Iran and Great Britain became the subject of renewed debate. In 1948, and again in 1949, the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) sent their representative, Neville Gass, to renegotiate the terms of that deal. The terms that were eventually worked out became known as the Gass-Golshai’yan Agreement (also known as the Supplemental Oil Agreement). According to Golshai’yan, this agreement would have raised Iran’s share of royalties to the highest level ever. Other estimates confirm this: Iran’s income would have risen from twenty-two cents per barrel to thirty-three cents, and had the agreement become law, an additional revenue of forty-nine million pounds sterling would have come to Iran through 1951.5 But in those days, Mossadeq’s nationalization movement had changed people’s expectations.

The agreement was signed on July 17, 1949. The often recalcitrant chairman of AIOC, Sir William Fraser, claimed at the time that the Supplemental Oil Agreement was the best deal hitherto offered to any Middle Eastern country. But many Iranian officials took an entirely different view. A special twenty-man commission of the Iranian Majlis, chaired by Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq and empowered with the oversight of all oil negotiations, voted on November 25, 1950, to reject the Gass-Golshai’yan Agreement.[6]

The press coverage of the deliberations, and the claims of Golshai’yan’s detractors, made the agreement go down in history as an act of infamy, and his role as nothing short of treason. Golshai’yan, on the other hand, was firmly convinced that the agreement was a prudent nationalist act, even more beneficial to Iran than Dr. Mossadeq’s move to nationalize Iranian oil.7 In his own memoirs, he goes to some lengths to show his own nationalist credentials, and the unbending animosity of the British toward him; but his role in these negotiations made him, in the public imagination, a “lackey” of the British and one of their key operatives in Iran. In fact, archival evidence in the British Public Records Office clearly shows that early in his tenure as minister of Finance, Golshai’yan did confront, and anger, the British, and that even during the oil negotiations, he tried his best to drive a hard bargain for Iran.

In 1949, there were rumors that Golshai’yan would soon be appointed prime minister. Public opinion held that he was a candidate of the British Embassy, which hoped to quell the rising tide of nationalism. In Golshai’yan’s own mind, however, it was precisely British opposition to him—because of his unwillingness to heed the demands of the British government, particularly in determining the rate of exchange between the pound sterling and the Iranian rial when he had been finance minister—that worked to kill his chances to become prime minister.

In the 1950s, Golshai’yan’s political career saw much upheaval. He would at times rise rapidly only to fall sharply. For a long while, he was unemployed and in his own words in dire financial straits. Intermittently he was named governor, first of the province of Khorasan (1948), then of Fars (1950), and finally of Azarbaijan (1954). All three provinces were, in those days, of immense importance to the central government. Khorasan and Azarbaijan shared borders with the Soviet Union, and for almost a century Fars had been a hotbed of tribal agitation against the government.

By the mid-1950s, Golshai’yan was called back to Tehran as a minister of justice. Toward the end of the decade, once again there were rumors that his appointment as prime minister was imminent. Golshai’yan claims that he had even gone so far as to write his acceptance speech and had had the content ratified and corrected by the shah. The appointment never materialized. This time, he surmised, it was his unwillingness to promise the Americans his full cooperation that torpedoed his chances.

The 1960s were the twilight of his career. Golshai’yan was for a while appointed a senator. He then retired from all governmental jobs, except for membership in the board of directors of Iran’s Melli Bank. After his retirement from government, Golshai’yan practiced law and occasionally acted as an arbiter in judicial cases. In this period, he returned to the beloved avocation of his youth and spent time promoting classical Persian music, as well as playing and practicing the tar.[8]

It is at this stage of his life that he grew increasingly disillusioned with the shah and his leadership. His memoirs contain surprisingly sharp attacks on the character of the shah (as weak, vacillating, and prone to gossip and sycophancy)9 as well as his policies. He also had strong words of admonition for the Islamic revolution, and lamented the bloody work of the revolutionary tribunals.

Golshai’yan was a hard-working man, taciturn and honest. There was a quality of intractability about him that easily could have resulted from his early training and work as a judge. The sudden poverty of his childhood had left him an embittered man, creating in him “a deep sense of cynicism towards everything and everybody.”[10] He was nevertheless loyal to his friends and mentors. He had an unfailing love for his family, and the untimely death of his thirty-eight-year-old daughter in 1974 was a grief that all but crippled him. Indeed, the death of his child, as well as the hardships that came with the rise of the Islamic revolution, caused him to live the last years of his life in a state of despondent melancholy. “Every day and night,” he wrote late in his memoirs, “I pray to God to bring about my speedy death . . . and end my agonies.”[11]

Golshai’yan also used the pages of his memoirs to accuse his son-in-law (who was also his nephew) of “neglecting” his marital duties and thereby contributing to his young wife’s untimely death. According to the son-in-law, these “unfair allegations” reveal not just Golshai’yan’s delusional view of his beloved daughter’s death, but the usually hidden cruel and resentful side of his character.

Behind the stoic façade of the darvish, he suggested, there lurked an unforgiving man, beset with deep hatreds and resentment at his many missed opportunities in life. In his own mind, according to his son-in-law, Golshai’yan believed he could have been a major force in Iranian politics. The fact that he had been driven to the sidelines and unjustly branded with the infamy of the Gass-Golshai’yan Agreement, caused him to see the world through a poisoned prism.[12]

If Golshai’yan’s thoughts about his thwarted destiny created in him a tormented soul, he remained reticent. Aside from his memoirs, Golshai’yan’s writings are few, and in nonpolitical genres. In his youth he had dabbled in poetry, writing some verse using the poetic name of “Heyran” (“the wanderer”). He prepared, but never published, a translation of Rousseau’s famous novel Emile. Even his memoirs, for all their length, reveal few secrets. They are an unwieldy and agonizingly uneven narrative, full of repetition. The prose is hurried and haphazard, and its nuggets of insight and information are hidden in its voluminous digressions. Yet Golshai’yan’s youthful chosen pen name proved succinctly prophetic. Despite his steadfast, devoted loyalty to profession and country, neither offered him an unclouded haven. He spent much of his political life exiled from his early promise. By fate or misfortune, Golshai’yan became indeed what he had called himself, a wanderer. He died on October 11, 1990 (19 Mehr 1369).

Ebrahim Hakimi (Hakim-al Molk)

Aliasgar Hekmat was a man of letters and politics. His most important contributions to Iranian culture and politics were made during the reign of Reza Shah. Nevertheless, his postwar contributions were also significant.

He was born in Shiraz in 1892 (1271). His affluent family had been famous in the city for the long line of prominent physicians and scholars they had produced. His schooling began in 1908 when he entered the Church Missionary Society School in the city of Shiraz.1 After a year, he attended the traditional Islamic Madrese-ye Mansuriye.[2] In 1914 (1293), he went to Tehran and enrolled in the American College. He graduated from the school in 1919. During this period, he also studied the traditional curriculum of Persian literature and Islamic theology (Fegh) with clerics such as Mirza Taher-e Tone-kaboni.[3] When in later years he was sent abroad on an official governmental mission, he enrolled at the Sorbonne and received degrees in both law and literature. He was eventually awarded several honorary doctoral degrees from universities in Asia and Europe.[4]

Hekmat was hired by the Ministry of Culture not long after his graduation from the American College. His first job was as head of the personnel office. He was later promoted to the office of the Inspectorate, where he had more to do with cultural policy. In March 1925, in his new post, he began a journal called Talim va Tarbiyat. He successfully solicited articles from many of the literary and scholarly luminaries of the time, including Badi’ozzaman Foruzanfar, Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, and Abbas Egbal-e Ashtiyani. The journal later changed its name to Amouzesh va Parvaresh and continued to thrive until the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.[5] The issues of the journal during the early phase of its life made it one of the more influential publications of its time.

It was also soon after graduation from the American College that Hekmat met Ali Akbar Davar. Together they created the Radical Party (hezbe radical). When Hekmat’s innovative ideas and his enthusiasm for change riled the traditionalists in the Ministry of Culture, and they arranged for, in Hekmat’s words, “his departure from his post,” his friend and mentor Davar came to his rescue and transferred him to the Ministry of Justice. Shortly thereafter, in preparation for establishing a modern university in Iran, Davar sent Hekmat abroad on an exploratory mission to study European institutes of higher learning. Hekmat was in London, “broke and despondent,” in his own words, when in September 1933, he learned that he had been appointed acting minister of culture.[6] The appointment was, in no small measure, the result of Davar’s support. In June 1935, as a reward for his hard work and impressive accomplishments, Reza Shah promoted him to the rank of minister.

It was in his capacity as the minister of culture that Hekmat left his most indelible marks on modern Persian history. In cultural advocacy, he was indefatigable. His tenure is easily the most constructive period in the history of that ministry. He was a consummate creator of cultural institutions and a tireless advocate of new buildings intended for artistic or pedagogical purposes. He was instrumental in the construction of such important buildings as those of Tehran University’s campus, the famous museum of ancient Iranian arts (Musey-e Irane Bastan), and the now iconic tombs of Ferdowsi, Hafez, and Sa’di. His fascinating account of how the university was constructed, and his difficulties in building the first dissection hall at the medical school, are revealing and readable anecdotes about that era’s cultural history and the travails of those bent on modernizing Iran.[7]

In October 1934, he helped organize the first international conference of scholars on Ferdowsi. Many of the papers presented at that conference are still considered seminal works in the field. A conference to commemorate the works of Ibn Sina and another to celebrate the seven-hundredth anniversary of the compilation of Sa’adi’s Golestan were his ideas as well. The establishment of the Persian language academy called Farhangestan, in October 1936, also occurred during his tenure as culture minister. The academy was at least partially inspired by the work of Zabih Behruz in developing a pure Persian lexicon for the military and was modeled on the French academies.8 Hekmat was himself one of the founding members of the Farhangestan. It was largely on account of his effort and support that an encyclopedic two-volume account of Iranian history, called Iranshahr, was published.9 He is credited with the establishment of a teachers’ college in Tehran, as well as several other similar institutions and scores of high schools in other cities around the country. He supervised the restructuring of the curriculum in Persian elementary and high schools and, following Reza Shah’s orders, made physical education a mandatory part of every student’s program.[10] He helped build the first modern sports stadium in Tehran, called Amjadiye. He also championed the first chapter of Boy Scouts in Iran. Indeed, the Persian word for Boy Scouts, Pishahang, was coined by him.[11]

Once Reza Shah decided to embark on the policy of unveiling Persian women, he put Hekmat in charge of mapping out a plan of action. The meeting in Tehran’s Teacher College, on January 8, 1936 (17 Day 1314), when Reza Shah’s wife and daughters, along with the wives of ministers, appeared in public without veils, was planned by Hekmat. In his memoir of those days, he reports in a critical tone the occasional use of violence in unveiling women in the streets of Tehran and claims to have advocated a more gradual, voluntary approach. The monarch, he implies, did not heed his advice.[12] Furthermore, as a minister of culture, he commissioned scholars like Allame Qazvini to copy and send to Iran rare Persian manuscripts found in European libraries. He helped organize the National Library of Iran. It was in light of such services that Qazvini waxed eloquent in praise of Hekmat’s cultural contributions to the country.

Yet, in spite of all his services, he fell from grace in December 1938 as a result of his inadvertent role in the diplomatic row between Reza Shah and the government of France. When a French magazine made a pun of the word “shah” by replacing it with the French word chat (cat), the monarch was not amused, and he severed Iran’s diplomatic relations with France. Hekmat, apparently unaware of these developments, sent a perfunctory telegram of congratulations to his French counterpart on the occasion of the opening of Iran’s booth at the Paris Exhibition. Hekmat was immediately dismissed and, facing an uncertain future, went into self-exile in Shiraz.[13] Six months later, in October 1939, he was called back to Tehran and appointed minister of the interior.

In spite of his short exile, Hekmat was one of the longest-serving ministers in the often-tumultuous days of Reza Shah. He was minister of culture for four years, minister of the interior for about a year, and, as minister of culture, served ex officio as the rector of Tehran University for three years. Some feel that his longevity was the result of his affable character, his commitment to and competence in cultural matters, his strong sense of discipline and organization, and his mastery of the art of bureaucratic survival. Others, on the other hand, see it as a sinecure for sycophancy. In a letter to Taqizadeh, Bagher Kazemi writes of Hekmat in stark terms, calling him a man who “is with everyone and no one. He is altogether without any ideology and principle.”[14] Still another group detected in him a hint of vanity, an unrelenting wish to be near the center of power.[15] As evidence, they point to the fact that in nearly every building constructed during his tenure, he made sure his own name appears in some noticeable corner of the structure.[16]

With the abdication of Reza Shah, Hekmat’s political fortunes did not completely wane, but his long and often-lustrous career entered a new and different phase.

Although culture was clearly his forte, in the second phase, for reasons that are hard to fathom, his appointments were all in the political arena. His long friendship with Forughi, and the fact that all through the years when the latter was out of Reza Shah’s favor Hekmat kept in secret contact with him, seems to have helped him land the post of minister of industry and commerce in Forughi’s wartime cabinet.17 As a member of Foroughi’s inner circle, Hekmat had, in the words of the British Embassy in Tehran, “a good deal to do with the negotiations about the Tripartite Treaty of 1942” that ultimately proved very important in safeguarding Iran’s territorial integrity at the end of World War II.18 After the fall of the cabinet, Hekmat ran for a seat in the Majlis, and failed. In 1943 he was named minister of health. Later appointments included tenures as minister of the interior, minister of justice, and minister without portfolio. Twice he was named Iran’s foreign minister, for a year in 1948 and then again for two years in 1958. The second appointment coincided with the days when Iran was on the brink of signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. He seemed to have played an important role in the failed January 1959 negotiations with the Russians. The American Embassy in Iran concluded at the time that Hekmat had had an important role in initiating the negotiations. He was, in their assessment, an advocate of neutrality for Iran and had convinced the shah that “the best defense against the Soviet Union was diplomacy and cleverness.”[19] The British also concurred, describing him as, “hard-working, friendly, and shrewder than he first appears. . . . A protagonist of neutralist views.”20 During his tenure at the Foreign Ministry, he commenced the publication of a journal called Majaleye Vezerate Omur Khareje, devoted to serious discussions of foreignpolicy matters.[21] Another of his appointments during this second phase was as ambassador to India, where he served from 1953 to 1958. He was active in promoting cultural ties between Iran and India. He published a memoir of his Indian sojourn, as well as essays about the mutual influences of Persian and Indian cultures.[22]

Of course, in the second, more political stage of his life, he did not altogether abandon his culture pursuits. When in 1946 the Tudeh Party, with help from the Soviet Embassy in Iran, organized the first Congress of Iranian Writers, Hekmat was not only a member of the committee that chaired the proceedings, but himself read an essay on the fate of poetry during the Reza Shah period, and to the surprise of many of those present, criticized the ill effects despotism had had on Iran’s poetic tradition. In addition to his own writings of the period, he was for two decades the head of the Iranian committee of UNESCO. His participation in the communist-organized Writers’ Union and his unswerving devotion to the view that Iran must normalize its relations with the Soviet Union made him suspect in the eyes of many of the more conservative elements of the Iranian political establishment.

Finally, in the later stages of his life, when he had already left public service, he helped establish Madreseye ali Adabiyat va Zabanhaye Khareji, a private college for teaching literature. With the establishment of the school, he had, in a sense, returned to his true passion for the world of letters. Although politics was for many years his vocation, his avocation and passion was always for literature. He was an accomplished and prolific man of letters. He wrote close to a hundred articles; he also wrote thirteen, translated twelve, and edited six books. They cover an eclectic array of subjects ranging from scholarly treatises on Iranian history and literature to books like How to Teach the Koran to Children. Among his works of translation were five of Shakespeare’s plays, including Romeo and Juliet. He also wrote a long essay comparing Shakespeare’s tale of the “star-crossed lovers” with Nezami’s tale, Leili va Majnoon. He was a keen critic of Persian prose and under the auspices of UNESCO published Parsiye Nagz, an anthology of his favorite examples of Persian writing.[23] His own prose was rich and solemn, bordering on the baroque and ostentatious. He not only taught the history of Persian poetry at Tehran University and published important texts of literary history, he was himself a poet. He published two collections of his own poems.[24] In poetry, his style and critical sensibility was strictly

classical and traditional. In fact, he dismissed modern Persian poetry as a passing fad, and an “inadequate imitation” of Western verse.[25]

For much of his adult life, he kept a daily journal. The journals, in the words of his daughter, “fill a small suitcase.”[26] Save for small segments published by him in his important Si Khatere, unfortunately no other part of the daily journal has been published.

He had a particular affinity for teaching and tried to continue his classes in spite of his many political engagements. He was also tireless in seeking, nurturing, and encouraging new talent. Among his most notable students were Ehsan Yarshater and Saidi-Sirjani, whose decision to come to Tehran was the direct result of Hekmat’s support and encouragement. Among Iranian men of letters, he had an impressively large and varied circle of friends that included Qazvini, Forughi, Bahar, Sirjani, Sadiqi, and Yagmai.

He was by all accounts a man of myriad talents, endless energy, unfailing organization and discipline, endearing congeniality, and subtle wit. The British Embassy in Tehran described him as “a go-ahead, pleasant young man . . . always very helpful and approachable” In financial matters, his probity was legendary. He was also a collector of books and manuscripts. Late in his life, he donated his library of 5,549 books (of which 275 were old manuscripts) to the Tehran University Library, where they were to be kept as a separate collection. He also donated the large collection of rare manuscripts he had inherited from his family to the library of Astane Gods Razavi in Meshed. A bibliography of these manuscripts was prepared and published by the renowned bibliophile Mohammad Taghi Daneshpajooh.

Hekmat spent the last twenty years of his life reading and writing in the isolation of his small library, where only close friends visited. His body grew frail, forcing him to spend many months in the hospital. He had also become deaf. Although he had played an important role in the unveiling of Iranian women, he was spared the wrath of the new Islamic zealots after the revolution. Yet in the frenzy of Islamic revolutionary politics, his death in August 1980, (Shahrivar 1359), in spite of long years of notable service to the country, was all but unnoticed. Only a small note in one of Tehran’s dailies—President Bani Sadre’s Jomhouriye Islami—appeared on the occasion of his death. A few months later, the scholarly journal Ayandeh also wrote an obituary. Hekmat is buried, befittingly, in the hall of a small library in the Bage Tuti cemetery, not far from Tehran.

Aliasgar Hekmat

Sardar Fakher Hekmat

Sardar Fakher hekmat was a man of obstinate aristocratic taste. Even his name, laced with recognizable remnants of his patrician past, and his insistence on using it long after the employment of all such titles were officially banned in Iran, hints at his aristocratic obduracy.

He was born in 1891 in a house near the Baharestan Square in Tehran. The old and graceful Majlis building, the vessel of Hekmat’s eventual rise to prominence, was only a block away. In Hekmat’s own words, their house was a vast compound with many servants, a stable of fine horses, coachmen, and three kaniz, or “little slave girls.”[1] One of them was an older woman who acted as the purser of the house; the other two kaniz were younger—one feigned madness and defied any master and the other was more docile and cooked for the family.

Hekmat’s father was from a family of renowned scholars and physicians in the city of Shiraz. They were, according to some sources, of Jewish decent but converted to Islam sometime in the mid–nineteenth century. Their conversion and rapid political rise is reminiscent of Disraeli and the politics of nineteenth-century anti-Semitic England. Although it has been suggested that the name Hekmat is related to the Yiddish word hakham, or wisdom, members of the family were in later years loathe to discuss the question of this conversion.[2] Hekmat’s father had been a successful physician in the court of Nasir al-din Shah; his medical acumen earned him the title of Masih-al Molk, or the Messiah of the Realm. But by the time Sardar Fakher was born, his father had forfeited medicine in favor of attending to his large holdings in land. Hekmat’s mother, Fatemeh Mostofi, also came from a prominent family in Shiraz. In his meandering memoirs, Hekmat, more concerned with peerage than policy, focuses his adulating gaze on his paternal lineage and tells us next to nothing about his mother and her ancestry.

Sardar Fakher was the third child of a family of seven. In 1891, the year of his birth, a cholera epidemic was wreaking havoc in Tehran. It killed 10,000 of the city’s 120,000 population. A year earlier, an influenza pandemic had a staggering death toll of 6,000 of the city’s children. In fact, the overall impact of these diseases over the next thirty years was biblical in proportion. An estimated quarter of the country’s population was lost.[3] In 1891, however, Hekmat’s family, like other patricians of the time, sought sanctuary away from the bustle and bacteria of the city.

The child who at birth had been given the name of Hedayatollah was not altogether spared, however. He began to have mysterious fainting spells, and when doctors failed to find a cure, his devoutly religious mother took him and a group of servants to Meshed and the shrine of Imam Reza. The child was cured, and the mother changed his name to Reza as a token of pious gratitude. That would not be his last name change.

Reza was five when he was enrolled in the Elmiye School. Aside from what he learned in later years as an autodidact and an avid fan of Persian poetry and prose, the six years he spent at this school turned out to be all the formal education he ever received. He had a smattering of French from those six years, and his many subsequent travels to Europe helped him find his way around the language better. In July 1908, he was on his way to more schooling in Beirut—then the educational mecca for the sons of Iran’s eminent families—when his father was killed in an ambush. It was a blood vendetta by peasants who held him responsible for the death of two of their leaders.[4] Hekmat’s life abruptly changed; he was forced to go to Shiraz and take over the vast family holdings. He also entered the arena of Iranian politics, then fraught with civil and social strife. Although in his memoirs he claimed to have been fifteen at the time, in fact he was close to seventeen.[5] He became an advocate of the constitutional cause.

By then another important change had also taken place in his life. In 1909 he married “Hajiye Khanoume Aliye Mohazab, the only child of the deceased Mirza Seyyed Ali Mohazebaldoleh.” In his entire memoir, these few words, and the fact that she bore him several children, of which only one survived, are the sole references to his wife.[6]

World War I and the Russian revolution brought about radical changes in Iran’s political landscape. England, by then fretful of Soviet expansion and, as always, deeply concerned about protecting the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, used all its power[7] to pass the infamous 1919 Agreement and turn Iran into a virtual colony of England. Iranian nationalists fought against the agreement, and Hekmat joined the fray. He entered politics as something of an idealist and the head of an army of five hundred armed men. When the radical communist revolutionary Heydar Amogli traveled to Shiraz to set up a branch of his Democratic Party, Hekmat accepted his invitation and became a founding member of the party’s local chapter. Later in life, he twice toyed with the idea of creating a socialist party in Iran, and both attempts came to nothing. He also joined forces with the famous Tangestani Movement. In the days of World War I, Tangestanis were a ragtag army of peasants fighting the might of the British Empire; in later years, after Sadeq Chubaq wrote his successful semihistoric novel about the movement, and particularly after the novel was turned into a popular film, they took on legendary dimensions, icons of an indigenous, nationalist movement.[8]

Hekmat’s activities brought him to the attention of Persian nationalists, as well as the British legation in Iran. At the behest of one of the democratically minded courtiers, the last Qajar king, Ahmad Shah, bestowed on Hekmat the title of Fakher-al Saltaneh (Pride of the King); henceforth he would be known to everyone by the name of Sarder Fakher. The British, on the other hand, sought to have him thrown out of the southern provinces of the country. They eventually pressured the governor of the region (Farmanfarma’ian) to confiscate Hekmat’s properties and force him to seek refuge in Tehran. But there, too, he soon realized that his powerful relatives and friends could not protect him.9 At their behest, he left Iran late in 1919 and spent the next few months traveling in Europe.

Hekmat returned from his European exile in June 1920, very much back in political favor. His confiscated properties were returned to him, and the prime minister, Moshir al-Dowleh, sent him on an important mission. His job was to negotiate with Mirza Kuchek Khan Jangali—a nationalist who had allied himself with communists and created a Soviet Republic in Gilan—on behalf of the central government. According to Hekmat himself, he was instrumental in convincing the rebel leader to sever his ties with his communist allies.[10] Independent scholarly sources have offered a more complicated picture. According to some, the alliance was already broken when Hekmat arrived,[11] while others point out that Mirza’s decision to meet with Hekmat was itself the most likely source of the breakdown.[12]

Not long after these negotiations, Hekmat was elected to the Majlis, where he seems to have found his true calling. He began his career as legislator during the fourth session of the Parliament. He also served in the fifth, seventh, eighth, fourteenth, fifteenth, eighteenth , nineteenth and twentieth sessions. During the reign of Reza Shah, aside from his two terms as a representative, he also served as governor in the provinces of Gorgan, Kerman, and Yazd. None of these appointments proved to be of particular significance; in none did he show any remarkable qualities.

He almost lost any chance for a future in politics when Mostofi-al Mamalek, a prominent and popular political figure, died while a guest in Hekmat’s house. Rumors of poison and foul play began to spread immediately. Eventually, Hekmat felt it necessary to publish a letter categorically denying any role in the death of his friend. He also offered as supporting evidence a letter from the son of the deceased, who described in some detail the manner of his father’s “natural” death. In a line that borders on the absurd, the son reassures posterity that “my dearly beloved father, may he rest in peace, ate nothing at the house of Sardar Fakher Hekmat.”[13]

The fall of Reza Shah and the advent of a period of relative democracy in Iran helped bring Hekmat back into the political limelight. He was reelected to the Majlis. He soon joined forces with Ghavam-ol Saltaneh who, after years of exile and forced seclusion, was emerging as a key figure in the wartime political landscape. Hekmat became a founding member of Ghavam’s Democratic Party of Iran. With the help of the party, in 1946 he was elected Speaker of the Parliament. It was a position he loved, and he held it for nearly fifteen years. For much of two decades, his burly face and corpulent build, his fine tailored suits, his occasional outbursts while scolding rowdy members of the Parliament, and his intermittent notes of self-adulation became a part his public persona.

In his early days as Speaker, he tried to abide by the traditions of the Majlis and maintained some semblance of independence from the fractious factions in the Parliament. Majlis was in those days the center of gravity in Iranian politics, and its Speaker exercised considerable power. Soon after his affiliation with Ghavam, Hekmat began to wield that power in favor of his new ally and his policies. But Ghavam was caught in a fierce power struggle with the young shah, and Hekmat stunned the world of Iranian politics when in 1947 he suddenly changed alliances and sided with the king. It was an alliance that would determine and shape the rest of Hekmat’s political life.

The first steps in this alliance were taken in October 1947. A highly controversial bill granting the Soviet Union the right to explore for oil in northern parts of Iran was headed for the Majlis. In the tense days and weeks leading to the crucial vote, Hekmat, in the words of the American Embassy in Tehran, showed “statesman-like behavior” and was one of the leading “patriotic Iranian leaders in position to take appropriate action” to kill the bill.[14]

To Mohammad Reza Shah’s great relief—or if British and American Embassies are to be believed, at his behest—Hekmat not only played a role in defeating the proposed agreement, but, more important, he helped mastermind the fall of the recalcitrant Ghavam. Hekmat was then immediately nominated by the Majlis to become the next premier. He agreed, and the shah issued a firman in his name, making him modern Iran’s fifty-fourth prime minister. But in less than forty-eight hours, Hekmat had another change of heart. His love for the Majlis, his desire for job security, and the clear recognition that cabinets in those days often had dismally short lives, led him to predicate his acceptance on a strange demand. He wanted to be reassured that once his cabinet fell, he would be allowed to return to the Majlis and take up his seat. The demand was clearly against the law and was rejected. Hekmat, in turn, rejected the offer to become prime minister and retained his seat in the Majlis.

Ghavam and his friends accused Hekmat of nothing short of treachery. Tehran was filled with rumors about the reasons for Hekmat’s change of heart. By then, an aspect of his private life had become a matter of public debate and considerable controversy. Hekmat was, by temperament, a man of extravagant taste; he invariably spent more money than he earned. He was generous to a fault. Most of the meager salary he earned as speaker of the Majlis he gave away to supplicants. Throughout the years, he survived mostly by selling off pieces of the large family holdings he and his wife had inherited. In the last years of his life, as those properties dwindled, the shah apparently ordered the government to purchase from Hekmat a couple of his houses at highly inflated prices.[15] Hekmat’s profligate ways with money, his support of a lavish lifestyle, his strict adherence to the traditions of a dead, or dying, aristocracy all turned him into the kind of eccentric character found, for example, in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard or the novels of Dostoyevsky.

Hekmat also loved gambling, and poker was his favorite game. In those days, poker could be highly political in Iran. Members of the royal family, particularly the shah, were known to indulge nightly in high-stakes games. There were varieties of poker parties or dowreh, and membership in the right dowreh was a much-coveted prize, and a sure ticket to rapid political and economic success. Hekmat became the focal point of an eponymous dowreh. He often lost, and sometimes his losses reached astronomical figures, or so the whispers went. In the often-cantankerous sessions of the Parliament in those days, opponents taunted and ridiculed Hekmat for his gambling habit. On December 6, 1947, the British Embassy in Tehran reported that the shah had secured “Hekmat’s collaboration [in getting rid of Ghavam] through the extension of substantial financial help” to pay his gambling debt.[16]

Gambling was not the only aspect of his private life that became the subject of public scrutiny and occasional criticism. Hekmat had been instrumental in the passage of a bill authorizing a special committee set up by the Parliament to classify all governmental employees based on their past performance. Employees who had been in breach of the law in the past were to be classified in the infamous “Bande Jim” (or J Clause) and barred from holding office in the future. Hekmat’s name appeared on this dread list. He first gave a tearful, and much lampooned, speech defending his record—his version of Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech—and then he worked hard and successfully to abort the bill’s implementation. He also began a whisper campaign of his own, accusing his enemies of sinister machinations. He had been a foe of the British, he would say to anyone who listened, and it was their lackeys who had now placed his name on the list as punishment.

The bruising political battles with Ghavam and the even more bitter fights with Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq a couple of years later not only damaged his hitherto friendly relations with the nationalist forces in the Majlis, but gradually cast a shadow on his reputation, and darkened his mood and vision. He came under increasing attack by his peers. Some accused him of leaking the most confidential deliberations of the Parliament to the shah, while others criticized him for consciously rendering the Majlis impotent and making it subservient to the whims and wishes of the monarch.[17] By the time Mossadeq’s battles with the shah had reached a point of no return, Hekmat seemed to have embraced ideas that were contrary to his normally congenial and conciliatory disposition. He began to “emphasize the necessity of certain amount of bloodshed and even suggested the appointment of a few hundred assassins in order to overthrow Mossadeq.”[18]

It was this kind of unabashed support of the shah that made Hekmat a political pariah during much of the Mossadeq era. On the other hand, when in August 1953 the shah was returned to power, Hekmat was well rewarded for his unwavering support. He was once again named Speaker of the Majlis and played a crucial role in the passage of a highly controversial bill ratifying the agreement between the Iranian government and a consortium of British, American, and European oil companies. The agreement was a hard sell; it had many opponents, coming as it did on the heels of Dr. Mossadeq’s fight with the British government. The struggle had fueled the fires of nationalism in Iran. Persian oil had been nationalized and now a Western consortium was taking it away again, or so said the powerful campaign waged by the opponents of the regime and the consortium. In fact, Hekmat, too, “was rumored in segments of the press to be less than firm in support of Agreement,” but he went on to reassure his erstwhile enemies, the British Embassy, that such rumors were “untrue” and that there should be “no worry about Majlis.”[19]

Hekmat was not a man who bore political grudges for too long. He fought bitterly against Mossadeq and his allies in the years leading to Mossadeq’s appointment as prime minister. But when Mossadeq fell, Hekmat used his favored position with the shah to seek relief and reprieve for some of the leading figures in Mossadeq’s camp. For example, he lobbied vigorously though unsuccessfully to save the life of Hoseyn Fatemi, Mossadeq’s fiery foreign minister and the author of some of the most vitriolic attacks on the shah, and on Hekmat himself.[20]

In the late 1950s, the Eisenhower administration grew increasingly concerned about what it deemed to be the likelihood of an imminent social revolution in Iran. In 1956, the CIA, in a Special National Intelligence Estimate, reported that “the present regime in [Iran] is not likely to last very long.” The American panacea was “to get the Shah to accede to certain demands of the middle class” and bring into the government a new breed of political figures, more modern and in tune with the demands of the disgruntled Persian masses. For a whole generation of old-style political figures like Hekmat, the future looked rather bleak. In his case, the events of June 1963 sealed his fate.

On June 5, religious forces loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini poured into the streets of Tehran to protest the arrest of their leader. The shah was unhappy about the response of some of the elder statesmen to the way Alam had used an iron fist to quell the uprising. He decided the time for a “housecleaning” had arrived.

As a result of the “housecleaning,” Hekmat was not reelected to the next Majlis and in fact never had another governmental appointment. He can be considered the last Speaker of the Majlis with some power and independence. In spite of virtually dismissing him from the Majlis, the shah continued to have a particular affinity for Hekmat. He was offered an ambassadorial position or a seat in the Senate. He rejected the ambassadorial offer outright and indicated that he would accept the seat in the Senate only if he could be guaranteed the presidency. His condition was not accepted, and he spent the remaining years of his life out of the political limelight. The Senate seat was then, in apparent recompense, given to his son, Abbas Goli Emad.[21] By then the son was well on his way to following in his ancestral footsteps. He had gone to Europe, trained as a physician, and returned to Iran only to forfeit his medical career in favor of one in politics. After serving some time as an undersecretary in the department of health, he was catapulted into inheriting his father’s senatorial sinecure.

During the last decade of Hekmat’s life, his health began to deteriorate. He often traveled to Europe to attend to his myriad ailments. His wife of some seventy years was also in frail health.[22] Aside from entertaining his vast circle of friends, a game of poker continued to be his favorite pastime. He died after what had been a long and lavish party at his house. The guests left; he tipped the chef, as had been his habit, and began to climb the stairs to his bedroom. He never reached the top but was felled by a stroke. He lost control and dropped to his death.23 The year was 1978. He was given a state funeral in the Sepahsalar Mosque—not far the house he was born in and the Majlis he had dominated for so many years.

Amir-Abbas Hoveyda

Amir-Abbas Hoveyda was the longest-serving prime minister in the history of modern Iran. It was a distinction he fought hard to achieve. His admirers point to his long tenure as the “golden age” of the shah’s thirty-seven-year reign. But to his many detractors, Hoveyda’s achievement came at a terrible price: the revolution that took his life and ended the monarchy in Iran. He was a man of protean character and conflicting personae. Few in modern Iran have been the subject of so much controversy and so many sharply divergent views.

Hoveyda was born on a cold winter day, February 19, 1919, in Tehran.1 His family was of hybrid identity and incongruous affinities. His mother, Afsar-al Moluk, descended from the Qajars, and was therefore one of more than ten thousand men and women who trace their lineage to some king, queen, or prince of that dynasty. From this aristocratic pedigree, she had inherited a title but nothing else. His father, Habibollah Hoveyda, came from a middle-class family with deep roots in the newborn Bahai religion. As a very young man Habibollah had been tutor to an important aristocratic family and, at the urging of that family’s patriarch, Sardar Assad, had traveled to Europe with the family’s children. In appreciation, Sardar Assad asked Ahmad Shah to grant the favorite tutor a title, and that is how Habibollah had come to be called Ayna-al Molk.

When, in the second decade of the twentieth century the Iranian government decided to issue identity cards for its citizens and asked each family to pick a surname, it was the practice of Bahais to pick meaningful and usually optimistic names for themselves. Habibollah’s family had chosen Hoveyda (“visible”). His new title, “Ayn-al Molk,” means “Eye of the Kingdom.” This ocular theme is particularly ironic in that both father and son came to be known, among other things, for the opacity of their characters. The name given to the newborn Amir-Abbas is assumed to have had a religious undertone, in that it echoes the name of Abbas Afandi, one of the most revered leaders of the Bahai faith.

The year of Hoveyda’s birth was a critical one for Iran. The British—after bribing the king and three prominent politicians, including the prime minister, and promising them all safe haven in Great Britain in case they were forced to leave Iran2—attempted to pass the 1919 Agreement, which would assign British advisors to key ministries and turn Iran into a virtual colony. A nationalist movement that brought together forces from a variety of political persuasions defeated the British attempt.

More important for Hoveyda personally, in 1919, in another corner of Tehran, a son was born to Reza Khan, a charismatic officer of the Cossack Brigade. The child was Mohammad Reza, who was later to become the shah, and with whom Hoveyda’s fate would be inexorably bound.

Amir-Abbas was only two years old when his father, now a mid-level diplomat in Iran’s foreign ministry, was dispatched to Damascus as Iran’s representative to that wartorn city. Amir-Abbas would spend a great part of his early life abroad, first in Damascus and then in the city that in those days was called the “Paris of the East,” Beirut. Hoveyda’s years in that cultured, cosmopolitan city, where Muslims, Christians, and Jews created a vibrant multicultural enclave in an otherwise dour and dogmatic Middle East, left an indelible mark on his character. French became, in essence, his native tongue, and he was also fluent in Arabic. As a result, he always spoke his Persian mother tongue with something of an accent. Yet once he settled back in Iran in 1956, Hoveyda would resolve never again to leave his homeland. Only those who have experienced the exigencies of exile, he lamented, would understand his stubborn refusal. It was a refusal that would ultimately cost Hoveyda his life.

When he was four years old, his parents had their second child, named Fereydun. Fereydun turned out to be a creative thinker, more inclined to challenge authority than Amir-Abbas—or Amir, as he was affectionately called by his family—who tended to identify “more closely with parents and authority . . . [to be] ambitious, conscientious, and achievement-oriented.”3 The differences between the brothers seem proof of the thesis in Frank J. Sulloway’s monumental study of birth order and its impact on an individual’s political, social, and intellectual life.
Both young boys were much closer to their mother than to their distant, often brooding father, of whom they saw little. He spent much of his time traveling, leaving to his wife the work of raising the children. Amir-Abbas developed particularly close, lifelong ties to his mother. Fereydun became so deeply immersed in the question of the father’s role that he eventually wrote a book in which he looked at much of Iran’s history, and the revolution itself, through the prism of the Oedipal complex and the over-dominant role of fathers.[4]

In Beirut’s French school, Amir-Abbas was an unexceptional student. One subject, however, caught his passionate attention. He delved into the classics of French literature. He had a particular affinity for André Malraux and his famous novel Man’s Fate. One of its characters, Baron Clapique, exhibited many of the traits Hoveyda himself was later to display in the course of his public career. Clapique was, as Hoveyda would become, an enigmatic, paradoxical and complicated character, a lapsed aristocrat with deep cynicism toward the world and all that is in it.

While at school, Hoveyda had also dabbled in Marxism. (Among his fellow students were several boys who later became prominent Iranian Marxists, including Shapur Bakhtiyar, the shah’s last prime minister.) This early involvement had surprisingly long-lasting consequences. Added to friendships developed in later years with renowned Iranian Marxists and idealists, Hoveyda’s schoolboy dabbling gave him a persistent reputation as a leftist. Even though the Iranian Left never embraced or supported him, Iranian conservatives would never trust him.

Hoveyda’s father, who had been forced into retirement from the Foreign Service at an early age, died when Amir-Abbas was seventeen. Not long after his father’s death, Hoveyda set out for college in Europe, arriving in Paris in September 1938. He carried with him André Gide’s Les Nourritures Terrestres—the virtual bible of his youth. Paris was a city he had yearned to see and was to love all his life. But no sooner had he settled there than he was forced to leave. A diplomatic row erupted between Reza Shah and the French government, over a pun used in a French newspaper (involving “shah” and “chat”), and he—and all other Iranian students—were forced to leave France. For a while he settled in London and studied English; he finally ended up in 1939 in Brussels, where he enrolled at the Free University.

Europe was then engulfed in the World War II. As his published memoirs make clear, in Brussels Hoveyda managed to live a student’s bohemian life, pining for Paris. Just as in high school, his university grades were stubbornly mediocre. After four years, he received a bachelor’s degree in political science. At the same time, he witnessed firsthand some of the calamities of war.

Hoveyda arrived back in Tehran in 1942. The city of his birth, then occupied by Soviet and British forces, was altogether strange to him. On his first day back he got lost. Eventually he settled in the house of one of his uncles. With the help of another relative, and relying on his mastery of the French language, he was hired at the Foreign Ministry. Soon he entered the army as a conscript officer, keeping his job in the Foreign Ministry. His avid interest in the world of literature and his familiarity with the new wave of French writers and philosophers gained him access to some of Tehran’s most exclusive intellectual circles. He befriended Sadeq Hedayat, with whom he would keep up a sporadic correspondence, and Sadeq Chubak, who would remain a close friend until the end of Hoveyda’s life.
Hoveyda’s first diplomatic posting almost proved to be his last. When the war in Europe was ending, Iran appointed Zaynal-Abadin Rahnama ambassador to France. Rahnama was the father of two of Hoveyda’s closest friends, and at his urging Hoveyda, in spite of his junior status in the diplomatic service, was appointed to the muchcoveted post of press attaché in Paris. Soon after Hoveyda arrived, however, the Iranian embassy was embroiled in an embarrassing scandal. Some members of the embassy had used their diplomatic passports to engage in illegal cross-border transactions in gold and currency.

For no apparent reason, Hoveyda was mentioned in the Iranian press as a culprit. The accusation was quickly withdrawn: the Marxist newspaper that had originally accused Hoveyda printed at least two retractions. (Documents in the archives of the French foreign ministry prove, beyond any doubt, that Hoveyda was in fact innocent in this affair.)5 Nonetheless, the accusation somehow entered Iran’s collective memory and cast a long and lingering shadow over Hoveyda’s career. Four decades later, when he was fighting for his life in the Islamic “court” of the infamous “hanging judge” Sheikh Sadeq Khalkhali, the indictment included the charge of “direct participation in smuggling heroin in France.” Somehow the false charge of currency trafficking had metamorphosed into the equally untrue and more serious accusation of heroin smuggling.

Despite this incident, unfair and ultimately damaging as it was, Paris was not all bad. It was there that Hoveyda made two of the most enduring friendships of his life. He met and became a protégé of Abdullah Entezam—a colorful man of much erudition and long years of experience in the foreign ministry and one of Iran’s leading Freemasons. Another friend gained in Paris was Hassan-Ali Mansur, the ambitious son of an ex-prime minister and a member of one of Iran’s more powerful families.

In 1946, Hoveyda’s friend and mentor Entezam was named Iran’s new emissary to postwar Germany. He arranged to take Hoveyda with him. Hoveyda served three years in war-ravaged Stuttgart, before returning to Iran in 1950.
The country was by then in a fever to nationalize its oil and throw out the British. Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq was the man of the hour. His new appointees to the foreign ministry, Bagher Kazemin and eventually the fiery Dr. Hoseyn Fatemi, began to purge the ministry. In the case of Hoveyda, aside from his close ties to Entezam, there was bad blood between him and Dr. Fatemi from the days when they were both students in Paris. Hoveyda was unhappy with the new developments and worried about his prospects. He used the occasion of his mother’s developing a heart ailment to leave Iran, and when he had secured employment at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, he left with his mother for Geneva.

In his position at the UN, Hoveyda began a peripatetic career that took him all around the world—particularly to new nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He occasionally visited his friend Mansur, who since 1955 had been posted to Iran’s embassy at the Vatican. Mansur was by then boasting about his many contacts with his “American friends,” who, he claimed, had promised to facilitate his rise to the post of prime minister in Iran. Sanguine about his own future, he urged Hoveyda to give up his job at the UN and return to his position in Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
After some original trepidation, Hoveyda agreed. In 1956, he rejoined the Foreign Ministry and was posted to the Iranian embassy in Turkey, where Mansur’s father was ambassador. Soon, however, the elder Mansur was replaced by General Arfa’, notorious in Iran for his unbending devotion to military discipline. Even in the embassy, he introduced

and personally enforced soldierly routines. Every morning, Arfa’ required the staff of diplomats and clerks, drivers and guards, to line up, according to their height, and he would inspect their hygiene—the cleanliness of their shirts, the length of their fingernails. Hoveyda was soon at his wit’s end. He was about to resign when his friends Abdullah Entezam and Fuad Ruhani, executives in the new National Iranian Oil Company, offered him a managerial position in its offices back in Tehran. Hoveyda accepted quickly—and gratefully. In later years, whenever this episode was mentioned, Hoveyda would credit Entezam and Ruhani for his rescue.

The new man at National Iranian Oil Company was not made welcome by his colleagues. Most were averse to outsiders parachuting into leading positions in the company, and Hoveyda was at first treated with no small measure of resentment and bitterness. It was a sign of his future style of management and politics that he overcame this resentment with a combination of savvy, subtlety, and Machiavellian guile. Instead of dining in the director’s hall, he broke with company tradition and ate where the employees ate, standing in line to collect his food, just as they did. At “town hall” meetings he would appear on the stage and allow the employees to offer their criticisms of his decisions.

At NIOC, Hoveyda also began publishing a journal that, using company money and relying on the support of Entezam, paid handsomely for articles. This was Hoveyda’s way of making a name for himself and also helping support some of the intellectuals opposed to the regime.

In this journal, Talash, Hoveyda began to write about some of the themes that would later define his political creed. He talked of the necessity of pulling Iran out of its cycle of backwardness, suggested training a new technocratic class to replace Western managers and technicians, and wrote of forming a “conditional cooperation” with the shah. The objective, he said, should be to modernize Iran under the shah’s banner, with the hope of achieving democracy in the future.

In Tehran, in those days, there were no true political parties or pressure groups. Iran was instead experiencing the shah’s “guided democracy” and the phony “two-party system” he had created. What emerged in the place of parties was, according to the American scholar Marvin Zonis, a number of dowrehs6 or small gatherings of like-minded people who met regularly and tried to find coherent strategies and goals for themselves. With Mansur back in Iran, one of the most important was the Progressive Circle dowreh that Hoveyda and he formed together.

Hoveyda’s closeness to Mansur was cemented when he fell in love with Mansur’s sister-in-law. Mansur’s young wife, Farideh Emami, was a girl of unusual beauty who from early youth had decided to devote her life to raising a family. Her younger sister, Laila Emami, was born in 1933 in Abadan, capital of Iran’s oil-rich province of Khuzestan. Their mother was the daughter of a prime minister—Vosug al-Dowleh—and their great-uncle was Ghavam-ol Saltaneh, another pivotal figure of twentieth-century politics in Iran. Laila was sent to an English boarding school in Surrey. Afterward, she went to UCLA, where she received an undergraduate degree in art. While there, Laila fell in love with a young American. The affair soon ended, leaving Laila broken-hearted. It was under these circumstances that she and Hoveyda met at her sister Farideh’s wedding. Hoveyda was smitten immediately, but their romance would take a long time to blossom.

Hoveyda’s frustration in love was more than compensated for by his meteoric rise in politics. It was a time when the Eisenhower administration was getting seriously worried about Iran. The American Embassy in Tehran warned Washington that reforms were essential, and that unless something drastic was done quickly, a revolution, most likely of the type that would benefit the Soviet Union, would be unavoidable. The American government thus began to pressure the shah into a series of reforms and tried to convince him that he must bring to power a new breed of political figure—less encumbered by the past, better trained in the ways of the modern world, and, above all, committed to the idea of remaining allied to the West. Hoveyda, Mansur, and their friends in the Progressive Circle were the perfect embodiment of this new type.

By 1963, it was clear that Mansur was being groomed for the role of prime minister. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he enjoyed the support of at least some in the American Embassy. Although the American ambassador at the time considered Mansur “a lightweight,” there was at least one person in the embassy who championed his cause. Gratian Yatsovitch was a tenant of Mansur’s, renting one of several Tehran houses Mansur owned. He also happened to be the CIA station chief in Tehran. Mansur boasted about his close ties to the American spy.

In 1963 the Progressive Circle received an important nod of approval from the shah and changed its name to the Iran Novin Party (New Iran Party). By late 1963, Hoveyda and Mansur were literally offering jobs in the future government to prospective new ministers and undersecretaries. They were in contact with Assadollah Alam—the prime minister and leader of the “opposition party”—about the composition of the future Majlis and the number of representatives each side was to have in the yet-to-be-elected parliament. Their selections had to be approved by the shah, which created a somewhat farcical political situation. The farce ended in March 1964 when, on the eve of Persian New Year, a bitter and disgruntled Alam submitted his resignation, and Mansur introduced his new cabinet to the shah. Hoveyda was named minister of finance.

Soon afterward, Hoveyda had his first private audience with the shah. All evidence indicates that the shah took an almost instant liking to him. Somehow, he seemed to put the shah at ease. They shared a love for French culture and the French language. In Hoveyda, the shah also found an intellectual of sound credentials, with a voracious appetite for books and ideas, who could banter about the history, culture, and politics of the West with the best of his Western counterparts. More important, Hoveyda was also accommodating toward the king’s growing appetite to concentrate more and more of the government’s daily functions in his own hands. Hoveyda seems to have realized, as much by instinct as by experience, that the shah no longer tolerated “saucy minions” or independent ministers. The humiliations the shah had suffered at the hands of Mossadeq had convinced him never again to allow a charismatic man of independent political persuasion to become a minister of any kind.

As in his days at the oil company, Hoveyda put in long hours at the Ministry of Finance, an unwieldy department notorious for its corruption and opposition to change. Hoveyda’s attempts at reform were stiffly resisted, particularly by those who stood to lose their positions of power and privilege. In his efforts toward reform, Hoveyda was helped by Farhang Mehr, who enjoyed a reputation as a no-nonsense manager, impeccably honest and highly educated. Together they introduced computer technology and ended some of the government monopolies, most famously in sugar. Another change was to streamline the making of the government budget, a process hitherto cumbersomely divided between the Ministry of Finance and the Plan Organization. For at least four years the government had been trying to make this change, but the intransigence of past ministers, and their attachment to their own turf, had proved an insurmountable obstacle. Hoveyda made it look easy and was about to implement several other reforms when his career took a sudden and unexpected turn.

On Thursday, January 21, 1965, barely a year after reaching his lifelong goal of becoming prime minister, Mansur was shot and severely wounded by a gunman as he was about to enter the Parliament building. Religious fanatics who accused Mansur of insulting their religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, had organized the attack. To lead the cabinet while Mansur was in the hospital, the shah appointed Hoveyda. He was a surprising choice. Hoveyda had little experience in government; he had not been close to the shah, or to any member of the royal family. But all of this mattered little, since the appointment was assumed to be only for a few days. Then on January 26, Mansur died as a result of internal bleeding and other postsurgical complications. Hoveyda, this time officially, was named by the shah to form a new cabinet, though again it was the consensus in Tehran political circles that the appointment could not be more than a short-term one.

Hoveyda brought to his new post as prime minister the same kind of populist style that had won him the support of his peers in the oil company. He began to drive back and forth to his office in his small Paykan, a new car just starting to roll off the production lines in Iran. He lived in a small house with his mother. On one occasion, when the shah visited the house, he called it the “chicken coop.” Hoveyda was also a master of using small gestures of kindness to cement friendships and political alliances. No birthday, wedding, or mourning ceremony of friends, colleagues, or enemies passed without a card or gift from the prime minister.

In politics and economic policy, Hoveyda essentially continued the strategies that had begun under Mansur. A posse of competent cabinet ministers and undersecretaries, in charge of planning, commerce, and industry, began to implement a far-reaching set of programs. During Hoveyda’s tenure, these programs gradually changed the face of Iranian society and of its economy. As he proudly announced in a conference toward the end of his career, when he took over, Iran’s

GNP per capita was estimated to be around $100 per annum. By 1977, it was $2,069. . . . In 1963, there were only 10 centers of higher education in this country, with a total student population of less than 20,000. The number of universities and centers of higher education in this country has now reached 184, with a total student body of 149,000 . . . Seven million Iranians of all ages are attending some institution of learning. . . . Over forty thousand Iranians are attending universities . . . in Europe, North America and elsewhere.[7]

Hoveyda’s prime ministership coincided with another, more personal change to his life. On July 19, 1966, he married Laila Emami. She had just returned home from a long and painful trip to Europe, accompanying her sister, Farideh, who was still devastated by the death of her husband, Mansur. All through Farideh’s mourning, Hoveyda had been gently attentive to her increasingly irrational and angry demands. His sensitivity, Laila says, was one of the reasons she decided, at long last, to marry him.

Their happiness was short-lived. Laila proved a woman of strong opinions and short temper, particularly when she had had a drink. Her behavior—she refused to attend official ceremonies, and more and more frequently disparaged her husband in public— became increasingly embarrassing. Tehran was agog as well with rumors about Hoveyda. Indeed, all through his political life, Hoveyda was the constant subject of vicious rumors about everything from his drinking habits to his sexual exploits, even to his religion. Although his mother was without doubt a Muslim, and Hoveyda himself a man of no faith, the rumor mills had it that he was a Bahai. Iran’s preeminent journal of political satire, Towfiq, had a field day with the orchid he wore in his lapel and the cane he carried. Few weeks passed without some satirical new cartoon of the prime minister and his increasingly corpulent build.

Hoveyda’s enemies were not his only critics. Even his friends, including Laila, deplored his all-too-docile demeanor in politics. His deference—amounting to servility—toward the shah was rightly blamed for contributing to the demise of the office of prime minister. He deferred in all matters to the shah, despite the 1906 constitution’s explicit limits on the shah’s power. He further elevated the level of sycophancy by offering the shah often absurdly extravagant praise. Hoveyda once claimed he was no more than a chief of staff to the shah. It was a statement, and a view, he would live to regret.

Hoveyda was also rightly criticized for tolerating the financial corruption of those in power, and of the royal family. Although he was himself beyond reproach in financial matters, there is strong evidence that, most of the time, he looked the other way when he saw others abuse their positions. Some of his critics have suggested that he went one step farther and ingratiated himself with the royal family by actually facilitating their illicit economic gains. His defense, to Laila and to his other critical friends, was always the same: “If I resign, someone worse will take over.”

Hoveyda’s attempts to appease his critics and enemies were rarely successful. Aredeshir Zahedi and Assadollah Alam never liked or trusted him, while Hushang Ansary, Jahanguir Amuzegar, Hushang Nehavandi, and Alinaghi Alikhani each at one time sought to unseat and replace him. A key to his success in thwarting these attempts must be sought in his friendship with Parviz Sabeti, arguably the most powerful official in SAVAK.

By 1975, as the demands of his job and the chorus of criticism increased, Hoveyda grew more and more tired and dispirited. His marriage had come to an end, and he regularly took a heavy ten-milligram dose of Valium to get through the day. His cynicism, which he had kept reserved and circumspect in the past, was now a permanent part of his political persona. The more he consolidated his power, the more he seemed bereft of joy, enthusiasm, or confidence that he could bridge the gap between the shah and the opposition.

On March 2, 1975, Hoveyda’s world was turned upside down. The shah suddenly announced his decision to make Iran’s government a one-party system. Hoveyda’s Iran Novin party, his creation more than anyone else’s, was thus summarily demoted from its status as the ruling party. The party had been catapulted into the center of power by the same kind of royal fiat that now dismantled it.

The party, only weeks earlier, had held its most successful convention ever. Five thousand delegates from all over Iran, as well as hundreds of foreign guests and dignitaries, had converged on the capital to attend. At the end of the program, delegates, arms locked in fraternal unity, had sung the party’s song to celebrate, if not boast about, their consolidated power. Hoveyda, ever mindful of the shah’s sensitivity to manifestations of independent party power and support for the prime minister, would normally not have allowed such an exhibition of power. But for once he had been so overcome by the spirit of party unity that he had thrown his customary caution to the winds. The resulting scene was reminiscent of the dour orchestrated spontaneity of Maoist China’s celebrations. It may also have been the trigger that led to Iran Novin’s demise.

The shah dubbed his new single “party” the Rastakhiz (Resurgence) Party, and asked Hoveyda to serve as its first secretary. Although in private Hoveyda was harshly critical of the new party, he nevertheless accepted the job. The shah had ordered a party platform based on what he enigmatically called “the laws of dialectics.” Using a coterie of lapsed leftists, Hoveyda tried to develop such a platform, while at the same time infusing it with his own pragmatic ideas.

The work of running the party, as well as the government, was only adding to his exhaustion. During the last week of July 1977, accompanied by Laila—no longer his wife but still one of his closest friends—he went to one of the Greek islands for vacation. He spent his days lounging on the beach, reading his favorite mystery novels.

As Hoveyda knew when he left, problems had been accumulating in the last few months. Tehran was often forced to suffer hours of blackouts. There were increasing confrontations between the regime and the impoverished masses, who had converged on the capital and were building illegal housing. He did not know, however, that roughly two weeks earlier, the new American ambassador, William Sullivan, had told the shah that the current pace of economic growth was untenable. According to Sullivan, the shah construed this as a hint by the American government that Hoveyda must go.
Hoveyda returned to Tehran on August 4. On August 5, the shah ordered Hoveyda to resign. In the same meeting, he was offered the job of minister of court. Hoveyda obligingly accepted. For more than a decade, Hoveyda’s nemesis, Assadollah Alam, had been minister of court and had used his position to ridicule Hoveyda, curtail his power, and conspire to bring about his political demise. Now Alam was on his deathbed, suffering from herpes and cancer, and Hoveyda was the new minister of court. In his place as prime minister, the shah named Jamshid Amuzegar. Hoveyda’s days even in this new post were numbered. From the outset, he complained about the intransigent atmosphere at court. The old established cliques in turn despised him. But more important, the country was in turmoil. After only a few weeks in his new job, Hoveyda realized the seriousness of the new upheavals and thought his successor, Amuzegar, incapable of handling the situation.

Whether deliberately or inadvertently, Hoveyda then proceeded to play a key role in fanning the flames of discontent. In his capacity as minister of court Hoveyda was instrumental in publishing an infamous letter considered by many to be the trigger of the revolution. The shah had read one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s angry proclamations against the Pahlavi regime, and he ordered the publication of a harsh attack on the character of Ayatollah Khomeini. The king entrusted SAVAK and Hoveyda conjointly with the task of preparing the letter. While SAVAK was reluctant to prepare such an inflammatory piece, Hoveyda had two of his aides immediately prepare the letter and publish it in Etela’at. If, as Joseph Kraft of the New Yorker suggested at the time, part of Hoveyda’s motive in speedily preparing the letter was “to embroil the Amuzegar government with the religious opposition,”[8] he surely got more than he bargained for.

Hoveyda’s strategy for solving the growing crisis was three-pronged. First, he wanted to bring into power a coalition government led by either the National Front or Ali Amini. But the shah, still convinced of the invincibility of his army, in the beginning was unwilling even to meet with these parties. By the time he realized the necessity of such a meeting, it was too late.

The second prong of Hoveyda’s strategy was to curtail the royal family’s involvement in the financial affairs of the country. After many discussions he finally, in July 1978, convinced the shah to issue a proclamation to that effect. But that also was too little too late.

The third component of the Hoveyda strategy was that the shah should forcibly reestablish order in the country before addressing the demands of the opposition. Concessions, he said, must be made from a position of strength, not weakness. But the shah was by then in no mood to make such decisions. His paralysis only deepened the crisis. Finally, on September 8, the army opened fire on demonstrators who had broken the curfew. By the following day, Hoveyda was no longer court minister. In a letter he later smuggled out of prison, he claimed to have resigned to protest the killings. Others claim that he was forced to resign because it was becoming clear that the people held him responsible for many of the country’s problems.

On the day of Hoveyda’s resignation, the shah offered him a chance to leave the country to become ambassador to Belgium. Hoveyda, who had always accepted what the shah suggested, now asked for some time to think about the offer. Two days later, he refused. Many of his friends and relatives tried to convince him to leave Iran, but to all, his refrain was the same: “I have done nothing wrong and I shall face any accuser in any court.” He would also cite his mother’s ill health, and her unwillingness to leave Iran, as further reasons for remaining.

Meanwhile, Amuzegar’s successor, Ja’far Sharif-Emami, had set out on a policy of total appeasement. He not only granted every wish of the opposition but strove to anticipate their next demand, and to beat them to the punch by caving in before they even made it. The arrest of Hoveyda, on November 8, 1979, the two-month anniversary of the September shootings, was arguably the most consequential gesture of appeasement made by the government.
Even as a prisoner, Hoveyda was given a chance to escape. His friends in the French government devised a plan to pluck him out of house arrest—at a villa owned by SAVAK and used as a guesthouse—and out of Iran. He refused their offer.

Eventually, in February 1979, on the day of the revolution, he had a final chance to escape when his guards, fearing for their own lives, left him alone. Friends and family came to the villa to help arrange his escape to safety. Hoveyda stubbornly refused the offer, arguing naïvely that he had no blood on his hands, that he had taken no bribes, and that he therefore had no reason to once again subject himself to the drudgeries of exile. This time, his intransigence cost him his life.

Any chance of escape was now gone. The same day, Hoveyda was transferred to Refah School, which had become the revolution’s headquarters. He was the highest-ranking member of the ancient régime to fall into the hands of the new rulers. Among them, a battle of wills and strategies was now fought over the question of his fate. Some, like Mehdi Bazorgan, wanted to try him in a court of law, with a jury and attorneys. This way, they argued, the revolution could put the past on trial and show the world the legitimacy and justice of its cause. Others, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, were advocates of revolutionary violence—at once purgative and punitive.

Ultimately, although Hoveyda received a “trial,” it was the radical coalition that won the day. Hoveyda’s fate was put in the hands of the regime’s most bloodthirsty judge, Sadeq Khalkhali, already known as “the hanging judge.”

The trial was farcical in its style, and tragic in its consequences. The first session, which lasted about two hours, began well past midnight on March 15, 1979. It was held in the school where Ayatollah Khomeini lived. The second session, even more bizarre than the first—with stories of telephones hidden in refrigerators and unauthorized helicopters flying low over the prison—took place on the afternoon of April 7. This session lasted less than two hours. The indictment was a rambling seventeen-count list that included such judicial gems as “ruining agriculture and destroying forests” and of course the ubiquitous “spreading corruption on earth.”

The verdict was a foregone conclusion. Minutes after Khalkhali read the expected verdict, he and his blood posse followed Hoveyda into the courtyard outside and used a pistol to fire two shots haphazardly at Hoveyda. They struck him in the neck and in the chest, wounding but not killing him; his was to be a slow and painful death. Some have suggested that the shots were fired by Khalkhali, while others claim that another cleric named Ghaffari had been the culprit. Hoveyda, after a couple of minutes in agony, finally beseeched another member of the posse to “finish him off.” The man obliged by firing a third bullet, this time into Hoveyda’s brain.

Hoveyda was dead. His body was kept at the morgue for about three months, lest the burial become occasion for further attacks on his family, or on his corpse. He was then buried, anonymously, in the cemetery outside Tehran.

Hoveyda’s mother, by then bedridden, was never told of her son’s death. A pretense was made of reading letters he had supposedly written from Europe and of opening gifts he had supposedly sent. But her response was silence.

Fereydun Mahdavi

HE WAS CALLED THE BULLDOZER, yethehasthedemeanorofaconcertpianist.In spite of a gruff political bravura, he is short and bespectacled, with soft hands, gentle manners, and the agitated look of an intellectual. He is by training an economist, by profession a banker, yet by passion a man of politics. His rise in Iranian politics was meteoric; no less rapid was his demise. “Violent delights,” as Shakespeare said, “have violent ends.”[1]

For more than a decade he was considered a member of the opposition, one of the young leaders of the National Front. Yet overnight, after offering a passionate defense of the shah’s role in signing an oil agreement in 1973 that in his view truly and “for the first time completely nationalized Iranian oil,”[2] he was catapulted into the center of politics. He was soon considered one of the most active ministers in Amir-Abbas Hoveyda’s cabinet. He shared much with Hoveyda, with whom he developed an unusually intimate friendship. He was, like Hoveyda, a modernizer who decided that only by following the shah could he bring about the requisite changes in Iran. The American Embassy in Tehran called him “a case study of the co-opted Iranian radical” who had decided to work within the system, for he believed “that the Shah, though distasteful was all that stood between Iran and chaos.”[3] Like Hoveyda, too, he was a true cosmopolitan—more at home with French and German than with Persian. Before long there was talk of him as “prime minister material.” But his glory days were short-lived. Today, some royalists think his program for forceful reduction of prices added fire to the storm that eventually consumed the Pahlavi dynasty.

Even in exile, his life has been never far from controversy. His friendships with some of the main actors in the Iran-Contra affair and with alleged operatives of the CIA have occasionally brought his name to the attention of the American media.

He is the grandson of Hadj Amin-al Zarb, arguably the richest man in Iran at the turn of century and the symbol of its then-burgeoning private sector. Yet today he lives in Paris in a small apartment the size of a Texas walk-in closet. Ironically, he was one of the few ministers accused of financial malfeasance. His case never reached the courts, yet two of his undersecretaries were arrested on charges of financial corruption, and their trials turned into media frenzies. He himself was cleared of any wrongdoing, as was his undersecretary in charge of the controversial purchase of “sugar futures.” A few months before the revolution, Mahdavi had left Iran, relegated to political purgatory. Yet he was called back by Hoveyda and asked to act as a mediator with his “old friends” in the National Front. His return was a disaster. Times had changed. The National Front no longer fully trusted him and saw him as a turncoat, and had itself decided to play second fiddle to Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mahdavi’s failure in that mission was not the end of his problems. When the government decided to arrest some of the old ministers and offer them to the opposition as tokens of appeasement, Mahdavi seemed like the perfect offering. He was arrested, along with dozens of other ministers. He escaped to freedom in the revolution’s early hours, when jubilation and violence, anarchy and compassion created moments of chaos. His survival was something of a miracle. He escaped with another prisoner, like him a minister in the falling regime. Together they hit the streets, rapidly moving away from the prison and the mob that had attacked it. Soon, however, the two men realized they had reached a dead end. Anxious and angry, they turned around. At the first intersection, they decided to split up. One turned right, and Mahdavi turned left. Minutes later, mobs caught up with the other man, while Mahdavi soon found safe haven in the nearby house of a friend. “He served me a cold beer, and some koofteh, and that was maybe the most delicious meal of my life,” Mahdavi remembers.[4] The man who had turned right was less fortunate. A few weeks later, he was executed by a firing squad.

Mahdavi spent the next two years in hiding in Iran. Friends and family offered him safe havens. But as the situation worsened, he had no choice but to leave. Today, twenty-seven years later, in spite of the many hardships of exile, he is incorrigibly optimistic. “Change is around the corner,” he tells his friends or anyone who cared to listen, assuring them every time, “This time it is serious. I know from very reliable sources.” When I met him, in 2003, he talked of imminent change in three months. He made the same promise when I met him again, two years later.

Fereydun Mahdavi was born in 1932 (1311) in the lap of bourgeois luxury in Tehran, the city where his grandfather, Hadj Amin-al Zarb, had been for many years a political and financial power broker. At the turn of the century, Hadji had first brought electricity to the city. Fereydun was the firstborn of three siblings. When he was five the family moved to Berlin, and he spent the war years moving between Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Vienna, Prague, and Baden Baden. His family—along with a group of other Iranians of similar economic background—moved among these cities to avoid falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. In Vienna, a bomb hit his boarding school, and he felt firsthand the fears and calamities of war. His gypsy life meant a gypsy education. He attended schools in Vienna, Prague, and Paris, where he finally graduated from high school. By then French and German had become his true native tongues. He spoke Persian with difficulty and an accent.

In 1950, his father grew gravely ill. He was hospitalized in Hamburg. The whole family moved there, and in 1951 Fereydun began his university studies in economics. By 1953, he finished his bachelor’s degree, and three years later, in 1956, he completed all the requirements for a doctorate in economics from Hamburg University. His advisor and mentor was Professor Schiller, who had worked on theories of development and the role that private sector, particularly trade, can play in economic development. Schiller had been an economist during the Nazi era, and his experience of those years came to figure prominently in Fereydun’s future political life.

All through these years, politics was Fereydun’s passion. “All my life,” he said wryly, “I’ve been a political junkie.”5 He was an avid reader of political news. But he had been living away from Iran for almost two decades, and thus his political interests were driven more by the dictates of geography than by blood. All that changed rapidly when in 1958 he decided to return to Iran. Before going home, he made a stop in London, where he spent six months learning English.

In Tehran, he was soon introduced to Mehdi Samii, an already prominent man of politics and finance and a relative of Mahdavi’s mother. Samii offered Mahdavi a job at the Industrial Development Bank in Iran. Fereydun also began to meet a number of other prominent Persians—from establishment figures like Jamshid Amuzegar to some of the leaders of the National Front. Dormant for many of the years after the August 1953 defeat, the National Front was suddenly reawakened by the rise of John F. Kennedy in America. Leaders of the Front, through their regular contacts with sympathetic diplomats in the American Embassy, had learned that the new Kennedy administration was bringing pressure on the shah to reform and even to include the National Front in some form of coalition government. Mahdavi had a job at the new bank and membership in the Second National Front.

Another important change took place in his life a few years after his return. His cousin Sima had been the love of his life. The two had loved one another from childhood. But the gypsy years when Mahdavi was away from Iran had lasted too long. Sima had married another man. With Fereydun’s return, the long dormant love was rekindled. In 1963, Sima divorced her husband and married Fereydun. They are still married. Their only children are the two girls Sima had from her first marriage.

His fiery character, his family’s reputation, and his own dedication to the cause made him, by 1962, one of the leaders of the new National Front. He was involved in negotiations between representatives of the United States government and the leadership of the National Front in an attempt to forge a government of national reconciliation. At least two important ministries were to be given to the Front. The Kennedy administration even toyed with the idea of trying to push for a government headed by the National Front. They quickly changed their minds when in the great rally of Jalaliye, organized by the National Front, Shapur Bakhtiyar, to the consternation of many in the leadership, declared that the future Iran would be, “like India,” an nonaligned nation. A nonaligned Iran was more than the Kennedy administration was willing to accept.

Instead of receiving ministerial portfolios, the leadership of the National Front ended up in prison. Their intransigence at that historic juncture, their insistence on a maximalist policy, and their stubborn refusal to accept any compromise had grave consequences not just for modern Iranian politics but for Mahdavi as well. He recalls meeting a “tall American” in the office of one of his comrades a few weeks before his arrest. The American offered a simple proposition: Mahdavi and like-minded young leaders should split from the National Front and join the cabinet or else expect to end up in jail. The split never came, and the Front never agreed to join any cabinet, and Mahdavi was among those who paid for this refusal with his freedom. He spent eight months in prison.

After prison, he joined the bank again. Indeed, his relatively early release was, to no small measure, the result of Mehdi Samii’s intervention. He had raised the issue with the shah himself, who had ordered Mahdavi’s release. Mahdavi returned to the bank as a low-level analyst. He was beginning to have second thoughts about the National Front and the wisdom of their policies. In September 1965, for example, he told Ted Eliot of the American Embassy in Tehran that he was now “more pessimistic than [in] the past. He no longer thinks (hopes) that an economic crisis will soon precipitate a political crisis. . . . He continues to believe that the regime will sooner or later get into trouble . . . the middle class too has lost its spiritual incentive.”[6]

At the bank, he impressed the director, Abolqassem Kheradju, with his analytical ability and his probity in financial matters. He was given increasingly important assignments. When in 1968 it was decided that Iran should have a stock market of its own, Mahdavi was sent to Paris to study the laws and regulations of the Paris Exchange and then implemented them in Iran, becoming the first director of the Tehran Stock Market.

His “recognition that the bank, as well as the shah, wanted nothing but the best for Iran,”[7] and its success in providing seed capital for many eventually successful industrial enterprises, worked to convince him to rethink his allegiance to the National Front. There was also, he says, “the recognition that these gentlemen of the National Front are not men of action.” The last factor causing his change of heart and position was the oil agreement of 1973. “I saw,” he says, “that it was in earnest the best agreement for Iran.”[8]

When it was signed, he received a call from Alinaghi Alikhani, who called on behalf of Alam. “The shah,” he was told, “wants you to go and explain the new agreement to the Iranian people.”[9] Mahdavi asked to read the agreement. The oil company was ordered to provide him with all the information he needed, and once he finished his reading, he called his friend back and declared his willingness to go on television, defend the agreement, and explain its merits. Less than a year later, he received another friendly call, this time from Hoveyda, asking him to join the cabinet. Since 1971, after the attempted coup in Morocco served as a warning shot to the shah and his government, Hoveyda had convened a weekly meeting of de facto advisors who freely talked of the country’s problems and of ways to solve them. Corruption was a constant theme of these weekly meetings.

Two years later, Mahdavi was being asked to join the government and do something about these problems. His wife was adamantly opposed to the move, but ultimately his passion for politics, his palpable desire to be “a player,” overcame any doubts.

According to Mahdavi, he had been promised the Ministry of Treasury, held at the time by Hushang Ansary, Hoveyda’s bitter enemy and rival. This was one in a series of invariably unsuccessful attempts by Hoveyda to get rid of his nemesis. When Ansary ended up staying, Mahdavi was offered the new Ministry of Trade. “I had the title but no ministry,” he said, “no staff, no office. I had to create everything.”[10] For many of his top assistants, he recruited friends from his days in the National Front.[11] But before he could set up his actual ministry, he almost lost his job when he was caught in the crossfire of political intrigue in the cabinet. Hushang Ansary was the mastermind of an attempt to unseat Hoveyda.

When Mahdavi joined the cabinet, the shortage of foodstuffs was becoming a serious crisis. There had been a mass migration to the cities, increasing the demand while decreasing the supply of such items as grain, fruit, and vegetables. Furthermore, an increase in standards of living had increased people’s abilities to demand and purchase all sorts of commodities. Mahdavi’s first mandate was to make sure there was an ample supply of grain. For all of the twentieth century, bread had been one of the major triggers for uprisings and popular strikes in Iran. A slight rise in its price or a fall in its availability had wreaked havoc on many past cabinets. The shah was particularly sensitive to this question, and thus it was urgent for Hoveyda to ensure that no shortages of grain, thus bread, disturb the social and political equilibrium.

With his characteristic zeal, Mahdavi set out immediately to buy as much grain as he could on the open market. He even succeeded in purchasing and diverting to Iran two shiploads of grain headed for Iraq. In one day, he said, “I had purchased seven hundred thousand tons of continental grain, and I still did not have an office.”12 As he basked in the glory of his success only two days after his appointment, he was summoned to Hoveyda’s office. Hoveyda was sad and somber. The shah, he said, had heard rumors that Mahdavi had made illicit gains in the grain deal and had ordered him fired. Hoveyda had asked the shah for a reprieve and a chance to investigate the matter further. The rumors were not true. It took Mahdavi a while to prove his innocence. In the meantime, he learned about the complex web of intrigue and interests around the question of grain purchases. He had, innocently, stepped on many toes, and rendered ineffective a plot to unseat Hoveyda. The purchase of grain had been, by royal fiat, entrusted to Kermit Roosevelt and Gratian Yatsevitch—both CIA men, both once active in Iran. Every purchase had, for many years, gone through them, ensuring that they receive a percentage of the deal as commission. Furthermore, the Omran Bank, owned by the shah, had been the only financial institution to handle these transactions. Mahdavi had ignored them all and simply purchased grain on the open market.[13]

Furthermore, Mahdavi claimed that the whole issue of grain shortage was fabricated by a cabal of Hoveyda foes, foremost among them Ansary, as part of their attempt to unseat him. Iran had, in fact, bought ample supplies of grain but had not yet taken delivery, creating a false crisis. A few weeks after the affair, Mahdavi claimed, Ansary told him at a party, “We had Hoveyda cornered; all was needed was a nudge and he would have been finished, but you came and saved him.”[14] No other source confirms Mahdavi’s claims.

The shah then entrusted Mahdavi with the job of bringing down prices and cutting down the rate of inflation. “You have three weeks,” the shah told him, “or else I will deploy the army.” Befuddled and anxious to prove his mettle to the shah, he remembered Dr. Schiller, his mentor and economic professor. In his class, he recollected, they had learned about price control under the Nazi regime, and how the government decided on a price and ordered everyone to abide by it or face penalties and punishment. He decided to replicate the policy in Iran. He deputized thousands of college students as “price police” and gave them the power to arrest businessmen and shopkeepers who were in breach of the law. Prices came down, but only in appearance. In reality, there were two prices for almost everything. The “government” price, at which no commodity was available, and the real market price, at which there was ample supply of everything. Even greater was the political cost of this policy, as it turned more and more of the entrepreneurial class and members of the bazaar against the shah.[15]

If Mahdavi dodged the bullet in the grain deal, the purchase of large quantities of sugar a few months later proved fatal to his career. Next to bread, sugar and tea were key elements of the traditional Persian daily diet, and thus their price and availability had been, like bread, of extreme political sensitivity. Early in his term as minister of commerce, Mahdavi’s undersecretary in charge of the Department of Sugar and Tea, Hoseyn Alizadeh, had made a large purchase of sugar on the market. Hitherto, all sugar purchases had been handled by Felix Agayan, a close friend of Princess Ashraf. They had an agreement with a French company from whom they purchased sugar. When Alizadeh set out to solicit offers from a wide variety of companies, a British company called Tate and Lyle was included on the list of those invited to bid. The decision to include that company had come, according to both Mahdavi and Alizadeh, at the direct suggestion of the shah and Hoveyda. During the same week, in a meeting with ministers and undersecretaries in departments dealing with the economy, the shah told them of the coming confrontation with oil companies, and that the Western powers might retaliate by imposing an embargo on Iran. In anticipation, he wanted Iran to purchase and keep in reserve ample supplies of all foodstuffs. On the question of sugar, again according to Mahdavi and Alizadeh, the shah specifically mentioned that the ministry should consider the British company Tate and Lyle. Before long Mahdavi and his British counterpart, Lord Gelico, signed an agreement for the purchase of 250,000 tons of sugar, amounting to $250 million. Alizadeh had negotiated the terms of the deal, which was, among other things, Iran’s first foray into the futures market for sugar.

A few days after the agreement was signed, Mahdavi received a letter from the shah’s chief of staff indicating that there were rumors that he had received illicit commissions for signing the sugar contract. According to Alizadeh and Mahdavi, it was Felix Agayan who had complained about the deal to the shah. Agayan was angry because he had lost a profitable monopoly. Thus began an odyssey that continued for four years and ended in a court of law in which Alizadeh was tried and found innocent of any wrongdoing.

Hoseyn Fardust’s Office of the Royal Inspectorate was the first group to look into the deal. The generals initially assigned to the case were altogether ignorant of the mechanics of the futures market. To them, it was clear that Iran was paying higher than global market price for sugar. Eventually, an expert accountant with knowledge of commodities markets was brought on board, and he was categorical that there had been no foul play in signing the contract. Still not convinced by this finding, the shah ordered a team of accountants to go to London and check the accounts of Tate and Lyle to make sure no kickbacks had been paid. They, too, reportedly cleared Alizadeh of any wrongdoing.[16] It turned out, in fact, that Shapur Reporter, who acted as the representative of the British company, admitted in sworn testimony to receiving a legitimate commission of “three hundred thousand pounds.”[17]

Alizadeh was declared not guilty, and Mahdavi was absolved of any wrongdoing by a three-man commission of senior ministers appointed by Hoveyda. Iranian law at the time stipulated that criminal charges can be brought against a minister only after a commission of ministers has found the person guilty. Although they found Mahdavi innocent, the damage had been done. He could no longer serve in the ministry. In the public’s mind, his name conjured corruption. In fact, the Ministry of Trade had the worst reputation for financial corruption. Several of the staff became rich after a short tenure at the ministry. There was no choice but to remove Mahdavi from his post. He was given the largely ceremonial job of state minister. His political career seemed all but finished.
In Iranian politics, however, there is often a second chance. Mahdavi returned to the limelight for a while when the Rastakhiz Party was created. There was even talk of his appointment as the first secretary of the party. For several months, he acted as Hoveyda’s de facto chief of staff for party affairs. He spent countless hours meeting with different political figures, hoping to fashion for the party some genuine form of political organization.[18] He again invited some of his friends from the National Front to join him in the new job. Ironically, while Hoveyda, then first secretary of the party, thought of it as a project doomed to failure,[19] and Alam considered it a farce,[20] Mahdavi, hopeful of resurrecting his damaged reputation and career, spared no effort to turn it into a working organization. But it was all for naught. The party never took off, instead becoming a political albatross around the regime’s neck. People despised it as something alien, an illegal institution that was being forced on everyone. Mahdavi’s activities on behalf of the party only further damaged his reputation.

As the crisis in the country deepened, as the party became more and more a façade and a congregation of opportunists and careerists, as the power of his friend, Hoveyda, began to wane, and, finally, as hopes for an appointment to head the party were dashed, Mahdavi lost his passion for politics. He decided to take a vacation, and left Iran for France with his family.

While Mahdavi was in France, Hoveyda decided that it was time for the National Front and figures like Ali Amini to enter the political fray. He called Mahdavi and asked him to return. “It is again your turn,” he said. After some trepidation and doubt, Mahdavi finally decided to go back. Here was his chance to be once again at the center of action, a key player who could act as a bridge between the regime and its more moderate opponents.

But he, like Hoveyda, had misjudged the severity of the crisis, and the torments of his life in the next two years, the agonies of prison and the anxieties of living underground, were the heavy price he paid for this error.

Abdol-Majid and Monir Vakili

The rise of technocrats in Iran came at the junction of two importantdomestic and global sea changes. On the domestic front, the shah wanted a new kind of public servant, with no political base or ambition and committed to promoting his version of modernity. In the wider world, there was a trend away from traditional politicians and toward a new kind of social scientist, the technocrat. In the early part of the century, Max Weber had heralded the advent of “civil servants”—officials without political affiliation and committed to the execution of the letter and the spirit of the law. After the end of World War II, sociologists in Europe and America predicted the rise of technocrats—champions of modernization and market economy, advocates of infrastructure improvement and globalization.

There was pressure on the shah from the United States, particularly the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, for change in Iran. The Americans believed that unless the shah undertook drastic measures, social revolution would be unavoidable. One proposed change was the empowerment of a new elite that would be less corrupt, less entangled with the aristocratic classes, and more aware of the urgent needs of modernization. AbdolMajid Majidi fit this profile perfectly. He was the consummate technocrat.

Abdol-Majid was born in Tehran in 1928 (1307) to a middle-class family, the second son of seven children. His mother was from a prominent family of merchants in the city of Amol, in the northern province of Mazandarin. Although she was deeply religious, she also played the violin and learned to speak some French. His father was as a lawyer and one of the founders of the Iranian Bar Association. His most famous client was Dr. Mossadeq. Although his father had warned him that “[i]f you work for the state, you are forever looking to the end of the month and your next paycheck,”1 Abdol-Majid became the ultimate functionary.

He began school at six, and was, in his own words, “never on top of the class.” But he was an avid reader, and mysteries were his early favorites. He became interested in classical music when, at the house of a family friend, he listened to records for the first time. It was “from something called ‘His Master’s Voice,’” he said.[2]

He attended Dar al-Funun high school, leaving during his last year to attend Alborz and focus on business. In 1946, he entered the Faculty of Law at Tehran University—one of the country’s first institutions of higher learning. He graduated in 1950.

The country was in one of its most intense political periods, and the university and law school were hotbeds of radicalism and nationalism, but Majidi had little interest in radical politics. “Most of my friends,” he remembers, “were members of the Tudeh Communist Party, and though I had some affinity for their utopian goals, I never joined.”3 Nevertheless, thinking that the future belonged to the Soviet Union, he began to learn Russian.4 As his relations in party circles cooled, so did his enthusiasm for the language. His early proclivity for long-term planning, his caution at attaching himself to a political party or platform, his pragmatism, his willingness to change his position, and his acute awareness of the context of his decisions would, in later years, define him as a man of politics. Late in Majidi’s career, the shah said of him jokingly, “Majidi is like a cat. Regardless of how you throw him up, he lands on his feet.”[5]

After law school, he went to Paris to continue his education. While pursuing a law degree, he also attended to one of his lifelong avocations—he took a class in painting. Even at the height of his political career, he continued his painting lessons with an Iranian painter named Ziapour. Some of Majidi’s paintings were shown at an exhibit at the Officers Club in Tehran.6 He still paints today.

Most of his friends in Paris were members of the Tudeh Party, including Monir Vakili, a beautiful woman, a vocalist with classical opera training, who was married at the time to Dr. Razavi, one of the leaders of the party. Since her days in Iran, Monir had been a “fellow traveler” and friend of the party’s most senior leaders, including Maryam Firuz7 and Nour-al-Din Kianouri.8 Her meeting with Majidi and their eventual decision to marry ended her ties with them.

They married in 1951, and when they returned to Iran, they were one of the most artistically active couples in the capital, Tehran. They had a clear understanding that they would continue their individual careers and would not allow one partner’s work to impede the other. Monir kept her maiden name—a common practice in Iran. Even at the height of their careers and fame, many people did not know they were married. For Majidi there was an element of his customary caution in this separation. Women’s singing was anathema to religious zealots, and in Majidi’s own words, he “did not want her career to become an unnecessary liability.”[9] Monir, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to these religious restrictions and the dangers they might pose for her.

The most crucial aspect of her life had always been music. She had a beautiful and powerful voice. Opera was unknown in Iran before the twentieth century. But as society modernized, Western art and music also grew in popularity and prestige. Monir Vakili played a pivotal rule in introducing Iranians to this new form of music. She also used her musical sense to search for overlooked gems of Persian music and to make them part of the emerging sounds of “international music.”

She was born in Tehran to a family of artists. Her mother loved opera and was an accomplished singer. Her childhood home was filled with the sound of music. Monir began singing arias at seven, then later began to train with a professional voice teacher. Many years later, she went to Paris and took classes at the famous Conservatoire, where her voice was classified as soprano.

While she followed her musical career with full intensity, she was no less dedicated to her family life. Their first child was a daughter named Shahrzad. She was born in Paris and now owns a boutique in the upscale district of Marin County, California. Their second daughter, Jamileh, now known as Jaja, was born in Tehran six years later. She is a successful singer in California. Married to a scion of the Saleh family,[10] she has dedicated much of their Sausalito home to the memory of her mother. Her photographs adorn the walls; the colorful dresses she wore while performing are displayed on mannequins; and reviews of Monir’s performances, articles written about her, and issues of Iranian magazines with Monir on the cover are cherished family heirlooms preserved in a handsome box11 There is much evidence to indicate Monir was able to manage the conflicting demands of motherhood and a career. More than two decades after her tragic death, Majid remembers her fondly as a “model mother and wife.”

In 1952, the couple returned to an Iran that was torn asunder by the rivalry between the shah and his increasingly hostile prime minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq. Although Mossadeq was a client of Majidi’s father, and although the Tudeh Party had become an ally of Mossadeq, Majidi himself did not side with the prime minister, concentrating instead on finishing his apprenticeship in his father’s law firm.

By the time he finished his training, the Mossadeq government had fallen. A number of new institutions—banks, insurance companies, construction firms—were burgeoning, buoyed up by the generous aid given to the new Zahedi government by England and the United States. One of these was the Export Bank, and Majidi was hired by its legal department. Realizing that the days of French as the language of power and culture in Iran were ending, he began learning English. By the end of the 1950s, the center of gravity in Iranian politics had shifted to the Plan Organization. Abol-Hassan Ebtehaj, its powerful director, had secured the support of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Ford Foundation, Harvard University, and the U.S. government. The Plan Organization would be the heart of the economic stabilization program, the key enforcer of fiscal responsibility in Iran. Majidi soon joined the Plan Organization as a specialist. It was the beginning of a government career that lasted for more than two decades and included his rise to managing director of the Plan Organization itself and two ministerial portfolios.

His rise in the Iranian bureaucracy was helped by his decision to join two groups—or dowrehs, in the parlance of social science—that brought together technocrats united by their advocacy of modernity. Tehran was in those days filled with these dowrehs.[12] Anyone who hoped to rise on the ladder of power created one. Majidi joined the Kanoune Egtesad (Economic Center), which was composed of graduates of French institutions. But America was clearly gaining power and prominence in Iran, and Majidi, recognizing that, also joined a group whose members, with the exception of Majidi, were graduates of American universities. Manuchehre Goudarzi, Cyrus Samii, Manuchehre Mahamedi, Cyrus Ghani, Karim Pasha Bahadori, and Khodadad Farmanfarma’ian were all members of this group. Eventually, Majidi went to Harvard for a master’s degree in public administration, which he received in 1961. At the same time, he took a course in agricultural economics at the University of Illinois.

Monir accompanied her husband and trained at the famous New England Conservatory of Music. Her singing career was in full bloom. A record she had released in Europe in 1957 had won critical acclaim and the Grand Prix du Disque. Called The Songs and Dances of Persia, the record was the fruitful collaboration between her and Amir Hoseyn Dehlavi, a composer and compiler of Persian folkloric music.

Soon after their return to Iran, Majidi was appointed deputy director of the Plan Organization. In that capacity, he met Amir-Abbas Hoveyda and became one of his closest confidants.[13] The friendship was cemented a couple of years later, when Hoveyda, upon the sudden death of his friend Hassan-Ali Mansur, was appointed prime minister. Hoveyda insisted on submitting that year’s budget to the Parliament on time, and he succeeded, with the help of Majidi. Hoveyda not only impressed the shah but also established his reputation with the Parliament. More important for Majidi, the budget victory meant that Hoveyda appreciated Majidi’s ability as a manager. At Majidi’s urging, Hoveyda agreed to streamline the process of budget planning in Iran, hitherto badly bifurcated between the Plan Organization and the Ministry of the Treasury.

Mehrdad Pahlbod, the perennial minister of culture, invited Majidi to join the High Council of Culture and Art. Pahlbod was a trained violinist who knew Monir. Majidi had a few clashes with SAVAK as the head of this council, which was the ultimate authority on film censorship and decided what films would receive distribution licenses in Iran. Majidi was in favor of cultural openness, but representatives of SAVAK were sometimes comically cautious about what they considered subversive. They were against issuing a license for the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The film, SAVAK suggested, taught the dangerous lesson of regicide.[14]

Two films by Daryush Mehrjui created considerable controversy. One was called The Cow, about the metamorphosis of a peasant into his cow; the other, The Cycle, showed in cinema verité style the trade in blood in Tehran, where corrupt dealers preyed on the poor and sick. SAVAK was against The Cow (“it offers a negative view of the Iranian village life”),[15] and Iran’s Medical Association and its powerful head, Dr. Manuchehre Egbal, opposed The Cycle. Majidi supported the release of both films. They were eventually shown, after the intervention of the queen. At her insistence, the shah finally watched The Cycle, but he angrily walked out halfway through the film, complaining about intellectuals—or “an-tellectuals”[16] as he liked to call them pejoratively—who insisted on depicting the darker side of society.[17]

Majidi also served as head of the jury for the Tehran Film Festival. In the mid-1970s, at the height of Iran’s oil boom, the festival became one of the most important in the world. Many top directors sent their films to the festival, and dealers and producers pitched serious and zany projects to Majidi and other Iranian authorities. One of the suggestions Majidi received was for Iran to purchase the sole international rights to all of Charlie Chaplin’s films.[18]

In 1965, Pahlbod had helped stage the first full production of an opera in Tehran, with Monir in the lead. Eventually, with her encouragement and active participation, a modern concert hall, Talare Roudaki, was built in Tehran. Experts from La Scala helped design the acoustics and the stage that enabled it to put on ambitious operas. Some of the biggest names in international opera were performing there by the mid-1970s. Monir had a leading role in nearly all of these productions. One such role was the occasion for a famous quip by Hoveyda. When Monir’s character died on the stage, Hoveyda, sitting next to the royal couple and not far from Majidi, said, “Amen for that. Now Majidi is finally free.”[19]

With government support and generous donations from rich Iranians, Monir started a new voice school for girls in 1975. She traveled around the country attending the applicants’ recitals, and chose the most talented voices in Iran. After three years of intense training, the girls sang in the Tehran choir or the opera.

Majidi’s political career was steadily growing, and he had become one of the most powerful ministers in the government. His first portfolio was in the Ministry of Agricultural Product and Consumer Goods, a new ministry that Majidi created. The appointment lasted for a year, beginning in November 1967; his mandate was to improve the quality and availability of agricultural foodstuffs for the rapidly growing urban population. He helped create a number of government-sponsored retail stores and tried to introduce common labeling standards. Before he could implement his other plans, he was sent to the Ministry of Labor, where he increased the minimum wage, tried to create a number of government-controlled unions based on the AFL-CIO model in the United States, and set up technical training centers. Taking a page out of early Soviet history and its Stakhanovite Movement,20 he established an award for the “Iranian hero of labor.”

In 1973, he was named minister in charge of planning and budget for the Plan Organization. The boom in Iran’s oil revenues had led to growing tensions between different elements of the bureaucracy over the distribution of the money. The biggest piece of the pie went to the military and intelligence agencies, and only the shah had a voice in determining the size of their budgets. Majidi claims that he advocated a smaller military budget, but he was rebuffed.[21]

His most controversial decision in this period was to succumb to the wishes of the shah at the Ramsar Conference in 1975. The experts at the Plan Organization had said that Iran did not have the infrastructure to absorb all the new revenues, and that failure to control the size of government expenditure would lead to a “revolution.” The shah, who was by then dismissive of economists, angrily rejected their advice and ordered all new oil revenues to be spent on government programs—from the military to ambitious social programs such as free health insurance, free education, and meals for every Iranian student.[22] Majidi chose not to defend his experts’ advice and like other ministers, simply succumbed to the shah’s orders.

At this time, Majidi was appointed by Hoveyda to head the Ministerial Committee for Social Affairs, an attempt to emulate the French system of “super-ministers” in charge of several related ministries. The Departments of Education, Women’s Affairs, and Labor worked under Majidi’s guidance. By then, he was considered one of the shah’s favorite ministers.

During a meeting with the shah in Switzerland, Majidi first heard that the shah was going to dismantle the existing two-party system.[23] Majidi was to play an important role in the new party and eventually became the head of one of the two wings the shah ordered into existence. But the one-party experiment was a disaster and fueled the fires of discontent in Iran. Both the shah’s days on the throne and Majidi’s tenure at the center of power were nearing their ends.

After Jamshid Amuzegar became prime minister, Majidi was out of office and out of a job. For reasons that are not clear, the shah had vetoed another ministerial appointment, and Majidi began to think about entering the private sector. In those days, fast fortunes could be made readily by someone with Majidi’s background. Before he could put his plans into action, he was named head of the Shahbanou Farah Foundation, his last job in Iran. Many of Iran’s most important museums were under the control of the queen’s foundation. As the situation in the country deteriorated, Majidi, at the behest of the queen, arranged for the transfer of some of the country’s most valuable artifacts to safe places.

In an attempt to avert the crisis, the shah consented to imprison a number of the regime’s top leaders. The arrests were a ruse to convey to the people the idea that it was not the shah, but his misguided minions, who had been responsible for everything that had gone wrong in the country. Majidi’s days were numbered. He was with Hoveyda on the day he was arrested in November 1978. The arresting officers, two generals from the office enforcing martial law in Tehran, warned Majidi that they would soon come for him as well.

A few days later, Reza Ghotbi called Majidi to warn him of the worsening situation and to suggest that he leave the country. Majidi had received an invitation from UNESCO to attend a meeting in Paris. He went to the Foreign Ministry and tried to get a passport, but the new prime minister, Shapur Bakhtiyar, had ordered that Majidi not be given one. In a show of independence and willingness to “correct the mistakes of the past” Bakhtiyar kept former officials from leaving the country and even arrested them. Desperate, Majidi called Ghotbi, who suggested that he talk to the queen. He followed Ghotbi’s advice, but the queen told him, “It is no longer in our hands.”24 Not long afterward, she and the royal family left Iran, leaving behind a deeply distraught Majidi. A few days after their departure, Majidi received a call from the martial law authorities asking him to come in for questioning. That night, soldiers stormed their house and arrested him. Majidi was taken to Jamshidiye, the jail where many once-powerful figures were being held.

Anxiety, suspicion, angry recriminations, and mistrust, along with remorse for missed opportunities to escape and increasingly despairing news from the outside world made Majidi’s days in prison a torment.

On the morning of February 11, 1979, as the radio announced that the army had declared neutrality and was returning to barracks, and the sound of gunfire filled the air, soldiers guarding the prison fled, doors were flung open, and in the chaos that ensued, some prisoners, including Majidi, escaped. A few were recognized by the crowds milling outside and arrested. They invariably met a tragic end. Majidi was luckier.

He took refuge in one of his daughter’s houses and then moved around to the safety of other friends’ and relatives’ homes. As the number of executions increased, he decided it was time to leave Iran.

He asked one of his brothers to seek help from the French government. Eventually a passport with a false name was giving to him by the French. “At least seventeen top officials,” he remembers, “including Bakhtiyar, were saved by the French authorities.”[25] With the help of smugglers, he crossed the Turkish border on foot in the middle of the night. On Sunday, May 26, 1979 (5 Khordad 1358), he left Tehran, and on Wednesday of that week he was in Paris. French police met him at the airport, whisked him through customs, and helped him settle down, advising him to keep out of cafés and places frequented by Iranians. Monir was already in Paris and after a few weeks of nervous living, they began to acclimate to life in exile.[26] But tragedy was not far away.

On a rainy February 28, 1983, Majidi and Monir were on the road in their Citroën. Majidi was driving. Near the city of Nieville in Belgium, the car hit a truck parked on the side of the road. Monir was killed instantly. Majidi was taken to the hospital, unconscious. Doctors operated and saved his life. He was unconscious for eleven days, and it took him months to recuperate fully.[27]

He still lives in Paris, frequently traveling to the United States to visit family and friends. He has worked at a number of consulting firms and headed the Mihan Foundation, dedicated to promoting Iranian culture and history, for a time. He is one of the queen’s advisors and helped negotiate the publication of her memoirs in France.

Khalil Maleki

Khalil Maleki easily ranks as one of the most unjustly maligned characters in modern Iranian politics. Distrusted by the shah’s regime, ignored or derided by the radicals, and disdained and demonized by the Stalinist Left, he was nevertheless indefatigable in his struggle for social democracy in Iran. In a country whose traditional philosophy has thrived under the shadow of the Manichaean vision, in a culture whose religion tolerates no purgatory, he was a tireless advocate of compromise and of the Aristotelian “Golden Mean.” He was pragmatic in a culture whose intellectuals advocated, at least in public, a culture of ideological purism. While the radicals’ pretense of purity was not just oblivious to the dictates of reality but bordered on the naïve, his pragmatism was fearless, and oblivious to the cost he, as an individual, would pay for his ideas.

More than anyone else, he tried to fight Marxian dogmatism and despotism on the theoretical level, and he thus became the primary subject of the powerful Soviet propaganda machine. As their attacks increased in venom, and as the government of the shah continued to persecute him for his candor in advocating democracy and transparency in government, he felt more and more isolated and tired. At times he took refuge in alcohol, providing his enemies more material for their factory of lies. He died a lonely and broken man. Even his meager retirement payment was cut off in his last year of life. But in recent years there has been increasing interest in his life and books. His writings about the nature of the Soviet brand of “socialism” as a malignant form of state capitalism were precociously accurate.

Khalil Maleki was born in the city of Tabriz in 1901 (1280). His father was a merchant of the bazaar and an advocate of the Constitutional Revolution. As a child, the young Khalil witnessed the violence and the exuberance of the revolution. He was still in elementary school when he lost his father. His mother remarried, and as a result the family moved to the city of Arak, where Maleki continued his schooling. For high school, he moved to Tehran and enrolled in the German Technical School. His first entanglement in politics took place at this time. His behavior in that encounter presaged his mode of action for the rest of his life. In him, caution and prudence in choosing a goal combined with tenacious steadfastness in the pursuit of his goal to make his character cautious and brave, prudent and defiant.

This incongruent mix was even evident in his writing habits. He was intellectually and politically a firm believer in consultation and pluralism, in learning from others and accepting the contingency of his own beliefs. Indeed, the supple quality of his mind and his humility were two of his most endearing qualities. At the same time, he was renowned among his colleagues and comrades for the poor quality of his prose. His sentences were often long and meandering, and his arguments as hard to follow as his syntax. Yet he only begrudgingly tolerated others editing his writing.[1] If his stubbornness translated into bad prose, in politics it often came through as bravery. His role in the first political strike of his life is a clear example of this quality.

One of the teachers in the German Technical School had slapped a student. Other students, angry and rebellious, decided to go on strike and demand the expulsion of the teacher. Maleki had been against the idea of making what he thought were unreasonable demands. All his life, politics for him was the art of the possible. He counseled caution and moderation, and he was overruled. He was beginning to learn that passion and rhetoric often prevail over prudence and reason in politics. Maleki begrudgingly joined the strike. With the first hint of a threat by the administration, the ranks of the striking students cracked and nearly everyone went back to class. Maleki was the exception. He stood his ground and as a result was expelled from the school.

He was despondent. He contemplated seeking asylum in the Soviet Union—the only neighboring country that seemed to him to hold any promise. Lucky for him, before he took any steps to realize this harebrained idea, he was, through the good offices of a friend, reinstated in school.[2]

His real salvation came in 1928 when he was chosen by the government as one of the recipients of the much-coveted scholarships to study abroad. Accompanied by a group of students that included some of the future political luminaries of the country, he set out for Germany and the pursuit of an education in chemical engineering. Weimar Germany was a hotbed of communist and Nazi radicalism in those days, and before long Maleki had joined a small circle of leftist Iranian students led by the charismatic Dr. Taghi Arani. In his memoirs, he writes of his turn to communism, “We did not choose communism; communism chose us.”[3]

Before he could finish his doctoral degree, his scholarship was abruptly withdrawn. He had fought with the Iranian Embassy over their attempt to conceal the facts about the suicide of another scholarship student. Maleki returned to Iran and enrolled in the Teacher’s Training College; after graduation, he began to work as a chemistry teacher. His early training as a chemist would later appear in many of his philosophical writings in the form of references to scientific theory and repeated comparisons of societies and human beings to biological or chemical organisms.[4]

Two years after his return from Germany, Maleki met and eventually married Sabihe Ganjei, a biology teacher from a family famous for their democratic sentiments. She remained for the rest of his life his most steadfast supporter. Without her help, it has been suggested, “Maleki could have never accomplished his mission. She was the only person who never left him.”[5]

About the time of his marriage, he reconnected with his friend Dr. Arani, who was keen on establishing a magazine called Donya (The World). It was a journal of ideas, with a decided leftist tilt. Before long, everyone associated with the magazine, including Maleki, was arrested by the police. Their number totaled fifty-three and the group was made famous by a book by Bozorg Alavi, a writer among the group arrested, who later wrote his prison memoirs under the title Panjaho Se Nafar (The Group of Fifty-Three). Since then, several other prison memoirs have shed new light on the dynamics of the group before, during, and after prison. Maleki’s Political Memoir also covers his prison days at some length.

For Maleki, the most bitter memory of this experience was the death of his first child. The infant was born while Maleki was in prison. The father had thus seen his child only through bars. Furthermore, according to Maleki, the fact that his wife often traveled between Arak, where she lived, and Tehran, where he was incarcerated, was the probable contributing cause of the infant’s death. In his historic 1964 letter to Mohammad Mossadeq, Maleki waxes eloquent about her and her independence, and her willingness to bear the burden of running the house, even financially supporting the family when he is in prison or otherwise engaged in his political activities. In the letter, he laments the loss of his child.[6]

The fall of Reza Shah changed Maleki’s life. He was freed from prison and joined a society that was beginning to exercise democratic experimentation. Many of the members of the of the “Group of Fifty-Three”—with the exception of Arani, who had died in prison under suspicious circumstances—united to create the Tudeh Party of Iran. From its inception, the party was beholden to the Soviet Union, and eventually, in spite of the good intentions and aspirations of many of its members, it grew into an instrument for Soviet foreign policy and espionage. Maleki originally refused to join the new party. As he recounts in his memoirs, he had seen the corruption and moral weakness of many of the party’s leaders. Ultimately he overcame his original trepidations and joined, and he immediately emerged as one of the party’s chief theorists.

No sooner had he joined than tensions began to grow between him and most of the party leadership. Points of dissension and contention were many. Maleki advocated more in-party democracy, less dependence on the Soviet Union, and more attention to the realities of Iran. The simmering tension grew to a boil over the question of Azarbaijan. The Soviet Union had been occupying that part of Iran since 1941. It had, unbeknownst to the Tudeh party, propped up a Ferge Democrat, or Democratic Party, in the region, and the party was, by 1944, sounding more and more like a secessionist movement. Moreover, the Soviets ordered the Tudeh Party to dismantle its organization in that region and have its members join the “Ferge.” Maleki was sent by the Central Committee of the party to check out the situation and prepare a report.

What he found was simply appalling. The Soviets were behaving like an occupying force, and their officers treated even the Iranian communists with disdain. He found the ranks of the communist movement in that region infested with opportunists. By the time he came back, he was ready to leave the party and create a better, more reform-minded, independent party. His plan eventually led to the biggest split in the ranks of the Tudeh Party. The significance of this split has led to numerous narratives about its origin and the sequence of events. The Tudeh Party, in the great tradition of all totalitarian parties, claimed that Maleki was “thrown out.” In the annals of orthodox Marxism, no one seems to have left the party voluntarily. Instead, they have all been “expelled.” The “official” story of Maleki’s departure from the party was no different: he had been about to be thrown out, and instead he beat the party to the punch and claimed to have “split.”

When the break with the party finally came, the anxieties of separation and, more important, the trauma of the brutal and ruthless campaign of character assassination launched against him by Radio Moscow and their Iranian henchmen, drove Maleki to utter despair. He decided to withdraw from politics altogether and was driven to the verge of suicide. Like thousands of “true believers” around the world, Maleki had imagined the Soviet Union—led by Stalin, a leader of “infinite wisdom” and “justice”—to be the closest humans have come to a utopia. If there are inequalities in the Soviet Union, if the country behaves in Iran with brazen nationalism, Maleki, like other believers in the Soviet myth, had naïvely assumed that it must be because Stalin and his “true Bolshevik” comrades were being kept in the dark. All that is needed, Maleki assumed, was for someone to tell them the truth and they would embrace it. He had a bitter surprise coming.

The Soviet Union’s ruthless radio campaign against Maleki and the other “splitters of party unity” was not the only attack. The Tudeh Party itself, by then already renowned for its “dirty tricks,” went into operation against Maleki. Their strategy was to portray Maleki as an ally if not a “stooge” of the shah, and of the British. One of their first acts was to publish a telegram, supposedly signed by Maleki, on the day there was an assassination attempt on the shah. The telegram, prominently placed in one of Tehran’s two most popular dailies, protests “the dastardly treacherous attack” on the shah. The Tudeh apparatchik thought they had put Maleki in a no-win situation. If he dared deny the fact that he had signed the telegram, he would face the wrath of the regime. The denial would imply that Maleki was not saddened by the attempt on the shah. If he did not deny it, as they hoped he would not, then they would have succeeded in marking him a “royalist.” He broke with the party, they never tired of repeating, because he wanted to make his private deal with the regime and with the British. Maleki surprised the Tudeh conspirators by immediately issuing a statement in the same paper denying that he had signed the infamous telegram.[7]

For about three years after the traumatic split from the party, Maleki was politically inactive. By the late 1940s, as the battle to nationalize the country’s oil industry was heating up, Maleki decided to reenter the fray. He did so primarily at the urging of Jalal Al-e Ahmad, who remained for the rest of Maleki’s life a true and tirelessly dependable friend and advocate. At Al-e Ahmad’s behest, Maleki joined forces with a prominent anticommunist and controversial political figure by the name of Mozaffar Baqa’i-Kermani. Together they formed the Toilers Party of Iran. Their plan of action was to support the government of Mossadeq and defeat the communists.
For about a year, the party was more or less on par with the Tudeh in terms of its mass appeal and its ability to mobilize masses in support of the Mossadeq government. A series of events contributed to a growing rift between Maleki and Baqa’i. While the latter had become more and more disenchanted with Mossadeq and wanted to criticize what he called Mossadeq’s increasingly despotic rule, Maleki was unwavering in his support for Mossadeq.

Ultimately, the two sides clashed in a forum where activists sympathetic to Maleki accused Baqa’i of complicity with the court. He walked out, and the Toiler’s Party was split. Maleki’s followers began to call themselves the “Third Force,” a title that hinted at General Tito and his hopes of finding a path that followed neither American capitalism nor Soviet socialism.

It was in this period that Maleki began to publish and partially edit a magazine that represented the ideas and ideology of the “Third Force.” The journal was also characteristic of Maleki’s own temperament and was a clear indication of his ability to gather around him men and women of intelligence and artistic ability. The magazine’s editorial board consisted of some of the most influential voices in modern Iranian letters. Jalal Al-e Ahmad, his novelist wife, Simin Daneshvar, and the renowned poet Ali Zohari were on the magazine’s editorial board with Maleki. Furthermore, a whole litany of literary luminaries wrote for the journal. A sampling of the magazine’s content is the best indicator of its cultural and political aspirations. The new year issue of 1951, for example, included an article on the Chartist movement in England, a translation of a poem by W. H. Auden, a critique of daily life in Soviet Union, an essay praising the contributions to physics of early Muslim scholars of the twelfth century, a critique of Soviet genetics, a short story by Thomas Mann, and an essay by Maleki himself in which he points to similarities between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and writes of the Iranian pro-Soviet communists as a “fifth column” of an imperialist government.[8] The back of the magazine advertised the imminent publication of a Persian translation of Arthur Koestler’s famous antitotalitarian and anti-Soviet novel, Darkness at Noon. The translators of the book were regular contributors to the magazine, and their association with Maleki was used by the Stalinists to blacklist the book and dismiss it as nothing but “imperialist propaganda.[9]
While the pages of the journal were devoted to a wide range of literary, philosophical, and social topics, Iran’s current problems and the fate of the Mossadeq government were never absent from its pages. On many occasions, Maleki combined his praise of Mossadeq with polite and deferential but invariably serious critiques of his policies. He accused Mossadeq of not having a program to solve Iran’s domestic problems. Almost exactly a year before the August 1953 coup that overthrew him, Maleki chastised Mossadeq by saying, “fighting the foreign foes” is not enough. The government, he laments, has no program for ending inequality in Iran. He also criticizes Mossadeq for his failure to form a political party.[10] Unless Mossadeq changed his policies, Maleki hinted, his fall was imminent.

Maleki’s prediction came true. The fall of Mossadeq was a devastating blow to Maleki. Alhough he had been adamantly against some of the prime minister’s most controversial decisions—particularly his decision to hold a referendum and dissolve the Majlis, thus affording the shah the legal ground to dismiss him as prime minister—he had told the aging, tired Mossadeq that though he disagreed with him, “I will follow you to hell.” With the defeat of the movement, with leaders of the government in hiding, and with the shah back on his throne, Maleki grew despondent. He, too, was in hiding. His first thought was suicide. After three days, he was dissuaded from the idea. In his own reckoning, the only thing that kept him alive was the love of his family. On August 23, just before turning himself in, he wrote a passionate open letter to the people of Iran. The letter has never been published, and it describes in considerable detail the circumstances that lead to the defeat of the movement.
Maleki begins by attacking the United States, England, and the USSR for complicity in the overthrow of Mossadeq. He calls on his followers to keep the “movement alive” and not to be deterred by the childish radicalism of the Left or the brutality of the Right. He reasserts his commitment to “peaceful, legal reforms” as the sole legitimate path for transforming Iran, as for any society. He attacks the Tudeh communist party as being a more dangerous enemy than even the regime, as they “are the most reactionary and dangerous force in the world today.”11 The theme of fighting the communists remained a constant element of his ideology for the rest of his life. All too often he tried to convince the regime that his group, with its moderate leftist ideology and its unbending anticommunism, should be allowed openly and legally to participate in the political process. His appeals invariably came to naught. A few months of toleration would ultimately bring about a period of suppression in which he and his comrades were put back in prison.[12]

His second lengthy experience in prison came in the aftermath of the events of August 1953. After he turned himself in, he was kept in prison for about two years. As he wrote in his memoirs, the worst torture was inflicted not by the police but by members of the Tudeh Party, who saw him as their ideological enemy. He complained to the authorities, but to no avail.

No sooner was he out of prison than he prepared a lengthy indictment of the oil agreement Iran was about to sign with a consortium of Western oil companies. The speech was given to Mohammad Derakshesh, a friend and erstwhile comrade, who valiantly agreed to read it in its entirety in the Majlis, where he was a deputy and enjoyed immunity. The speech is arguably the most harshly critical commentary on the consortium agreement in the Iranian Parliament.[13]

For Maleki, as for the whole generation of postwar radicals, the mid-1950s were years of despondent resignation to the status quo. Poets talked of “dark nights” and “cold winters.” Maleki, too, took a brief leave from politics and went back to teaching. He translated a few essays and books into Persian. By the end of the 1950s, Maleki decided to revive his socialist group. For about two years, he had been meeting, secretly and regularly, with Assadollah Alam, the shah’s most trusted advisor and friend and at the time minister of the interior. These meetings had been taking place with the prior knowledge of Maleki’s comrades.[14] In one of these meetings, Maleki gave Alam a copy of a draft program of the party and asked him to submit it to the king and solicit his views.[15] In the course of one of the next meetings, Alam suggested that Maleki should meet with the shah. “His Majesty is deep down a Social Democrat himself,” Alam opined.[16] After consulting with his friends, Maleki agreed to the meeting.

This would be his second meeting with the king. The first encounter had taken place in May 1953. Relations between the shah and Mossadeq had deteriorated. At the same time, Maleki had been meeting with Mossadeq every Monday night.[17] His “Third Force” party was considered one of the more powerful allies of the beleaguered government.

The first meeting with the shah had lasted three hours. According to Maleki, he tried unsuccessfully to convince the shah to find a way to compromise with the prime minister. The shah instead talked of the dangers of the communists, pointing out that with Mossadeq as the prime minister, the communists were sure to win. He went on to tell Maleki, “if the communists come to power, you will be one of the first they will kill.”[18] Maleki reported the gist of the meeting to Mossadeq, who responded, “The young man is under British and American influences.” Maleki also claimed to have told Mossadeq that from the tone of the shah’s talk, it was evident that plans to remove the prime minister were afoot. He further recommended that the prime minister should protect himself by setting up a special guard. Mossadeq concurred, but before he could establish such a unit, the events of August swept him from power.

The second meeting took place under different circumstances. This time the shah was far more powerful and in full command of the country. He had been pressured by the Americans to bring new blood, particularly the National Front, into the government.[19] Maleki was to act as a go-between. The negotiations came to naught. Neither side trusted the other, but as with the first meeting, this time, too, the mere fact that Maleki had met with the shah gave his opponents more ammunition to attack him as an “agent” of the regime.

One of the most interesting phases in Maleki’s life, the period when his wisdom and realism, his prudence and aversion to the self-deluding bombast of ideologues became most clear, are the tumultuous years between the beginning of the shah’s reforms in 1961 and the June uprising of 1963 and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini as a leader. Maleki’s honesty and realism, his readiness to go against the political fads of the time, is clearly evident in his writings of this period. The analysis he wrote under the name of the central committee of the “Society of Iranian Socialists” is a perfect example of his candor and realism. He declared that the shah had taken away the political initiative by taking up and implementing some of the opposition’s main slogans and demands. Even if fair elections were held, he conjectured, the opposition would not win but a few seats.[20] Later, in a nowfamous letter to Mossadeq, Maleki complained about the leaders of the National Front for their failure to understand the nature and scope of the shah’s reforms, their inability to seize the initiative and form a government when the chance was offered them, and their abject opportunism.[21] Eventually, the failures of the secular movement, the obvious emergence of a new clerical leadership whose values were inimical to all Maleki believed in, led to his decision to leave Iran in 1963.

Accompanied by his younger son—the older son was already in Italy at the time, studying—Maleki went to Vienna. There he suffered a minor heart attack and was hospitalized for almost a month. His cardiologist suggested a change in his dietary regime, as well as abstinence from alcohol. He responded to the doctor with an anecdote from Avicenna, the great medieval Persian sage. A patient asked him how to prolong his life. Avicenna had a long list of dietary recommendations. A few days later, the patient and the physician happened to be guests at the same party. Avicenna was burrowing into the many delicacies when the patient, surprised at the dietary excesses of the sage, asked, “Why are you not following the suggestions you gave me?” Avicenna answered, “You are interested in the length of your life, whereas for me, the width is just as important. This diet is for width.” For Maleki, too, the width was as important as the length and alcohol was, as he told the cadriologist, a “necessary ingredient of that width.”[22] Furthermore, Maleki probably knew that alcohol was a sort of self-medication to fight the anxieties inherent in his kind of political life. In a letter to his trusted friend and comrade, Dr. Amir Pishdad, he wrote, “These doctors who talk of quitting drinking just don’t know what we go though here.”[23] After about a year and half in Europe, Maleki finally returned to Iran.

Back in Tehran he tried to use his doctors’ recommendations as political cover. He told one of SAVAK’s interrogators that he had given up politics because “My physician had forbade me from partaking in any activity that could excite me.”[24] But politics was in his blood. He played a crucial role in trying to revive not only his magazine, but his political group as well. He told the SAVAK that his kind of voice is an antidote to the dangers of orthodox Marxism.[25]

When he had the temerity to meet with a Labor member of the British parliament, he was once again arrested and this time given a three-year sentence. The world socialist leaders strenuously objected. After about a year and a half, SAVAK decided that Maleki was sick and dying. “If he dies in prison, they will make another martyr of him,”[26] SAVAK wrote in a report, recommending that he be pardoned. In the meantime, Maleki was using Jalal Al-e Ahmad as a conduit to Alam, from whom he requested help in securing his freedom. The recommendation was accepted. Maleki was freed, and again through the good offices of Alam, he was given a job at the famed Center for Social Science Research.[27] His tenure was short-lived. When he decided to meet with an American human rights attorney visiting Iran, the shah was angered and ordered that Maleki be fired “from all his jobs.”[28] Needless to say, the order was carried out. His retirement pay was also cut.

To make ends meet, Maleki rented out part of his house. He was drinking more heavily than ever before. On more than one occasion, friends and family had found him passed out in the street. On July 13, 1969 (22 Tir 1348), he died a lonely man. About a hundred people participated in his funeral. He had asked to be buried at the village of Ahmad Abad near Tehran. It is where Mossadeq lived and where he is also buried. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Maleki’s wish was not granted.

The Mansur Family

Hassan-Ali Mansur was a scion of one of Iran’s most famous—or infamous— political families. Yet all his life he was an incorrigible name-dropper. His father was one of the more notorious Anglophiles of his time, and it has been suggested by a variety of sources, including Mohammad Reza Shah himself, that the father, Ali Mansur—who was prime minister in 1941, at the time of the initial attack on Iran by the British and Soviet armies—intentionally kept from the king the seriousness of the Allies’ ultimatums, and thus paved the way for the invasion. The son, on the other hand, was reputed to be a creation of the American Embassy and the CIA. In his Diaries, Assadollah Alam claims that on the night of the 1963 elections, Mansur called him from the home of Stuart Rockwell, the American diplomat, and begged him to order that he “be declared the highest vote getter in Tehran”; Alam added that, in his view, Mansur “was really the lackey of the Americans.”1 Of course, Rockwell flatly denies the story, insisting he “did not have a high opinion of Mansur. He was not my idea of a great thinker. He was not particularly profound or remarkable. He knew a lot of people but was not an expert in any field.”[2]

Rockwell and the American Embassy were not the only ones who did not have a high opinion of Mansur. In a biographical sketch prepared by SAVAK, he is described as,

very handsome, white face, dark eyes, and very beautiful, and of medium height, and a pleasant heft. His father is extremely rich, worth approximately fifty million tooman [$7 million]. He is a graduate of the Law School, with a Bachelor’s degree in political science. He has good command of French and knows enough English to get by. He reads all the papers and magazines, and occasionally, books on the economy. He likes women and power. He finished high school at Iranshahr High School. He does not have much competence and worth. Because his undeserved rise in the ranks was due to his father’s influence, and because Dr. Manuchehre Egbal [one-time prime minister] owed his father a favor and thus appointed him to the post, he is hated by the youth. . . . He is humble, but without a strong character. He is altogether free from noble thoughts . . . he lacks brains and experience and is overly pampered. . . . Evidence indicates that the CIA’s station chief in Iran, who rented a house from Mansur, openly guaranteed his eventual appointment to the post of Prime Minister.[3]

What makes his life tragic and complicated is the fact that, though his unusually scripted life was completely geared toward the position he coveted, his tenure in that post was short-lived and one of the most controversial in the history of twentieth-century Iran. It was under his watch that Iran signed an infamous agreement with the United States granting all U.S. personnel and their families immunity from prosecution in Iranian courts. It was a shameful resurrection of the capitulation rights so painfully remembered from the colonial days of imperial hegemony. The signing of the agreement, and Mansur’s dishonesty with the Parliament about the actual contents of the bill ratifying the agreement, are sure to go down in the annals of Iranian history as an early ripple that ultimately swelled into the tsunami that was the Islamic Revolution. It was a decision that cost the shah his throne and Mansur his life.

Hassan-Ali Mansur was born in April 1923 (Ordibehesht 1302) in Tehran. Both his parents were members of the Iranian ruling elite. His father, Ali Mansur (Mansur-al-Molk), was a prominent politician who had, by the time his son was born, already served as foreign minister and the governor of Eastern Azerbaijan; his mother was from the eminent Rais family. Before becoming prime minister, one of Ali Mansur’s major accomplishments was his role in building the Trans-Iranian railroad during his tenure as the minister of roads.

It was also during his time there that the famous Chaloos highway connecting Tehran to the Caspian coast was built. The road was an engineering marvel—carving and curving its way through snow-capped peaks and river valleys. It also became a subject of continuous political controversy. Every year, avalanches and the resulting deaths of innocent travelers put the treacherous road on the front page of the papers. Rumors flew about payoffs and corruption.[4] Hassan-Ali was twelve years old when, in January 1936, his father was put on trial for financial malfeasance in granting contracts for roads. As Ali Mansur was a minister, and thus enjoyed legal immunity from prosecution, he had to be stripped of all immunity by the Parliament before being put on trial. It all meant that he was at the center of a great scandal. Even today, those who know nothing of his life and work vaguely remember that he was “the crook put on trial by Reza Shah.”

As it happened, he was found innocent. But it was a while before he was back in the limelight. In 1938, he was rehabilitated and back in the cabinet as minister of industry and mines. Two years later, in June 1940, as the countries on Europe’s periphery were gripped with fear of being consumed by the flames of World War II, Ali Mansur was appointed prime minister. It was he who received the Russo-British ultimatum about the presence of too many German advisors in Tehran and an impending invasion on August 25, 1941.

When the invasion took place, Mansur was suspected of complicity with Britain, and on August 28, 1941, he was forced to resign. But he was not entirely out of the political loop. In February 1942, he was appointed governor of Khorasan. There, too, rumors of corruption followed him. Even the British Embassy, which certainly approved of him and had arranged for him to receive a CBE,[5] asserted that Mansur, in his earlier tenure as interior minister, “is believed to have made money out of the sale of promotions,” and that later as governor, “his administration of the funds of the shrine [of Imam Reza] laid him open to various accusations of embezzlement.”[6] After a few months, he was removed from the post of governor; he held various posts in the next few years, but his eyes remained obsessively fixed on the position of prime minister.

Ali Mansur’s dream came true again, albeit briefly, on March 28, 1950. But the times had changed. His old ways, and more important, his reputation as a crooked Anglophile, made it impossible for him to be effective. Before his appointment, he had increased his contacts with the British Embassy, clearly hoping to garner their support. But by then, even the British had grown wary of him. They referred to him as a man with “certain definite weaknesses. He is an opium addict and is reputed to take bribes in a big way.”[7] With his short-lived tenure ended, he spent the last years of his life serving as ambassador to different countries and grooming his son to take up the tarnished Mansur mantle.

In the meantime, Hassan-Ali had been spending his time at various schools in Tehran. He was a mediocre student throughout his life. After high school, he entered Tehran University’s Faculty of Law and Political Science, eventually receiving his degree in political science. The university at the time required all seniors to write a thesis. In preparing his thesis, Mansur met a man who was pivotal in acquainting him with the people who would prove to be key characters in his life. The man was Fereydun Hoveyda, who was working at the time in the library of the Foreign Ministry. Fereydun had impeccable command of the French language. He had just returned from Europe and Lebanon and was a polished cosmopolitan with a wide array of friends among intellectuals. Fereydun helped Hassan-Ali finish his senior thesis.[8]

After graduation, Mansur joined the Foreign Service. It is not clear how he was hired, as there was a fairly strenuous exam that everyone had to take. By then the war was in its last days, and Mansur decided to take a trip to Europe, see the Continent, and await his first assignment. In Paris, at the instigation of his friend Fereydun, he met Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, who was working in the scandal-ridden Iranian Embassy. Some embassy officials had been found to be engaged in the trafficking of foreign currency. Although Hoveyda worked at the embassy, he was not involved. At the same time, the two aspiring young diplomats fell under the spell of Abdullah Entezam, a doyen of Iranian diplomacy who was holding court in Paris. At the end of the war, Iran wanted to reestablish diplomatic ties with Germany, and Entezam was chosen as Iran’s ambassador. He used his influence to have Hoveyda and Mansur assigned to the new legation in Germany.

In Stuttgart, Hassan-Ali Mansur was a roommate of Amir-Abbas Hoveyda. They shared a house given to them in the American zone of occupation. The building had once belonged to a high-ranking member of the Nazi party. A German lady cooked for the two bachelors. Although in later years Mansur developed a reputation as a womanizer, his German days were spent with a young woman he met soon after his arrival and almost married.

In addition to endearing himself to Ambassador Entezam, Mansur used his German posting to cement one of the most enduring and, at least in his mind, important relationships of his life. The American high commissioner and military governor in Germany was John McCloy, otherwise known as “Chairman of the Board.” His influence in Washington was great and did not wax or wane with Democratic or Republican administrations. For the rest of his life, Mansur would refer to McCloy as “our friend” and considered it one of his duties “to keep our American friends informed about what goes on in Iran.”9 It was an interesting fact of Mansur’s character at the time that although he was only a junior member of the diplomatic staff, in rank and standing even below his friend Hoveyda, he talked of the premiership as a predestined chapter of his future life. Nothing short of the prime minister’s seat, he said, would make him happy. There was, in his puerile view, a definite sense that the job was part of his family inheritance—as much destined for him as ownership of the family home.[10]

Hassan-Ali Mansur spent the next decade in different low-level jobs at the Foreign Ministry. At the same time, he kept in close contact with his friend Amir-Abbas Hoveyda and with his “American friends.” In 1956, as he was posted to Rome, he convinced Hoveyda that they should both return to Iran. He told Hoveyda that his American friends had told him that his turn at the helm should soon come.[11]

Back in Iran, from 1957 to 1964 he rose from callow, ambitious young politician to the job he had coveted all his life. In the course of his meteoric rise, he stopped at different stations—secretary of the High Economic Council and two ministerial portfolios. But easily the most important vehicle for him—aside from the American “friends” of which he shamelessly boasted—was the Progressive Circle. It was a small group of technocrats, brought together with Mansur’s charisma and charm and promises of power and position, as well as Hoveyda’s skills as an organizer and a manager. In spite of the fact that he was younger than Hoveyda, Mansur was clearly in charge.

Before long, the Progressive Circle received the official approval of the shah when he took the unusual step of announcing to the world that Mansur’s group was his de facto economic advisory group. With that pronouncement, there was a sudden surge of applicants for membership in the group—soon renamed the New Iran Party. Mansur was at the helm of the new party, which was to dominate Iranian politics for the next twelve years. Its fortunes then plummeted, when the shah, angered and even frightened by the pomp and ceremony of the last party congress,[12] dismissed it.

Mansur was a politician by temperament; he craved the glare of the media and the glow of power. After his return to Tehran he also developed his reputation as a dandy and a womanizer. For a while, he had a defiantly public affair with the Polish wife of a dentist. Prudish Tehran was aghast. Then came a long and passionate affair with a beautiful woman of the theater world. But all of these dangerous liaisons came to a temporary halt when he married Farideh Emami, a beautiful woman committed from early girlhood to the dream of becoming a wife and mother. She, too, came from a family of considerable political prominence—her grandfather was Vosug al-Dowleh, her granduncle was Ghavam, both highly influential prime ministers, and at least four other prime ministers were part of her extended family tree. Farideh was possessive of her husband, and as he ascended the ladder of power, her sense of self-importance also rose until it bordered on haughty arrogance. The afterglow of her husband’s power was most evident when he was finally appointed prime minister.

The appointment came after a six-month period in which the Alam cabinet was awkwardly a lame duck. Everyone in the capital knew that it was on its way out, and the work of the government had come to a virtual halt. What made the wait even stranger was the fact that Mansur went around town offering jobs to his future cabinet ministers and meeting regularly with the shah. He and his coterie of friends and advisors were a virtual shadow cabinet. Finally, in March 1964, Alam’s agony was replaced by Mansur’s ecstasy. Alam remained bitter until the end of his life for the way he was dismissed. On one occasion, after his initial pain subsided, he passively chided the shah by presenting him with a poem lamenting the fact that a learned man had been replaced by an effeminate homosexual. That rumor persistently haunted Mansur and Hoveyda for the rest of their political lives.

Mansur’s cabinet hit the ground running. They had been planning for their day in the sun for many years. It was, according to some Western media sources, the first time in the modern history of Iran that a cabinet with an actual agenda and plan of action had come to power. Mansur’s cabinet was remarkable for another reason as well. It was composed of new men, all technocrats who had been trained in the West, and without political ambitions of their own. They were united by their vision of bringing modernization to Iran, and they believed, contrary to the dominant intellectual paradigm of the time, that working with the shah, and not against him, was the best way to bring about the desired end. The cabinet’s composition was also remarkable for still another, altogether different, reason. Every man in the cabinet was new to the political realm; none had seen the shah during his hours of desperation and isolation during the Mossadeq era. By the time Mansur was named prime minister, the shah had concentrated all power in his own hands, and he no longer wanted politicians who had seen him in his weakest moments.

Mansur’s most unpleasant responsibility was to pass the Status of Force Agreement; the United States wanted it passed before any American advisors were sent to the country. Alam had cleverly refused to work for the passage of the bill he knew would go down in history as an act of infamy. Instead, he had arranged to have a draft of the legislation passed as a recess decision of the cabinet, in need of final ratification by the Parliament. Mansur finally introduced the bill to the newly elected Parliament. The majority, 140 of the 189 deputies, were members of his party. The politically limp Senate passed the controversial bill without discussion, and by the mere formality of voice vote. By the time the bill went to the lower house, there had already been public agitation and demonstrations against the bill as a vestige of colonialism. According to the American Embassy in Iran, the shah, hoping to give some semblance of legitimacy to the bill, signaled to members of the Parliament that they should feel free to voice their opposition.[13]

The result was almost catastrophic for Mansur and the shah. Usually docile members of the Parliament suddenly found the nerve to oppose the bill. Heated discussion was held on the floor of the Parliament, and Mansur, trying to quell the unexpected rebellion, deliberately lied to the Parliament about the nature and details of the agreement by making it appear that the law in question was the same as the Vienna Convention, which covered immunity for all diplomats. The American Embassy, worried that Iran had changed its mind and wanted to limit drastically the scope of the privately worked-out agreement, called for an emergency meeting with Mansur. When Rockwell, representing the American Embassy, raised his concerns, Mansur’s response was chilling even to the otherwise experienced Rockwell. The prime minister declared that what he had said in the Parliament was a lie, and that he’d done it out of political necessity. The government of Iran, he reassured his American friends, intended to implement the letter of the agreement and not his blemished rendition of it in Parliament.[14] The bill was ratified, but the shah and Mansur later paid a heavy price for their role in its passage.

The angriest cries against the agreement came from the pulpits in the city of Qom, particularly from the increasingly radical Ayatollah Khomeini. Before his now historic sermons against this bill, in which he ridiculed the shah and attacked the colonialists and Israel for enslaving Iran, he was little known outside religious circles and his own coterie of followers. But his opposition to the bill during Alam’s ministry, and his eventual arrest, catapulted him into the center of Iranian politics. The arrest came during the June 1963 riots. When Mansur came to power, he pushed for Ayatollah Khomeini’s release. As he told the American Embassy, “he had difficulty persuading shah that Khomeini should be freed.”[15] The ayatollah was freed, according to Mansur, only after “the government made clear to Khomeini that if he engaged in political activities, he would be rearrested; Khomeini allegedly promised to behave.”16 Of course, as soon as the ayatollah returned to Qom, he delivered a blistering sermon against the government, denying claims that he had made any agreement with the regime. Tapes of the sermon were soon “circulating in Tehran opposition circles.”[17] The American Embassy had believed that “a judicious mix of bribery, conciliatory tactics, and the ever-present threat of the regime’s mailed fist” would be enough to lessen “the virulence of Khomeini’s opposition.”[18] But contrary to this prediction, Ayatollah Khomeini continued with his fiery speeches until the government eventually decided that he must be exiled. That decision arguably cost Mansur his life.

On January 21, 1965, at ten in the morning on a snowy day in Tehran, Mansur was on his way to the Parliament to ask for the ratification of a new oil agreement. Tehran had once again been in a state of agitation after the government’s decision to raise the price of gasoline. The initial optimism that Mansur’s appointment had created in Tehran was gradually dissipating. More and more people had come to believe that he was a man of little substance, and that the mission he claimed to have accepted—promoting democracy and acting as a stand-in for some of Iran’s intransigent opposition groups— had been completely sacrificed at the altar of political expediency, greed, and his need to cling to power.

Islamic circles were also angry with him for exiling their beloved leader. It mattered little to them that, along with General Hassan Pakravan, Mansur had been in no small measure responsible for saving the life of the ayatollah. But they believed their venerable leader had been abused, and they intended to take revenge. As Mansur got out of his car, a young man of eighteen approached him. A Qur’an in one pocket, a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini in another, and a gun in his hand,[19] he was a soldier of God, an early incarnation of the multitude of soldiers who fought for Khomeini for almost a decade. He shot Mansur at close range. Another of his brethren was waiting down the street, lest he lose his nerve at the last moment and fail to pull the trigger. But the young assassin, Mohammad Bokharai, did not hesitate. The bloodied body of Mansur was rushed to a nearby hospital. He was immediately taken to the operating room. Before long, a team of doctors, some from Iran, some from Europe, and some from the United States, were brought in. The hospital became the de facto center of government. The interim prime minister, Hoveyda, spent nearly all his time in the hospital, as did many other political luminaries. The most distraught and disturbed person was Mansur’s wife. She was inconsolable; she was also dissatisfied with the care afforded her husband and consumed with all manner of conspiracy theories about the fate of her dying husband. For a long time, she believed that SAVAK was responsible for his shooting.

On January 26, on the anniversary of the White Revolution he had come to symbolize and five days after he was shot, Hassan-Ali Mansur died. On the day of his funeral, the shah delivered an angry diatribe railing against those who had taken the life of his prime minister. He made it crystal clear that he meant, more than anyone else, Great Britain. The British Embassy was not amused. But the shah reassured them, in a private meeting with Sir Denis Wright, the British ambassador, that he did not in fact hold the British responsible and that there was some misunderstanding about the exact meaning of his words.[20] Temporary tensions thus gave way to a troubled amity between the two sides. Mansur’s rise to power was surrounded by mystery and unsolved riddles. His death, too, remains an enigma, and a favorite topic of conspiracy connoisseurs.

Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq

ICONS OFFER FORMIDABLE CHALLENGES to the work of scholarly biography. Every detail of their lives is afforded an air of mystery and magic, considered sacrosanct by their devotees and contested by their detractors. Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq is easily the most popular as well as the most contested and scrutinized icon of modern Iranian politics. Nothing about him, not even his date of birth, is without controversy. A kind of Manichaean disposition that sees him as either demonic or divine has permeated much of the discourse about him. To his credit, even at the height of his power and popularity, Mossadeq admonished his supporters for trying to turn him into an idol. “The damnation of the good lord and his Prophet be upon anyone,” he wrote, “who tries to render me into an idol [bot] during my lifetime, or after my death.”[1]

His iconic status was not limited to Iran. In 1952, Time magazine chose him as the Man of the Year, and called him “The Iranian George Washington” and “the most renowned man his ancient race had produced in centuries . . . and in some ways the most noteworthy figure on the world scene.” The Time editorial also called Mossadeq “a nobleman” who “put Scheherazade in the petroleum business and oiled the wheels of chaos.” He is, they said, from “a mountainous land between Baghdad and the Sea of Caviar” who spent a lifetime “carping at the way the kingdom was run.” Before long, the man had “the whole world hanging on his words and deeds, his jokes, his tears, his tantrums.” The article talked of Mossadeq’s “grotesque antics” but added that behind them “lay great issues of peace or war, progress or decline.”2 The article ended on a bleak note, suggesting that Mossadeq’s single-minded and uncompromising opposition to the British would probably leave the country in ruin and chaos.

In fact Mossadeq’s fierce nationalism, combined with his intellectual aversion to compromising his political principles, and his dogged determination not to tarnish his name and reputation, were at once his Achilles’ heel and his Herculean club. Today, more than half a century after the Time editorial, Mossadeq is arguably the most beloved statesman in modern Iran, praised by many for his defiant struggle against the British; he is also begrudged by the royalists for organizing what they claim was a veritable coup against the shah. Counterpoised to these Manichaean visions is the work of a small but growing number of scholars who are trying to “historicize” not just the August 1953 events but Mossadeq’s life as well. Only then will sober facts and historical contexts replace emotional fictions or a priori judgments. But in spite of these sharp interpretive differences about what happened in Tehran on August 19, 1953, there is a consensus among scholars that Mossadeq’s fall, and the U.S. decision to participate in the process, was a turning point not just for Iran and the Pahlavi dynasty, but for the United States as well. Even September 11, 2001, has been traced to the events in Tehran on that day.3 And at the center of those events stands the charismatic figure of Dr. Mossadeq.

Mohammad Mossadeq was born in Tehran in a cultured family with aristocratic roots and political and blood ties to the Qajar dynasty. Mossadeq’s date of birth was, like most Iranian children of the time, marked on the back of a Qur’an. It is most likely that he was born on June 16, 1882 (26 Khordad 1261). The date became controversial on at least two occasions: once when he was deemed too young by his critics and the other when he was said to be too old to take a seat in the Majlis. On those two occasions, Mossadeq offered different birth dates. His supporters suggest that these differing dates were simply honest mistakes, while his detractors see them as evidence of his conscious effort to manipulate facts to fit political exigencies.[4]

The young Mohammad was educated by private tutors at home. His mother, Najmol Saltaneh, was a self-assured woman of unusually forceful character. She married several times, itself a rarity among the women of her class at the time. Mohammad was the fruit of her second marriage. The young boy was only ten when he lost his father, and his upbringing was left to his mother. The two developed an intensely close relationship, and she remained a towering figure in his life. According to Dr. Mossadeq’s son, “My father loved two things the most; first his country Iran, and then his mother.”[5]

It was at the behest of his mother that when he was nineteen years old he married Zahra Emami—a young girl from a prominent family with roots among the Shiite clergy. All his life Mossadeq remained a devout Muslim. His discourse was invariably peppered with religious words and concepts. At the same time, he was serious in his lifelong dedication to secularism.

Mossadeq and his bride had a marriage shaped, at least initially, more by the dictates of tradition than the pathos of the heart. By the end of the first year, they had their first child. They would have six more children—one of whom died young. Their bond grew in intensity as they grew old together. He was a septuagenarian when she passed away, and, according to one of their children, Mossadeq lost his joie de vivre after her death.

There is no evidence that Mossadeq played any role in the early struggles of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905. Nevertheless, in 1907, when elections for the first session of the Majlis were held, he decided to run for a seat. During the next half century, Mossadeq emerged as one of the most astute parliamentarians of his generation. He not only published monographs on the nature of the parliamentary system, but he also mastered the tactical tropes of the legislative process. But his initial foray into the field was fraught with difficulties. Electoral laws stipulated that candidates must be at least thirty years old, and Mossadeq was about twenty-four. Nevertheless, he decided to run. His justification was that “others less than thirty” had also run and taken their seats.

In his case, the attempt to circumvent the law failed. His bane turned out be the gravestone of his mother’s first husband. Someone took a picture of the grave and argued that based on the designated date of death, even if Mossadeq had been born exactly nine months and nine days after the first husband’s death, he would still not be old enough to take his seat. Ironically, the same evidence that barred Mossadeq from the Majlis in 1907 came in handy more than forty years later when his foes tried to bar him from the parliament by arguing that he was over the age limit of seventy.

During the same period, Mossadeq decided to join a Freemason Lodge called the Adamiyat Society, or Humanity Society. Although Mossadeq quit his membership after attending only a few meetings, his critics never allowed him to forget this brief foray into that group.

In the same year, Mossadeq made another strange decision when, albeit briefly, he joined a consultative body set up by a despotic new king called Mohammad-Ali Shah, who was keen on dismantling the Constitutional Revolution.6 One of the king’s tactics was to set up an appointed consultative assembly in place of the elected Majlis. But before long, in March 1909, Mossadeq set out for Europe. He settled in Paris and enrolled in a program on public finance at L’Ecole des Sciences Politiques. Within a year, deteriorating health forced him to return home. In his memoirs, he writes of a bout with a neurological problem that forced him to spend some time in a sanitarium. The exact nature of his malady has never been known. Did he have epilepsy, as the British claim?[7] Was he a manic-depressive, as evinced by his bursts of energy followed by bouts of depression and his penchant for weeping? All we know is that in 1910, the problem forced him to return to Iran, where he stayed for two years.

In 1912 he went back to Europe, this time in the company of his wife and children. They eventually settled in Switzerland, where he entered law school. He finished within two years, writing a dissertation on the subject of the laws of inheritance in Shiism. Not long after finishing his doctoral program, he returned home, where he began teaching at the School of Political Science.

About a year after his return, he published a monograph on capitulation rights.[8] During the same period, at the urging of the great scholar and journalist Allame Dehkhoda, Mossadeq joined the Edalat, or Justice Party. The membership did not last long, but it was the beginning of a long friendship between Dehkhoda and Dr. Mossadeq.
In 1918, Mossadeq had his first important political appointment when he was named undersecretary of treasury. As a young man, he had inherited his father’s title and job when he had become the mostofi (tax collector) for the province of Khorasan. Now he was given a job based on his own merit, not one he had inherited. He lasted in the position for about a year. By late 1918, distraught by the ominous political realities of the country, Mossadeq decided to emigrate to Switzerland, where he planned to become a citizen. Switzerland, he wrote, “was like my second home.”[9]

But his journey of exile turned out to be short-lived. Before long, home beckoned again. This time, he was asked to become minister of justice. He accepted, but on his way to his new job, as he was passing through the province of Fars, he was appointed governor of that state. The area had been, for many years, difficult to govern. The many nomadic tribes who lived there intermittently rose against the central government. The British were in favor of Mossadeq’s appointment. They wanted southern Iran free from war and violence, and Mossadeq was, they figured, the man who could deliver peace to the region.

The coup of 1921 by Seyyed Zia Tabataba’i and Reza Khan ended Mossadeq’s tenure. He was one of three governors in the country who refused to accept the legitimacy of the new cabinet. But such opposition was not without danger, and fearing for his life, Mossadeq went into hiding and spent the next few weeks among the Ghashghai tribe.
The coup cabinet lasted only a hundred days, and in the new government, headed by Ghavam, Mossadeq was offered the key Ministry of the Treasury. He accepted on the condition that the Parliament would give him extra powers to clean up the notoriously corrupt ministry. This demand for emergency powers foreshadowed his style of governance as prime minister. After a tumultuous tenure at the Treasury, Mossadeq spent the next couple of years moving between jobs. During this period, Reza Khan was emerging as the most powerful man in Iran, and Mossadeq was for a while part of a small coterie of respected intellectuals and statesmen who met with Reza Khan and offered him advice on the future of Iran.

This age of amity ended in considerable acrimony when in 1925 Mossadeq delivered a stinging rebuke to the idea of ending the Qajar dynasty and turning power over to the soon-to-be-anointed Reza Shah. Moreover, Mossadeq also disagreed with many other plans proposed by the new king. These acts of opposition brought to a temporary halt Mossadeq’s political career.

At the end of the sixth session of the Majlis, Mossadeq was not allowed to run again. He spent the next thirteen years in Tehran and in Ahmad Abad, his estate near the capital, in virtual exile. In his own words, “I saw nobody, and did not socialize with anyone.”[10] The only exception to this routine of solitude came in 1936 when he developed mysterious bleeding in his throat. He left Iran for Germany, where he consulted two prominent physicians in Berlin, and neither could detect any ailment. They told him, “there is nothing wrong with you . . . they didn’t even prescribe any medications.”[11]

Mossadeq’s forced solitude came to an abrupt end in June 1940, when he was suddenly arrested. He was, he writes, offered no reason for his incarceration. But the imprisonment did not last long. After a few days, he was sent to internal exile again—this time not to his estate but to the city of Birjand.

On his way to exile, depressed and despondent, Mossadeq is said to have attempted suicide by taking a heavy dose of sedatives. By 1941, as Iran was begrudgingly engulfed in the war, Mossadeq was freed. His release came after the crown prince pleaded with Reza Shah for leniency. Ernst Perron, a Swiss national who was a close confidant of the crown prince, had been a patient of Dr. Mossadeq’s son—a physician under contract with the Swiss Embassy for the care of that country’s citizens living in Iran. Mossadeq’s son asked Perron for help in securing his father’s release, and before long an ailing Mossadeq arrived back at his estate.[12]

In 1944, only three years after his release, Mossadeq’s first real chance[13] to become the prime minister came about. In the democratic interlude that followed the fall of Reza Shah, Mossadeq emerged as one of the most popular figures of the time. He was handily reelected to the Majlis and became one of its most powerful leaders. According to the shah, his relations with Mossadeq “were good at the time, for he was a respected public servant, and he symbolized opposition to foreign influence in all its forms.” For these and other reasons, the shah offered him the post of prime minister. Mossadeq’s response surprised the shah. He “was prepared to accept the responsibility,” he told the shah, “but only on two conditions.” He should be assigned his own bodyguard, and “prior approval of the British” must be confirmed. “It is the British who decide everything in this country,” he told the shah.[14]

In his memoir, Mossadeq confirms the fact that the offer was made but offers different reasons for his refusal to take the job. He did not, he said, believe the shah had the power to appoint a prime minister outright. Moreover, he believed that “considering that the country was at the time occupied by foreigners,” his success would dependent on “the fact that the British embassy should not oppose” him. And he knew, he said, that the British would.[15]

British Foreign Office documents provide yet another account of what happened. According to Sir Reader Bullard, the Minister of Court informed him that the shah proposed “not to open the Majlis on January 22, and that he would appoint as Prime Minister Dr. Mossadeq, who will declare the election null and void.” Bullard argued against the idea, suggesting that “this would in the long run be bad for the Shah and for Persia.”[16] The Foreign Office concurred with Bullard’s initial response and directed him to “to choke [Mossadeq] off . . . if there is still time.”[17] In another lengthy telegram, Bullard offered his own assessment of Mossadeq. “He is however old for his age which is over 60,” Bullard wrote, “and according to a good source he suffers from epilepsy. As governor general of Fars . . . the British military attaché found him not without ability but touchy and nationalistic. The description of him in Personalities as a wind bag is by Sir G. Harvard who knew him well.”[18]

The personalities profile, prepared in 1940, shows the extent of the British dislike of Dr. Mossadeq even before he nationalized Iran’s oil and deprived them of their lucrative monopoly. In it Mossadeq is described as:
born about 1885. Is a nephew of Farman Farmayan. Has studied law in Paris to a certain extent and poses as a jurist. Appointed Governor-General of Fars in 1920; appointed Minister of Finance in 1921 and sought and obtained authority from Parliament to purge and reform that ministry. However, during his six months tenure of that portfolio he destroyed indiscriminately the good with the bad, and at the end the organization was worse than before as he proved himself entirely incapable of making reforms . . . owing to his opposition to the Government in the sixth term of the Majlis, steps were taken to prevent him from being elected to the later terms. . . . He is a demagogue and a windbag. Speaks French fluently.[19]

It is likely that the British Embassy’s negative attitude was also influenced by Ann Lambton, who worked in the British Embassy in Tehran and had developed a visceral dislike of Dr. Mossadeq. In later years, when Mossadeq finally did become the prime minister, these negative attitudes contributed to the early decision of the British to try and organize a coup against the Mossadeq government.

In the fierce political battles of the postwar years, Mossadeq emerged as a master tactician. Before long he became a key leader of the nationalist movement, and oil was his forte. Relying on his intuitive sense of the national mood and sentiment, Mossadeq began, as early as 1944, to move toward nationalizing Iranian oil. As the Soviet Union pressured Iran for oil concessions in the north, Mossadeq passed a bill banning all oil negotiations for the duration of the war. Gradually and inexorably he was emerging as “undisputedly the most prestigious and popular deputy in the Majlis.”20 By 1949 he had helped launch what came to be known as the National Front—a loose union of parties and personalities who were united on two simple issues: nationalization of oil and legislation to guarantee fair and free elections. Mossadeq’s own charisma was the true cement of the organization.

Between 1944, when he again joined Parliament, and 1951, when he was finally named prime minister, he had emerged on a couple of other occasions as one of the top candidates for the job. But each time he fell a few votes short of the needed majority. Finally, in February 1951 (17 Esfand 1329), Mossadeq shepherded through a fractured and resistant Parliament a bill that nationalized Iran’s oil. Less than two months later, on April 28, 1951 (7 Ordibehesht), by the vote of the Majlis and the order of the shah, Mossadeq was appointed prime minister. The country was clearly heading for a crisis. The British, on the advice of the prominent scholar Ann Lambton, almost immediately decided that overthrowing Mossadeq was their only option. “I knew him well,” Lambton said, “and I knew he would be stubborn. I told the government, you have to get rid of him.”[21] Thus began the planning for the fateful events of August 1953.

The tensions with the shah had their source in events long before 1951. There had been a history of animosity between Mossadeq and the Pahlavi family. He had, for example, voted against the establishment of the dynasty. Even in his prison memoir, Mossadeq was not afraid to declare that in his opinion the Pahlavi dynasty was a creation of the British.[22] In his mind, nothing betrayed this British allegiance as clearly as Reza Shah’s decision to build a railroad connecting the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea.

When the bill authorizing the budget for the construction of the railroad came before the Parliament, Mossadeq voted against it, arguing that Iran in its current state of backwardness did not need a railroad. In the words of one of his proponents, Mossadeq engaged in a cost/benefit analysis of the project, and concluded that it did not make economic sense.[23] Better build a sugar mill, he suggested, and then, once the economy was more developed, the construction of a railroad would be economically viable.

Mossadeq was also opposed to the path chosen for the railroad. When the idea of a railroad first emerged, two different paths were considered. One was on an east-west axis that would connect Iraq and Turkey to Pakistan and India. The other was on a northsouth axis that would connect the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.24 Mossadeq believed that Britain had dictated the decision to choose the north-south axis based on its own interests. In fact, according to documents from the British Foreign Office, Britain was initially opposed to the very idea of the railroad. Once they failed to dissuade Reza Shah, their next strategy was to convince him to build it along the east-west axis. “It has hitherto been the policy of His Majesty’s Government to urge upon the Persian Government the desirability of constructing a railway on an West-East Axis. . . . There appears to be strong strategic and economic reasons why this alignment would be preferable, from the point of view of British interests, to a railway running in a northerly direction from Mohammareh to the Caspian Sea.”25 The railroad was built along the north-south axis, as Reza Shah had willed it, but Mossadeq never wavered in his belief that the whole project was a colonial concoction.

In 1951, a quarter century after this initial confrontation, he was involved in a battle of wills with the new Pahlavi king. While the shah wanted to amass almost as much power as his father and believed that only with him in command could Iran make any progress, Mossadeq never tired of repeating that in the Iranian Constitution, the king has only a ceremonial role and that he must reign and not rule. These two conflicting views of the shah’s power turned into a crisis on July 16, 1952, when Mossadeq demanded control of the army from the shah and the shah refused. To show his muscle, Mossadeq resigned, and the next day Ghavam was appointed by the shah as the new prime minister. But almost a week of massive demonstrations forced the shah to back down and Mossadeq was reappointed on July 22. As a result of these events, according to the American Embassy in Iran, “Mossadeq [was] clearly in a stronger position vis-à-vis the Shah, the Majlis, and the public now than at any time since the nationalization of Iranian oil.”[26]

The fact that members of the Tudeh Party had played a crucial role in the July demonstrations worked, in the long run, against Mossadeq. It helped the British convince the Americans that Mossadeq would soon be unable to control the communists.[27] The change of administration in the United States, and the rise of the Dulles brothers to the top of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, helped the British in this effort. Another difficulty for Mossadeq, shortly after his July victory, was that Ayatollah Seyyed Abolqasem Kashani, who had been instrumental in mobilizing the mass participation of the religious forces, wanted a share of power and its perks.
Furthermore, the realities of governance began to chip away at Mossadeq’s support. To fight his many enemies, Mossadeq asked, and initially received, “special powers” granted by the Majlis. For nearly the entire duration of his tenure, he ruled by decrees. The fact that he trusted only a handful of people made decision making difficult in his government and helped alienate some of his allies. Britain’s economic embargo, helped by the effort of some Iranian businessmen opposed to Mossadeq who shut down their industries, was also beginning to hurt all strata of Iranian society.

The clergy, too, had new demands. Mossadeq was a deeply devout man. His political discourse was often peppered with Qur’anic references. He was closely allied with Ayatollah Kashani, whose terrorist followers in the Feda’yan-e Islam had already killed two prime ministers—the last one was General Hadji Ali Razmara, whose death paved the way for Mossadeq. But after helping secure Mossadeq’s victory in July, Kashani wanted to appoint some of the ministers, and Mossadeq openly demurred. Before long, the wily cleric was an enemy of Mossadeq.
Even ostensibly apolitical ayatollahs were disgruntled. They had begun to push for more Islamic flavor in the government. For example, when Ayatollah Boroujerdi sent Mossadeq a message and asked him to curtail the activities of followers of the Bahai religion, Mossadeq again demurred. They, too, are citizens of Iran, he wrote back. By early 1953, nearly the entire religious leadership ended their support of Mossadeq.

Mossadeq also began to lose the support of some of his key secular allies. Many of them found his idea of holding a referendum to dismiss the Majlis dubious in its legal basis and dangerous in its political consequences. The American Embassy described it “as a referendum organized on [the] ground [of] ‘popular will’ above constitution.” It was to the American Embassy an indication that Mossadeq was moving “steadily in authoritarian direction using technique of ‘mobocracy.’”28 The lopsided results of the election (166,607 in favor of dissolution, and 116 opposed) also became a cause for criticism. Mossadeq had, critics rightly pointed out, ignored the basic democratic demand of a secret ballot by forcing opponents of the government to vote in a separate tent.

Maybe most important of all, without a Majlis, Mossadeq’s allies told him, the shah would have the constitutional right to dismiss and appoint a prime minister. There had been at least eighteen such recess appointments in the past.29 Mossadeq’s retort was that the shah would not dare dismiss him. Events proved him wrong.

As Mossadeq’s internal base of support was beginning to crack, and as America grew frustrated in its mediating efforts and became convinced that no negotiated settlement would be possible, and finally as the Eisenhower administration took over the White House, plans for a coup to topple Mossadeq began to take shape.

A few days before action against him began, Mossadeq received a hint of what was to come in a sobering report filed by Alahyar Saleh, Iran’s ambassador to the United States. Salah informed Mossadeq that he had been told that the United States was worried about Mossadeq’s relationship with the communists, and what they perceive would be his inability to stand up to them even if he chose to. Furthermore, the American official who met Saleh at the State Department complained that if Iran succeeded in all of its demands, then other oil-rich countries in the world might also be tempted to nationalize their oil industries, and even demand compensation, as Iran had.30
Under a plan designed in Cyprus by intelligence officers from England and the United States, the shah was to issue two firmans, or decrees, one dismissing Mossadeq, and the other appointing General Fazlollah Zahedi as his replacement. At the same time, lest any part of the plan did not work, the shah decided to leave the capital for the coast of the Caspian Sea.

What happened between August 15, when the orders were delivered to Mossadeq, and the fateful events of August 19, when he was forced to flee his house, is a matter of considerable controversy. Near midnight of August 15, an officer named Colonel Ne’matollah Nasiri, accompanied by two truckloads of soldiers, tried to deliver to Mossadeq the note of his dismissal. Concurrently, other ministers of the cabinet were being arrested. But Mossadeq had been expecting Nasiri, and when the colonel finally arrived, Mossadeq received the order but refused to heed its content. He also ordered Nasiri’s arrest. Early the next morning Iranian radio announced that there had been a coup attempt against the government and that the attempt had failed. No mention of the royal decree was made.
Within the next forty-eight hours, Mossadeq and forces loyal to him moved swiftly to arrest anyone connected with the coup attempt. The fact that the shah fled the country as soon as he heard of Nasiri’s arrest helped Mossadeq and his allies in their effort to discredit the shah. Some of Mossadeq’s more radical allies, like his foreign minister, Fatemi, wanted to move to end the monarchy. Members of the Tudeh Party took to the streets advocating the overthrow of the shah and the creation of a republic. Everywhere, statues of the shah and his father were pulled down by agitated crowds.

By the evening of August 18, both the American and British governments concluded that the attempt to topple Mossadeq had failed. CIA operatives were ordered to evacuate Iran. In a memorandum prepared for the president, the State Department recommended that the United States must “take a whole new look at the Iranian situation and probably have to snuggle up to Mossadeq if we are going to save anything there.”[31]

As a part of this “snuggling up,” the American ambassador, Loy Henderson, who had been out of Iran during those fateful August days, hurried back from his “vacation” and was taken directly to Mossadeq on the night of his arrival.

Mossadeq was in a good mood that night. He received the ambassador “fully dressed (not pajama clad) as though for ceremonial occasion.” Mossadeq told Henderson that “Iran was in throes of revolution . . . [but] Iranian government did not want Americans [to] leave.”[32] Although polite throughout the meeting, Mossadeq, according to Henderson, interspersed his comments “with number [numerous?] little jibes which although semi-jocular in character, were nevertheless barbed. These jibes, in general, hinted that US was conniving with Britain in effect [to] remove him as Prime Minister.”[33] Both the acerbic sense of humor and the demure sense of decorum were well-honed tools of Mossadeq’s discourse. If politics is theater, then Mossadeq was a master thespian. He used his body as a prop—fainted when he wanted, feigned weakness when the occasion demanded, frowned or laughed at will. He moved seamlessly from one gesture to another. He had turned his chronic weakness into a nimble weapon. All through his days as a prime minister, he had held nearly all important meetings in his bedroom. His blanket and his pajamas had become emblems of his political style—a sign of chicanery to his enemies and critics, and an indication of his political genius and mastery of the theatrics of politics to his supporters.

On the evening of August 18, all these qualities were on display during Mossadeq’s historic meeting with Henderson. Eventually, a frustrated Henderson asked Mossadeq to “tell him confidentially . . . just what had happened during recent days.” Mossadeq told him that he had dissolved the Majlis because “it was not worthy of the Iranian people.” He then recounted his version of the events of the last three days. In Mossadeq’s version “the Shah had been prompted by the British” to arrest him, and when Nasiri had come to carry out the plan, Nasiri himself was arrested. Moreover, Mossadeq denied ever seeing the shah’s decree. More crucial, Mossadeq added that even if there had been such a decree, “it would have made no difference. His position for some time had been that the Shah’s powers were only ceremonial.”[34]

Henderson knew that here was the crux of the matter. “I [am] particularly interested in this point,” he said, adding that, “I would like to report it carefully to United States Government. Was I to understand that a) he had no official knowledge that the Shah had issued firman removing him as Prime Minister, and b) even if he should find that the Shah had issued such firman in present circumstances he would consider it to be invalid? He replied, ‘precisely.’”[35]

These words in essence convinced the American Embassy that what had happened on August 16 was in fact a “counter-coup” by Mossadeq. But that night of August 18, after meeting Herderson, Mossadeq went to bed convinced that he had won the day and beat back the attempt to topple him. The key historical question is what happened the next day, and how and why did the tide turn?

From around seven in the morning of August 19, small crowds of about two hundred each began to crop up around the city, shouting pro-shah slogans. Before long, increasing number of soldiers and officers joined the pro-shah crowds. Mossadeq and his cabinet’s response to these events is simply hard to fathom.

Dr. Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi, a lifelong supporter of Dr. Mossadeq’s who served as his minister of the interior, has provided a meticulous account of events of that day. At around noon, he left the ministry and went to Mossadeq’s house. The beleaguered prime minister, according to Sadiqi, did nothing other than wait for events to unfold. No organized force, no jubilant mob, no political party, came to his help. He made no appeals on the radio. His attempt to change the commander of the national police only worsened the situation. The new commander, though a relative of Mossadeq’s, immediately betrayed him and joined the royalists. Mossadeq himself was holed up in his house, despondent and paralyzed. He did not even know that Dr. Hoseyn Fatemi, his minister of foreign affairs, was also at the house.[36]

By early afternoon, royalists captured the radio, and the day was clearly theirs. By then an angry mob was swelling around Mossadeq’s heavily guarded house. Soldiers and officers loyal to Mossadeq fought heroically to keep the mob at bay. But then a couple of tanks rolled around the corner and took aim at the house. Resistance was no longer a serious option. Toward evening, as it became clear that the house was no longer defendable, Mossadeq and his small group of friends and ministers climbed the back walls to the safety of a neighbor’s vacant house. Eventually, the party landed at the home of Dr. Abdullah Moazzami, also a neighbor and a close ally of Mossadeq’s.

After hiding in the basement of this house for twenty-four hours, Mossadeq decided that he should surrender. He was taken to the Officer’s Club, where General Zahedi had set up the headquarters of his new cabinet.
There was disagreement among members of the new government about what to do with Mossadeq. Some, including General Zahedi and a few of his advisors, were opposed to the idea of a trial and wanted to ensure that Mossadeq quietly disappeared into the sunset. The shah, on the other hand, insisted on holding a trial.

Mossadeq turned the trial into an indictment of the British, the shah, and all those who had helped topple his government. With his knowledge of law and his knack for the theatrical component of politics, Mossadeq at turns mocked the prosecutor, shocked the judges by the audacity of his defiant attacks against the shah, and endeared himself to many in the audience with his nimble political and judicial tactics. He was given a three-year sentence, after which he was forced to live in exile and isolation on his estate near Tehran. He might have lost the trial, but history proved that he won the war of legitimacy.

He spent the last twelve years of his life in near solitude at his Ahmad Abad property, cultivating not just his garden but his historic legacy. Only his closest relatives and a handful of friends were allowed to visit him. Mossadeq nevertheless kept up a lively correspondence with the outside world—offering advice or criticism to members of the National Front, particularly when they tried to regroup in the early 1960s.

During this period, he wrote his memoirs and arranged for them to be smuggled to safety. In the book, he laid out the general contours of his life, indicating his vision of politics and culture. Moreover, he rigorously responded to every allegation the shah had made about him and his tenure as a prime minister, particularly in the shah’s first book, Mission for My Country.

Throughout his trial, and during the appeal process, Mossadeq also talked with his attorney about a variety of personal and political issues—from his views on Reza Shah to his experiences in Europe. The attorney, Jalil Bozorgmehr, kept copious notes of these conversations, and eventually published them to great acclaim.[37] A two-volume collection of Mossadeq’s letters has also been published.

Mossadeq lived a simple life. He had an aversion to luxury and conspicuous consumption. He was, according to his son, frugal to a fault, once admonishing his son for spending too much money for oranges.38 All through his years as a prime minister, he never had more than one suit. “I had paid six hundred toomans for it,” he wrote.

An apparently benign sore in his mouth turned out to be the first sign that his end was near. When the pain and the burning sensation continued, Dr. Mossadeq was taken to a hospital, where tests showed that he was suffering from cancer.39 On March 5, 1967, he died in the Najmiyeh Hospital in Tehran. It had been endowed by his family and named Najmiyeh after his mother, Najmol Saltaneh. A few months earlier, his wife of almost seventy years had died of pneumonia in the same hospital. When Mossadeq died, AmirAbbas Hoveyda, the prime minister at the time, “suggested to the Shah that permission be granted for a modest funeral, in keeping with Mossadeq’s status as a former prime minister. The Shah reportedly was adamantly opposed to any such move, saying that he wished to erase every trace of Mossadeq in the land.”[40] In keeping with the shah’s order, no public funeral was allowed. Moreover, Mossadeq had written in his will that he wished to be buried in the plot in the public cemetery set aside for those killed in the June 1951 uprising that helped return him to power. This wish was denied by the shah. Instead, Mossadeq was buried beneath the first floor of the building that had been his home during his long years of exile. Only a handful of family and his closest friends participated in the funeral.

As it happened, on the day Dr. Mossadeq died, flags did fly at half-mast all around Tehran but not to mark the passing of the man the American ambassador at the time had called “one of the great personalities of Persian history.” Instead, the city was mourning the death of “Governor General of Canada, Georges Vanier.”[41]

After the revolution, on the first anniversary of his death, an estimated two million people traveled to the grave site to register their respect for the man who had dared defy England.

Hushang Nahavandi

In politics, as in life, people are most often defined and remembered for their deeds—the constructive or destructive roles they played in the life of their communities or the world. A few are defined only by their unfulfilled dreams and ambitions—what they craved but never achieved. The shadow of the dreams obscures even the glare of their accomplishments. Hushang Nahavandi, a cultured man of much education, an educator of considerable accomplishments, a politician of savvy and subtlety, a man of amiable congeniality, is one such man. He is often defined less by any of his fine qualities than by his long cherished, almost attained, but never achieved dream of becoming Iran’s prime minister.[1] His memoir of his last days in power in Iran is as much a tale of how close he came to realizing that dream—and how he could have saved the shah and Iran from the claws of Ayatollah Khomeini—as about the shah’s last days on the Peacock Throne.[2]

Nahavandi was born near the city of Rasht in December 1932. His was a family steeped in politics and commerce. His father was a prominent merchant, a representative to the Constituent Assembly, and his mother was from an influential family, also prominent as merchants and active in politics. Nahavandi’s father did most of his trade with Russia, and as a result not only traveled there often but also mastered the language. For a while, he even taught Russian in Rasht. After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, he remained in the Soviet Union for several years. With the rise of Stalinism, his Russian forays ended. The older Nahavandi died in 1951.

This mastery of the Russian language was, for the father, a ticket to observe first hand, as the translator, some of the pivotal discussions that took place in early 1920s between representatives of the Jangali movement and those of the Soviet government.[3] The Jangali movement, and the first albeit short-lived Iranian Soviet Republic it created,[4] had in its early phases attracted the sympathies of Rasht’s grandees, and it is likely that the elder Nahavandi shared those sympathies.

His father’s Soviet journeys and possible entanglement with the Jangali movement was not the young Nahavandi’s only connection to the radical circles of Iranian politics. Other relatives, in different stages of Nahavandi’s life, were also connected to oppositional politics. His uncle, Dr. Karim Keshavarz, was one of the founders of the Tudeh Party, and in later years one of the most eloquent critics of the party and its past. Nahavandi’s own brother, however, stayed out of politics and became one of Iran’s most eminent cardiologists.

After finishing his first two years of schooling in Rasht, Hushang was sent to Tehran, where he attended some of the city’s preeminent schools, including Firuz-Bahram, a school run by Iranian Zoroastrians, and the famed Dar al-Funun. While his general sympathies were with the Left and with Dr. Mossadeq, he did not join any party or group, nor did he engage in any action that would label him as a serious advocate of any ideology.

As soon as he finished high school, he set out for Paris.[5] After four years he received his law degree and then immediately enrolled in the doctoral program—doctor d’etat, an equivalent to a Ph.D.—in economics. Not long after finishing his bachelor’s degree, he had married his childhood sweetheart, Mokaram Abrishami, who also came from a prominent family from the city of Rasht. She was studying medicine in London at the time and gave up her career when she married. They now have two daughters, both successful professionals. In November 2004, Nahavandi and his wife celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding.

Early in 1958, Nahavandi finished his dissertation. Its focus was on economic theory, and it offered a criticism of some of Schumpeter’s theories on development and capitalism. The thesis won the university award as the best dissertation of the year.6 It was also the first lengthy discussion of Schumpeter’s ideas in French. Not long afterward, Nahavandi and his family returned to Iran. During his university days, he never fully joined any political club or party, so he returned to Iran with a clear record.

In July 1958, he met Hassan-Ali Mansur and not only joined his circle but through him began to work at the Economic High Council. He also was hired to work as an economist in the Bank of Credit. His academic qualifications, as well as his financial probity and his willingness to work long and hard, helped him climb the political ladder. He hitched his star to Mansur, and as Mansur experienced his meteoric rise to power, Nahavandi went along. In 1963, when Mansur was named prime minister, Nahavandi was appointed to his first ministerial portfolio, in charge of the newly minted Ministry of Housing and Development. The rising tide of urbanism in the country, particularly in Tehran, had by then turned affordable and ample housing into a pressing social problem, and the creation of the new ministry was part of the government’s attempt to cope with the problem.

Even before this appointment, Nahavandi had been, for some six months, meeting regularly with the shah as part of a de facto “shadow cabinet” led by Mansur. This group, consisting of some seven top members of the Mansur circle, met regularly with the king to talk about the country’s problems and ways of confronting them. Hoveyda was another key member of the “shadow cabinet.”[7]

But Nahavandi was not just a man of politics. He was also a man of ideas, with a decided affinity for intellectuals and for the rigors of scholarship and research. No sooner had he returned to Iran than he met a number of prominent professors at Tehran University—particularly Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi and Shapur Rasekh—and through them was hired to teach in the Economics Department. At the same time, he began to teach economics at the Officers Academy in Tehran. He also continued his scholarly endeavors, publishing books on different aspects of economics that he had translated or written. By the time he left Iran some twenty years later, he had written or translated fourteen books, all dealing with economics. But his eyes were on the political prize.
Even after the assassination of Mansur in 1965, Nahavandi continued to serve in the cabinet. He served in that capacity for almost five years. While he was a member of the cabinet, according to reports by SAVAK, he was also working behind the scenes to undermine it. In fact, he met regularly with Jamshid Amuzegar—every Wednesday, according to SAVAK reports—to coordinate their efforts to bring about the fall of Hoveyda and the rise of Amuzegar.[8] The same SAVAK reports indicate that Nahavandi had decided, “to join the American group”[9] and unite with officials like Amuzegar, Majidi, and Goudarzi. SAVAK was concerned enough about these reports that a special investigation was ordered, and every source of information, including the girlfriends of some members of this group, were mined for information.[10] Nahavandi categorically denies these reports and suggests they must all be traced to a personal clash between him and General Ne’matollah Nasiri, the powerful head of SAVAK.

It was tensions with Hoveyda—and not Nasiri’s machinations—that finally led to Nahavandi’s resignation. By then, he had also become an ally of Assadollah Alam, a formidable foe of Hoveyda, and with the latter’s support, he was, after a brief hiatus, named rector of Pahlavi University in Shiraz.

By the late 1960s, the universities in Iran—much like those in western Europe and the United States—had become hotbeds of radicalism, and the shah was growing increasingly impatient with the inability of university officials to eliminate oppositional activism on campuses. But supported by Alam, and eventually by the shah himself, Nahavandi worked hard to improve Pahlavi University not only in terms of its infrastructure, but in terms of its student life and academic standards. He inherited a university that was in financial shambles. “Some six million dollars were simply missing,”[11] he said with a sad smile on his face. But as Alam had been the rector before, making a big fuss about the missing funds would be political suicide, and Nahavandi was nothing if not pragmatic.

After Pahlavi University, Nahavandi was appointed the rector of Tehran University. Some consider his tenure at Tehran University a big boon for the institution, while others suggest that he only used the position as a stepping-stone. By his own reckoning, the key to his success and his longevity was that he was supported by the shah. In fact, part of Nahavandi’s understanding with the shah was that he would directly report to the king and accept only his orders. SAVAK, on more than one occasion, he says, tried to get rid of him, essentially asking that he submit his resignation, but Nahavandi survived because the shah told him to ignore the pressures and continue his work. Every night around six, he sent a handwritten confidential report of the day’s business directly to the shah, delivered by special envoys. He is still convinced, a quarter century after the revolution, that many of the most violent student demonstrations that marked his rocky tenure were actually instigated by SAVAK working in tandem with Hoveyda. If Nahavandi had successfully pacified the truculent, intransigent students at Tehran University, he suggests, his road to the premiership would have been easily paved.

Nahavandi, for his part, tried to turn the university into a source of power for himself. The shah had a complicated relationship with intellectuals. He was at once awed and appalled by them. Nevertheless, for those aspiring to high political position, having a larger number of intellectuals on their team was a big asset. In this arena, Nahavandi was probably more successful than any other politician, particularly after he created the “Group of Scholars for the Study of the Problems of Iran.” Hoveyda was threatened by the group and worked hard to dismiss it as a political tool and its findings as the propaganda of his foes.

A good example was a thirty-two page confidential report prepared by the group at the behest of the shah in 1975. The group’s mandate was to study the causes of discontent in the country. Eight people, including Nahavandi, undertook to write the report. They found that there were six main reasons behind the discontent. People were, according to Nahavandi and his colleagues, “angry at the corruption of a handful of politicians and members of the royal family; they were angry at unfulfilled promises and the lack of coordination in economic planning; they were unhappy with rising prices; they were distraught at the failure of the government to keep its contacts with the clergy, and finally the youth were angry at excessive policies—our euphemism for SAVAK.”[12] The report ended with the conclusion that unless something was done immediately about these problems, they would fester and become a serious crisis, leading to a victory for the clergy, and ultimately for the communists.[13] The queen also gives an account of the report in her memoirs, writing that the group found that “[p]eople said they were indeed aware that their living conditions had improved . . . but they spoke more about their disappointments . . . corruption was a large part of the cause of this disenchantment and gloom . . . every reform had given rise to new resentments . . . [and] young people demanded more freedom.”[14]

Although the report “should have been,” according to the queen, “worthy of the government’s attention” and should have alerted them to the people’s angst and anger, nothing was done. Hoveyda successfully dismissed much of its stinging criticism as grandstanding by his opponents.

In summer 1977, the shah summoned Nahavandi to his office. “The queen,” he said, “is gaining more and more power every day. It is important that her office be run efficiently. We have decided that you should go to that office.”[15] It was also, as Nahavandi has made amply clear, part of his new job to keep the shah abreast of all developments in the queen’s office. As Alam wrote in his memoirs, the shah was at times worried about the extent of the queen’s popularity and presence in the media,[16] and one aspect of Nahavandi’s job was to assuage his anxieties.

Some of Nahavandi’s friends, particularly among the university’s professors, were critical of his decision to accept the job. They told him it demeaned the university to have the rector become what the queen called her “chief secretary.” Nahavandi claims he accepted the job for three simple reasons. “There was no possibility of saying no to a job offer. If you said no once, you would never be offered another position.” He was also, he said, enticed into accepting when the shah referred to the education of the crown prince, and how the queen, and thus her office, is increasingly the center of decision making for that important task. Finally, he said, “Her Majesty’s office offered me a chance to learn about all aspects of Iranian politics and society.”[17]
As it began to be clear that the fall of Hoveyda was imminent, Tehran was abuzz with rumors of his successor. Although Hushang Ansary and Jamshid Amuzegar were clearly the favorites, Nahavandi was also mentioned as a dark-horse candidate. He would only have to wait another year before his name emerged again, that time as a serious contender for the post.[18] His second chance came sooner than he imagined because Amuzegar’s tenure was short-lived.

By 1975, Iran had become a one-party system, and Nahavandi had become one of the chief theorists of the party. In fact, the group he had created while he was rector of Tehran University—The Group of Scholars for the Study of the Problems of the Iran— had become a de facto wing of the party. He claimed Iran was not “a single-party system in the traditional sense of the word.” He referred to the party as a “national covenant . . . everyone should be free to say what they want.” At the same time, he talked of three sacred concepts that could not be questioned. Everything else, he said, was open to discussion. The three pillars of the party were the monarchy, national unity, and people’s “religious beliefs.”[19]

Only a few months after Nahavandi made these pronouncements, the political situation in the country deteriorated, and it became clear that Amuzegar was not the man for the hour. The survival of the monarchy was at risk, and the shah was, on the advice of his advisors, going to sack Amuzegar, name a new prime minister, and at the same time do “something spectacular”20 to stem the revolutionary tide. The queen suggested her “chief secretary,”21 Nahavandi, who was, in her words, “a convinced liberal, a man who could make decisions, a former rector of Tehran University with many friends among the intellectuals. Lastly, I had been told that he had always wanted to be prime minister.”[22]

The shah eventually chose Sharif-Emami. In his memoirs, Nahavandi offers a detailed account of an exploratory meeting he had with the shah in which he described the policies he would adopt as prime minister and the people he would invite to join him in the cabinet.[23] The program apparently did not appeal to the shah. Sharif-Emami was appointed prime minister. Nahavandi believes that “based on all I know now, I doubt that the queen seriously supported my candidacy—if she supported it at all.”[24]

Much to his dismay, and only at the urging of the shah and the queen, Nahavandi accepted the post of minister of higher education in the Sharif-Emami cabinet. “I was,” he writes, “one of the three ministers forced by the Shah on the new prime ministers.”25 He makes it clear that it was a “personal sacrifice.”[26]

Early on, he was at odds with the prime minister, who wanted to appease the opposition. Nahavandi claims he was among the handful of ministers who advocated the necessity of a show of force. “We must make the situation calm, and then from the position of strength and stability, make genuine and serious concessions to the demands of the opposition.”[27] Eventually, the increasing tensions led once again to his resignation. The cabinet, too, fell not much later. “Accepting to serve in that cabinet,” he now believes, “was the biggest mistake of my political life.”

The Sharif-Emami cabinet was replaced with an inefficient military government, and one of its ploys to appease the population was to arrest a large number of the leading officials of past governments. Nahavandi was one of them. In prison, he led an isolated life, as much avoiding others as avoided by them. Some of the prisoners harbored the notion that Nahavandi had been responsible for preparing the list of those to be detained as a “scapegoats.”[28] There is no evidence to support this claim, but in those days of rancor and doubt, anxious waiting and angry mobs, facts mattered little. On the day of the revolution, as the doors to the prison were opened where Nahavandi and most of his peers were held, he was among the lucky few who escaped the clutches of the angry demonstrators.

After a few weeks of tense hiding in Tehran, with the help of the French government he eventually succeeded in escaping Iran and settling in Paris, where he taught at the university. Eventually he retired to Brussels, where he lives near one of his daughters. He has published several books on the shah’s last days, the revolution,[29] and one on Shah Abbas, the sixteenth-century Safavid king.[30]

Parviz Nikkhah

In Wagner’s Ring, Siegfried is the betrayed and betraying hero. He is the expected messiah who can slay the dragon and pave the way to Valhalla. But like all mythical heroes— from Esfandiyar and his eyes to Achilles and his heel—he is vulnerable. Those Siegfried betrayed used his vulnerability to kill him, and with his death, Valhalla was consumed in flames. Parviz Nikkhah had a life and fate not unlike Siegfried’s.

He was born in April 1939 (Ordibehesht 1318) to a middle-class family steeped in politics. His father, an avid reader, was an accountant for a private company. His mother was a woman of strong character, a warm heart, and no intellectual pretense. His older sister, Parvin, was a full-time member of the Tudeh Party. Under her influence, “the entire family developed something of a leftist tendency.”[1] The Nikkhah house was often not only the place where important party meetings were held, but also where some of the famous clandestine members of the party, including Khosrow Ruzbeh, occasionally sought refuge. Parviz joined the youth organization of the party and there learned his first lessons in Marxism, and in clandestine work.

As a student, Parviz was serious, organized, intelligent, and congenial. In spite of his political engagements, he always managed to do well in school. From early youth he was capable of combining activism and a sterling academic performance. His teachers remembered him fondly and talked of his unfailing politeness. To some he seemed aloof, if not arrogant, while others saw him as incorrigibly shy and timid.[2] He had an avid curiosity and kept his mother occupied with all manner of questions—from the origins of life to the size of stars.[3] He had a large number of close friends, many of who converged on the Nikkhah family home as their main “hangout.” Even in high school, Parviz was constantly occupied with politics. He was also a voracious reader of poetry and fiction, and in college he developed a particular affinity for Shakespeare. He even dabbled in poetry.[4]

He was in high school when his older sister and political mentor married a man named Gholam-Ali Seyf. He, too, was a member of the Tudeh Party and had spent some time in prison. He wooed not only Parviz but also Parviz’s sister with the stories of his prison exploits. They both loved him “for the troubles he’s had.” Seyf was well read in philosophy and history and around the Nikkhah household he was simply known as “Ostad”[5]—an honorific often used for university professors or maestros in any field. Seyf and his wife would later become crucial characters in the Nikkhah lore.

Parviz attended Adab High School, and early in the summer of 1958 he set out for Europe. The whole family had gathered at the TBT bus station. A new service to Europe had just begun. Hitherto, planes and trains had been the sole means of travel. Furthermore, sending a child to Europe had been until that time the prerogative of the higher classes. With the opening of TBT bus lines—where a person could reach the heart of Europe for a meager sum—a new breed of students, often from the lower classes, began to arrive in European cities. Before their arrival, Iranian students had been politically dormant, save for the occasional outburst of indignation about things that usually had to do with their well-being. The new arrivals brought with them new experiences and expectations, and their presence fundamentally reshaped the nature of the Iranian student movement in Europe and America. Nikkhah not only realized this crucial change was occurring but became one of the most important links in turning the increasing number of students studying abroad into a potent political force. The SAVAK was also cognizant of this change and tried to retool its effort to control the movement.[6]

Parviz registered at the University of Manchester and in about four years graduated with a degree in physics. By then he had emerged as one of the leading figures of the burgeoning student movement. More important, he was part of a clandestine group of radicals who had become disgruntled with the Tudeh Party and its leadership. The new group was under the ideological sway of Mao and had begun to criticize the Soviet Union for its “revisionism.” The new Iranian Maoists criticized the Tudeh Party leadership for its lack of revolutionary resolve, for its refusal to go back to Iran, the “real scene of the class struggle,” and for its blind obedience to the “Revisionist Soviet Union.”[7]

In their discussions, the new Iranian radicals concluded that the only path for revolution in Iran was an armed peasant uprising, along the model of China, and that the first step in the realization of that dream was for committed Marxists to go “among the masses” and not only learn from them but teach them the art and science of revolution. Parviz Nikkhah was one of the first in the group to volunteer to go back and start the struggle. Those who remained behind went on to force a split in the Tudeh Party and to create a new revolutionary group that called itself “The Revolutionary Organization of the Tudeh Party of Iran.”

Even before his return, Parviz’s activities had not remained hidden from the Iranian secret police. His father was called to the offices of SAVAK several times and asked to “bring some sense into his son’s mind.”8 At the same time, Parviz needed more time to finish his organizational chores in London, but he had already finished his undergraduate degree and needed a legitimate academic excuse to extend his student visa. He thus applied to and was accepted to the graduate program at the Imperial College of London. His thoughts and time were consumed not by physics but by revolution, however, and as soon as his preparations were complete in 1964, he returned to Iran filled with Promethean optimism. If recently published documents are to be believed, even before he returned home, SAVAK was on his trail, watching his every move.[9]

After a few weeks in Tehran, he was hired to work as an instructor in a physics laboratory at the Polytechnic College. He also began his clandestine revolutionary activities, recruiting new members and studying the dynamics of the changing Iranian society. The result of his study was a report he sent to his comrades in Europe. It offered fascinating insights into Parviz’s mind. Hints of his future controversial intellectual development can be seen in this early essay.

Nikkhah begins by underscoring the necessity of accepting the contingency of any belief. While we hold and defend our ideas, he wrote, we must also always entertain the possibility that they are wrong or in need of amendment or correction. Accepting the “contingency” of one’s thoughts, as Nikkhah advocated, has far more in common with American pragmatism than with orthodox Marxism or Maoism.[10] He then went on to use his knowledge of physics and the differences between Newton and Einstein to underscore the process of paradigm change in science. Marxism, too, he writes, must embrace such paradigm shifts, if they are needed.

He had been in Iran less than two years when on April 10, 1965, the shah was attacked by one of his guards. As the king was driving to his office, a short drive from his residence, a guard armed with a machine gun began firing at him. The shah miraculously escaped unscathed; a couple of his guards were killed and the assailant was shot dead by the king’s other bodyguards. Investigations into the background of the failed assassin showed him to have been a friend of a man named Ahmad Kamrani, who was himself remotely connected to the five or six people who by then made up the “Nikkhah group.” Although SAVAK, according to its own internal documents, knew at the time that “the relationship between this [Nikkhah] group and the assassination attempt at the Palace is ambiguous and has not been judicially proven,” and although the assailant was clearly far more connected to religious circles than those of the Left, the regime nevertheless decided not only to arrest Nikkhah and everyone in his group, but to announce with great orchestrated fanfare the discovery of a great “Maoist organization” and to blame the assassination attempt on them. The same SAVAK documents show that the police were waiting for an excuse to arrest the group, and the assassination attempt provided the excuse.[11]

This strange decision was no isolated incident or mere tactical error. It was part of a grave historic blunder by the shah and the secret police that assumed the Left to be their chief enemy and the religious forces, with the exception of the lunatic fringe, its allies. Ironically, the religious fanatics orchestrated both attempts on the life of the shah—the first, in the early years of his reign, was blamed on the Tudeh Party—and both were ultimately blamed on the Left.

At his trial, Nikkhah vehemently denied any role in the assassination attempt. Terrorism, he said, is not part of my creed. At the same time, he minced no words in declaring his opposition to the shah’s regime. “I am a Marxist-Leninist,” he said, “and it is from that prism that I am against the Shah.”[12]

His bravery, his eloquence, and his young and handsome face made him a national sensation overnight. A new generation of Iranian activists residing in the West needed a hero, and Nikkhah fit the bill. He had turned his court martial into an occasion to critique the regime and defend his ideas. To no small measure, the Confederation of Iranian Students, for the last two decades of the shah’s rule the bane of his regime, owed its emergence as a cogent and powerful voice to Nikkhah and his trial. A long litany of famous poets and writers were convinced to write letters to the shah and demand leniency for Nikkhah. This influential group—from Jean-Paul Sartre and Günter Grass to Harold Pinter and Noam Chomsky—became, in future years, a reliable reservoir of allies in the fight against the shah’s regime.[13]

Angered by Nikkhah’s defiance, the regime responded by imposing the death penalty—a stiff sentence for a crime he had not committed. In the appeal process, arguably in response to the mounting international outcry against the draconian judgments of the court, Nikkhah’s death sentence was reduced to ten years in prison. By then he had become a symbol of the opposition.

After serving four years of his term, Nikkhah suddenly had a change of heart and mind. He had spent the last few months isolated from other prisoners in a jail in the city of Boroujerd. At the time, most of his prison mates thought he had been sent there for punishment and exile. It was common for the police to send intransigent or troublemaking prisoners to outlying areas, away from daily contact with their comrades. Others, in retrospect, see his transfer as part of the careful plan to make Nikkhah into a turncoat. There is evidence that in Boroujerd he was provided with ample reading material—mostly extolling the virtues of the White Revolution. There is also no doubt that his family was allowed free access to him. Rumor had it that his sister and brother-in-law, erstwhile communists and by then both die-hard defenders of the shah, spent hours and weeks talking with him and convincing him of the virtues of the shah’s policies. SAVAK documents clearly show that Parviz’s brothers met with him in the weeks before the bombshell that was his conversion.[14]

He had been studying the Iranian situation, he told an incredulous television audience in 1969, and he had come to realize that his past calculations and theories, and those of the opposition have been grossly mistaken. Iran is now on a path to modernity and progress, he said. The land reform of early 1960s had transformed the face of Iranian society, uprooted feudalism, and put Iran on track to develop a viable, capitalist economy.
More important, in this new Iran, the shah was, according to Nikkhah, locked in a fierce battle with old and new colonialism, and particularly with the oil companies. The opposition must thus, in deference to the national importance of this struggle, give up, at least temporarily, its fight against the shah and instead join him in a broad united front. Nothing short of the independence and welfare of Iran was at stake.

Nikkhah’s first step toward making his new views public was to write a pleading letter to the shah. He first broached the idea with his brothers and his trusted brother-in-law. He read them the letter he had prepared and solicited their help in getting the letter to the shah. They approved the content and his intent, and through the good offices of Dr. Mohammad Baheri—himself a lapsed communist and by then an official of the court— the letter reached the shah.

In the letter, Nikkhah explained in detail the tenets of his new beliefs, apologizing for his past errors and asking for a pardon. He declared that he was not only willing to declare these views in private but was anxious to allow others to learn from his mistake.

The letter pleased the shah.15 All his political life he had a particular craving for the approval of leftist intellectuals. In fact, some of the centrists and more conservative defenders of his regime eventually grew to resent the meteoric rise to power of repentant communists. “It is a fast track to the top,” some joked. In due course, Nikkhah was to suffer his share of this kind of resentment.

Soon after the letter, Nikkhah was moved to a prison in Tehran, and before long he appeared on a now famous television program, recanting his past, professing his new views, offering profuse praise for the shah, and advocating a “united front” against the common enemies of progress. Within hours of his interview he was released from captivity and went in that short span of time from being the darling of the Left to its nemesis, from an icon of revolutionary dedication to a despised symbol of treason and betrayal. One “committed” artist wrote a poem damning him as a wandering “insistent beggar,” desperate to gain acceptance into people’s hearts and minds, but deservedly condemned to a “great loneliness.” He ends the poem by ominously suggesting “only death shall be your response.”[16] Bijan Jazani, the doyen of radical orthodoxy, excoriated Nikkhah for his change of heart, ridiculed him as something like an intellectual gigolo, and attributed his “weakness” to the errors of Maoism.[17]

Out of prison, Nikkhah’s first job was an entry-level one at the Ministry of Information. His salary was three thousand tooman a month (about $400 at the exchange rates of the time).[18] But he was not one to go quietly into the night. Instead, after a short hiatus, he reemerged as a spokesperson for the regime. Even more astounding was the fact that in at least two cases he is reported to have been the person who had to approve and correct speeches of other “recanters,” demonstrating his collaboration with SAVAK.[19]

He was unhappy with his work at the Ministry of Information. He tried to work at the Iranian National Oil Company and, though SAVAK gave its approval, Dr. Manuchehre Egbal, the director, refused to hire him.20 Eventually he ended up at the Iranian Radio and Television Organization. He rose in the ranks to become the head of the News Section, where his job was to select which items made it to the news program; he also wrote many of the commentaries in defense of different aspects of the regime’s policies.

While his detractors lost no opportunity to criticize him, his defenders talked of his humility, unfailing sense of discipline, and tireless work habits. When a Harvard Business School was started in Iran, Nikkhah soon enrolled and received a master’s degree. One of his professors talks of a paper—“one of the best of his class”—in which he had studied the number of seminarians in Iran and concluded that, contrary to expectations, there has been a sudden increase in their number in the 1970s. In times of prosperity, he wrote, the number of seminarians decreases, and he asked why they were then increasing in Iran. The same professor remembers Nikkhah suggesting as early of 1971 that the only viable alternative to the shah’s regime would be a dictatorship of the mullahs.[21]

By the mid-1970s, a new venue appeared for Nikkhah’s talents. The shah decided to make Iran a one-party system, and soon Nikkhah emerged as one of its most important theorists.[22]

By then, his private life had also changed. All through his youth, he was a heartthrob. His admirers included many of his comrades.23 But after prison, he was invariably consumed by work. In spite of his family’s repeated insistence, he had little time for matters of the heart. Finally, at the insistence of his sisters, he agreed to meet a young beautiful woman named Parand. After forty days of courtship, they were married. In her own words, she decided to “dedicate [her] life to making him happy.”[24] He spent all his time at work. His coterie of friends was limited to a small number of intellectuals who had followed the same path as he had—lapsed communists who were now working with the regime. At one time the group decided to suggest to the regime that they be allowed to form a “Social Democratic” party that would be the loyal opposition to the other parties or factions within the one-party structure. The idea was rejected.[25]

Nikkhah was so consumed with his work that with the consent of his wife he took no part in the management of the household. “I did everything to give him peace of mind to do his work,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. He even had little time to read or to see films—both had been favorite avocations in his youth. He continued to suffer from the snide remarks and contemptuous look of those who continued to harbor ill feelings toward his chosen path. Even with his wife he was reticent to talk about his suffering. His only indulgence, she said, were fancy dinners at the house, served on fancy dishes.[26]

As the situation in Iran began to deteriorate, Nikkhah’s family and friends began to worry about his safety. Some suggested that he should leave the country. Before long, he was informed that he, like hundreds of the shah’s regime’s key figures, could no longer leave. Escaping through one of the porous borders was by then his only choice. He refused to entertain the idea. Although he was vaguely worried about the future, he had no reason to believe that his own life or the lives of his close circle of friends were in any way in jeopardy. All that changed soon after the revolution.

On the day of the revolution, as he was naively still sitting in his office, a group of disgruntled employees, many armed with weapons taken from armories the night before, put him under arrest in one of the studios of the television headquarters. After a few days, he was released, only to be rearrested shortly afterward.[27] The second time, a group of about nine armed guards came to his house and took him away. His wife firmly believes that among the posse that came to arrest her husband was a disgruntled old leftist employee of the Television Organization. As fate would have it, this time, too, Nikkhah would be tried for a crime he had not committed; like his first trial, he valiantly defended himself and his beliefs. He told the court of his philosophical objection to religion in politics and finally tried to convince the infamous “hanging judge,” Sheikh Sadeq Khalkhali, that he had worked with the shah’s regime solely and simply out of conviction because of his belief that it was at the time the best government for Iran.[28]

But his most serious crime was one he had not committed. The court believed him to be the author of the infamous letter that attacked Ayatollah Khomeini as a man of Indian origin and dubious connections to the British. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. The real author was someone else whose name closely resembled Nikkhah’s. Nevertheless, he was condemned to die, and minutes after the kangaroo trial and summary judgment, he was executed.

His last letter, written minutes before his death, was to his wife:
My dear Parand: Tonight, the court is likely to hand down the sentence of execution. The crimes of the Shah’s regime had reached such heights, and the anger of the people had such power that guilty and innocent are likely to be equally burnt by it. I kiss you, and also kiss [our sons] Cyrus and Alborz. Please make every effort in their upbringing. May god be with you. All my hope is now with you. I love you with all my heart. With greetings for everyone. Parviz.[29]

Parviz Nikkhah was executed on March 13, 1979. He was forty-six years old. His older son, now a dentist, was six years old; his younger son was four.

Nasser and Khosrow Qhashghai

For many in a generation of scholars and social activists, the Qhashghai tribe embodied the romance of the noble nomad, untainted by the blemishes of modernity and urbanism, as defiant in the face of despotism as against the corrosive power of commerce. William Douglas, Justice of the United States Supreme Court and a close friend of the Qhashghai brothers, captured this romance when he wrote, “They are skilled, resourceful warriors. . . . They live in wildly rugged mountains, where dizzying cliffs and harsh defiles are barriers to all transport but mules.”[1]

The Qhashghais are considered one of the largest nomadic tribes of Iran. By the mid1950s, their population was estimated to be about four hundred thousand. During the early part of the twentieth century, they were often at the forefront of the battle for a new constitutional government in Iran. In those days, the leader of a tribe, or the khan, ruled it as a virtual fiefdom. Whether portrayed in the exuberant colors of a Kalantari ethnographically informed painting or in the adoring narratives of scholars, the Qhashghais had become the romanticized epitome of nomadic intransigence against the homogenizing gusto of modernity. For much of the second half of the twentieth century, Nasser Khan and Khosrow Khan were the most famous favorite sons of this storied tribe.

They were born into a family inseparably steeped in the political battles of the time. For both of them, a life in politics was less a calling than something “thrust upon them.” Their father, Solat al-Dowleh, was the chief of the Qhashghai tribe, and, as was customary at the time, he ruled it with the absolutism of an Oriental potentate. He had a “history of stormy relations” with the British. He had fought them often, and during the waning days of World War I he and his tribesmen had, for a while, occupied the city of Shiraz. Solat al-Dowleh had been an early proponent of Reza Shah and his nationalism. But one of the pillars of the king’s modernizing efforts was his decision to settle, forcefully if need be, all the nomads of Iran. The process was bloody and acrimonious, and the Qhashghai tribe was often at the heart of the nomads’ ongoing, quixotic battle with the increasingly authoritarian but modernizing central government. By the late 1920s, Solat al-Dowleh, along with other tribal chieftains, was disarmed. Most were forced to settle in Tehran. In Solat al-Dowleh’s case, he was “practically a hostage in Tehran as a member of the fifth Parliament.”[2]

Nasser Khan was born in 1895 (1274). He spent his childhood and early years among the tribe, where he learned to ride and shoot. Private tutors schooled him, and the experience later helped Mohammad Bahmanbeygi, the son of one of Solat al-Dowleh’s servants, to create the now famous special nomadic schools. Nasser was easily the son closest to his father. When the latter was chosen for the Parliament, Nasser was also given a seat in the Majlis, and when the fortunes of the father fell and he was arrested, the son, too, was incarcerated. The father did not survive his imprisonment, and the son emerged from the ordeal seasoned and embittered, as well as famous. He was the clear choice to lead the tribe after his father. Another candidate was the Khan’s other son, Khosrow. Both of them felt that the Pahlavi dynasty had their father’s blood on its hands, and, steeped in the nomadic tradition of retribution, this sin was not easily forgotten or forgiven.

Khosrow Khan was the fifth and last child of Solat al-Dowleh. He was born in 1917 (1296). Although his childhood was spent among the tribe, he went to school in Tehran, where he attended Alborz high school and Firouz Bahram, two of the city’s most accademically acclaimed schools. It was in the tumultuous days of World War II that Khosrow first emerged as a figure of national relevance. During the war, the Qhashghais became, according to many scholars, “the mightiest pro-German force in Iran and Nasser Khan became front runner for prime minister in the event of a German victory.”[3] In spring of 1942, the brothers invited the German superspy Berthold Schulze-Holthus to come to the tribal areas and hide among the Qhashghais. Another German, Franz Mayr, was also working with the Qhashghais, and with their help the two Germans created a group called Melliyune Iran, which was “laying the foundations of uprising in case the Germans came out as victors.”[4] At one point, the brothers even began to plan for a general uprising against the central government, but their German advisors convinced them to follow a more cautious path and await more victories from the German armies in the Soviet Union.[5]

In the meantime, the British, desperate to abort any successful pro-German movement in Iran, tried everything to stop the work of the spies. They even made an offer to give the brothers five million tooman and “recognition of the autonomy of the Qhashghai zone by the Tehran government” in return for the German spies. The brothers refused the offer because for them, in the words of Douglas, their word of honor meant a great deal.[6]

Before the end of the war, though the Eastern Front victories never came, and the power of the central government seemed to be dwindling; a more limited uprising, particularly among the Qhashghais, did break out. Several major battles between the Qhashghais and the Iranian army were fought, the most famous at Simitgou. The Iranian papers offered often sensationalist accounts of these battles. In some, Khosrow was afforded a near-mythical status. He was said to be brave, cunning, and ruthless in battle. There were even reports that he had beheaded a colonel of the Iranian army with his bare hands and a knife.[7] He was also said to be a bon vivant, a life-long reputation he shared with his brother Nasser. In fact, there were rumors during the war years of tension between Khosrow Khan and the shah as both were said to be romantically involved with the same girl, called Firouzeh.[8]

The Qhashghai uprising was put down by government forces led by General Fazlollah Zahedi. Instead of an acrimonious policy of pure punishment, the government opted for appeasement and stern discipline. At the end of the hostilities, both brothers were allowed, indeed invited, to enter the world of electoral politics. It has even been suggested that seats in the Parliament were part of the offer that convinced the brothers to end their armed battle with the central government. The British authorities certainly tried to give this impression when, in a meeting with the shah, they declared that in their most recent contact with the Qhashghai brothers, particularly Nasser Khan, they had made an “abortive attempt to persuade him to stand for the Majlis—a move which, if it had succeeded, would have greatly helped the Persian government by softening and emasculating this bumptious chieftain.”[9] Before the end of the decade, Nasser Khan was named a senator and Khosrow became a member of the Majlis.

In their foray into electoral politics, the brothers tried to carve out a niche of their own—at once independent, cautious, nationalist, and anticommunist. As coalition politics was the dominant pattern at the time, the brothers proved deft and nimble at the art of forming shifting alliances.
For a while, according to the British Embassy in Tehran, they joined forces with Gavam al Molk, a powerful figure in the city of Shiraz and long known as a close “friend” of the British. According to the agreement, “Nasir Qhashghai and his brother . . . have agreed . . . no action shall be taken against the interests of the Persian government or against the interests or wishes of the British government . . . the motive that inspired Nasser Qhashghai may have been nothing more than to prove his friendship for the British by becoming friend with their friends.”[10]

This newfound amity between the Qhashghais and the British worried the shah. All his life he had believed that nomadic tribes were used by foreign powers to exert pressure on the central government. He particularly distrusted the British in this regard. A few months after the agreement between Gavam al Molk and the Qhashghai brothers, the shah complained to the British authorities about these discussions. The embassy tried to reassure the monarch that in meeting with the Qhashghai brothers they had only hoped to appease them into a more peaceful, law-abiding posture. At the same time the embassy officials insisted that “in general . . . and in principle” they “had a perfect right to maintain contact with tribal leaders in zones of particular interests to us.”[11]

As it turned out, the shah had reason to worry about the Qhashghai brothers’ intentions. Before long, they aligned themselves with a serious foe of the king. When Ghavam-ol Saltaneh became prime minister and began to confront the shah on the extent of his powers, the Qhashghai brothers sided with Ghavam. The alliance broke only when Ghavam brought three communist ministers into the cabinet. Anticommunism was a near-constant element of the brothers’ political ideology.

As the oil nationalization battles heated up, and Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq became the focal point of Iranian politics, the brothers gingerly but clearly moved to side with him, and against the court and the shah. When on July 16, 1952 (25 Tir 1331) Mossadeq resigned his post as prime minister in a show of force, and his resignation brought about a mass uprising in Tehran, Khosrow, according to Baqa’i, met with him and said, “I have just sold my house and have a million tooman and will give you all, if you agree that we should get rid of not just Ghavam but the Shah as well.”[12] On another occasion, Khosrow Khan told American Embassy officials “he had a score to settle with the shah because the shah’s father had killed his father.”[13] To their credit, however, the brothers’ hatred for the shah had a limit.

During the events leading to the August 1953 attempt to depose Dr. Mossadeq, the Tudeh Party sent a high-level military delegation to meet with Khosrow Khan and Nasser Khan and asked the brothers to unite with the party in a joint effort against the shah. The brothers discussed the matter and eventually refused. They argued that if they succeeded in their effort, before long the country would fall into the hands of the Soviet Union, and history would judge the Qhashghais harshly. It would, they concluded, condemn them for turning the country over not just to foreigners but to communists.14 When the effort to depose Dr. Mossadeq succeeded and the shah returned to power, the brothers, helped by General Zahedi, were given amnesty. They received permission to leave Iran along with their famously assertive mother, Bibi Khanoum.[15]

The Qhashghai brothers spent much of the next five years in Europe, more or less marginalized from politics and from Iran. In 1957, the government of Iran introduced legislation that “would appropriate the land of the four [Qhashghai brothers].” Justice Douglas, long a friend of the brothers, moved into action and wrote a letter to the American Embassy in Tehran, acting as a mediator between the government of Iran and the Qhashghai brothers. He wrote that the brothers “pledge their honor . . . that they will keep hands off the government and support the Shah and the regime in every way.” In return, the attempt to foreclose their properties should come to a complete halt.[16]

The Douglas effort failed, and by the late 1950s the brothers had lost much of their wealth. The land reform of 1961–65 finished the process and deprived them of much of their patrimony. Nevertheless, with the election of John F. Kennedy, the brothers’ political star was on the rise again. Their old friend Justice Douglas was now considered one of the most influential confidants of the new administration. With him as their patron, the brothers began to lobby the Kennedy administration for a change in U.S. policy in Iran. Douglas, in fact, tried to convince the Kennedy White House that, in his words, the “Qhashghai are the true friends of the West,” and are also “irrevocably on the democratic side.”[17]
Obviously buoyed by these words of support, Nasser Khan resumed his work against the shah with new gusto. In January 15, 1963, he wrote a letter to President Kennedy giving a pledge of “wholehearted support in fighting communism” and offering himself, and the “25,000 Iranians who at this point of history prefer to live abroad . . . as the nucleus of a new leadership which we think will soon be needed in Iran.”[18] Kennedy did not answer the note himself but an officer of the White House rather dismissively told Nasser Khan that “a man of your sophistication will realize that the government of the United States must deal with the legitimate government of Iran,” and that “the rumors you have heard concerning breaches of confidence and other such activities are entirely false.”[19]

While Nasser was busy building his anticommunist bona fides with the American government, his brother Khosrow was helping Iranian leftists to organize in Europe. He was for years the chief supporter of Bakhtar-e Emrooz—a newspaper initially started by Dr. Hoseyn Fatemi and resurrected in the early 1960s as an organ of leftists within the National Front. Khosrow Khan even used his connections to send a small delegation of students to be trained in Egypt for military action against the Iranian government. In fact, in 1963–65 there was an uprising among the nomads, and the Qhashghai clan played a key role in it.[20] One of the iconic leaders of this rebellion was a nephew of Khosrow’s, a young man named Bahman Qhashghai. After fighting a hit-and-run war with the army for several years, Bahman was eventually killed, and with him the movement he had come to symbolize withered away.[21] By the late 1960s, the movement was altogether suppressed, and as the shah consolidated his power the Qhashghai brothers resignedly watched from afar. Indeed, by the early 1970s, convinced that the shah was there to stay and all plans to remove him had come to naught, the two brothers gingerly began, once again, a policy of rapprochement with the shah. By then they were under a great deal of financial strain. Even when they had little money left, they lived a life of aristocratic splendor. The fact that Khosrow enjoyed gambling and often was reported to lose big sums only added to their financial difficulties.

In 1967, Aredeshir Zahedi was instrumental in bringing about a temporary peace between the brothers and the shah. The shah set aside a monthly stipend of six thousand West German marks for the brothers and their mother, Bibi. By then, the three spent all their time between northern France, Germany, and Switzerland. But beginning in early 1978, events in Iran once again catapulted the brothers into the political limelight.

On January 4, 1979, Nasser Khan contacted the State Department in Washington to offer his views of the impending crisis in Iran. The shah must go, he said, and Ayatollah Khomeini is the only viable alternative.[22] When the revolution came, both brothers returned to Iran, full of hope. They were offered a hero’s welcome, particularly in the city of Shiraz, near their seat of power. In the next two years, the Qhashghais tried desperately to avoid a confrontation with the new Islamic regime. But they, too, had misjudged the ideological ferocity of the new Islamic victors.

Khosrow’s end was tragic. He died as he lived, consumed by politics and enveloped in a fog of mystery and intrigue. He was elected to the Parliament, but his credentials were challenged by Islamists who accused him of complicity with the CIA and with the ancien regime. Rogue elements of the Revolutionary Guards tried to arrest him, and he used the handgun he carried to force his way to freedom. But before long, he was arrested again; this time the objections of the president, Bani Sadre, brought about his release.

By then he decided that the capital was no longer safe for him. He stole away from the city and ended up among his clan in the mountains outside the city of Shiraz. His oldest son, Abdullah, and his brother, Nasser Khan, along with remnants of a Maoist group that had begun fighting the Islamic Republic, joined him at the camp.[23] They were out-gunned, out-manned, and out-moneyed by the regime, and only their romantic attachment to the grandeur of the times past, and their despondency, kept them together. Khosrow soon realized the absurdity and futility of his plight. He decided to flee Iran. He sent a trusted aide to Tehran to ask one of his sisters for the money he would need to escape. Unbeknownst to him, the aide was an agent of the Islamic Republic. He told Khosrow that the money was in a safe house in Shiraz, thus luring the seasoned old politician into a trap.

Once he left his lair and entered the city, he was arrested. He was forced to recant on television and to admit to all manner of perfidy. He was, he said, an agent of the CIA and had worked hard to overthrow the Islamic Republic.[24] Not surprisingly, he was condemned to death. He was publicly hung in the city of Shiraz. Nasser Khan escaped to another life of exile. He died in 1993 (1372). With his death, the era of nomadic romanticism came to an end.

Shapur and Mehri Rasekh

Since the mid–nineteenth century, when Mohammad Ali Bab announced his new religion, his followers, called Bahai today, have become the bête noir of the Shiite religious zealots in Iran. The Shiite leadership has spared little effort in controlling the Bahais’ growth, infiltrating their ranks, and limiting their power and presence in Iran. One of the most powerful organizations in postrevolutionary Iran, called the Hojjatiye, is a continuation of the prerevolutionary organization whose job was to fight the Bahais. In Shapur Rasekh, and his wife, Mehri, they met more than their match.

The Rasekhs were by choice and faith, as well as by marriage, at the center of the Bahai hierarchy in Iran. Shapur was also one of the founders of modern sociology in Iran and played a crucial role in developing and implementing Iran’s often ambitious economic plans. As a scholar he is respected for his erudition and for the rich and varied quality of his writing; as a technocrat he is praised for his competence and impeccable honesty and probity; and as a leading member of the Bahai faith he is known as being firm of faith and tolerant of others, committed to his religious beliefs and willing to pay any price for them, yet respectful of the right of others to have different values and beliefs. Those who know or meet him are invariably impressed by his unfailing politeness, which borders on formality. He is as formal and kind in his letters as he is in his personal encounters.[1]

It is an ironic fact of Iranian history that during his reign, Mohammad Reza Shah tried to afford the Bahais a chance to enjoy more or less the same rights enjoyed by other Iranian citizenss. His efforts were angrily, albeit not surprisingly, opposed by the religious hierarchy, and provided the clerics with an emotionally charged issue—particularly as they added a dose of anti-Semitism to the mix by calling the Bahai religion a “Zionist creation.” The Iranian secular democrats as well as the Iranian Left, both opposed to the shah but both ostensibly in favor of freedom of faith and religion, not only failed to support the shah in this progressive effort, but joined the chorus led by the mullahs in complaining, though often indirectly, about gains made by the followers of the Bahai faith. Although a few members of the faith—like General Karim Ayadi and Hojabr Yazdani— gave ammunition to the opposition, the majority were model citizens. Many of them—like the Rasekhs, Habib Sabet, and the Arjomand brothers—were pioneers in their respective fields. Shapur and Mehri Rasekh were two of the most notable and impressive examples of eminent Persians of the Bahai faith.

He was born in Tehran on March 28, 1924 (8 Farvardin 1303). His father was a Bahai and his mother a Muslim. In those days, such interfaith marriages were not uncommon in Iran. Shapur was the fourth child in a family of middle-class comfort and affluence. His parents emphasized the value of education for their six children. All four boys had doctoral degrees. The first two became physicians; one of them was, in fact, the chief of psychiatry at Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem, the hospital where the movie version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed.[2]

All through his early education, Shapur was the top of his class. For some of his schooling, he went to the special institutions set up for children of Bahai families. Other times he attended public schools in Tehran. He also developed an avid interest in Iranian literature.

By the time he was eighteen, he had to decide his faith. Bahai parents do not force their own religion on their children. When children reach maturity, they are given a chance to choose their own religion. Banishment from Bahai gatherings and meetings is the price paid by those who choose not to become Bahai. Shapur chose to join his father’s faith. Since then, his religion has been one of the defining characteristics of his persona.
After finishing high school, Rasekh entered Tehran University. He again finished at the top of his class and received a bachelor’s degree in economics. He then entered the Faculty of Literature at Tehran University, at the time the top place for the study of Iranian culture and literature in the world, dominated by such luminaries as Badi’ozzaman Foruzanfar and Gholemhoseyn Sadiqi. By 1951, Rasekh had finished his course work for a doctoral degree in Iranian literature. All that remained was his dissertation. But the lure of Europe and of social science proved impossible to ignore or delay. Without getting his degree, he set out for Europe. His later writings reflect his early literary training.

Iran was about to be engulfed in a political storm, and Rasekh, as a practicing Bahai, tried all his life to avoid any entanglement in matters of politics. He first entered the Faculty of Social Science in Geneva, from which he received a master’s degree in sociology in 1954. Four years later, in 1958, he received a doctoral degree from the Faculty of Economy and Social Science of the University of Geneva. There he took classes with some of the best known scholars of the time. He took a class in developmental psychology from Piaget, the famous child psychologist. He wrote his dissertation on the subject of prejudice, and Piaget was one of the members of his doctoral committee.

He also took some courses at the Sorbonne in Paris, and there the professor who left an indelible mark on his mind and method was George Gurvitch. It was Gurvitch who as early as 1949 had predicted the rise of a new category of functionaries in developing economies. They are the technocrats, and according to Gurvitch they gain power and prominence not because they own the means of production, or inherit the levers of power,
but because of their acquired professional expertise. They are the new class that dominates every modern society.3 Before going back to Iran in 1958, Rasekh took some courses on statistics and empirical research. He also attended a seminar devoted to planning for development in third-world countries. Both proved particularly helpful in shaping the trajectory of his career.

Rasekh had chosen to continue his graduate studies in Switzerland because Mehri Ebneabhar, the woman he had married in 1946, wanted to go there. She came from one of the most prominent Bahai families in Iran. Her grandfather, Molla Mohammad Taghi, was one of the earliest converts to the new faith, and thus an eminent member of the community.4 Her uncle was General Karim Ayadi. Mehri is an eminent Persian in her own right.
She finished her undergraduate degree in psychology in 1951 at the top of her class. Like other such students, she was given a government scholarship to go to Europe for her graduate studies. She chose Geneva because she wanted to work with Piaget. By 1961, she had finished her doctoral program in developmental psychology. Her mentor and advisor was Piaget himself. Her dissertation was on the subject of “Problem Children and Their Education.” She had traveled extensively throughout Europe to do her research. She had met, among others, Anna Freud in London. Her prize-winning dissertation was soon translated into Italian and Portuguese. It was about a pioneer in the uses of painting and art in therapy.[5]

Soon after returning to Iran, she was accepted as a professor of clinical psychology and development theory at the Psychology and Education Departments of Tehran University. After a while, to the consternation of some of her colleagues, she was named the chair of the Department of Developmental Psychology. She not only started a private clinical practice, focusing on the problems of women, but she also was the first woman to host a highly popular radio program devoted to family affairs. Discussion of such matters had hitherto been strictly taboo in Iran. Family life, and relations between parents and children and husbands and wives, were deemed strictly private. In her program she bravely broke these barriers, knowing full well that the only way some of the more serious psychological problems will be alleviated is when they are candidly and openly discussed.6 What partially paved the way for such openness was the socioeconomic developments in which Shapur Rasekh played an important role.

Soon after his return to Iran in 1958, he too began to teach at Tehran University, where only recently a new Center for Social Research had been established. At the same time, he was asked to join the Economic Office at the Plan Organization. In those days, that office had become the heart of a major “stabilization program” meant to solve Iran’s chronic economic problems. It was also part of an attempt to bring some long-term planning to the Iranian economy. The program was underwritten by the Ford Foundation, the American government, and Harvard University.7 One aspect of the new program, particularly advocated by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, was that henceforth in Iran a new class of people, technocrats, must take power from the traditional aristocratic elites. Gurvitch’s theory was becoming reality, and Rasekh was himself the best embodiment of the new class of people whose rise Gurvitch had predicted.

At the Plan Organization, Rasekh also took an active part in developing the Third Plan (1962–67) and in appraising the results of the Second Plan. Before long, he was appointed first as the manager and then as the assistant director of social issues at the Plan Organization. In that capacity, he was intimately involved in development of the Fourth and Fifth Plans as well. While keeping his appointment as assistant director of the Plan Organization, he also headed the newly founded Center of Statistics of Iran for a time. It was during his tenure that attempts to portray a coherent statistical image of Iran were commenced.

Although he stayed at the Plan Organization for a decade, he never gave up his teaching and research. He introduced modern theories of sociology to the students. Before the arrival of newly trained sociologists like himself, ethnography, demography, and even anthropology were unknown territory for students studying social science in Iran.8 One aspect of his scholarly research was the study of the Iranian elite. Under his watch at the Center for Social Research, Zahra Shajii began her now-famous quantitative study of Iran’s political elite. Furthermore, Ahmad Ashraf, now the managing editor at Encyclopedia Iranica, also began a study of income distribution and how it correlates with class formation in Iran.[9]

Another pioneering aspect of Rasekh’s scholarship was the quantitative study of modernization and its impact on Iranian society. Everything from patterns of urban development,[10] statistics on marriage[11] and education,[12] and the sociology of the Iranian countryside[13] became subjects for his prolific study and writing. In some of his books and essays, he worked with Jamshid Behnam, another well-known sociologist. A constant theme of Rasekh’s writing was the role social science research must play in the social and economic development of a country like Iran.[14] He wanted to show the changes that societies experience when they embrace modernity and to underscore the salutary role social sciences can play in the process. His style of writing was always simple and free from jargon and obtuse terminology. At the same time, it was precise and offered succinct, numerical accounts of its subject of study.

In his crucial role at the Plan Organization, he was an advocate of more social spending and less military expenditure. Although he often lost the battles, he did not shirk the responsibility of pointing out the perils of underinvestment in education and other social programs. In a candid moment of self-criticism, he said, “Our generation failed to make our points strongly. We did not have a political sense.”[15] The price for this failure was, of course, the revolution.

About two years before the onset of the revolution, his family, which by then included two children, had a taste of the violence that was soon to consume the whole nation. On a day when the university was closed, Mehri Rasekh was working in her office when a mentally disturbed young man who was also a failing student entered and tried to stab her to death. She was saved only because of the unexpected arrival of the janitor’s wife, whose cries for help and daring intervention stopped the assailant from accomplishing his goal. Officials at the university, with the approval and assistance of Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, then prime minister, arranged for Mehri Rasekh’s immediate transfer to one of the best hospitals in Zurich. The young assailant was apparently used by religious zealots to try to kill a woman whom they despised not only as a symbol of woman’s rise in society, but more important as a member of the Bahai faith.[16]

By then Shapur was playing an increasingly prominent role in managing the affairs of the Bahai faith in Iran. There is no official priesthood in the Bahai faith. Each community is led by a committee whose members are elected by the community at large. Local committees are led by national bodies, and national bodies in turn are guided by an international body. By the mid-1970s, Rasekh was chosen for the highest elected body in Iran. In exile, he was elected to the highest international body, becoming one of the nine leaders of Bahais around the world.

While he was a member of the leadership committee in Iran—whose responsibilities included managing all contacts with the government—the Bahai leadership, concerned that in the last census only a fraction of the 300,000 Bahais living in Iran had actually declared themselves to be Bahais, changed their policy. They decided that in the next census every member of the community must openly declare their true identity and allegiance. When the Islamic Revolution came, zealots thus had precise figures on the number of Bahais in Iran. Furthermore, the work of Hojjatiye and their attempt to infiltrate Bahai communities had by then born fruit. Nearly all the Bahais in the country were identified and eventually forced either to recant or to leave their jobs and have their property confiscated.[17] A handful opted for the first path, but the majority paid a heavy price for keeping their faith.

For the Rasekh family, the first warning about what was to come had taken place some two years earlier, when Mehri Rasekh was attacked. In October 1978, he left Iran for a conference at UNESCO in Paris. His wife joined him. After the conference, they went to visit their daughter, by then following in her mother’s footsteps and studying psychology in Switzerland. Family and friends suggested they delay their return. They agreed and have been in Geneva ever since. Both resumed their professional careers, albeit in a new context. Mehri Rasekh resumed her clinical work, while Shapur took up his scholarship with zest. He has since published, in cooperation with UNESCO, a number of monographs on some of the themes he had written about in Iran. At the same time, he spends more and more of his time and effort managing the affairs of the Bahai community around the world.

Fuad Ruhani

Fuad Ruhani was a founder of OPEC and its first secretary-general, as well as chairman of its Board of Governors. Professionally, he was an oilman, the deputy chairman and de facto policy chief of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). He was also a man of the law and of letters, as passionate about the world of ideas and philosophy, literature and music, as he was about the arcane minutiae of the oil economy and petroleum contracts. Above all, he was a man of high moral principle. In the culture of Middle Eastern oil, where ill-gotten fortunes and tarnished reputations are common, his reputation was impeccable: friend and foe alike praised him for his financial probity, economic wisdom, and judicial acumen. His thin, almost frail physique belied the searching soul and indomitable intellect that spurred him on to high achievement in a wide array of political and intellectual pursuits. He was a true Renaissance man.

Ruhani helped found OPEC at a time when many fellow officials in NIOC were against even the idea of such an organization. He was OPEC’s vocal champion and played a key role in convincing Mohammad Reza Shah that Iran must join.[1] The shah dispatched Ruhani as Iran’s chief delegate to the early discussions on OPEC’s creation. In later years, as the shah played an increasingly important role in OPEC, Ruhani remained a trusted advisor and the country’s preeminent legal expert on the question of oil.

There was talk of making Ruhani the permanent secretary-general of OPEC. The idea never materialized. The shah had insisted Ruhani keep his job at NIOC while working at OPEC, and many member countries, particularly Iraq, argued that such dual employment would make it impossible for Ruhani to represent OPEC’s collective wishes. On his retirement from OPEC in 1964, he was given the customary timepiece—in this case, a massive gold clock made by Patek Philippe inscribed with the names of all the representatives to OPEC.[2]

Ruhani never gained success at the expense of his principles. In the 1950s he was an advisor to Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq during his battle with Great Britain over the nationalization of Iranian oil. The British eventually left and NIOC was created, but Mossadeq’s success was short-lived. His fall, after the events of August 1953, brought about the demise of nearly everyone who had sided with him—but not Ruhani. Instead he became a senior advisor on oil and gas to the shah. What is truly fascinating about this aspect of his life is that Ruhani made the transition from Mossadeq to the shah without being branded a turncoat. It is a further measure of his high moral principles that despite his awareness of the shah’s deep antipathy toward Mossadeq, he never hesitated to praise the old man for his role in the struggle for nationalization. It has been suggested that even during his tenure at OPEC, Ruhani “continued to be a supporter of Mossadeq’s underlying objectives, although he recognized that Mossadeq made extremist errors toward the end.”[3] By temperament and intellectual training, Ruhani was averse to both hero worship and zealous nationalism. In his books and in private conversations, Ruhani would commend Mossadeq’s devotion to Iran’s national interests and then criticize his excessive zeal and his inability to make necessary compromises.

Fuad Ruhani was born in Tehran on the October 23, 1907 (1 Aban 1286). His father, Moheb-ol-Soltan, was a prosecutor and a leading and much respected member of the Bahai faith. Fuad finished his early education in Tehran, at the famous Tarbiyat School. Shortly after graduation, he married and began work in the oil industry, then under British control, by taking a job with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. He had taught himself English and was soon recognized in the company for his mastery of the language. He made himself fluent in French, Arabic, and Italian. Indeed, he was a remarkably successful and indefatigable autodidact, not just in languages but in his many intellectual vocations and avocations. In the 1930s, the company was offering scholarships for graduate study in England to the best and brightest of its employees, and Ruhani was selected for one of these coveted positions, finally enabling him to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He obtained his law degree (LLB), with honors, from London University in 1937. He returned for another three years to London University to receive, again with honors, the equivalent of his doctorate (LLM) in law. He later received another doctorate in law, from the Sorbonne in Paris, writing his dissertation on the nature and workings of new international institutions.

Even before Ruhani’s return to Iran upon the completion of his law degree, his company rehired him as a legal advisor.

As he pursued his career with Anglo-Iranian Oil, Ruhani continued his education. He rapidly developed a reputation among the Iranian intellectual elite of the time as a man of great erudition. He was, in the true sense of the word, the intellectuals’ intellectual. Sadeq Hedayat, Ebrahim Golestan, and Sadeq Chubak, all highly selective in the company they kept, deferred to Ruhani in matters of philosophy and language.[4] He was often seen walking to or from his office, deeply immersed in a book. So absorbed could he become, he once failed to notice a burning cigarette tossed out a window on him, until a surprised bystander pointed out to him that his hat was on fire.[5]

In 1951, Ruhani was named legal advisor and deputy chairman of the newly formed NIOC. He thus found himself present at most of the important oil discussions and decisions of the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah. His History of OPEC chronicles the organization, including his own role in it. Of course, Ruhani’s advice was not always heeded by the shah, or by OPEC. On the crucial question of oil pricing, for example, Ruhani’s strategy was geared toward maximizing revenue in the long term. He advocated moderate price increases, coupled with a controlled and limited flow of oil. Many oil-producing countries, by contrast—including Iran under the shah—favored rapid price increases that could generate immediate financial windfalls.

When his tenure as secretary-general of OPEC ended in 1964, Ruhani also left NIOC and changed careers. After spending a year at Columbia University teaching courses on Iranian history and culture, he returned to Iran to become Secretary General of the new Regional Corporation Development (RCD). This organization, comprising Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan, was mandated to coordinate development efforts in the three countries. He established the organization’s headquarters in Tehran, from which he ran its operations.

During his years at RCD Ruhani resumed his involvement in Iran’s oil industry, acting as an advisor to Prime Minister Amir-Abbas Hoveyda. (Their friendship dated from Hoveyda’s days as a low-level diplomat in Iran’s embassy in Turkey. There Hoveyda had felt harassed by the militarism of the ambassador, General Hassan Arfa’, and he always credited Ruhani with getting him reassigned.)[6]

Throughout these years, under the auspices of the United Nations, Ruhani also provided advice to developing countries. He was instrumental in helping Malta, Liberia, Trinidad, Ghana, Haiti, Dahomey, and Morocco develop petroleum laws, regulations, and standard agreements.[7]

Ruhani was always more than a petroleum expert and lawyer. In every period of his illustrious career in oil and international development, he made equally valuable contributions to the world of ideas. Concurrent with his work in laying the foundations of OPEC and serving as the deputy chairman of NIOC, he published a scholarly edition of Elahi Nameh, one of Sufism’s most celebrated texts, based on his reading of twenty-one different manuscripts.[8]

Ruhani had a knack for finding just the right book to translate or edit at any point of his productive life, and his published works were impressively varied. He translated Plato’s Republic as well as Jung’s Answer to Job and Psychology of Religion. His lifelong interest in aesthetics led him to translate Benedetto Croce’s treatise Breviario di Estetica into Persian. He translated into French a collection of the quatrains of Omar Khayam and published them in a handsome volume illustrated with photographs by the celebrated Iranian artist Shahrokh Golestan.[9]

Ruhani was always proud of his identity as a Persian, even when the Islamic Revolution of 1979 had forced him into exile. In a situation in which Persian identity became for many a vexing and complicated question, he chose to translate into Persian the parts of Herodotus’s Histories that chronicle the Persians both in their hours of glory and in their losing battles with the Greeks. Lest Iranians become overly sentimental about their past, he also translated Aeschylus’s tragedy The Persians, a reminder of the follies of certain Persian kings and their sycophantic courtiers.[10]

By birth and family association, Ruhani was a member of the Bahai faith, but he had no great affinity for organized religion and its rituals. More important, he despised what he considered the self-righteous bombast of all who claimed to have a monopoly on truth. Even where he had spiritual and political ties, Ruhani was driven by an unfailing sense of rational inquiry. His style of inquiry and exposition can best be seen in his little-known gem, A Guide to the Contents of the Quran. Instead of the kind of antiIslamic diatribe so common in émigré circles, he offered a sober, and sobering, account of Islam’s holy book. Cognizant of the long and sometimes violent reach of the Islamic Republic, Ruhani published the book under the pseudonym Farug Sherif. The book is remarkable for the impartiality of its point of view, the lucidity of its narrative, and the erudition of its content.

When he later translated and published the book in Persian as well, he used a different pseudonym, “Sadeq”—an Arabic word for “honest” that in this context conveyed a subtly nuanced meaning. The book’s point of view was that of an honest scholar; at the same time, this honest scholar was not honest—Sadeq—at all, but Fuad Ruhani.
A Guide is a highly readable, deeply informative introduction to the content of the Qur’an and its evolution as a narrative. He observes, with the precision of a first-rate legal mind, the striking contrast between verses, those belonging to the prophet’s early days in Mecca being poetic in style and tolerant in disposition, those from his late Medina period, when he was head of state, didactic in style and oppressive in vision. Ruhani discusses a litany of historical subjects, from Islam’s attitude toward other religions to the context for the evolution of Qur’anic narratives. We learn of Islam’s views on everything from prayer and fasting to sovereignty and the veil. In Islam, Ruhani writes, “sovereignty in the sense of unqualified and unreserved authority belongs to Allah.”[11]

Music, too, was a constant passion of Ruhani’s life. From an early age, he had studied the traditional modes of Persian music and learned how to play the tar. He had also delved deeply into Western classical music. He was himself an accomplished pianist. Even during the most hectic weeks of oil negotiations, he tried to set aside one or two hours each day for his piano. Music wafted constantly through the house he shared with his wife and two daughters—particularly the operas of Mozart, on whose life and work he was something of an expert. His daughters, Negar and Guity, remember him as a saintly figure, devoid of all domineering instinct, insisting upon their education yet allowing each to follow her own path. Negar became an accomplished curator and art connoisseur, while Guity decided to concentrate on raising a family. His daughters remembered his passion for music as contagious. When the family visited Vienna or Salzburg, he would point out with delight the neighborhoods where Mozart had lived or had composed a particular piece of music. Ruhani was the cofounder of the Tehran Philharmonic Society and played a pivotal role in introducing Western classical music to Persian audiences.

Ruhani had a prodigious memory and was a human encyclopedia not only of petroleum history and jurisprudence, Persian literature, and masters of music, particularly Mozart, but of Western literature as well. He was an avid fan of Dickens and Shakespeare and could recite from memory nearly all of Hamlet. All this knowledge he imparted with disarmingly quiet wit and verbal dexterity, in sharp contrast to his serious appearance and unfailingly polite demeanor. With the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Ruhani felt compelled to leave his beloved homeland. After his departure from Tehran, his extensive library was ransacked, and his house was converted into a barbershop. Ruhani, with his wife of more than fifty years, lived for some years in Geneva, then settled in London, to spend his last productive years writing, reading, translating, and indulging his passion for music.

As cruel Nature would have it, this erudite man was overtaken in his final years by the debilitating loss of memory that comes with Alzheimer’s disease. When I met him in October 2002, at his small apartment in a middle-class London neighborhood, he was led into the living room with the help of his daughter Guity. An endearingly innocent smile seemed etched on his kindly, aging face. Never given to bombast or too much locution, he now sat quietly, gazing on the beyond. To my every question, he would politely say, “I don’t remember anything about that; I am sorry.” But then suddenly, in the course of my conversation with his daughter, a word would suddenly and inexplicably conjure up some memory. He would, with delight and determination, enter the conversation, only to withdraw into his melancholic silence moments later.

On the mantelpiece, also silent, sat the great gold Patek Philippe clock Ruhani had been given at the end of his tenure at OPEC. It had stopped working twenty years before, his daughter explained, and the cost of fixing it had been beyond his meager means in exile. Although now a shell, it was still magnificent. So with Ruhani. With honor he lived, and in honor he died, on January 30, 2004. He was 96 years old.

Khosrow Ruzbeh

In his seminal work on the origins of Russian communism, Nicholas Berdayev uses a subtle genealogical method to uncover striking similarities between tenets of atheistic Leninist ideology and the dogmas and beliefs of Russian Orthodox Christianity. A similar kind of cultural genealogy would, I think, show crucial, hitherto overlooked similarities between orthodox Marxist ideology and the tenets of Shii Islam. In their epistemology; their vision of truth, logic, and style of textual exegesis; their organizational commitment to vanguards and hierarchy; their messianic sense of history and mechanistic aesthetics that places art completely in the service of dogma; their advocacy of “just war” and “revolutionary” violence; their belief in social engineering and the necessity of creating a “new man”; and their view of the individual and society as “instruments” of some higher purpose, they tap into the same craving for certainty, and for human agency, that is at once individual and collective. They are both equally dismissive of the kind of ambiguities about truth and human nature that are at the core of a democratic polity. Both claim the mantle of “true science”—one had Stalin’s infamous “dialectical materialism” in mind when it talked of science, and the other has long claimed access to nothing less than the infinite wisdom of God. No wonder, then, that while mullahs have long called themselves ulama, or men of science, in postwar Iran the “scientific method” became a non-toooblique metaphor for Marxism.

Aside from shedding light on obvious structural similarities between Islamist and Marxist ideologies in Iran, such a comparative and genealogical analysis will also help unravel two perplexing paradoxes of modern Iran: Why did only the most primitive form of Russian (or Chinese) Marxism thrive in Iran? And second, how could Marxists in Iran align themselves with Islamists, who disdained any hint of Marxism? Many in Iran, following the lead of the shah himself, have long attributed this alliance to some kind of conspiracy, or at best a Machiavellian political contrivance. But their strange unity can be explained from an entirely different perspective as well.

The two faiths, in fact, share crucial cultural and theoretical characteristics. They have been the two most organized and popular foes of democracy in Iran. One of the most fascinating points where the two converge and become almost indistinguishable from one another is their addiction to the cult of martyrs. They each measure their own, indeed any force’s “success,” by the number of martyrs they have offered the “cause.” The Tudeh Party—Party of the Masses—was the quintessential purveyor of dogmatic Marxism in Iran, and as expected, it was obsessed with the calculus of martyrdom. In its pantheon of heroes and martyrs, Khosrow Ruzbeh continues to occupy the loftiest place.

His execution at the hands of a firing squad in 1958 (1337) came at just the time the party was on the verge of total disintegration. Its leadership had, almost en masse, escaped Iran. In the doom and gloom of defeat, faced with the drudgeries of exile and caught in the web of incessant factional feuds, backbiting, and back-stabbing, the party was on the verge of tearing asunder, particularly under the weight of increasingly acerbic criticism from the ranks of younger, often more innocent, compadres. Ruzbeh’s execution provided the party with a ray of light. They worked hard to turn him into a veritable myth, knowing full well that utopian parties rely more on myth than reason. It also mattered little to the party leaders that in one of his last letters, Ruzbeh had lambasted them for what he called their corruption and cowardice. They had abandoned the “revolutionary struggle,” he declared, and tarnished the party’s image. Even today, more than fifty years after the letter of criticism was written, the party and its remnants have refused to publish his jeremiad text. We know of its existence and contents from the handful of people who have read it and are willing to talk about it.[1]

It also mattered little to the beleaguered party leaders that they had only received fragmentary reports of the words he had offered in his own defense during his courtmartial. It mattered even less that in the course of his interrogations, he had confessed to participation in at least two cold-blooded murders, one of an erstwhile comrade, and the other of a fiery journalist named Mohammad Mas’ud, known for his fearless and unrelenting attacks on the Tudeh Party and on the royal court, particularly the shah’s sister, Princess Ashraf. By murdering Mas’ud and then orchestrating a concert of whispers about the princess’s culpability, Ruzbeh had hoped to eliminate one foe and tarnish another. Although this kind of Machiavellian guile and brutal violence was clearly anathema to the Tudeh Party’s declared principles and policies, immediate political exigencies trumped inconvenient facts of history or points of principle. They needed a hero and a martyr, and out of the fragments of his words and selected facts of his unusually eventful life they created an enduring image of a selfless revolutionary, a masterful tactician, and an unrepentant Bolshevik.

Khosrow Ruzbeh was born in 1913 (1292) in the city of Malayar. His father was a lowranking officer of the military and from early on, the young son was bent on following in the paternal footsteps. For much of the twentieth century, a life in the military or success in the academic world were the only sure paths for upward social mobility for the lower stratum of Iranian society. With the Islamic Revolution, that pattern changed, and piety, feigned or sincere, became the main engine not just for social mobility, but for social climbing.
The young Ruzbeh entered a military high school in the city of Kermanshah in 1934 (1313), and two years later he moved to Tehran and was accepted into the Officers Academy, where he soon established a reputation as a math prodigy. For the next few years, math was his chief intellectual asset. Ultimately, it also proved to be a main source of his downfall. Because of his mathematical prowess, he enrolled concurrently in some classes at Tehran University’s prestigious Department of Engineering. At the academy, with his reputation already established, he was selected to serve in the coveted gunnery section, usually reserved for the more intellectually capable candidates. He also began to write texts on ballistics, heavy guns and their trajectories. Before his military career was aborted by his political activism, he had published ten books on different facets of military doctrine, weaponry, history of war, and ballistics. He was also a chess aficionado from early in his life and wrote at least one guide to the game. He probably had a role in making chess the favorite game of not just the revolutionaries but the radical chic in Iran.

Brilliant as his mathematical mind was, he made his name in politics. During his stay at the Officers Academy, his teacher and mentor in Marxism was Colonel Mohammad Ali Azar. Sent by the army to France to learn cartography, he had, unbeknownst to the authorities, returned a committed communist. It was Colonel Azar who got Ruzbeh—as well as a surprisingly large number of other young officers—trained in the rudiments of Marxism.[2] Azar escaped arrest, fleeing behind the Iron Curtain, to return only in the late 1960s when one of his classmates at the academy, General Nasiri, then the head of SAVAK, interceded on his behalf and arranged for his safe return home.3 As Ruzbeh began to dabble in the handful of Marxist texts available in Persian, he continued his prolific work in military matters, writing about ways of improving the accuracy of heavy guns and the operation of antiaircraft guns.

The occupation of Iran by Soviet and British forces in 1941 acted as a catalyst for Ruzbeh’s radicalism. One of the first consequences of the occupation was the creation of the Tudeh Party. It was for all practical purposes Iran’s communist party, but it tried to hide its true identity to escape prosecution, and, more important, to follow Stalin’s theory that communists must create an antifascist “united front” with as large a segment of each country’s population as possible. The Tudeh Party and its pandering to democracy was the perfect manifestation of this policy.

Of course, in spite of its “democratic” appearance, soon after its creation the Tudeh Party began actively and secretly to recruit in the army, hoping to create a network of disgruntled officers sympathetic to the party’s cause. Ruzbeh was one of the first officers to join the party and was, from the outset, anointed a member of its highly secretive leadership committee. Around the time he joined the party, he also met and befriended General Hadji Ali Razmara. Interestingly, about the same time, there is evidence of some ties between the ambitious general and the Russians. Bullard, the British ambassador to Iran, wrote in October 27, 1943, “not only is Razmara in the pockets of the Russians, but he is an incorrigible intriguer with a party of his own in the army.”4 Hints of complicity with the Russians haunted the general all his life but also left a blemish on at least one crucial aspect of Ruzbeh’s life.

By late 1945, as it was becoming clear that the Soviet occupation of Iran was about to end, the party, frightened of an imminent attack by the regime, ordered the clandestine military organization dismantled. Ruzbeh was by then already suspected of antigovernment activities and in 1945 had been forced to go into hiding. Still, he and a few of his more committed comrades disliked the party’s order to dismantle. In his own words, “the party politburo had panicked and made a mistake,” and he thus resolved to continue his activities. With the help of like-minded officers, he soon created a new, ostensibly independent group called “The Organization of Iran’s Free Officers.”5 The group considered itself independent of all political parties and willing to join any party in joint actions against the regime and its English backers.

Ruzbeh used this period of hiding to write a series of articles under a pseudonym composed of the first letters of the phrase Gunnery Lieutenant Khosrow Ruzbeh (SeTaKHR in Persian).[6] He also wrote what became his most widely read and controversial book. Called Blind Obedience,[7] the polemical monograph combines the story of Ruzbeh’s life and struggle with an critical overview of the Reza Shah era, or what he called the “The Age of Dictatorship and the Decline of the Iranian Nation.” It also offered a blistering critique of “British Colonial Policy.” Repeating Lenin’s views on war and capitalism, Ruzbeh wrote of “four hundred years of colonialism” as the root cause for not only the World War I, but also the misery, poverty, and despotism of the colonized nations. He went on to describe Reza Shah as a despot forced on Iran by the British. Even military hierarchy and the necessity of “blind obedience” were deemed part of the colonial scheme.[8] He marshaled at some length anecdotes about inhumanly stern military discipline and the corruption of the officers who, in his rendition, stole the pay of the conscripts under Reza Shah.[9] Before the fall of the last shah, he wrote, “I thought our people are just born miserable” but now, with his new consciousness, he suggested that every consequence had a cause, and colonialism and its handmaiden, despotism, were the causes of this misery. More important, misery thus understood could be cured and eliminated. What was needed, of course, was a revolution. He wrote of class differences, of poverty so dire that people of the southern city of Langeh “were forced to sell their young daughters” to Arabs. At the same time, he defended the Soviet Union and claimed that “those who say the Soviets have colonial designs on Iran are traitors.”[10] In attempting to get his point across, hyperbole became an often-used rhetorical tool. He astonishingly claimed that the Iranian “dictatorial regime has been far worse, far more dangerous than Hitler’s and Mussolini’s.”[11]

In another section of his book, he described his own life and his association with the other officers. He wrote of the eleven books he had published primarily about military subjects and described “more than two hundred scholarly presentations” he had given to different universities and at the Officers Academy.[12] He denied any links with the Tudeh Party on the grounds that the party was only a reformist party and that he and his comrades sought more radical solutions.[13] In the course of his unconvincing disavowal, he also denied any rumors of the party’s “connection” to the Soviet Union. “Any such accusation,” he claimed, “is the kind of injustice no reasonable and honorable human being will ever commit.”[14]

One of the most common themes of his attack on the Pahlavi regime was the idea that boys and girls had been “robbed of their honor” in this period. There are at least ten different references to sexual “honor,” three references to loose living, and many others to the fact that the ruling classes drank liquor, danced in cabarets, and gambled. In short, beneath the radical rhetoric, there lurks a kind of Puritanism that is hard to reconcile with Marxism, unless we keep in mind the structural similarities already enumerated between Stalinism and Shii Islam.

By the time the book was published, Ruzbeh’s reputation had reached beyond Iran’s borders. One English paper referred to him as Iran’s Lenin, while the Tudeh Party was soon desperate in its effort to bring him back to their fold. Ruzbeh, in the meantime, was disgruntled with the slow pace of political action in the organization he had created. He was in favor of more immediate, radical, and militant action. At the same time, he was by then fully convinced that only a Marxist group could save Iran. Armed with these two beliefs, he handpicked seven of his most reliable and ardent officers and friends, and together they formed a new organization whose main strategy was, in Ruzbeh’s own words, “[to] achieve our political goals more rapidly through political terrorism. . . . We further believed that the Tudeh Party was conservative, or at least its leaders were cowards and conservatives.”[15]

Two of this group of eight, Lieutenant Abolhassan Abbasi and a man named Hessam Lankarani, would play crucial roles in Ruzbeh’s future: the first caused his arrest and the latter was murdered by Ruzbeh in a scene reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s brilliant depiction of the dangers of revolutionary zeal in the appropriately titled novel The Devils. It has been suggested by some critics that the “group of eight” might have been a Soviet concoction from the outset. Others, more intimately informed about Ruzbeh’s life in this period, report his penchant for terrorism and his repeated attempts to convince the party leadership to allow him to rob a bank to collect much-needed funds or to assassinate the party’s political nemeses, like Ghavam.[16]

All of his clandestine activities came to a sudden halt in April 1947 (21 Farvardin 1326), when Ruzbeh was arrested. The authorities were more or less completely unaware of the extent and nature of his activities and had arrested him simply as an officer opposed to the regime. After less than a month, he succeeded in escaping from prison. Neither his arrest nor his escape would be his last such experience. He was, in the course of his life, arrested four times, and three times he succeeded in escaping. His second arrest came about a year later, in 1947 (Farvardin 1327). In his court-martial, he took the persona of a nationalist officer, concerned for the welfare of the nation and the crown. On more than one occasion, Ruzbeh appealed to the court to keep in mind the prestige of the shah, arguing that his arrest would damage that reputation.[17]

This time, he stayed in prison for about three years. In November 1950 (Azar 1329), he and nine prominent members of the Tudeh Party leadership were whisked away from prison in what remains one of the most daring prison rescue operations in twentiethcentury Iran. Members of the party, with Ruzbeh’s officers’ organization taking the lead, used forged court orders, hijacked trucks, and fake identity cards to free the ten prisoners. A lieutenant by the name of Hoseyn Gobadi played the key role in the escape. Tehran was immediately awash with rumors that the Soviet Union had a hand in the operation.[18] It was a sign of Ruzbeh’s importance that he was the only member of the freed group who did not belong to the central committee of the party. There was also the suspicion that Razmara, in coordination with the Soviet Union and with Ruzbeh, had a hand in facilitating the escape. Sensational as this episode was, Ruzbeh had at least two other close brushes with capture and the end of his political activity. Ironically, Gobadi was whisked away to “safety” in the Soviet Union. He soon became disgruntled with the party leadership and his life of exile. The Tudeh leaders responded by arranging his forced repatriation to Iran. He was arrested on the border and soon thereafter executed by the Iranian regime for his complicity in the famous escape.[19]

Ruzbeh’s next close encounter came in 1951, when the army’s “Second Unit” in charge of security received reports of suspicious activities in a house in one of Tehran’s poorer neighborhoods. Before the army investigators arrived there, local police officers took over the house as the scene of a crime. All efforts by the army to wrest control from the police failed. Several years later, when the officers’ organization was finally dismantled, authorities learned that the house had been a meeting place for the leadership of Ruzbeh’s organization. The police officer at the scene who insisted on remaining in charge of the investigation had been a member of the officers’ organization and had immediately hidden in his pockets some of the most sensitive documents that could have led investigators to the leadership of the organization, and possibly to Ruzbeh himself.[20]

The next encounter was even more incredible. This time, not long after August 1953, Ruzbeh was arrested in a raid on a house suspected of being used by the communists. Under interrogation, Ruzbeh gave a false name and refused to identify himself. In fact, all through his active years he went by the assumed name of Saidi.[21] In less than a week, his still active comrades whisked him away yet again, allowing him to continue his underground activities.

During the Mossadeq era, the officers’ organization, grown to about six hundred members, was, in the party’s own words, an “impenetrable shield” around the party. What was more crucial, it had become a tool in the hands of the Mossadeq government to thwart any effort by the shah or his supporters to move against Mossadeq. As it turned out, General Fazlollah Zahedi’s chief of staff, in the days Zahedi was preparing to oust Mossadeq, was a member of the Tudeh Party. He reported the plans for the coup on August 16 to the Tudeh Party, which then informed Dr. Mossadeq. It was eventually all for naught. The day belonged to General Zahedi. Mossadeq went into hiding, and Ruzbeh was entrusted with the task of organizing the logistical support for what the party hoped would be a prolonged “partisan struggle.”[22]

Such preparations, as well as the work of maintaining the party apparatus, since the police and the army were actively looking for members of the organization, was no easy task. It required money, and Ruzbeh volunteered to acquire some in a heist. With help from a couple of comrades, he managed to rob one of Tehran’s banks of about seven hundred thousand tooman (about $100,000) through an elaborate scheme that included forging checks.[23] By then Ruzbeh was in charge of the most crucial branch of the party, called its “Intelligence Bureau.” He was responsible for keeping the party free from infiltration and at same time was entrusted with the job of infiltrating other parties and governmental organizations.

But then the mathematics that had served him much of his life caused his demise. By a fluke, the police arrested one of Ruzbeh’s associates, and in his possession they found three notebooks filled with mathematical formulas. It turned out to be a code that included the name of every member of the organization. The noose was tightening around him. Party leaders, who had by then fled to the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, tried to convince Ruzbeh to leave Iran and seek safe haven in exile. Angrily he refused, and in a harshly worded letter took the leaders to task for even entertaining the idea.

His place of hiding had been divulged to the police by one of his comrades. The military governor’s office, under the leadership of General Bakhtiyar, was in charge of fighting communists during this period and was notorious for the use of physical torture to extract information. Ruzbeh did not surrender peacefully, but only after he had been shot in the leg.[24]

Under interrogation, Ruzbeh confessed to killing at least two people—Hesam Lankarani and Mohammad Mas’ud. It is also likely that he was involved in the violent death of another member of the Tudeh Party who had begun cooperating with the police. The young man’s body was found on the outskirts of Tehran, bludgeoned to death.[25]

By all accounts, Ruzbeh bravely, even defiantly, defended his ideas in the court that condemned him to death. He refused to ask for a pardon and was executed in 1958 (21 Ordibehesth 1337). Of the more than six hundred officers arrested, he was one of the thirty-six to be executed. He had no children and had never married. Compared to his words to the first court that condemned him to prison—where he often conjured the names of Shiite imams and the necessity of preserving the dignity of monarchy in Iran—this time he was more intransigent, less accommodating, and more openly Marxist. His defiance and his willingness to die for the revolution made him a perfect candidate to become the quintessential martyr for the cause.

Parviz Sabeti

He was like a character from a le Carré novel. As his fame and reputation grew, his name and face disappeared from the public domain. To much of the population, he was simply known as “High Ranking Security Official.” To the political cognoscenti, he was one of the most powerful men in Iran during the last two decades of the Pahlavi era. To be summoned to his office was at once disquieting and a sign of importance. Ministers and generals, no less than dissident intellectuals and militant members of the opposition, listened attentively when he talked. And he talked with the calm and premeditation of a diplomat—choosing his words carefully, avoiding bombast, and invariably infusing a hint of menace into his discourse. Although to the opposition his name augured fear and loathing and was synonymous with torture and censorship, he was as much the theorist of the state as its enforcer. Not surprisingly, then, in his public demeanor, he was deliberate, soft-spoken, and usually polite. He had a true poker face, altogether bereft of public displays of affect. Neither anger nor anxiety, no more than pity or prevarication, changed his steely countenance. His name was Parviz Sabeti, and he was easily one of the most controversial figures in postwar Iran.

He joined SAVAK at its inception in 1957, and his rise in its ranks was rapid. In little more than a decade, he became the omnipotent head of the organization’s crucial Third Division, in charge of internal security. So powerful and pervasive—or in the eyes of the opposition, infamous—was his reputation and his shadow that SAVAK’s other necessary work, like its Eighth Division fighting Soviet espionage in Iran, was all but ignored. In his memoir of life in SAVAK, General Manuchehr Hashemi, for many years the head of the Eighth Division, complains that the success of his group in fighting Soviet spies was overshadowed by the reality or rumor of the Third Division’s tactics.[1] Furthermore, the wife of General Hassan Pakravan, the second chief of SAVAK, claims in an interview that during a gala dinner in the early 1970s, she refused to sit next to Sabeti in protest of what he had done to the organization’s reputation. The general himself, of course, had a far more sanguine view of Sabeti, telling his wife that, “each period had its own exigencies.”[2]

Regardless of his reputation, Sabeti was, by the mid-1970s, arguably one of the most informed men about Iranian politics. Furthermore, the shah by all accounts relied heavily on SAVAK for his survival and for intelligence. Nevertheless it is one of the most astonishing facts of Sabeti’s life, and a testimony to his controversial character and his complicated relationship with the shah, that all through his long career he was never granted a private audience with the king. Even when the shah was desperately searching for a solution to the crisis that threatened his throne, during the days that he sought out many antique political figures for advice, he still adamantly refused to meet with Sabeti. Eventually, at the insistence of the queen, he agreed to a meeting, under the condition that the queen should also be present. Sabeti demurred; in those days, as the power of the shah was fast waning, there were many who refused to heed his commands. Sabeti argued that only in a private audience could he tell the king all he needed to say. He knew well what many in the court had known for a long time. The shah was almost a different person in a private meeting than he was with more than one person present. Alone he was shy, attentive, agreeable, and willing to hear views different than his own; in company, he was stiff, intolerant of “saucy minions,” and unwilling to hear criticism.

Some have tried to suggest that the shah’s refusal to meet with Sabeti was the result of his unwillingness to circumvent the chain of command. He met regularly with Sabeti’s superior, General Ne’matollalh Nasiri, the head of SAVAK, and that obviated the need or the appropriateness of a meeting with someone like Sabeti. But this argument flies in the face of reality. The shah often broke the chain of command to meet with anyone he wanted to meet. Furthermore, when the throne was on the line, imagined chains of command must give way—as they in fact did—to the exigencies of the moment.

It was no less a measure of Sabeti’s power, and the complicated nature of his relationship with the shah, that when prominent figures of the government were arrested as a ploy to appease the opposition—forgetting that when the fever of revolution is at full pitch, feeding the frenzied appetite for revenge only “makes hungry when it most satisfies”— Sabeti, who would easily have been the opposition’s most cherished prey, was not only spared but was allowed to leave Iran. No sooner had he left Iran than Iran’s complicated conspiratorial cosmos was filled with rumors about his departure. Sabeti was spared, some said, because the CIA wanted him saved. General Fardust, for many years SAVAK’s deputy director, claimed in his vituperative memoir that Sabeti told him that the CIA was helping him leave Iran. It is interesting that in the same memoir, as Fardust hurled invective at nearly everyone in the political elite, he more or less spared Sabeti, writing that he was only “ambitious” and a “show boater.” Another conspiracy theory was that Mossad had saved Sabeti. In both theories, “he has had plastic surgery.” Some say he lives incognito in Israel; others have him active as “chief advisor” to Prince Reza Pahlavi.[3] In exile, no less than in his days of power, the “real” Sabeti is hidden under a heavy fog of rumor, gossip, innuendo, rightful criticism, and calculated disinformation.

Parviz Sabeti was born on March 25, 1936 (4 Farvardin 1315) in Sangesar, near the city of Semnan, a town perched on the lush mountains that skirt the arid desert in the geographic heart of Iran, known for its peculiar language, its unusual weather, and the disproportionately large number of Bahais who lived there.
Sabeti’s father was a sheep rancher of middle-class means. He was also a member of the Bahai faith. Later, as Sabeti’s reputation grew, his religion became the subject of considerable controversy. Parviz spent the first nine years of his education in his town of birth; for high school, he moved to Tehran, following his brother’s footsteps. He lived with his sister and brother-in-law and was registered at the famous Firouz Bahram high school—renowned for its academic excellence and for the fact that it had been set up by Zoroastrians.
His high school years coincided with the days when Iran was caught in a relentless battle among Mossadeq and his advocates, Ayatollah Seyyed Abolqasem Kashani and his followers, the Tudeh Party and its members, and finally the shah and his supporters. By all accounts Sabeti had no political engagement in this period. It is, after all, an article of faith for members of the Bahai religion not to engage in politics. At the same time, the young Sabeti had an avid curiosity about the world of politics, and thus, he read regularly about the news of the day. He had come to believe that of the four main forces in Iranian politics of the time, the Tudeh Party was the most potentially dangerous. In later years, his contempt for the communists helped shape his political views. Of the political figures of the time, he was one of the few who made no concessions—real or imaginary, theoretical or practical—to the communist point of view.

In 1954, he entered Tehran University’s Law School, which was modeled on the French system where students enter law school right out of high school and graduate in three or four years. In his last year of university, Sabeti sought employment as a teacher and was assigned to a small school in one of the poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Tehran. In those days, the law school was lax in terms of its requirements for student attendance. Many students signed up for a class, showed up a couple of times to get a syllabus or the course reader, and then reappeared only during exam time. For his third year, Sabeti was among this group. He was teaching full time while enrolled as full-time student.

A degree in law usually led to a career in the judiciary or as a lawyer, and Sabeti chose the former, garnering an appointment as a judge. But before he could begin, he heard from a family friend that a new security organization was hiring. Sabeti changed his mind about the judgeship and applied for the new job. “It was,” he said, “a shortcut to a political future.”[4] By then his religious affiliations seemed to have changed and no longer posed a problem.

Sabeti was hired to work for the new organization, known by its acronym, SAVAK. His first job was as a political analyst. In the autobiography he submitted as part of his application, he wrote,

all through my education, I also helped my father with his sheep ranching and trade. I am competent in English and have also taken courses in judicial, economical, administrative and political fields. I have four brothers and a sister. All my life I have lived in a family that has been through my father a Bahai. Both my parents were Bahais. As for myself, I have been a Moslem from the time I reached maturity, and have received deferment from the military because I have been responsible for the livelihood of my family. My senior thesis has been on the subject of those immune from prosecution, namely juveniles and the mentally handicapped. As you can see, I am from the town of Sangesar.[5]

It is not clear how Sabeti managed to get his military deferment. His classification, as he indicates in his letter, implied that he was his family’s sole breadwinner, but considering the image he gave of his family’s economics, it is hard to imagine how that could have been the case. Nevertheless, Sabeti certainly impressed his recruiters and was hired to work as an analyst.

SAVAK, initially modeled on a combination of the CIA and the FBI at the time, had three different analytical sections—social, economic, and political—and before long Sabeti had become acting director of the important political section. The job consisted of preparing two types of reports. There were daily “top secret” intelligence briefs prepared in three copies. One was for the shah, the second for the prime minister, and the third for the head of SAVAK. The second type were special reports prepared on crucial and pending security topics, and usually for the shah’s “eyes only.” These were the reports that made Sabeti’s reputation, and in later years, some of the same reports, on the political situation as well as on corruption in men and women of power, got him repeatedly in trouble with the shah. Before long, Sabeti was chosen to head this department, lasting in the position for a little more than five years.

The first controversial report he wrote for the shah embodied his vision and method. It combined his hardheaded realism with an unabashed belief in the salutary use of force, even authoritarianism, in the early stages of economic and political development. He was a firm believer in the power and possibility of social engineering, while also condoning the use of extreme measures in achieving desired ends. The year of his first controversial report was 1962. Amini had come to power, and the United States had been pressuring the shah to have free and fair elections. The shah asked Pakravan, then head of SAVAK, to prepare a report on what would happen if there were free elections held in the country.

Sabeti was entrusted with the task of preparing the report. He first questioned the wisdom of the premise of the proposed policy. The source of unhappiness among the Iranian people, he claimed, was not the absence of democracy or free elections. In fact, people will support an authoritarian king so long as the regime is free from corruption and is moving the country in the right direction. Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, Sabeti believed that people prefer bread and security to freedom and want. Furthermore, he wrote, you cannot have free elections without first adequately preparing the people for such elections.

In the absence of such preparations, he concluded, free elections would bring nothing but chaos for the country and disaster for the shah. He then offered a district-by-district analysis of the probable results of a free election and concluded that at least a third of the elected members would be from the opposition. Because such members are organized and trained in the vagaries of politics, they would easily control the agenda and cripple the government’s ability to rule. “The shah hit the roof,” Sabeti remembered, “when he read the report.” He wanted to know who had written it. “This is all the nihilistic negativism of the opposition,” the shah reportedly declared. Furthermore, he ordered an investigation into the report’s methodology and conclusion. “If he can’t show how and why he arrived at these stark conclusions,” the shah ordered, “he should be put on trial.”[6]

A three-man commission was formed by Pakravan and after lengthy discussions and questioning, they concluded that no malice had been intended. The free elections were never held, but Sabeti’s basic philosophy remained the same. Before you could open the system, he believed, you had to reform it from inside and disarm the opposition by alleviating the social ills that provide them with propaganda material. For him, corruption was as much of a security problem as organized militancy. At the same time, he often argued that the ability and freedom of supporters of the system to criticize it must precede liberty for its opponents.

His views and prescriptions were very similar to those he advocated about fifteen years later, when the system was once again faced with a serious challenge. At that time, early in 1978, when the queen asked Sabeti why there was not more freedom in the country, he answered tartly, “Because there is no freedom for me to speak my mind. How can we allow the opponents to speak?”7 He went on to say that when he could openly and freely state his views about some of the men and women in power, then the opposition should also be given a free hand to articulate its views. As a “social engineer” he clearly did not seem to believe that freedom was an inalienable right of the people, but something leaders, more specifically enlightened despots, “give” to the people when they see fit. There is much evidence to suggest that he was, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a critic of corruption and nepotism not only in public figures, but also in members of the royal family. On more than one occasion, his reports on malfeasance by a member of the shah’s entourage—Hushang Davvalou Ghajar, for example—or members of the royal family, particularly the shah’s brothers and sisters, caused the ire of the shah. In one case, the shah told Hoseyn Fardust, SAVAK’s deputy director, to “find out what is wrong with this boy? He clearly has psychological problems.”[8]

In 1969, there was some restructuring in SAVAK, and Sabeti’s group was combined with the department responsible for fighting what were called subversive political groups. The groups were divided into five categories—communists, National Front, Kurds, secessionist movements, and Islamic radicals—with Sabeti in charge of dealing with communist groups. It was in this capacity that Sabeti first appeared on television and with
chilling efficiency described and lambasted the opposition groups outside Iran. He always appeared not under his own name, but under the title “High Ranking Security Official.” Another of his television appearances, in 1970, caused a serious diplomatic row between Iran, the United States, and England.

In a program describing General Bakhtiyar’s activities against the government of Iran, Sabeti declared that Iran has found clear evidence that the Western oil companies, in their effort to bring pressure on the shah to ease his demands for higher prices, had provided financial support for Bakhtiyar. In the same television program, Sabeti declared that student unrest inside and outside Iran had been associated with “imperialist sponsored extremist groups” and that they were “under strong influence of western imperialist policies which consider Iran’s industrial progress a threat to their market. [Earlier this year] the agent insinuated that HMG were supporting the Ba’thists, which you will remember, was a bee in the Shah’s bonnet.” England and the United States were not amused. The American Embassy contacted Alam, and the British issued a démarche and talked to the Foreign Ministry to register their views “fairly forcibly.” The British ambassador “pulled no punches in speaking with the Minister of Court, the Minister of Finance, and Dr. Egbal in the course of evening.”
Responding to this unusually strong reaction by the British and American governments, “the Iranians eventually put out an official statement . . . to the effect that the allegations against the oil companies were based on Bakhtiyar documents and statements and did not reflect the views of the Iranian government.”[9]

But whatever the diplomatic reaction, Sabeti’s several television appearances made him an overnight sensation. He did not fit the normal image of a SAVAK agent—faux leather jacket, gruff appearance, foul language, an innocuous pseudonym, invariably calling themselves “doctors.” Sabeti was a different breed. He was handsome, well dressed, well prepared, and combative though polite. In his work habits, he was dedicated and disciplined. He was unfailingly punctual. He arrived at work no later than seven in the morning. “The army officers seconded to SAVAK,” he said, “prided themselves in their ability to come to work according to the military hours. I too followed the same schedule.”

As his comments on thousands of documents since published by the Islamic Republic show, he was brief, firm, and clear when issuing orders. In conversation, as in his marginal notes, he went directly to the heart of matter. He spoke without any notes but seemed to have every fact at the tip of his fingers. “If you read from a text,” he had concluded, “then people do not believe you; they tend to think you are giving them propaganda.”10 He was then, as he is now, unabashed in his defense of the system. “The shah had his faults,” he says, “but considering what was before him, and what has come after him, and considering what there is in the area, he was the best system Iran could hope to have.”[11]

Gradually, as this image began to set in, as his power within the SAVAK bureaucracy grew, and as SAVAK’s power grew in Iran, he began to disappear from the public arena.

By 1970, as a new militancy began among some of the shah’s opponents in the form of armed guerrilla activities, what is today called terrorism, and as it became evident that interagency rivalries among the police, SAVAK, and the army’s intelligent unit was hurting the fight against the new militant groups, a new Joint Committee to Fight Terrorism was set up, and Sabeti was its de facto leader. The committee always had a nominal head from the ranks of the military, but Sabeti was its leader. He arrived at the infamous “Joint Committee” with the pomp and security of a head of state. Interrogators, who in the confines of their own offices often had delusions of divine power, vied with each other for a chance to be in the same room with him. The “Committee” developed a notorious reputation as a den of torture and brutality, and in the public imagination it was Sabeti’s name that was identified with the committee and its notoriety. There is no doubt that there was torture in the prisons at the time. But there is also much evidence to indicate that torture became a routine part of prison after the rise of terrorism in Iran. Before that time, there had been some torture and beatings, but systematic torture was a new phenomenon. SAVAK agents were faced with a new breed of militants who had cyanide pills under their tongues, ready to kill or die for the cause any minute.

By then Sabeti was the head of SAVAK’s Third Division, in charge of internal security. His power was such that even the long survival of Hoveyda as prime minister, according to the American Embassy in Tehran, was in no small measure the result of his close friendship with Sabeti. The two men met regularly for lunch. So close and intimate was the relationship that it was often assumed by Amir-Abbas Hoveyda’s foes that he used SAVAK to sabotage his enemies.

The rising tide of revolution put Sabeti even more than before at the center of Iranian politics. On the one hand, SAVAK and its practices had become a major bone of contention for the opposition. International media and jurists were also increasingly vocal in their criticism of torture in Iran. On the other hand, for years SAVAK had been a pillar of power in Iran, and now, in an effort to appease the opposition, its power was gradually reduced. General Nasiri was replaced by General Nasser Moghadam as the new head of SAVAK, and from the outset the latter’s liberalizing attitude put him at odds with Sabeti, who believed that such liberalization would jeopardize the system.

As it became clear that Carter was winning the elections in America, and that he would bring pressure on the shah to open up the system politically, Sabeti says he prepared another lengthy report like the controversial one he had written in 1961. The situation in 1976, he wrote, was far more fraught with danger than it had been in 1961. There were millions more living in urban centers; another few million had been added to the ranks of the country’s students. The opposition was more organized than before and some of them had training in armed battle. Liberalization, he concluded, could bring the system to a crashing fall.

Once again the shah hit the roof. “How can Sabeti be so negative,” he reportedly said. “Does he mean to say that our White Revolution has accomplished nothing?” Needless to say, in spite of Sabeti’s views, liberalization went on.

As the situation deteriorated, on more than one occasion Sabeti suggested the use of force to change the political dynamics in the country. As late as May 1978, he believed that his Third Division could turn back the tide. Through Hoveyda he sent a message to the shah asking for permission to arrest some three thousand people. “We can still control the situation,” he said, “if we are allowed to do our work.” Although the shah knew that at least part of his problem was in fact “the work” SAVAK had done in the past, he was by then sufficiently interested to ask for a specific plan of action. Sabeti worked on preparing the list of those to be arrested. The plan was submitted to the shah, who agreed to the arrest of only a small fraction of those on the list. SAVAK went to work, a few hundred leaders were arrested, and, in fact, the situation did, according to the American Embassy in Tehran, quiet down.

But then at the instigation of Amuzegar, many of the detainees were released. “What are we going to say to the human rights group?” he asked. “Hell with the human rights group,” Sabeti responded.[12]

As the situation deteriorated, Sabeti had one last plan of action. He wanted the shah to declare a state of emergency, dismiss the Parliament, and close the American and British Embassies to protest the BBC and Western media’s role in encouraging riots. The iron fist, he suggested, must replace the velvet revolution; only after reestablishing law and order could the shah begin to implement the necessary changes, but from a position of strength, not weakness. The shah dismissed the suggestion as childish. A few weeks later, Sabeti left Iran for a life of exile.

Easily the revelation most damaging to Sabeti’s career came after the revolution, from one of SAVAK’s star interrogators. During his trial, he revealed what the opposition had known for many years. At the height of terrorist activities, one of the groups had killed a prominent leader of SAVAK. Nine leading figures of the opposition—all already tried and convicted on different charges—were taken to the hills outside Tehran and shot in cold blood. The list included Bijan Jazani who had been a mastermind of one of these terrorist groups. Newspapers at the time reported that the nine had been killed while attempting to escape from prison.

As it turns out, three of the nine were, in fact, trying to escape. Their childish attempt had been thwarted in its first stage. But in retribution for the successful executions of SAVAK, government, and business leaders, the nine, who were thought to be chief theorists of the newly founded armed groups, were executed. In the course of the revelations, the interrogator made clear that while Sabeti did not directly participate in the act, he was not only informed but was the mastermind. For his turn, Sabeti categorically denies any role in the incident. “What happened in that case,” he claims, “is what the papers reported at the time. The Islamic Court’s revelations are propaganda.”

In exile, Sabeti has kept out of the limelight. He has, he says, written a two-thousand page, yet-to-be-published memoir. He lives with his wife of more than thirty years and has two children, both successful professionals. As reappraising the legacy of the Pahlavi era is now a subject of intense curiosity and shifting sensibilities inside and outside Iran, Sabeti, and his controversial role, is never far from the center of the debate.

Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi

For a whole generation of Iranian intellectuals and political figures, Gholanhoseyn Sadiqi had a near mythical reputation. He was known for his impressive erudition, his unfailing intellectual honesty, his particular affinity for the ideas of Aristotle, his indefatigable search for scholarly rigor and impartiality, his perfectionism in prose, his positivist bend as a sociologist, and, finally, his support for the rule of law and the idea of a representative democracy. He was also known for his deep devotion to Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq. He had twice served time in prison during the shah’s rule—once after 1953 and then again in 1962—and was seen as one of his most intractable foes. For more than a decade, when his daughter studied outside Iran, he denied himself the chance to visit her because he said, “I refuse to ask for a passport from an illegitimate regime that came as a result of the August coup.”[1] All his adult life, he had cultivated and cherished his unblemished and esteemed reputation as a man of unbending, principled opposition to the shah. Yet to his friends’ and comrades’ consternation, when he saw Iran in a moment of crisis in 1978, he showed himself willing to risk that reputation, if he could save the country from clerical despotism.

His comrades of three decades in the leadership of the National Front immediately went on a rampage against him. They seemed to have a variety of reasons for their rancor and anger—some could simply not forgive the shah for what he had done to their leader, Dr. Mossadeq; others were apparently jealous as their own ambitions had been thus thwarted; and a third group preferred second fiddle to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution to a secular democratic alternative. When their private attempts to dissuade Dr. Sadiqi failed, they published public rebukes. One of the leaders warned him that the reputation he had worked thirty years to develop would be destroyed if he agreed to work with the shah. Dr. Sadiqi, unfailingly polite in all his dealings, told the man, “Sir, I have not developed a reputation for the grave, but for my country and I am more than willing to forfeit my reputation if I can save my country.”

A quarter of century earlier, even in the days when he worked with Dr. Mossadeq as the minister of the interior, he was never afraid to do or say what he thought was the morally and legally right course of action. For example, when Dr. Mossadeq decided to hold a referendum in 1953 to dismiss the Parliament, Dr. Sadiqi was among a handful of advisors who spoke out, telling “my leader”—as he called Mossadeq—that the action was constitutionally dubious and doubtful in its political merits, and that it would certainly send the wrong message.[2] Moreover, his account of the events of the August 19, 1953, are truly exemplary in their honesty, attention to details, and aversion to sycophancy.[3] In the years after the coup of 1953, he continued to support Mossadeq and paid a high price for his continued allegiance.

Nevertheless, in 1978, he was willing to forget the acrimonies and bitter experiences of the past and, with searing honesty, appraise the dangers facing the country, and then prove willing to come to the rescue of the very regime he had fought for three decades. In 1973, in a talk he gave upon his appointment as university professor, he said, “Science and ethics are the two essential elements of power and privilege, and those who have both have in reality everything.” Few men of his generation had more of these two essential elements than Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi. His is a true profile in courage and erudition.

Gholamhoseyn Sadiqi was born in Tehran on December 4, 1905 (Azar 1284) to a middle-class family, and in the traditional and unmistakably middle-class neighborhood of Sarcheshmeh.[4] He was a child prodigy; the frailty of his physique stood in sharp contrast to the intensity of his intelligence. He went to “modern” schools, instead of the traditional maktab, finishing at Dar al-Funun. After high school, he took the national exam that determined who would win the government scholarships to study abroad. He was among those chosen and went to Paris, where he first enrolled in l’Ecole Normale Superieure de Saint-Cloud. He received his doctorate in sociology from the Sorbonne in 1937. He was the first Iranian to have completed a doctoral degree in sociology and is by consensus considered the “father of modern sociology in Iran.”[5] In fact, he coined the Persian term for sociology—Jame’ Shenasi. His dissertation, on the nature of religious movements in the first two centuries after the Arab invasion of Iran, was published first in French and eventually, after many years and many revisions, in Persian as well. In the book, he talked of the two centuries as “a purgatory” where the old habits and beliefs of pre-Islamic Iran came into conflict with the new Arab ethos of Islam.[6] In subsequent years, he focused his scholarly attention on modern Iranian history, particularly the period of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905.

Immediately after his return home, he began to teach in the newly created Tehran University. He helped create the Sociology Department in the Faculty of Letters. He remained a teacher until the day he retired and was made a university professor at Tehran University in 1973. It was part of the Sadiqi lore around academic circles that he never missed a class or left his job as a professor. Even when he joined the cabinet as a minister during the tumult of the Mossadeq era, he kept teaching his class and was always on time.[7] Another element of his lore was his unique behavior.

The Mossadeq era was when Sadiqi entered the world of politics. He joined the National Front as soon as it was created. When Mossadeq was named prime minister, he asked Sadiqi to join him, first as minister of post and telegraph, and then as the all-important minister of the interior, in charge of all security forces. More important, he became one of the closest and most trusted advisors to Dr. Mossadeq.

But power had no corrupting influence on Sadiqi’s character and behavior. His attitude and his treatment of others—from peers to students, from political allies to foes—was the epitome of dignity and respect, fairness and impartiality. In one of his many moments of cultural self-introspection, he said, “Our biggest problem, as Iranians, is unfairness, particularly unfairness in our judgment of others.”[8] His discourse and demeanor exuded his aversion “to kitsch and crude behavior.”[9] More than anything, he valued erudition. “There is no sin,” he wrote, “bigger than ignorance.”[10] He was unfailingly polite; that is why the story of the one time he apparently slapped Aredeshir Zahedi, when the latter was arrested for conspiring against the government of Mossadeq, was seen as an exception to the rule. But even Zahedi, like nearly everyone else in the country, had such respect for Sadiqi that each of the two other times he met Sadiqi—once when Sadiqi and Mossadeq surrendered after the August 1953 coup, and then again a quarter century later, when they met at court to discuss the possibility of forming a government of national reconciliation—Zahedi treated “the professor” with outmost deference and respect.

This respect did not save Sadiqi from the agony of prison. In his trial after the August coup, he bravely and defiantly defended Mossadeq’s leadership and his own actions as minister. Some feared that because of his important role in organizing the referendum that figured prominently in the Mossadeq trial, Sadiqi might even be condemned to death.[11] But he was given a jail sentence. There was much pressure from inside and outside the country for the Iranian government to release Sadiqi and the other National Front leaders who had been university professors before the August 1953 events. When he was finally released, Sadiqi wanted to go back to teaching sociology at the university. The shah initially opposed the idea, but eventually he agreed, particularly after Dr. Aliakbar Siyasi, the new rector of the university and a close friend of Sadiqi’s, insisted on the latter’s return.

In 1959, when Ehsan Naragi launched the Institute for Social Research, connected to Tehran University, he asked Sadiqi to be its director. “Only his name,” Naragi said, “was enough to afford our new institution legitimacy.”[12] Sadiqi agreed. Moreover, almost exactly a decade after helping launch the National Front, when the Second National Front was formed, in 1960, Sadiqi was one of the founders. At the famous mass rally of the new National Front held in Jalaliye—a vast open space used for horse racing—while everyone delivered fiery speeches, his was pithy, parsimonious, and prudent. The speech, which began with a quote from Aristotle, lasted only a few minutes and was about the corruption of the elections and the necessity of reforming the situation.[13]

Not long after that Jalaliye meeting, a large caucus of the National Front members was convened and new leadership was elected. Of the 35 people chosen for the central committee, Sadiqi received 121 votes, with only 7 others receiving more.[14] The electoral success soon cost him his freedom, as SAVAK decided to arrest the entire leadership. But even SAVAK reports of his actions during that period repeatedly refer to Sadiqi’s prudence and his aversion to bombast and belligerence.

After returning to the university, Sadiqi resumed his scholarship. Aside from his dissertation, which he translated and published in Persian himself, his other two published books were about Aristotle and his place in ancient Greek philosophy. But his introduction to the Persian translation of Aristotle’s Athenian Democracy, written about the time of the Jalaliye speech, is a perfect example of the style of his work and the structure of his thought. Sadiqi was devoted to Aristotle, but his disdain for dogma, absolutes, and abstractions extended to the philosopher he calls the “first teacher,” following a long tradition among Iranian thinkers and philosophers. Sadiqi criticizes the “first teacher” for his defense of slavery and his position on the question of women.

The history of political philosophy can, in one sense, be divided into two tendencies. Some see political philosophy as an instrument of “soulcraft.” They have no tolerance for the imperfections of the human soul and seek to build a utopia where the custodians of an absolute truth rule. The origins of totalitarianism and varieties of theocratic despotism can be found in this tradition. Plato is often thought to be the first and foremost proponent of this tendency.[15]

Others see the goal of political philosophy as “statecraft.” They are cognizant of human imperfections and want to create not a utopia, but the most pragmatic, workable system. Citizens are not the tools of politics but its goal, and governments are not masters or shepherds of the people but their servants. They believe that the best form of government is based on the rule of law. As Sadiqi’s life and writings clearly show, he belongs squarely to this tradition, advocating elements of the Aristotelian philosophy, along with the theory of modern representative democracy.

The first important point concerning the pithy introduction he wrote to Aristotle’s Athenian Democracy was the time of its publication: 1964, precisely at the time of the rise of radical Islam and its demand for theocracy. It also coincided with the rise of radicals of the Left such as Hamid Ashraf,[16] who had become disgruntled with traditional politics and were beginning to advocate “guerrilla warfare” or what is today called terrorism. Finally, it was the period when the shah’s personal and increasingly authoritarian rule was eroding the foundations of the Iranian constitution. It is tempting to see the introduction as Sadiqi’s political intervention in the ongoing debate. It can also be seen as the dress rehearsal for the truly brave political position he took on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. Sadiqi’s aversion to radicalism and to the false certitudes of ideology convinced him, in 1978, to break with his comrades of three decades and try to avert a revolution.

Late in 1978, soon after the shah appointed General Azhari as head of a “military cabinet,” ostensibly to bring back law and order, in his own words, he “resumed discussions with opposition figures.”[17] The shah contacted Sadiqi through Huchang Nahavandi,[18] a one-time rector of Tehran University, and Mohiodine Nabavi Nouri, a professor of law at the same university.[19] Of all the leaders of the National Front, Sadiqi was the one to whom the shah seemed most favorably disposed; he considered Sadiqi “a patriot. [Sadiqi] agreed without condition to try to form a coalition but asked for a week of reflection to which I agreed.”

But Sadiqi did have in fact one condition, and it was that the shah should not leave Iran but instead go to a military base somewhere in the south of Iran, remain there for a few weeks, and appoint a regency council in the meantime. Sadiqi wanted to use the time to calm the situation down, and he knew that he needed the army if he was to survive. He also knew that only the presence of the shah could guarantee the army’s loyalty to a Sadiqi government. As the shah admits, “Dr. Sadiqi was the only political leader who begged me not to leave Iran.” The shah, however, incredibly refused to accept the deal because, in his words, “appointing a Regency Council while remaining in the country was unacceptable because it implied that I was incompetent to perform my duties as sovereign.”[20] Ultimately, the idea of a Sadiqi government failed to materialize, and today many concur that he might have been the one chance the shah had for survival. During the last days before the shah’s departure, Sadiqi made one more effort to dissuade him from leaving the country. “With the shah gone, Iran will be lost,” he had said.[21]

It was a measure of Sadiqi’s stature as a public intellectual that in spite of the fact that he had taken steps to avert the revolution, when the Islamic revolutionaries seized power, they never arrested him or attacked him directly in the media. He died on April 29, 1991 (9 Ordibehesht 1371) in Tehran. He left behind thousands of cards on which he had taken carefully detailed notes on different issues of interest to him throughout his life. He also kept a daily journal, simple but precise jottings of every day’s important events. Neither the notes nor the journal have yet been published.

Seyyed Fakhroddin Shadman

Seyyed Fakhroddin Shadman[1] was a man of many talents and discordant desires. Behind the stern solemnities of his always-decorous demeanor, there raged an unrelenting battle between the sedate intellectual passions of a life of letters and the exhilarating traumas and tensions of a life in politics. He had held often-powerful ministerial positions in some of the most troubled moments in modern Iranian history, yet he always seemed ready to leave the world of power and return to the quiet contemplations of academia. He wrote some seminal essays and books on the question of modernity and Iran’s encounter with the West; indeed, Jalal Al Ahmad’s controversial book Westoxication—arguably the most influential book on the subject for a whole generation of Iranian intellectuals—was deeply indebted to Shadman.[2] His prose was often praised for its pristine quality, rich vocabulary, and creative use of Persian poetry.[3] Despite all that, his fame as a writer and intellectual came posthumously.

Not has much has been written about his political role, either. He never sought the limelight himself, and in the often-partisan field of Persian political historiography he had no patron saints. The opposition never forgave him for accepting a post in the controversial cabinet formed by General Fazlollah Zahedi just after the ousting of Mossadeq, and the royalists saw him as a difficult and diffident man.

Shadman was born in Tehran in 1907 (1286) in Pamenar, the fascinating neighborhood in old Tehran where many of the city’s political and economic elite lived. In fact the street he lived on—Hayat Shahi—was named after a cleric of renown who happened to be both a neighbor and one of Shadman’s early tutors in Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence. Fakhroddin’s father, Hajdi Abu Torab, was himself a cleric—less a man of learning than a master of mourning. His elegiac voice and his kind demeanor made him a popular figure around the neighborhood. Shadman’s mother, Masoume, an enlightened woman well versed in Persian classics and the Qur’an, was from the family of Khaleogli in Tabriz. They were a merchant family of affluence, and it was more her inherited wealth than Abu Torab’s often meager earnings that allowed the family to live a life of relative comfort. Commensurate with her economic independence was her powerful presence as the matriarch of the family.[4]

Fakhroddin was the eldest child of a large family of six brothers and one sister. Save one, who was something of an autistic savant, and another who entered the army and never went beyond the rank of lieutenant general, the other four brothers all entered the arena of politics and reached the pinnacles of power.[5] On one occasion, the shah gave an audience to five of the brothers and praised them for their devotion to the crown and their services to the country.

Like nearly everyone else of his generation, Shadman began his student life in a traditional madrese dressed in the garb of a mullah. Soon however he enrolled in a more secular school, Dar al-Funun, and then at Tehran’s Teachers’ Training College. Secular attire followed fast on the heels of secular schools. He shed the turban and the robe and began to dress, as he did for the rest of his life, in dapper suits and conservative ties.
No sooner had he begun his schooling than his lifelong passion for learning, his insatiable curiosity about traditional Persian letters and Islamic theology, as well as new Western ideas and theories, earned him a reputation as a young man of unseasonable erudition. He was still a student at the Teachers’ Training College when in 1926 he published his first essay under the pseudonym of Amuzegar, or “Teacher.” His second essay was part of the inaugural issue of a journal called Toufane Hafetegi. By 1928, he rose to the position of the journal’s editor.

When Ali Akbar Davar was given the task of reforming and secularizing the Iranian judiciary, he invited Shadman to join him in the new ministry. His probity in financial matters, his strict adherence to the letter of the law, and his impressive command of Persian letters had endeared him to Davar. Shadman was appointed the lead prosecutor in the famous Lindenblat case, in which the German financial advisor to the Iranian government was accused of fraud. Shadman’s successful prosecution of the high profile case brought him temporarily into the limelight. Even more important was the fact that his performance had so impressed Davar that, at his behest, Shadman was sent to London to become Iran’s vice commissar in the British Petroleum Company.

The assignment lasted until 1946 and proved formative in Shadman’s subsequent intellectual and emotional life. Some of the most enduring friendships of his life, particularly with Allame Qazvini and Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, had their genesis in this period. In London, he also found a woman he loved. Her name was Farangis. A scion of the Nemazi family, renowned in Iran for their wealth and their acts of philanthropy, she was erudite, elegant, and fiercely independent. Her Persian renditions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire established her reputation as a translator of considerable talent. Theirs was for its time an unusual marriage, based not on family or economic expedience but on enduring love and mutual intellectual cooperation. They married in 1941, in a simple ceremony in war-torn London.
Shadman also used his years in Europe to pursue his pedagogical goals. He earned two doctoral degrees, one in law from the Sorbonne in 1935, the other in political science from the London School of Economics in 1938. Soon after receiving his second degree, he began to teach in London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. He also was a key member of the “Iran House,” an important cultural group organized by prominent British scholars such as Basil Grey and Reinhardt Nicholson. Their goal was to promote the study of Persian culture. Shadman himself gave a couple of talks at the institute. At the same time, he published a few articles in English in scholarly journals of the time.

Upon his return, he set out on a tremulous course bent on satisfying his two discordant desires. On the one hand politics beckoned. The country was in the throes of a serious crisis and no Persian nationalist, he argued, could remain a mere spectator. On the other hand, the life of an intellectual was no less appealing. His first appointment was far from such a life. He was to head Iran’s state-run insurance company.

About the same time, he published what turned out to be, in his mind, the most important book of his life. It was called Conquering the Culture of the West. By this time he had shown himself to be a fair novelist, a masterful essayist, and a deft translator. His most important work of translation was Albert Malle and Jule Isak’s History of the Modern World. His three novels were widely different and uneven in terms of their formal cohesion and sophistication. The longest, called Darkness and Light, was his most widely read book. It was serialized in one of Tehran’s most popular dailies. The two other novels—On the Road to India and The Nameless Book—were more enigmatic in form and content. His last published book was a collection of essays called The Tragedy of Farang.

If we accept Steiner’s notion that to “read is to compare,” and that the core of the hermeneutic exercise is “linguistic critical comparison,” then Shadman was a singularly competent reader. He rejoiced in his Persian heritage. He was at home in English, French, and Arabic. Echoes of Hafez and Sai’di, Shakespeare and Browning, Homer and Ferdowsi can be heard equally in his narrative. He was that rare embodiment of the Goethean ideal of “world literature” that seeks to articulate “ideals, attitudes of sensibility which belong to universalizing civilities . . . of Enlightenment.”[6]

Beneath the formal diversity of his opus, one can discern a few important thematic unities and common threads. His politics, too, were often inseparably linked to the ideas he expounded in his books. In the dreamy cosmos of his novels, and in the somber space of his essays, the refrain is the question that Montesquieu had presciently asked in the eighteenth century. How, he wanted to know, can one be a Persian in the modern world and fashion an identity amenable to new and fast-changing realities?

Shadman insisted that in refashioning such a self, Persians must not relinquish their past. Nor can they cling to it in some quixotic delusion of grandeur. As with the West, which recaptured its Greco-Roman heritage in the Renaissance, for Shadman an Iranian renaissance must rely on reclaiming the Persian past rather than on an impotent emulation of the European experience.

A crucial component of this liberating identity was, for Shadman, the Persian language. He believed that language was not merely a tool of thought but a concomitant part of the cognitive process itself. A nation of sound mind and self-assured identity will have a language that is equally lucent and cogent. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, enfeebled Iran’s encounter with a newly empowered West shattered the Iranian sense of self, and the Persian language went into a period of crisis. Iran, Shadman argued, had survived many past historical calamities. But of all the challenges the country had met in its long history—from the invasion of Greek and Roman armies to the Arab and Mongolian invasions—none could compare with the challenge offered by the West.

The danger was only augmented by the presence of what Shadman pejoratively called the fokolis, or literally “the bow-tied ones.” They are pseudointellectuals, dangerous harbingers of doom and degradation. They know nothing about the true cultural accomplishments of the West yet consider themselves experts on the Occident; they are equally in the dark about the cultural heritage of their own country. In fact, they disdain all that is Persian and cherish nothing more than becoming farangi. Aside from a few foreign words they use to intimidate their listeners, they know no European languages, yet they consistently make fun of the Persian language and chastise it for its inability to cope with the exigencies of the modern world. By the last years of his life, Shadman had grown so disgruntled with the pattern of change in Iran that in a hitherto unpublished work, he decried the fact that just this kind of fokoli seemed to have gained the upper hand in Iranian politics.

The concept of fokoli was not limited to westophile intellectuals. Equally sinister and dangerous were, in his mind, the reactionary mullahs “who misconstrue the words of the prophet” and are obsessed with finding a widow to abuse or milk for their own illegitimate gain. They also disdain the Persian language, and by their insistence on using Arabic words and even Arabic language they help the linguistic and cultural crisis that has befallen Iran.

Shadman had in fact a nuanced approach to religion; he was a secularist who nevertheless believed in the ontological necessity of religion. Contrary to many of Iran’s radical modernists, he was not a foe of religion as an institution. Dogmatism and religious obscurantism were his bane. He was himself deeply religious, but true to his ideas, he never forced his views and preferences on other people. Long before the Islamic Republic mandated that all public discursive acts must begin by reciting certain Qur’anic verses, Shadman would began all his official speeches by first invoking the name of God. At the same time, he advocated nothing short of a cultural revolution whose purpose would be to cultivate rationalism and skepticism in thought, reformation in religion, and secularism in politics.

In attempting this revolution, Shadman cautioned Persians to avoid trying to repeat the European experience. On the one hand, he suggested that Persians must “doubt nearly every claim made by the farangis,” particularly their claim to “support freedom.” He wrote of the days when Europe used its power “at every turn to oppress others and in non-European societies fostered corruption, bribery and treason.” They degraded “anyone who was not of European stock.” He admonished Europeans for becoming “supporters and allies of traitors, and corrupt rulers, and an enemy of every patriot.” In Shadman’s vision of colonial history, “the West, in collusion with ignoble noblemen, illegitimate entrepreneurs and contractors more corrupt than bandits” have ruined the Iranian economy and saturated it with “useless commodities.”[7]

Other than this colonial heritage, there are other reasons he thought Iran should not simply emulate farang. The dawn of the West, he declared, had ended and the dusk had begun. In a language reminiscent of and most likely influenced by Spangler and Grosse, he wrote, “the West is sick, and badly troubled.”8 Furthermore, the West was, in his view, no longer a unified entity. He cautioned Iranian politicians not to put all their eggs in the American basket. England will still matter, he insisted.

All these ideas, of course, were not just an intellectual exercise for him. His increasingly prominent political positions, and his entry in the cabinet in 1947 first as minister of the national economy and then of agriculture allowed him to put some of his ideas into practice. When in 1953 he was named minister of the national economy in General Zahedi’s cabinet, one of his first policy initiatives was to establish a College of Petroleum for the specific purpose of training Iranian technicians and engineers and ridding the country of its dependence on foreign advisors.

After the Ministry of National Economy came an appointment as minister of justice, where his governmental services had begun. In 1955 he was named the virtual head of an endowment fund in Meshed that handled the vast holdings of Imam Reza, the Shiites’ Eighth Imam. By then Shadman’s financial probity had become an important part of his political capital. He also had an unbending commitment to preserving the letter and spirit of the law. As he had often argued in his books and essays, the rule of the law was the key to the success of the West. His own demeanor and discourse was always courteous and formal. In talking to everyone, regardless of age or social status, he used the plural, polite shoma (you). These qualities of honesty, candor, and unbending legalism had hitherto served him well. They now threatened to end his political career. A report by the British Embassy entitled “Notes on Meshed, June 1957” is a pithy account of Shadman’s experience in Meshed:

The thing that struck me in Meshed this time was the extreme nervousness of the authorities. . . . A month or so ago, a cleaner in the washroom of the shrine found a number of Korans in the cesspit. . . . He dashed off and told the louder-mouthed Mullahs. . . . They proceeded to belabor the unfortunate Dr. Shadman. . . . The titular administrator is the Shah and Shadman, his representative. When he took the job two years ago, he found a scandalous state of affairs, the shrine heavily in debt, its vast capital largely idle, its revenues squandered and embezzled by a horde of grafting priests. Shadman has slowly but persistently cleaned this Augean stable, until this year for the first time in living memory, the shrine’s finances were actually in the black. And the Mullahs, their racket liquidated, are sharpening their knives for him. Dr. Shadman accused the Mullahs of a sacrilegious plot. And the Mullahs, with one voice, accused Dr. Shadman. . . . Reza Shah must have been spinning in his grave at this. To see the arrogance and the effrontery of the Mullahs. . . . How the old tyrant must despise the weakness of his son, who has allowed these turbulent priests to regain so much of their reactionary influence.[9]

Ultimately Shadman did not survive the crisis. The conditions of his resignation are not altogether clear. Family rumor had it that his demise also had to do with a financial row with the shah himself. One thing is sure, however. That was the last political appointment he ever had.

He resumed full-time teaching at Tehran University, where he had long held the chair for History of Civilizations. He also began to work on what he hoped would be his magnum opus. It borrowed its title from Nezamal Mulk’s Siyasatnameh—one of the greatest works of Persian literature and political thought—and was to be called Siyasatnameh Dar Iran. From the small fragments that were published, it became abundantly clear that he took an increasingly critical attitude toward the Pahlavi regime. He lamented the rise of a new species of politicians who were, in his words, “alien to all that is genuinely Persian” and know nothing other than “mere mimicry of the West.” The harsh tone of these published words—repeated with equal zeal in his oral pronouncements to anyone who would listen—brought about the ire of the regime. He was given a friendly warning through his brothers, but it was to no avail.

He spent the last years of his life reading and writing. He loved Persian poetry and could spend endless hours reading the masters. “One of my reasons for wanting to live,” he once declared, “is to read more Persian poetry.” Persian, he said, is the language of poetry. With no hint of hyperbole, he declared, “the best poetry in the world is in Persian.”[10] He also loved the literature of Europe, particularly Shakespeare. He had developed late in life a deep curiosity about the American experience. He traveled a great deal in the last years of his life, including a long trip to the United States. His circle of friends included some of the luminaries of the literary world. But his eclectic habits of mind included an affinity for American-style wrestling, which had just become a fad with the advent of television in Iran.

While his love of Persian poetry and his devotion to Sufi poets indicated his spiritual side, there was in him an equally strong cerebral side. He saw everything through a scholarly prism. When he fell sick early in 1967, he read voraciously in Avicenna, and in his encyclopedia of medicine, and correctly diagnosed his own disease as deadly. He had cancer, and when the seriousness of the disease was discovered, he was immediately sent to London. But it was too late. He died in 1967 in a London hospital. As he wished, his body was returned to Iran, where it was interred near the shrine of Imam Reza in Meshed.

Ja’far Sherif-Emani

He was a man of many faces and enigmas. Inspite of a damaged reputation, he survived at the pinnacle of power for almost thirty years. He was sometimes called “Mr. Five Percent” for his alleged habit of eliciting a payoff from major government contracts. One journalist, when free to write his opinion, described him as “materialistic, vulgar, opportunistic . . . as greedy in accumulating wealth as he was miserly in spending it.”[1] In 1961, the American Embassy in Tehran, writing in the days when Sharif-Emami’s tenure as the prime minister had just ended, referred to “some of the plunders which had gone on” during his tenure.[2] To his son, Ali, however, his father’s tarnished image was simply the result of a “failure to communicate” and a victory for his many foes. Ali also believed that much of his father’s troubles were rooted in the fact that “he was opposed to the Americans.”[3]

More than any other public figure of his generation, Sharif-Emami embodied Freemasonry in Iran, and Freemasons have been the obsession of modern Iranian politics. Sharif-Emami was known to be the Grand Master of all the lodges in Iran. In public perception, the fact that he was among the handful of people who never kissed the shah’s hands was the direct result of his high rank in the Masonic Order.[4]

He served as prime minister twice; both tenures were short-lived. The first lasted a little more than seven months; the second under seventy days. On both occasions, the shah and his regime faced serious crises: in 1961, Sharif-Emami’s tenure almost ended in the shah’s exile; in 1978, his premiership facilitated the fall of monarchy in Iran.

In spite of his role as a Grand Master of the Masonic Order and common whispers about financial malfeasance, Sharif-Emami was for almost fifteen years the head of the Pahlavi Foundation, a charitable organization created with some of the shah’s wealth. Under Emami’s aggressive leadership, the foundation vastly expanded its operations.

It invested in everything from factories to hotels and built and operated all of Iran’s casinos. His own daughter was famous in Tehran as a bon vivante and member of the “jet set,” yet on the eve of the Islamic Revolution, when the clergy in Iran—particularly Ayatollah Seyyed Kazem Shari’atmadari—were asked to offer candidates to replace Amuzegar as prime minister, Sharif-Emami’s name was one of the two proffered.[5] It was suggested that he had “close ties” with the clergy.

Ironically, in spite of all the rumors about him, the shah chose him to create a “government of national reconciliation” only months before the revolution. In this capacity, Sharif-Emami’s strategy for fighting the revolution seemed to consist only of caving in to the revolutionaries’ demands even before they made them. But in times of revolution, feeding the appetite for blood and revenge simply leaves the masses hungry for more. A key element of his appeasement policy was his plan to arrest some of the pillars of the shah’s regime, including Hoveyda and many of his ministers. When this policy failed, and when his government was faced with increasingly violent demonstrations, he abruptly changed course and declared martial law. The sudden change led to “Black Friday,” the bloodiest confrontation between the army and the demonstrators and surely one of the catalysts for the revolution.

For those who subscribe to a conspiracy theory of the Islamic Revolution, the Freemasons naturally top the list of the “usual suspects.” In this view, Sharif-Emami’s tactics were not just errors and miscalculations but were part of a clever design to stoke the fires of discontent. When by design or default, the fires raged into a full revolution, SharifEmami quietly left Iran and spent the rest of his life in exile. Sometimes he was busy investing some of his money with his son on the Internet bandwagon, at other times he tried to learn Spanish, but he was always fighting the demons of his past. Controversy remained his constant companion.

Ja’far Sharif-Emami was born in Tehran on September 9, 1910 (17 Shahrivar 1289). His humble origins certainly bore no hint of the life he would lead. His father was a mullah, and the de facto chief of staff to one of Tehran’s leading clergymen. He went to school in Tehran, and after high school he was chosen by Iran’s state-run railroad company to go on scholarship to Germany. He enrolled in a professional school called Brandenburger Zentraschule[6] and spent eighteen months there before returning to Iran to work as a foreman at the railroad company. He was about twenty years old and his salary was forty tooman ($20) a month. According to a special order of Reza Shah, those working on the railroad were partially exempt from the military service; Sharif-Emami was a beneficiaries of this law. He spent half a day at boot camp, the other half at his work site.[7]

Sharif-Emami was nothing if not ambitious. During his days at the railroad, he began to pursue a degree in electrical engineering from a correspondence college in Germany. Before he could finish, he was once again chosen by the railroad company for a scholarship, this time in Sweden. After more than three years, he graduated in engineering, returned to Iran in 1939, and resumed his work at the railroad. The advent of World War II had unusual consequences in Sharif-Emami’s life. On the one hand, the Iranian railroad took on enormous strategic value for the Allies, particularly as a key supply route for the Soviet army. But the significance of the route also put Sharif-Emami’s career in jeopardy.

By September 1943, the Anglo-Soviet forces occupying Iran had arrested about two hundred Iranians on charges of sympathizing with the Nazi regime. Sharif-Emami was one of them. He spent a year and five days in prison. After prison, he did not go back to the railroad but instead took a number of odd jobs. Finally, in 1950, when Hadji Ali Razmara was named prime minister, he chose Sharif-Emami first as undersecretary and then as the minister of roads. By then Sharif-Emami had married. His wife was from the Moazzami family, nobility in the ranks of the National Front and known for their close ties to Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq. It was a measure of this closeness that on August 19, when Mossadeq, fearing for his life, fled his house, he took refuge in one of the Moazzami houses. In fact, Sharif-Emami was one of the people used by Dr. Mossadeq as a liaison to General Zahedi to arrange his surrender.

In spite of this close family relationship, Sharif-Emami himself was no friend of the Mossadeq government. In fact, he had been close to those working against the government. His own brother-in-law, Ahmad Aramesh, was a close confidant of Ghavam. After the fall of Mossadeq, Sharif-Emami accepted the post of director of the Plan Organization. For reasons that are still not clear, his tenure did not last long. He was out of a job for a while, but then in 1955 he was chosen to serve in the Senate, and only left it on occasions when he was offered a ministerial portfolio in the government. His first such change of job came late in 1957, when he joined the cabinet of Egbal.

One of the main problems facing the Egbal government was the economy. By 1958 the United States was growing increasingly concerned about the future stability of Iran. A program of economic stability suggested by the American government and international agencies such as the Development Loan Fund was seen as the panacea. But as minister of industries, Sharif-Emami was adamant in his opposition to the program. According to the American Embassy in Tehran, his opposition was rooted partly in self-interest and partly in his nationalism. The proposed plan undermined some of his pet projects.[8] Some of his critics, like Abol-Hassan Ebtehaj, have even suggested that in 1959, Sharif-Emami allegedly received a bribe of three million tooman ($400,000) to push for the creation of a chemical fertilizer plant in Shiraz.[9] Moreover, according to the American Embassy, Sharif-Emami was by then “a spokesman for the old guard element in Iranian political life,” and was “undoubtedly opposed to the emergence in the cabinet of the so-called ‘Americans’ such as Commerce Minister Mansur, Agriculture Minister Jamshid Amuzegar, and Labor Minister Reza Ansari.”10 Sharif-Emami’s premonition about an end to the days of his generation of politicians turned out to be partly true.

The purge of the old guard came in the early 1960s. One of the events that acted as a catalyst was the meeting at Hoseyn Ala’s house on the afternoon of June 5, 1963. SharifEmami was one of the five people invited. One of the five called the shah and told him about the meeting. Sharif-Emami is often supposed to be one of the two people most likely to have made that call. Sharif-Emami’s tenacity and survival skills can be seen in the fact that although within months of the June meeting the shah had dismissed nearly all of the “old guard” (including those who attended the meeting in Ala’s house and were replaced with the new breed of technocrats), Sharif-Emami not only survived but eventually amassed even more power. Even his opposition to the American-sponsored stabilization and recovery program could not sideline him. In fact, within months of his squabble over the stabilization program, Sharif-Emami was named prime minister by the shah.

His tenure, brief and tumultuous, turned out to be a dress rehearsal for his second tenure as prime minister on the eve of the Islamic revolution of 1979. There was a serious economic crisis in 1961, and the opposition, particularly the National Front, had become active again after seven years of hibernation. The election of John F. Kennedy invigorated the opposition and enfeebled the shah.

Early in 1960, when Egbal was still the prime minister, the shah, in anticipation of pressure for liberalization by Kennedy, promised free elections for the Majlis. They were instead, even by Iranian standards, “a fiasco.” They were characterized by “blatant rigging . . . in order to retrieve some of his lost prestige the shah was forced to take steps”11 to nullify the election. As there was no legal basis for such nullification, he convinced the “elected” members to resign collectively. On August 31, he accepted the resignation of Egbal as prime minister and appointed Sharif-Emami in his place.

From the outset, the Sharif-Emami cabinet showed a great propensity for fanning the incipient crisis. Whereas the fall of Egbal had been the result of an openly rigged election, Sharif-Emami held a new round of elections in January-February 1961 that were, according to the American Embassy in Tehran, “as thoroughly controlled as those” held in August 1960. Moreover, the opposition, encouraged by the Kennedy administration’s democratic rhetoric, protested the results in “popular demonstrations in some provincial centers and in Tehran.”[12]

On May 2, the teachers announced a national strike. Their chief demand was for higher pay. In the course of one of their demonstrations, “a teacher was killed and several others were wounded by the police.” Suddenly the strike spread to other social strata. On May 4, a “similar demonstration was joined by workers. National Front groups were scheduled to join the demonstrations on 5 May. . . . Reportedly extremely upset and ready to flee the country, the Shah” asked for Sharif-Emami’s resignation.[13]

On May 4 and 5, Sharif-Emami faced angry members of the Majlis. The heated discussions were focused on what some members called police brutality against defenseless teachers. Sharif-Emami told the Parliament that violence against the demonstrations was no fault of his. He even told the shah that the unrest was instigated by the American government in order to get rid of him. On the other hand, he told his closest friends, “If His Majesty was favorably disposed towards him, no unrest would take place. The role played by the parliament against him, and the fact that security forces shot at teachers without his permission, shows that there were secret hands working behind the scene to bring about his resignation.”[14] When, on the afternoon of May 5, he went to the court to tender his resignation, he is reported to have shouted angrily at the shah, telling him that he had

been willing to resign, and that the verbal assaults on him in the Majlis had been beyond the pale.15
In private, he often claimed that his fall from power was the result of