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Who Was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi?

Ara is a journalism graduate from California State University, Northridge, who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Was a Monarch But Was Considered an Autocrat

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the last king or monarch of the Pahlavi Dynasty of rulers (1925-1979). But he was so much more than just a king of one of the biggest oil producers of the Middle East, Iran. Born on October 26, 1919 along with his twin sister Princess Ashraf, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a man that in his later years was criticized, ridiculed, and ostracized by much of the international community and did not even have a living space that could be considered stable. He had to move from one country to another after he was overthrown in 1979.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919-1980)


What This Article About Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Will Cover

Note: this biography of this interesting monarch will not include every single detail of his life and it will also not cover what he did after his overthrow in 1979 but the article will attempt to provide a view of the man that is different from what much of the Western media sources say about him.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi: Early Life

The future king’s primary school years were spent in Switzerland. He would return to Iran in 1935 while the country was still under the rule of his father Mohammad Reza Shah (1877-1944). The young Reza would enroll in a military school in Iran’s capital of Tehran and he would graduate from this school in 1938.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi: Marriages and Family

The future Shah would end up getting married three times, the first marriage which was to a sister of Faroq I the king of Egypt. He would marry Soraya Esfandiari in 1950 and then his third and final marriage which would last until his death in 1980 was to Farah Diba in 1959. He would finally achieve his goal of having a son whom could succeed him in the future. That first son was Crown Prince Reza born in 1960. Farah would give birth to three more children. They are Farahnaz Pahlavi born on March 12, 1963, Ali Reza Pahlavi (1966-2011) and Leila Pahlavi (1970-2001).

How Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Took the Throne and Early Years of His Rule (1941-1953)

He would replace his father on the throne, taking control on September 16, 1941 after the British and the Russians (then known as the USSR) were concerned about Mohammad Reza Shah’s relations with Nazi Germany so they then invaded and occupied Iran and subsequently overthrew him. The Iran Chamber Society analyzing the life of the Shah asserts that he relied more on manipulation than leadership. In 1949, the young king would face an assassination attempt on his life and this attempted event was blamed on forces loyal to the pro-communist Tudeh Party. It had been just 8 years earlier in 1941 that the Soviets had forced the king’s father to abdicate the throne, largely because of playing politics. The USSR did not like Nazi Germany after Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and so the Soviets were looking to flex their muscles. In 1951, the Shah faced the first big challenge to his rule when he was encountered by a nationalist named Mohammad Mossadegh. The Shah would flee to Rome in 1951 and he would return in 1953 with the help of the US and Great Britain, an event known as Operation Ajax. However, it would be in the early 1960’s that the Shah would face increasing criticism from the ayatollahs or clerics, and students and intellectuals who favored democratic reforms. The Shah however was a pro-western monarch who was considered to be the most influential strong man of the region in his day.

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Bank notes and money showing the image of the last shah of Iran.

Bank notes and money showing the image of the last shah of Iran.

The "White Revolution"

The Shah’s biggest achievement is probably his 1963 “White Revolution” which advocated for land reform, extension of voting rights to women, and the elimination of illiteracy, all of which I would definitely be in favor of.

Opponents of the Shah criticized him for violating the country’s constitution which placed limits on royal power. They also criticized him for not allowing a way to have a more representative government and for his strong alliance with the United States.

An Interview With Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the 1970's

What Really Caused the Shah's Overthrow?

Whether it was by design, coincidence or irony, the United States would later orchestrate the Shah’s ouster from Iran, something that I wrote in my earlier article about why the United States should have a dialogue with Iran. The Western media sources will tell you what they want you to hear while ignoring the big picture. Yes, there were massive protests and the arrival of Ruhollah Khomeini, a man that was kept in France and Iraq from 1964 through 1978 before being sent to Iran, brought there by the Western powers of course. The Shah was not overthrown only because of the rise of the clerics but the West helped to get rid of him.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi: Later Years & Death

In 1971, the Shah held a big party, a celebration of 2,500 years of Persian monarchy, something that would come to an end with the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. In 1976, the Shah would replace the Islamic calendar with the “imperial” calendar which starts with the founding of the Persian Empire many centuries earlier. These last two policy moves mentioned caused anger and discontent among the clerics because they were viewed as un-Islamic. The Shah’s secret police known as the SAVAK was described as a group of people that was responsible for suppression, marginalization, and in some cases torture. The Shah’s policies were said to have increased the wealth of the ruling elite while many were affected by income inequality. In all fairness, the Shah at least attempted to modernize Iran and develop that country economically while trying to make Iran into a dominant regional power and yet, many did not appreciate these actions. The Shah’s grip on the throne would eventually loosen and he would be forced to flee the country and by then, the Shah was a sick man, ravaged by cancer and he did not have the will to fight back against these protesters. The Shah would die in Egypt on July 27, 1980, just less than 2 months before the start of the Iran Iraq War.

© 2019 Ara Vahanian

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