|Icon of democracy
51st anniversary of Mossadegh's election as prime minister
By Hamid Akbari
June 5, 2002
In the minds of a majority of Iranians, the late Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh is a shinning
icon of independence, democracy, patriotism and the rule of law. While Iranians,
like most other nations, have their own differences on the ideal types and examples
of social and political leaders, a solid majority of them seem to have developed
a consensus on the high and meritorious standing of Mossadegh as a democratic and
Indeed, the memory of Mossadegh, as an exemplary leader, is not only cherished by
Iranians, but also by a large number of people in the Middle East and other third
world countries. To Iranians, the hopes and ideals embodied by Mossadegh resemble
those represented by leaders such as India's Mahatma Gandhi (Mossadegh's contemporary),
South Africa's Nelson Mandela, and the United States' Thomas Jefferson and Martin
While the epitome of Mossadegh's political career was his 27 months (May 1951- August
1953) of service as Iran's democratically elected prime minister, it is his lifelong
struggle for independence and democracy that bestows a venerable and unique historical
stature upon him.
Born into a princely family on May 20, 1882, Mossadegh
held his first governmental post as the Chief of Financial Affairs of Khorrasan province
at the age of fifteen. Ten years later, he was elected from the province of Isfahan
to Iran's Parliament, only to be denied in serving his constituency because of his
young age! In 1913, he completed his doctorate in law in Switzerland.
From 1913 to 1921, in addition to writing a few short books on various laws, he served
in many governmental posts, including Governor of Fars and Azarbaijan Provinces,
Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance and Justice in the cabinets of several Prime-Ministers,
and Member of Parliament elected from Iran's capital, Tehran.
From 1925 to 1945, Mossadegh engaged in, first an active and later a silent, opposition
to the dictatorial rule of Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty who acceded
to the throne in 1926. For his opposition activities, he was banished to his home
in Ahmad-Abad village for fourteen years and was briefly imprisoned in 1940 at Birjand
After the allies' invasion of Iran in 1941 and Reza Shah's forced abdication of the
crown, Mossadegh's restrictions were removed. Two years later, he was elected to
the Parliament from Tehran, receiving the largest number of votes. Soon after, he
intensified his campaign against the foreign influence and domination of Iran's internal
affairs and championed the call for free parliamentary elections.
From the mid 1940s until his premier-ship in 1953, he was particularly keen on opposing
and banning any new oil drilling rights granted to foreign governments, especially
the Soviet Union, who was intent on obtaining oil privileges in Northern Iran, similar
to the ones already enjoyed by the British in Southern Iran since the turn of the
Meanwhile, supported by an immense popular demand and sentiment, he was actively
working with his allies, who later organized into the National Front, to nationalize
Iranian oil and to end five decades of British exploitation of Iran's vast and vital
oil resources and its nearly hundred fifty years of undue meddling in Iranian internal
On March 20, 1951, he succeeded in his oil nationalization campaign, and upon assuming
his premier-ship, he pursued its implementation. Based on all documented accounts,
on May 2nd, 1951, Mossadegh became the most popularly elected prime minister in Iran's
history. In June of that same year, Mossadegh implemented the oil nationalization
law and removed the control of the Abadan oil installations from the hands of the
Anglo-Iranian oil company and transferred its management to Iranian nationals.
Mossadegh's determination in the pursuit of the nationalization
law, which was the overwhelming demand of the Iranian public, triggered an unreasonably
strong reaction and threat of force from the British government. The British government
basically demanded the annulment of the nationalization law and a return to the lopsided
pre-nationalization arrangements, which favored British interests, except for minimally
increasing Iran's share of revenue.
Whereas the nationalization law required Iran's control and management of its own
oil, the British demanded to retain both! Mossadegh, an internationally trained
lawyer, and his government, abiding by Iran's and international laws, engaged in
a domestic and international defense of Iran's legally sound and morally righteous
Some of Mossadegh's activities in this regard were: Active and ongoing consultation
with the administrations of Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, as mediating
parties, mainly through the United States ambassadors to Iran, Mr. Henry Grady and
Mr. Loy Henderson.
A trip to the United States in the Fall of 1951 for forty five days, during which
he effectively defended Iran's position at the United Nations Security Council and
met with President Truman in Washington. In person defense of Iran's position at
The Hauge's International Court in June 1952. In July of that same year, the Hague
Court decided the case in the favor of Iran and against Great Britain, granting Iran
its sovereign right to nationalize its oil.
Mossadegh's just and popular struggle brought him international fame, including his
selection as Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1951. However, the Time
article, while acknowledging some of Mossadegh's qualities of leadership, misrepresented
him as a leftist, xenophobic nationalist and chaos-promoter.
Indeed, Mossadegh is as example of an unfortunate case of a democratic man who was
relentlessly demonized by the British and Western media and their governments up
until the military coup, which was jointly organized by the CIA and the British Secret
Service and which led to his downfall on August 19, 1953.
A peaceful man, Mossadegh, while having the requisite power over certain army divisions,
in order to prevent widespread bloodshed, refrained from ordering the army to his
defense. A few days later, Mossadegh turned himself in to the military regime and
was later tried in an unjust military court, in which he, in a moral victory, prosecuted
and convicted both the domestic agents of the coup and their foreign backers and
defended the right of Iranians to full sovereignty.
Mossadegh was imprisoned for three years and then was placed under strict house arrest
in his hometown village of Ahmad-Abad for the rest of his life. He died on March
5th, 1967 and was buried inside his house. Since his death, his house has become
a shrine for political soul searching for most Iranians.
Forty-eight years after his downfall and thirty four years after his death, Mossadegh's
legacy of the right to national sovereignty and democracy is increasing and widening
in Iran's public discourse and social consciousness.
In Iran today, he is undoubtedly the most popular politician.
It is no exaggeration, that even as a dead man, Mossadegh would most likely receive
more votes than any other living politician if there were fair elections held in
Iran today! Internationally, the false propaganda against him has been significantly
The truth of his downfall by foreign forces has long been exposed by various scholars
in the West. In February 2000, Ms. Madeline Albright, the United States Secretary
of State, in an historic address acknowledged the strategic mistake by the United
States administration in 1953 in overthrowing Mossadegh.
For most Iranians and Iranian-Americans, Mossadegh's memory and legacy remains a
strong source of pride in their heritage and identity. Mossadegh embodies the best
hopes and ideals of most Iranians as a principled, well educated, peaceful, law abiding,
modern, patriotic and democratic man. He was and remains the honor of Iran.
Hamid Akbari is associate professor of management and organization and chair of
Department of Management and Marketing at Northeastern Illinois University.