THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: How Would You Evaluate Iran's Democracy Index in 1953 ?


THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: How Would You Evaluate Iran's Democracy Index in 1953 ?
by Darius Kadivar

"The Past is a Foreign Country, They Do Things Differently There" - L.P. Hartley (The Go Between)

Maziar Bahari's Very interesting Documentary on Mossadegh as well as Jahanshah's challenging Question about our genuine knowledge of History prompted me to offer an alternative constitutionalist perspective and further interrogations as to our genuine understanding of our nation's democratic experience eversince the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 and specifically at the time of the 1953 Crisis.

Bahari's documentary is very interesting but leaves out many details it prefers to ignore and as such raises more questions than it answers.

It is very accurate in Chronological terms but overlooks many aspects of the Iranian Regime prior to Mossadegh's Premiership. The Knowledge of which in my humble opinion is essential to understand why Mossadegh's political behavior doomed him in advance and once again explains much of his miscalculations and Political adventurism which jeapordized an Already Fragile Democracy barely in it's Premise.

Notably the fact that far from being an Ideal Democracy, Iran was very much inflicted by Instabilty and Violence throughout the 12 years during which the Shah reigned but did not rule (Very much like in many Western European Constitutional Monarchies). 

For instance Prime Minister General Razmara who was Assassinated ( He was the second of the Shah's Prime Ministers to be assassinated, the first was Abdolhossein Hazhir  see Below ) 

The man Mr. Rashidian calls a "Pedar Sookhteh" (and whom Sam Fall equally unfairly calls "Tarsoo") was actually himself subject to several assassination attempts which failed and during which the Shah displayed physical and moral courage in the face of adversity:

Mohamad Reza Shah Pahlavi in hospital recovering from an assassination attempt by a Tudeh Communist Party member (1949)

Yet despite these regular threats on his life the Shah remained in the country and assumed his responsabilities both on a national and International Scale limited to Representational Functions:

Shah of Iran at the United Nations 1948:

A 'coward' would have taken the easy road and run away given the immense challenges. As such it is unjust and reductive to reduce the Shah's personality to that of an irresponsible coward.     

Indeed contrary to popular belief, I am convinced of the contrary.

The Shah's deemed 'weakness', if any, was not of 'character' but of 'leadership' due to being put to power from a position of 'weakness" and not strength. It is very important to understand this distinction if we want to analyze his rule and the challenges he faced as a head of state. As such I believe that the Shah's image as a 'head of state' and legitimate King ( which he was by all accounts given that according to the Constitution of the land he inherited the job LEGALLY upon his father's forced departure) naturally suffered in the public eye for not having succeeded to his father 'naturally' upon his death but instead upon his forced abdication under the dictate of foreign Allied Forces occupying Ira during WWII.  

As such not only did he have no other choice but to compromise with an unfortunate situation: That of seeing his country humiliatingly occupied by Invading Forces ( i.e: Russians and the British) during WWII. In addition he had to fill in the vacuum left by his Strong willed and Charismatic father in a land Ruled by Absolute Monarchs for Centuries.

As if Not humiliating a situation enough, the young Monarch had to also cope with an Administration largely dominated by former Qajar Aristocrats and Statesmen who understood the mechanism's of Power in the country but who also viewed his rule and young dynasty as illegitimate.

How else could a 20 year old man upon whose shoulders the destiny of a nation is supposed to depend on, take upon himself entirely and decide what should be done or not done without weighing the consenquences of his actions ? 

The Shah's behavior Prior to Mossadegh's Premiership and even during the latter's Premiership does not appear to me as that of an Irresponsible Man ... Far from that ...

Former Diplomat Parviz Rajji, and Historians Mashadollah Ajoudani and Abbas Milani on the Shah's role in the Coup of 1953:

( NOTE: Also See Related BBC Interview of Mashadollah Ajoudani on the Iranian Intellegenstia and the Coup of 53 Here )

However what does seem clear is the fact that Iranian Society was hardly prepared for Democracy and that Mossadegh's Adventurism brought the already fragile democratic institutions to their knees by creating a situation of total chaos and social anarchy ( with the help of the Mullahs and the Left Tudeh) over which he himself had no real control.

Just to give an idea of how unstable Mohamed Reza Shah's first 12 years of more or less democratic rule was, one simply has to look at the Number of Prime Ministers who took office ( often several times the same) during this period of time:

To Read In Chronologically Reverse Order:

Mohamed Mossadegh: Second Term in Office (21 July 1952 – 19 August 1953)

Ahmad Gavam: Third Term in Office under MRP Rule (17 July 1952 – 22 July 1952)

Mohamed Mossadegh: First Term In Office (28 April 1951 – 16 July 1952)

Hossein Ala' : In Office (12 March 1951 – 30 April 1951)

Haj Ali Razmara (Assassinated) : in Office (26 June 1950 – 7 March 1951)

Ali Mansur : In Office (23 March 1950 – 26 June 1950)

Mohammad Sa'ed : Second In Office ( November 1948 – 23 March 1950)

Abdolhossein Hazhir (Assassinated): In Office (13 June 1948 – 9 November 1948)

Ebrahim Hakimi: Third Term In Office (29 December 1947 – 13 June 1948)

Mohammad-Reza Hekmat :Term in Office (18 December 1947 – 29 December 1947)

Ahmad Gavam: Second Term in Office under MRP Rule (28 January 1946 – 18 December 1947)

Ebrahim Hakimi: Second Term in Office (30 October 1945 – 28 January 1946)

Mohsen Sadr : Term in Office (6 June 1945 – 30 October 1945)

Ebrahim Hakimi: First Term in Office (13 May 1945 – 6 June 1945)

Morteza-Qoli Bayat : Term in Office (25 November 1944 – 13 May 1945)

Mohammad Sa'ed : First Term in Office (6 April 1944 – 25 November 1944)

Ali Soheili : Second Term in Office (15 February 1943 – 6 April 1944)

Ahmad Gavam: First Term in Office under MRP Rule (9 August 1942 – 15 February 1943)

Ali Soheili : First Term in Office (9 March 1942 – 9 August 1942)

Mohammad-Ali Foroughi : Term in Office (27 August 1941 – 9 March 1942)


Making it look more like that of the very Unstable 4th Republic in France after WWII (where the President had merely a symbolic role but where the Prime Ministers chased one another in and out of office in very short periods) prior to Charles De Gaulle's Presidency where he redrafted the V Constitution in 1953 ( the year of the Coup in Iran by the way) giving the head of State stronger powers. De Gaulle actually denounced the 4th Republic as a System crippled by the vast numbers of Political parties which prevented the nation and it's successive governments from implementing their policies for which they were supposed to be elected. The President under the 5th Republic's Constitution which prevails to this day in France is often compared to an 'Elected Monarch'. For he enjoys all the prerogatives that an absolute Monarch could enjoy but only during his term in office ( Including head of the Armed forces and the right to dissolve the Parliament which cannot be done by the Prime Minister). 

So now try and imagine a country like Iran in the same situation with a far shorter history of democratic rule having to cope with such an instability ... 

In Such Conditions How Can ANYONE Possiblly Claim that when Mossadegh was so called Democratically Elected that he was Running a STABLE DEMOCRACY ?

Who can therefore claim that Iranian Society had experienced Democracy to the Fullest ? merely because Mossadegh had allowed freedom of Press during his Premiership ? All the more that in a country where Democracy was not fully experienced allowing Freedom of Expression as Mossadegh did was more of a political tool to controle his constituency through "populism" and not necessarily through a genuine political discourse as one would expect in a genuine democratic society, where despite a Free Press, laws are not voted by the mob in the Streets but by the elected representatives. 

Just for the anecdote I did the Maths in regard to our Constitutional History during which time we can consider that we were experiencing some kind of more or less Full Democracy in our Country which prior to the Constitutional Movement had been run by Absolute Rule for the past 25 Centuries albeit under different dynasties:

1) At the time of the Coup Iran's Constitution was barely 50 years old ( 47 years to be exact).

2) Muzzeferedin Shah was to first monarch to accept the drafted constitution shortly before dying (40 days to be exact).

3) Muzzaferedin Shah's Son Muhamad Ali Shah doesn't really count for he bombarded the Majlis and was never a democratic ruler to begin with since he pushed the country into a civil war and then died in exile.

4) Ahmad Shah Qajar on the otherhand respected the Constitution during his Reign before being Toppled ... which makes 9 years in all.

5) Reza Khan overlooked the Constitution entirely after deposing the Qajars but implemented most of the Constitutionalist's Secular ideals and put Iran on the Road of Modernity if not democracy.

6) Muhamed Reza Shah reigned but did not rule for 12 years which makes him the Only King in Iran's Entire History to have Reigned for the longest Period of Time and Not Ruled according to More or Less Fully Democratic Standards worthy of any Parliametary Democracy in Western Europe at the time.

So that makes in all 40 days under Muzzaferedin Shah, 9 years under Ahmad Shah Qajar and 12 Years under Mohamed Reza Shah which amounts to more or less 21 years and 40 days of democratic practice in Iran according to the Only Democratic Draft we Ever had in our Country and that is the 1906 Constitution.

Conclusion: At Best Iran experienced 21 years and 40 days of democratic practice in all by the time of the Coup of 1953 when the Constitution was barely 47 years old.

So Given this fact and above Figures How Can One Seriously Claim that Mossadegh alone during his two Terms in Office Turned Iran into a Perfect Democracy Overnight ? ...

Recommended Reading:

The Democracy Index is an index compiled by The Economist examining the state of democracy in 167 countries, attempting to quantify this with an Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy which focused on five general categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. According to Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2008 Sweden scored a total of 9.88 on a scale from zero to ten, which was the highest result, while North Korea scored the lowest with 0.86. The countries are categorized into "Full Democracies", "Flawed Democracies", "Hybrid Regimes" (all considered democracies), and "Authoritarian Regimes" (considered dictatorial. See Here

Recommended Watchings:

YES, PRIME MINISTER: A Step By Step Guide To Mossadegh's Premiership and the Coup of '53 ...


GALLOWAY's REPUBLIC: George Galloway on the Decline of the British Monarchy

Related Blogs:

Maziar Bahari's documentary on Mossadegh by Shifteh Ansari

What do you know about history? by Jahanshah Javid

HISTORY FORUM:The Monarchy with David Starkey (Cambridge University)

HISTORY FORUM: How Truly Democratic is The British Monarchy ?


more from Darius Kadivar

Path to democracy

by hirre on

The beginning of a democracy is always ugly since it replaces a more worse system... If foreign powers hadn't been involved, we would have a democracy now...

Mossadegh was the only person who managed to tie the nation before it collapsed. He worked with Ayatollah Kashani who controlled the religious forces and also got the support from the Tudeh party, even though he did not accept communism. Because the game was about oil the west put many labels on Mossadegh and finally the power was taken by the shah...

The point is that a democratical system has to unify the nation, what we had back then was a good representation of the people, it was the best starting point we could ever have in our modern history. When it got destroyed the foundation could not be rebuilt...


Don't worry Farah. More chatter doesn't add anything.

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred

Farah Rusta

Do you always change the question if you don't like the answer?

by Farah Rusta on

Anonymouse dear, I try not to sound condescending nor be impolite but  you play a little naughty game sweetie and frankly I have no time for games here. Your little game goes like this: first I ask a question and if I don't get the answer I am looking for then I change the initial question and supply my own pre fabricated answer regardless! Also if there is a bit of history that I know nothing about or it doesn't suit my little plans, I dismiss it as irrelevant or mouth-filling!!

Well my dear fellow, you may play whatever games that make you feel better but please don't expect others to play along - some may get easily bored. If you want to know why read on.

Your Q & A game had a serious logical flaw in it. You first asked: "what Shah would've done if there were never any Mossadegh?" Despite being a hypothetical and a historically flawed question, you get a hypothetical answer back which you don't like. So you change the original question and give it your own pre-made answer: "Well he got rid of Mossadegh (so there was basically no Mossadegh to begin with)"!!!

Sorry darling but logically speaking it is incorrect. You can't have it both ways. If there has never been a Mossadegh, then you can't change your premise and say: well, this is the same as if there was a Mossadegh and he was gotten rid off which is the same as if he was not there in the first place!!

A state transition has taken place and we have transferred from having a Mossadegh to having no Mossadegh (thankfully). This transition, as inevitable as it was, cost the nation hugely. A cost that if he did not exist at all, would not have to be paid. Sorry that you don't like the answer and you may give your own hypothetical answer to the same question but don't change your assumptions mid-way and drawn your own (falwed, I am afraid) conclusions. 

And sorry to see you don't like history's mouth-filling names. Allahyar Saleh and Hossein Makki's names are no more mouth filling than Mohammad Mossadegh's (or Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, if your will).  Is your problem with the names o are you reluctant to look up the source and see for yourself (because I am not going to do your home work for your dear). But if your problem is with the names, i can make it easy for your. How about taling about. Mo Moss, Al Sal,  Hos Ma and Mo Rez? All they cool enough for your dear? :))

Next time I being something from Chomsky, Abrahamian or even the BBC Persian-engineered video created by its Tudehi producers and their new pay masters to make you and MM happy.

But for this you have to wait because  I am bored and this was my last comment on this blog.  

Now you guys may moan behind my back for as much or for as long as you desire! 



Darius Kadivar

Oh But Q I am Fully and Sincerely Sharmandeh...

by Darius Kadivar on

Particularly For All the Collateral Damages done to Your Republic ...





"stable" = blaming the victim

by Q on

It's the oldest colonialist trick in the book.

Spend $Millions, hire thugs to kill, maim and assassinate with help of CIA agents (at times pretending to be communist), and then turn around and say "Hey this is not stable!". "So much instability and violence!"

It's exactly what is happening today. Work to unjustly deprive Iranians of international trade and do everything you can to hurt the economy, and then turn around and criticize jobs, economy and industry, and compare Iran to countries that have no military and economic pressure from superpowers.

Shame on you Kadivar.


Farah you like the questions but telegraph the answers!

by Anonymouse on

Not that there is anything wrong with it!

On the "Mossadegh" article (in Farsi elsewhere) I asked (you) a similar question about what Shah would've done if there were never any Mossadegh and you answered:

You are asking a hypothetical question but let me tell you what my best guessed answer would be: If there was no Mosaddegh, Mohammad Reza Shah would have proceeded to be one of the most democratic monarchs around. Mosaddegh showed him that even when a leader (Mosaddegh) is popular with the masses and is supposed to be democratically elected (another myth) he could abuse his powers and go against the very constitution to which he was sworn in to remain faithful.

Well he got rid of Mossadegh (so there was basically no Mossadegh to begin with) and he ended up being one of the most un-democratic Monarch's "around" (in the Middle East)! His style of dictatorship was the standard to be followed! And the Arab Monarchs who remained after him followed in his footsteps and I don't know which of them you'd consider the most democratic "around" now.  But don't answer that :-)

Here I ask about the one stubborness and after again stating some mouth filling names such as  "Allahyar Saleh" and "memoirs of Hossein Makki" you conclude that Mossadegh failed to reach a win-win agreement with the oil puchasing governments.

Well geez 60 years later it is clear who is the bigger Government coming out of colonialist British and the new world USA but at the time Mossadegh had to smell his palm to walk the fine line and split Iran's oil "50/50" between the oil purchasing "governments"!  Ingenius!

Bold fonts by me.

Everything is sacred


I never claimed him as Gandhi - Iranians will choose

by MM on

Under the set of parameters I stated, Iran could operate as a secular democratic Monarchy, jomhoori, or a Federalist society.  It will be up to the people of Iran, as RP has said so as well. 

I never claimed Mosaddegh as Gandhi.  However, the similarity between Mosaddegh and Gandhi is that they both wanted an independent country, free of the sphere of influence of the Brits.  What we saw in the video documentaries was that the Iranian oil money was being plundered by the Brits and secondly, especially Khoozestan was basically under British rule where anything built had to be approved by the Brits.  And finally, the Brits were deathly affraid that "the idea" of one country's wealth belonging to that country would spread to other countries that the Brits were sucking dry.

Farah Rusta

"what was his one main stubborness ....

by Farah Rusta on

...  that  doomed him and us in the process?  "

 Good question Anonymouse. The man himself gave the answer to your question when, at the peak of the post-nationalization embargo, an adviser put to him:

"a face-saving solution to this deadlock would be for you (Mossadegh) to step down from your position as prime minister and allow one of your closest allies (like Allahyar Saleh) to take over and reach a win-win agreement with the oil puchasing governments. This way, you don't lose face and the country is saved from an imminent bancruptsy" Mossadegh replied: "Are you suggesting that someone else should take all the credit for my achievement?" and refused to accept the advice. (memoirs of Hossein Makki).

So the personal interests overrided the national interests!


Happy now?



Why do some call him Iran's Gandi? They were both bald!

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred

Darius Kadivar

Partly Agreed MM but Then Why Do Some Call him Iran's Ghandi ?

by Darius Kadivar on

I partially agree with most of your assessments and Democratic Demans but have explained previously why your Propostion number 3) is Not acceptable From a Constitutionalist Point of View for Semantic Reasons ( and Not the Democratic Principles it sustains and to which I agree with in principle) which have a Direct Implication on the nature of the Future Democratic State. I believe I have explained this to you previously so I won't repeat it here except by reminding you that in a Constitutional Monarchy the Citizen is a "Subject" of the Monarch as opposed to a Republic where he is merely a "citizen". Now if that is to be ultimate choice of the People, I mean a Republic, then I will Respect it but Don't expect me to define the Monarchy as something it is Not and cannot be ... which does not mean that it is not or cannot be democratic. It merely is Not an Egalitarian System, and never claimed to be.

As such the Following Principle is AMERICAN Par Excellence and is Unique to your Federalist conception of the State:

3. Government of the People, By the People and For the People.

Please Take into account that I'm not claiming that I am right and you are wrong.

I am simply claiming that is what a Constitutionalist conceives the citizen status to be in a monarchy. In Great Britain and all other European Monarchies Item 3) as you have submitted it is simply an Oxymoron.

(NOTE : Again That does not mean I don't share nor respect the principle, which is noble in itself. I simply do not share the political implementation because it is at Odds with Constitutionalist definition of the State and government structure per se)

But anyway here we are not talking or debating about the Future form of the Democratic Government but about the Past and how we understand it. And as Such I don't think that the purpose of this blog was to be disrespectful to Mossadegh or dismiss his achievements.

It does however question the PAST in it's own right, based on the same FACTS, since it is aimed as a response to the reading of that past in Maziar Baharani's documentary ...

On a side note:

Ghandi ( Also a Lawyer) was a man of Compromise and More importantly he understood the British Mentality.

The Result was that the British Left India without Shooting a Bullit and gave them the independance they seeked thanks to Ghandi's Wisdom and Diplomatic approach.

Where as Mossadegh (who was French Educated) clearly did not !

In addition Contrary to India, Iran was NOT a British Colony all the more that despite the fact that Mossadegh had the opportunity to cut a 50-50 deal (under the auspices of the Americans with British Petroleum) he stubbornly refused it.

Result :

INDIA is a DEMOCRACY since 1948 ... ( And given it's own former Colony Status is part of the Commonwealth)

IRAN which was never a Colony IS A DICTATORSHIP since 1953 and Specifically a THEOCRACY Since 1979 ...


And we are Still paying for it ...








DK - none of us were there

by MM on

and our opinions are crafted by examining historical documents (some biased and some un-biased) as well as oral story-telling by friends/relatives.  What I gather is Mosaddegh allowed other parties to operate, the press was more or less free to print what they wanted and he did not want Iran's oil to be plundered by the British, i.e., he was a nationalistic Iranian. 

Now, maybe Mosaddegh's mistake was not to compromise when Harriman came to see him, maybe he had too much OCD and may be he was not brutal to get the services of Sha'bans of the time or apple-polish the Ayatollahs, but the fact that has come out of CIA documents / the BBC special is that while all CIA agents respected him, the Brits did not want Mosaddegh's ideas to spread to other countries that Britain was plundering.  Therego 28th of Mordad 1953.

Instead of bad-mouthing the past, especially Mosaddegh, we can create an environment where there is free press, all parties can operate in Iran and the true representatives of the Iranian society can rule under the following parameters

1. Territorial Integrity, Independence and Sovereignty of Iran.

2. Respect for independence and integrity of other countries and promoting peace with all nations and countries.

3. Government of the People, By the People and For the People.

4. Three Independent Branches of Executive, Legislative and Judiciary of the government with limited terms and full accountability and transparency.

5. No Official Religions and ideologies.

6. Full separation of Religion and State at all government levels without any exceptions.

7. Exclusion of clergy, religious groups, parties and organizations from government, an initial moratorium.

8. Freedom of Expression, Information, Religions, Beliefs, Media and Assembly.

9. Equal social and legal rights and opportunity for all Iranians.

10. Gender Equality without any exceptions.

11. Presumption of innocence until proven guilty. No political prisoners and prisoners of conscious.

12. Full guarantee and legal protection of all human, political, ethnic, economic, social, religious and cultural rights within the scopes of the constitution.

13. Conservation and improvement of environment.


Collective understanding of democracy = what is or what can be?

by Anonymouse on

I think the notion of democracy is simple, freedom and rule of law with justice.  Often with various political views we set limit on Iran and what it can have.

We often say since Iran is a religious country it can't have this or that.  Or that we want a better democracy than what is generally accepted in the West.  Or what we see in Iran is a true implementation of Islam.

None of these should be the reason we can't have democracy.  We can and some day we will.  Maybe not in our lifetime but for future generations when some things are cleansed by passage of time. 

In my opinion having a Republic is a first step.  If nothing else Iranians know that they can vote and their vote should decide who runs the Govt and once they realized their votes were stolen and no accountability given they went crazy.

I understand this blog isn't about Mossadegh but in all cases some (not you) try to just say something to antagonize others.  Nothing will be generally accepted if there is plenty of room for interpretation. 

Everything is sacred


Stubborness or Determination?

by Anonymouse on

DK jaan nationalization of oil is a big feat not a small item to be set aside.  Especially as you mentioned (and I didn't know or pay attention) in the chaotic years after WWII.  20 Prime ministers in 12 years!

Don't you think even if his only accomplishment and credit is nationalizing the oil that in and of itself deserves the attention and not the other stuff?

How many things a powerful figure can do alone?  I don't know what is written on his tombstone but mentioning he was the one who nationalized the oil when British colonialists had total control of most of world's oil supplies would be very prudent.

I don't know if stubborness is something unique to Iranians.  Have you been following the American politics?  Do you see Republicans and Democrats agree on something? 

I've also noticed (during these debates) that there are no street names named after Mossadegh.  Lastly, what was his one main stubborness that you can mention that as you say doomed him and us in the process? 

Everything is sacred

Darius Kadivar

That Said this Blog isn't truly about Mossadegh or the Shah

by Darius Kadivar on

But about Our Collective Understanding of Democracy and how it operates or should Operate in our country.

Personally I still haven't found the answer to that question ... but I look forward to your and other people's Answers.

Darius Kadivar

His Stubborness ...

by Darius Kadivar on

Which When put to good use Led to the Nationalization of Iran's Oil but When Put to Bad Use Doomed us all including himself ...

But then he is not alone in sharing that characteristic ...

I think that is a National Syndrom shared by many of us to this day regardless of which Political Group or ideology we belong to.


DK jaan what credit(s) would you give to Mossadegh?

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred