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After the coup of 19 March 1953 in the socio-political history of Iran there were fundamental changes: the powers of parliament were limited and the absolute power of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was...

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Iran of the 60s: unsuccessful attempt to reform

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 - 09:04

After the coup of 19 March 1953 in the socio-political history of Iran there were fundamental changes: the powers of parliament were limited and the absolute power of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was restored with the help of the USA. Despite the pro-Western orientation, the Shah in the early 60s was put to serious tests. Inside the country he faced with the massive opposition political movements, and abroad he faced with the strong pressure in favor of reforms. John F. Kennedy, being the then U.S. President, took a tough stance, which made the shah appoint a pro-American Ali Amini, as a Prime Minister and begin to implement the land reform program. The land reform program encountered not only the resistance of landowners, but also the clergy, many of whom also opposed the growing influence of the USA in Iran, the reactionary policies of the king and the provision of women's suffrage. The Popular Front was not able to determine its attitude to the events made by Ali Amini, and in the end of 1962 it went down from the political scene. Only the clergy continued resistance against the influence of foreigners.
During these years, the state propaganda against the clergy was strengthened. State media called the clergy as a henchman of the reaction. The power, trying to cash in on the question of granting political rights to women, portrayed the clergy as the enemies of civilization and reform, of human rights and freedoms.
In June 1963, authorities decided to use force against the rebellious population of Qom, the religious center of the country. As a result of the bloody clashes several thousand people were killed. Spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini was expelled from the country.
Shah on one hand got the support of many politicians, advocates of land reform, and on the other hand he used military force to defeat the religious opposition for reforms and thus, dealt with a wide range of opponents. Of course the USA supported the Shah's regime and considered it to be the only appropriate political choice for Iran. Moral and financial help from the West freed the hands of the king, who relied only on his will in the country governing. Iran became a military-dictatorial monarchy, fully supported by the USA.
The most important institutions of the dictatorship of the Pahlavi monarchy were the oil revenue, the machine of repression, the royal court and the party system. In general, all these institutions served the interests of the regime. Despite the fact that the oil industry was included in the economic sphere, it was actually isolated from the economy and became a separate state institution.
Mosaddegh in 1951-1953 was able to govern the state without the oil revenues. But the Shah could not even imagine how one could govern the country without the huge revenues from oil exports. In 1964, the Shah signed a new contract with the Western countries on oil production and exports. Iran was formally the owner of its oil, but actually it was owned by the oil consortium in which the British Petroleum had 40% of stocks, 5 American oil giants had 35% of stocks, the company Royall Dutch Shell had 14%, the French oil company had 6% and the independent American companies had 5% of stocks. The consortium signed an agreement with Iran, under which the consortium had the right to produce and export the Iranian oil for 25 years. The net income was divided between Iran and the Consortium under the 50% to 50%.
Despite the discrimination against Iran's interests, however, Iran's revenues increased significantly, especially after 1960, when OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) was formed and after the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war of 1966-1967 and 1972-1973. Destabilization of the Middle East led to significant increases in oil prices. Shah, his family and the royal court were the first to receive greater benefits from oil revenues. The boundary between the Shah and the state was gradually erased. National Iranian Oil Company secretly and permanently transferred some part of oil revenues on the personal account of the Shah. In 1958, the shah created the Pahlavi Foundation, whose fortune in 1950-1970 was estimated at 3 billion riyals. The work of the Foundation was to manage the royal programs, to pay the current expenses and to provide various privileges to the members of the royal family. The Foundation also controlled a great part of the key economic sectors such as agriculture, housing, building materials, insurance service, hotels, transport, food production and publishing industry.
Shah's family consisted of 63 sons and daughters, cousins, aunts of Shah’s wife and their children. The total wealth of the family was from 5 to 20 billion dollars, which was accumulated due to agricultural and industrial companies and other enterprises of Iran. A special fund was designed to bribe high-ranking officials, and such practice was the part of the economic basis of the Shah's power and strengthened the loyalty to the regime and the king personally of these individuals and family members.
Another basis for the Shah's power was the state machine of repression; the most important structural elements of this machine were the security services and armed forces. 25-40% of the state budget was spent on the military during 1950-1970. The main task of the army in those years was to support the ambitious claims of the king in the Middle East, the Gulf and Asia, and also to neutralize the internal enemies.
Neutralization of the disloyal to the regime inside the country and total control over the society was the responsibility of SAVAK (National Intelligence and Security Organization). The State also remained the structure of exposure, however, possessing lesser power of compulsion. Shah himself was not inclined to transfer powers and tried to make his own decision on all major and many minor issues, even if he didn’t have the necessary information to take a decision.
Majlis and the political parties were part of the apparatus that was ensuring the legitimacy of the state. After the coup of 19 August 1953 the political parties that operated during the reign of Mosaddegh were banned and the strictest censorship was introduced. Later, at the end of 1950 two political parties loyal to the Shah were created; they were the People's Party, headed by the Interior Minister Amir Asadullah Ilm and the Million Party (National Party) that was headed by the Prime Minister Manouchehr Iqbal.
In 1963 two-party system almost gave way to a one-party system since the National Party was reorganized and was named the "Party of the New Iran". It was headed by the Prime Minister Hassan Ali Mansour, then its leadership passed to the new Prime Minister Amir Abbas Huvaydo, and the so-called opposition front did not even bother to dispute the election results. In 1961 the Shah in his book "In the Service of the Fatherland" wrote: "If I had been a dictator instead of a constitutional monarch, perhaps, I would have yielded to the temptation to create a single universal party like the party, created by Hitler or the parties that operate today in communist countries."
When in 1975 one-party system was created, it completely violated articles of the Basic Law. The Prime Minister Amir Abbas Huvaydo created the "National Revival Party of Iran" (NRPI) and all "loyal Iranians" were instructed from above to enter this party.
Some of the founders of the party claimed that it was created as an independent from government and during the election in 1975 the Party proposed several candidates. In their view, the voters freely gave their votes for any particular person, which resulted in greater participation of voters in the election. However, the "National Revival Party" was under the control of its predecessor - the "Party of the New Iran". It didn’t go unnoticed. Ayatollah Khomeini being in Iraq asked Muslims not to enter the "National Revival Party of Iran". In 1976 only 2-4% of university students became members of this party. Thus, NRPI almost entered upon the path of the protection of the interests of the ruling elite.
In 1960 the Shah and his American advisers came to the conclusion that Iran's position required the implementation of land reform. For these purposes, a project, which included the division of large land areas, was prepared. Dissatisfaction of the large landowners, whose representatives were in the parliament, and also the higher clergy, headed by Ayatollah Barudzherdy in Qom, led to numerous changes and additions in the project of the land reform. In 1960 land reform program was approved in the Parliament, but, according to some researchers, it went through such revision that it almost lost its meaning.
With the adoption of this program, a traditional peasant agriculture, which existed in Iran for centuries or even millennia, gave way to capitalist agriculture. The influence of capitalist relations on agriculture, on social structure of village and on peasant land was tangible, and it had mostly negative character. The main consequence of the land reform program was that the power of a landowner in the village was replaced by public authority. Peasant discontent in 60-70s had a steady trend of growth that, ultimately, was the indicator of the failure of the regime's policy in implementing its goals in the village which were expressed in the creation of sustainable support of the regime in the countryside.
Standard of living in cities was better than in rural areas, but most residents faced some difficulties because of the inequitable distribution of income, inflation and other problems. Of course, there were other opinions on the impact of the land reform program. For example, an Iranian researcher Ibrahimiyan was convinced that "the modernization of the economy mainly caused the growth of the middle class in the society." Another researcher Favran John stated that the number of illiterate people in Iran was 13 million in 1963 and increased to 15 million in 1977, and the percentage of illiteracy in Iran was higher than in India.
Analysis of socio-political and economic situation of this period showed that women's participation as an independent social group did not exist. According to Favrana, women in that period did not constitute a single social group; they could only be seen as a mixed group. By the mixed social group the scientist meant the social community, whose members occupied a social position (e.g. clergy), they were engaged in one industry (the intelligentsia and the lower urban classes), or represented both (women and religious minorities).
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah women as a result of new reforms achieved significant success. They got the opportunity to participate in public life. On the basis of family law in 1967 women achieved their legitimate rights in marriage and work. There was some progress in promoting women's education, which had a serious obstacle: traditional religious prohibitions and requirements. With the development of school and university education, the female population started studying more actively, which had a positive impact on all aspects of their lives. In 1964, 1,200 female students graduated from the Iran's universities and in 1974 – there were 4500 female students. The number of women with higher education grew from 5,000 in 1966 to 47,000 in 1977. Women made 100% of the teachers of kindergartens, 54% of primary school teachers and 30% of secondary school teachers.
On the one hand, the number of people who began to receive education increased. In 1976, the literacy rate of women was 35,7 %. In the 1970's women were present at all levels of the educational system and had many specialties. But the model of gender inequality didn’t change. You can compare the above data with the data relating to male literacy rate which in 1976 reached 74.7% but 90% of them had economically active lifestyle. Opportunities for women in higher education were also worse than for men. In 1976, only 30% of all university students were women.
In September 1962 the Government approved the bill on elections of deputies to provincial and local councils, where female suffrage was provided. As for the opposition of religious and secular circles to this law, then regardless of their arguments, it should be recognized that the basis for this protest could be found in the authoritarian nature of the Shah's regime. The opponents claimed that when much of the society, particularly men, were deprived of a true right to choose, and the elections were just a show, granting suffrage to women was just a cunning ploy in order to expose the regime in a democratic light. Katuziyan calls the 15-year period from 1963 to 1978 as the era of "semi-modernistic despotism based on oil." The Shah's modernization differed from the similar processes in other third world countries that achieved significant progress (South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc.) in the fact that the governments of these countries acted in accordance with the requirements of this modernization. Even more important was the fact that these governments were not exposed to such a comprehensive corruption existing under the regime of Pahlavi.
Shah’s policy was officially characterized as a movement toward the "great civilization" or in anticipation of the establishment of such civilization. But if to express all this in one word, it would be an absolute "Westernization."

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