Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

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محمدرضا شاه پهلوی

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi

Shah of Iran
Mohammad Pahlavi Coronation.jpg
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi and his wife, Empress Farah.
Reign September 26, 1941 – February 11, 1979
Born October 26, 1919
Tehran, Iran (Persia)
Died July 27, 1980
Cairo, Egypt
Predecessor Reza Shah
Heir-Apparent Reza Pahlavi
Successor Monarchy Abolished, Islamic Republic declared
Consort Fawzia bint Fuad (1941–1948)
Soraya Esfandiary (1951–1958)
Farah Diba (1959–1980)
Issue Shahnaz Pahlavi, Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, Farahnaz Pahlavi, Ali Reza Pahlavi II, Leila Pahlavi
Royal House Pahlavi
Father Reza Shah
Mother Tadj ol-Molouk

Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran (Persian language: محمدرضا شاه پهلوی) (October 26, 1919 – July 27, 1980), styled His Imperial Majesty and holding the imperial titles of Shahanshah (translated as King of Kings), and Aryamehr (sun of the Aryans), was the monarch of Iran from September 16, 1941, until the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979. He was the second monarch of the Pahlavi House and the last Shah of the Iranian monarchy. In 1953, he went briefly into exile until the elected government of Iran was overthrown in a British-United States assisted coup d'état. With the support of these allies, he was returned to power. Although he continued the modernization of Iran began by his predecessors and introduced such reforms as women's suffrage and even redistributed land to help small farmers, he became increasingly despotic and authoritarian. Opposition was crushed through the agency of his secret police. Religious scholars were dismissed from their teaching and juridical posts, replaced by secular officials. From 1975, he ruled through a single party maintaining only the veneer of democracy. Much of the opposition to the Shah came from the Soviet Union supported Tudeh Party, which made Iran a theater for Cold War intrigue. The Western allies supported the Shah because of his pro-Western policies and because Iran was a major supplier of oil.

It was lack of his regime's religious legitimacy in the eyes of many Iranians that led, in 1979, to his overthrow and exile. Two and a half thousand years of monarchy ended, replaced by the Islamic Republic under the guidance of the "just jurist." Since the beginning of the twentieth century, many Iranians had yearned for greater democracy. Had the last Shah earned the love and respect of his people, had he had found a way to work with the religious leaders not against them, had he had allowed greater freedom, the monarchy may have continued into the next millennium. In the end, it was non-violent popular protest that toppled the Shah. Unfortunately, repression—like violence—too often spirals into yet more repression and the regime that succeeded his used similar tactics to enforce its codes and ideals. It had features of democracy but real power was held by the religious scholars, whose authority is ultimately independent of the formal electoral system. Ideally, the religious and the temporal would be more evenly matched, creating a balance, instead of the latter being subordinate to the former.


Did you know?
During Mohammad Reza Shah's reign, Iran celebrated 2,500 years of continuous monarchy since the founding of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great

Mohammad Reza Shah came to power during World War II after an Anglo-Soviet invasion forced the abdication of his father, Reza Shah. Mohammad Reza Shah's rule oversaw the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry under the prime ministership of Mohammad Mossadegh. During the Shah's reign, Iran celebrated 2,500 years of continuous monarchy since the founding of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great. His White Revolution, a series of economic and social reforms intended to transform Iran into a global power, succeeded in modernizing the nation, nationalizing many natural resources and extending suffrage to women, among other things. However, the decline of the traditional power of the Shi'a clergy, due to the reforms, increased opposition.

While a Muslim himself, the Shah gradually lost support from the Shi'a clergy of Iran, particularly due to his strong policy of modernization and recognition of Israel. Clashes with the religious right, increased communist activity and a 1953 period of political disagreements with Mohammad Mossadegh, eventually leading to Mossadegh's ousting, caused an increasingly autocratic rule. In 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright stated:

In 1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Massadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.[1]

Various controversial policies were enacted, including the banning of the Tudeh Party (which had close relations with the Soviet Union) and a general suppression of political dissent by Iran's intelligence agency, SAVAK. Amnesty International reported that Iran had as many as 2,200 political prisoners in 1978. By 1979, political unrest had transformed into a revolution which, on January 16, forced the Shah to leave Iran after 37 years of rule. Soon thereafter, the revolutionary forces transformed the government into an Islamic republic.


Early life

Born in Tehran to Reza Pahlavi and his second wife, Tadj ol-Molouk, Mohammad Reza was the eldest son of the first Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty, and the third of his eleven children. He was born with a twin sister, Ashraf Pahlavi. However, Mohammad Reza, Ashraf, Ali Reza Pahlavi I, and their older half-sister, Fatemeh, were born as non-royals, as their father did not become Shah until 1925.

On February 21, 1921, Reza Khan together with Seyyed Zia'eddin Tabatabaee staged a successful coup d'état against the reigning Qajar dynasty of Persia. The Qajars' excessive lifestyle had run up debts (mainly to Russia on the one hand, while on the other they had yielded to pressure for popular participation in governance, itself due to ideas imported into Iran from Europe due to his regimes commitment to modernization. Reza Khan and his supporters wanted better management of Iran's financial and less democracy, preferring authoritarian rule. They also wanted less interference from the great powers. Following the 1919 Anglo-Iranian Treaty, Britain's position was so powerful that Iran was in effect "a British protectorate."[2] In the years leading up to [[World War I], "Belgium ran the customs service with the entire revenue used to pay off Iran's external debts." "The Swedes ran the police force," the Banks were "in the hands of the Russians, Britons and Turks." The currency was "printed and issued" by the British, who also "owned the telegraph system."[3] In 1923, the year that the last Qajar Shah moved to France, Reza Khan became Prime Minister. Years later, on December 12, 1925, Reza Khan was declared Shah by the country's National Assembly, the Majlis of Iran. He was crowned in a ceremony on April 25, 1926; at the same time, his son Mohammad Reza was proclaimed Crown Prince of Iran. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi says that his father had never wanted to overthrow the Qajar but repeatedly asked the Shah, Ahmad Shah, to return. When he did not, he claimed the crown for himself arguing that Iran needed a "strong, effective head of state."[4]

As a child, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi attended Institut Le Rosey, a Swiss boarding school, completing his studies there in 1935. Around the same time, his father officially asked the international community to refer to Persia by its internal name, "Iran." Upon Mohammad Reza's return to the country, he enrolled in the local military academy in Tehran; he remained in the academy until 1938.

Early reign

Deposition of his father

During World War II, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son.

In the midst of World War II in 1941, Nazi Germany began Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union, breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This had a major impact on Iran as the country had declared neutrality in the conflict.[5]

During the subsequent military invasion and occupation, the joint Allied and Soviet command forced Reza Shah to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He replaced his father on the throne on September 16, 1941. It was hoped that the younger prince would be more open to influence from the pro-Allied West, which later proved to be the case.

Subsequent to his succession as Shah, Iran became a major conduit for British and, later, American aid to the USSR during the war. This massive supply effort became known as the Persian Corridor.

Oil nationalization and the 1953 coup

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh was named Prime Minister of Iran following the nationalization of Iran's oil industry in 1951.

In the early 1950s, there was a political crisis centered in Iran that commanded the focused attention of British and American intelligence agencies. In 1951, Dr. Mossadegh came to office, committed to re-establishing democracy and constitutional monarchy, and to nationalizing the Iranian petroleum industry, which was controlled by the British. From the start he erroneously believed that the Americans, who had no interest in the Anglo-Iranian Oil company, would support his nationalization plan. He was buoyed by the American Ambassador, Henry Grady. However, during these events, the Americans supported the British, and, fearing that the Communists with the help of the Soviets were poised to overthrow the government, they decided to remove Mossadegh. Shortly before the 1952 presidential election in the U.S., the British government invited Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA to London and proposed they cooperate under the code name “Operation Ajax” to bring down Mossadegh from office.

In 1951, under the leadership of the nationalist movement of Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq, the Iranian parliament unanimously voted to nationalize the oil industry. This shut out the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which was a pillar of Britain's economy and political clout in the region. A month after that vote, Mossadegh was named Prime Minister of Iran.

Under the direction of Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., a senior CIA officer and grandson of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, the CIA and British intelligence funded and led a covert operation to depose Mossadegh with the help of military forces loyal to the Shah. This plan was known as Operation Ajax.[6] The plot hinged on orders signed by the Shah to dismiss Mossadegh as prime minister and replace him with General Fazlollah Zahedi, a choice agreed on by the British and Americans.

Despite the high-level coordination and planning, the coup initially failed, causing the Shah to flee to Baghdad, then Rome. After a brief exile in Italy, the Shah returned to Iran, this time through a successful second attempt at the coup. The deposed Mossadegh was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to solitary confinement for three years in a military prison, followed by house arrest for life. Zahedi was installed to succeed Prime Minister Mossadegh. According to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Mossadegh had "thirsted for power all his life" and having opposed his father's "coming to power in 1925" aimed above all to oust the Pahlavi dynasty.[7]

The American Embassy in Tehran reported that Mossadegh had near total support from the nation and was unlikely to fall. The Prime Minister asked the Majlis to give him direct control of the army. Given the situation, alongside the strong personal support of Eden and Churchill for covert action, the American government gave the go ahead to a committee, attended by the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, Kermit Roosevelt, Ambassador Henderson, and Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson. Kermit Roosevelt returned to Iran on July 13 and on August 1 in his first meeting with the Shah. A car picked him up at midnight and drove him to the palace. He lay down on the seat and covered himself with a blanket as guards waved his driver through the gates. The Shah got into the car and Roosevelt explained the mission. The CIA provided $1 million in Iranian currency, which Roosevelt had stored in a large safe, a bulky cache given the exchange rate of 1000 rial = 15 dollars at the time.[8]

The Communists staged massive demonstrations to hijack the Prime Minister’s initiatives. The United States had announced its total lack of confidence in him; and his followers were drifting into indifference. On August 16, 1953, the right wing of the Army reacted. Armed with an order by the Shah, it appointed General Fazlollah Zahedi as prime minister. A coalition of mobs and retired officers close to the Palace, attempted what could be described as a coup d’etat. They failed dismally. The Shah fled the country in humiliating haste.

During the following two days, the Communists turned against Mossadegh. They roamed Tehran raising red flags and pulling down statues of Reza Shah. This frightened the conservative clergies like Kashani and National Front leaders like Makki, who sided with the Shah. On August 18, Mossadegh hit back. Tudeh Partisans were clubbed and dispersed.

Tudeh had no choice but to accept defeat. In the meantime, according to the CIA plot, Zahedi appealed to the military, and claimed to be the legitimate prime minister and charged Mossadegh with staging a coup by ignoring the Shah’s decree. Zahedi’s son Ardeshir acted as the contact between the CIA and his father. On August 19 pro-Shah partisans, organized with 100,000 USD in CIA funds, finally appeared, marched out of south Tehran into the city center, where others joined in. Gangs with clubs, knives, and rocks controlled the streets, overturning Tudeh trucks and beating up anti-Shah activists. As Roosevelt was congratulating Zahedi in the basement of his hiding place, the new Prime Minister’s mobs burst in and carried him upstairs on their shoulders. That evening, Ambassador Henderson suggested to Ardashir that Mossadegh not be harmed. Roosevelt gave Zahedi 900,000 USD left from Operation Ajax funds.

The Shah returned to power, but never extended the elite status of the court to the technocrats and intellectuals who emerged from Iranian and Western universities. Indeed, his system irritated the new classes, for they were barred from partaking in real power.

The Shah was a strong supporter and patron of the Iran Scout Organization. A stamp showing the Shah in Scout's uniform was issued in 1956. In 1960 during a state visit the Shah was awarded the highest award of Pfadfinder Österreichs (Silberner Steinbock am rot-weiß-roten Band), the National Scout Organization of Austria.

Assassination attempts

The Shah was the target of two unsuccessful assassination attempts. On February 4, 1949, the Shah attended an annual ceremony to commemorate the founding of Tehran University. At the ceremony, Fakhr-Arai fired five shots at the Shah at a range of ten feet. Only one of the shots hit the Shah and his cheek was grazed. Fakhr-Arai was instantly shot by nearby officers. After an investigation, it was determined that Fakhr-Arai was a member of the Tudeh Party,[9] which was subsequently banned.[10] However, there is evidence that the would-be assassin was not a Tudeh member but a religious fundamentalist.[11] The Tudeh was nonetheless blamed and persecuted. The Shah says that support "for the crown surged" as a result of the failed assassination. Some eminent Muslim scholars even called his survival "a true miracle."[12]

The second attempt on the Shah's life occurred on April 10, 1965. A soldier shot his way through the Marble Palace. The assailant was killed before he reached the Shah's quarters. Two civilian guards died protecting the Shah.

According to Vladimir Kuzichkin], a former KGB officer who defected to the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the Shah was also allegedly targeted by the Soviet Union, who tried to use a TV remote control to detonate a Volkswagen which was turned into an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The TV remote failed to function.[13]

Later years

Foreign relations

The Shah supported the Yemeni royalists against republican forces in the Yemen Civil War (1962-70) and assisted the sultan of Oman in putting down a rebellion in Dhofar (1971). Concerning the fate of Bahrain (which Britain had controlled since the 19th century, but which Iran claimed as its own territory) and three small Persian Gulf islands, the Shah negotiated an agreement with the British, which, by means of a public consensus, ultimately led to the independence of Bahrain (against the wishes of Iranian nationalists). In return, Iran took full control of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa, three strategically sensitive islands in the Strait of Hormuz which were claimed by the United Arab Emirates.

During this period, the Shah maintained cordial relations with the Persian Gulf states and established close diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia. Relations with Iraq, however, were often difficult. Then in 1975, the countries signed the Algiers Accord, which granted Iraq equal navigation rights in the Shatt al-Arab river, while the Shah agreed to end his support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels.[14]

The Shah also maintained close relations with King Hussein of Jordan, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and King Hassan II of Morocco.

In July 1964, Shah Pahlavi, Turkish President Cemal Gürsel and Pakistani President Ayub Khan announced in Istanbul the establishment of the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) organization to promote joint transportation and economic projects. It also envisioned Afghanistan joining some time in the future.

The Shah also maintained close relations with Pakistan. During the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, the Shah provided free fuel to the Pakistani planes, which landed on Iranian soil, refueled and then took flight.

The Shah of Iran was the first Muslim leader to recognize the State of Israel, although when interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes by reporter, Mike Wallace, he criticized U.S. Jews for their control over U.S. media and finance.[15] Relations with Israel however were close with many Iranian military officers undergoing training there and both countries have supplied each other with arms.[16]

Modernization and autocracy: The White Revolution

The Shah with President Richard Nixon of the United States and First Lady Pat Nixon during a state visit in 1971.

With Iran's great oil wealth, Mohammad Reza Shah became the pre-eminent leader of the Middle East, and self-styled "Guardian" of the Persian Gulf. He became increasingly despotic during the last years of his regime. In the words a US Embassy dispatch, “The Shah’s picture is everywhere. The beginning of all film showings in public theaters presents the Shah in various regal poses accompanied by the strains of the National anthem… The monarch also actively extends his influence to all phases of social affairs… there is hardly any activity or vocation which the Shah or members of his family or his closest friends do not have a direct or at least a symbolic involvement. In the past, he had claimed to take a two party-system seriously and declared “If I were a dictator rather than a constitutional monarch, then I might be tempted to sponsor a single dominant party such as Hitler organized.”[17]

However, by 1975, he abolished the multi-party system of government so that he could rule through a one-party state under the Rastakhiz (Resurrection) Party in autocratic fashion. All Iranians were pressured to join in. The Shah’s own words on its justification was; “We must straighten out Iranians’ ranks. To do so, we divide them into two categories: those who believe in Monarchy, the constitution and the Six Bahman Revolution and those who don’t… A person who does not enter the new political party and does not believe in the three cardinal principles will have only two choices. He is either an individual who belongs to an illegal organization, or is related to the outlawed Tudeh Party, or in other words a traitor. Such an individual belongs to an Iranian prison, or if he desires he can leave the country tomorrow, without even paying exit fees; he can go anywhere he likes, because he is not Iranian, he has no nation, and his activities are illegal and punishable according to the law.”[18] The Six Bahman Revolution refers to the six principles which he proclaimed on January (Bahman in Farsi) 9, 1963, namely land reform, nationalization of forests, sale of state owned industries, workers' profit sharing, women's suffrage and formation of a Literacy corps.[19] In addition, the Shah had decreed that all Iranian citizens and the few remaining political parties must become part of Rastakhiz.

Official Coat of Arms & Flag of Shahanshah Aryamehr


The Shah made major changes to curb the power of certain ancient elite factions by expropriating large and medium-sized estates for the benefit of more than four million small farmers. He later recorded that at the time "more than half the arable land of Iran belonged to private owners, of whom perhaps not more than thirty (some of them tribal khans) owned 40 villages or more" and that most of these landowners "spent most of their time in Tehran or abroad."[20] In the White Revolution, he took a number of major modernization measures, including extending suffrage to women, much to the discontent and opposition of the Islamic scholars. He instituted exams for Muslim theologians to become established clerics, which were widely unpopular and broke centuries-old religious traditions. When the Majlis failed to approve his reform program, he held a national referendum on January 26, 1963.

His interest in Persia's ancient legacy led to renewed scholarly endeavor, which he encouraged. He was sympathetic to the Zoroastrian community and also supported scholarly interest in their tradition as well as in the cult of Mithras. Historical sites were renovated and archaeological excavations were financed. In 1975, he hosted the Second International Congress of Mithraic Studies in Tehran. During his reign, he oversaw the establishment of "eighteen universities and 137 colleges" and built, through the Pahlavi Foundation, "6,000 low-income apartments" to assist those who could not afford the capital's sky-rocketing rents.[21] His Literacy Corps also did much to increase adult as well as children's literacy. By 1978, "more than 1000, 000 had served" in the Corps.[22] His Foundation also sent many students to study overseas.


The Shah used imprisonment and torture to maintain power. Amnesty International estimated the Shah's political prisoners at 60,000 to 100,000 in number.[23]

In October 1971, the Shah celebrated the twenty-five-hundredth anniversary of the Iranian monarchy. The New York Times reported that 100 million USD was spent.[24] Next to the ruins of Persepolis, the Shah gave orders to build a tent city covering 160 acres, studded with three huge royal tents and fifty-nine lesser ones arranged in a star-shaped design. French chefs from Maxim’s of Paris prepared breast of peacock for royalty and dignitaries around the world, the buildings were decorated by Maison Jansen (the same firm that helped Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis redecorate the White House), the guests ate off Ceraline Limoges china and drank from Baccarat crystal glasses. This became a major scandal for the contrast between the dazzling elegance of celebration and the misery of the nearby villages was so dramatic that no one could ignore it. Months before the festivities, university students struck in protest. Indeed, the cost was sufficiently impressive that the Shah forbade his associates to discuss the actual figures.[25][26] Many of his subjects thought he was too interested in stressing the pre-Islamic legacy of Iran, however legitimate a source of Iranian pride than he was in Islam itself.

However the Shah and the supporters of the Shah argue that the celebrations opened new investments in Iran, increased better relationship with the other leaders and nations of the world, recognition of Iran and keeping the history of Iran alive among other different arguments. Cottam has argued that the longevity of the Shah’s rule was due largely to his success in balancing his security chiefs against each other. Although the Shah was clearly willing to utilize instruments of terror to remain in power, he nevertheless was likely sincere about wishing to bring economic, social, and political reform to his country.

In many respects, he failed to learn lessons from history. His father had stepped in to end the Qajars rule partly because many Iranians felt that the country was too influenced by and economically in debt to the Western powers, especially Britain and Russia, who had divided Iran into zones of interest. However, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was regarded as so pro-Western that he was seen as riding rough shod over Iranian ideals and especially over religious traditions. History would also have told him that the religious establishment in Iran needed to be recruited as an ally in ruling, not alienated. Many Shi'a regard any government other than that of the Mahdi as having only limited legitimacy and no government could claim even this if it lacked the support of the religious establishment. The Safavids had appointed the senior religious scholar as their deputy in judicial matters. Under the Qajars, the Shahs upheld law and order but the law that was upheld was as interpreted by the religious scholars, who administered the judicial system. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi replaced many scholars with government appointed teachers and judges. Khomeini, exiled since 1964, who by early 1978 was recognized as the leader of religious-political opposition to the Shah, depicted him as "the modern Yazid," so that "rebellion against him was of the just against the unjust and represented a religious duty."[27] He was too authoritarian to allow genuine democracy, which many Iranian had wanted since beginning of the twentieth century. Iranians saw him as a puppet of the West, especially of what Khomeini called the "Great Satan" (the U.S.).


The Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi meeting with Arthur Atherton, William H. Sullivan, Cyrus Vance, President Jimmy Carter, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1977.

From early 1978, popular opposition against the Shah gathered momentum, inspired by the speeches of the exiled Khomeini. Mass rallies, work stoppages and general strike in October brought the country to a stand still.

On January 16, 1979, the Shah and his wife left Iran at the behest of Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar (a long time opposition leader himself), who sought to calm the situation.[28] Officially, the Shah was taking a vacation. Bakhtiar dissolved SAVAK, freed all political prisoners, and allowed the Ayatollah Khomeini to return to Iran after years in exile. He arrived on February 1, 1979 and was greeted by millions of Iranians at the airport. Bakhtiar asked Khomeini to create a Vatican-like state in Qom, promised free elections and called upon the opposition to help preserve the constitution, proposing a "national unity" government including Khomeini's followers. Khomeini fiercely rejected Dr. Bakhtiar's demands and appointed his own interim government, with Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister, demanding "since I have appointed him he must be obeyed." In February, pro-Khomeini Revolutionary guerrilla and rebel soldiers gained the upper hand in street fighting and the military announced their neutrality. On the evening of February 11 the dissolution of the monarchy was complete. What was perceived as a secular, Westernized regime was replaced by what Khomeini called "rule by the jurist," a system in which religion and the state were inseparably linked.

Exile and death

The Shah traveled from country to country in his second exile, seeking what he hoped would be a temporary residence. First he went to Egypt, and received an invitation and warm welcome from president Anwar Sadat. He later lived in Morocco, the Bahamas, and Mexico. But his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma began to grow worse and required immediate and sophisticated treatment.

Reluctantly, on October 22, 1979, President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to make a brief stopover in the United States to undergo medical treatment. The compromise was extremely unpopular with the revolutionary movement, which had been angered by the United States' years of support for the Shah's rule. The Iranian government demanded the return of the Shah to Iran to stand trial.

This resulted in the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and the kidnapping of American diplomats, military personnel and intelligence officers, which soon became known as the Iran hostage crisis. According to the Shah's book, Answer to History, the American administration were anxious for him to leave and assisted his move to Panama as country after country refused him admission. He describes the actions of his former "friends and allies" at this time as "confused and contradictory."[29] In late 1978, as the situation in Iran deteriorated, the CIA had appointed a station chief transferred from Japan. "Why," asked the former Shah, "did the US install a man totally ignorant of" his "country in the midst such a crises?" suggesting that the U.S. had decided to abandon him.[30]

He left the United States on December 15, 1979, and lived for a short time in the Isla Contadora in Panama where he says he was virtually "a prisoner" since he could not travel without the government's permission.[31] Finally he returned to Egypt, where he died on July 27, 1980, at the age of 60. Egyptian President Sadat gave the Shah a state funeral.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is buried in the Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo, a mosque of great symbolic importance. The last royal rulers of the two monarchies are buried there, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran and King Farouk of Egypt, his former brother-in-law. The tombs lie off to the left of the entrance.


In 1969, the Shah sent one of 73 Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages to NASA for the historic first lunar landing. The message still rests on the lunar surface today. He stated in part, "we pray the Almighty God to guide mankind towards ever increasing success in the establishment of culture, knowledge and human civilization."[32] The Apollo 11 crew visited the Shah during a world tour.

Shortly after his overthrow, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi wrote an autobiographical memoir Réponse à l'histoire (Answer to History). It was translated from the original French into English, Farsi (Pasokh be Tarikh), and other languages. However, by the time of its publication, the Shah had already died. The book is his personal account of his reign and accomplishments, as well as his perspective on issues related to the Iranian Revolution and Western foreign policy toward Iran. The Shah places some of the blame for the wrongdoings of SAVAK and the failures of various democratic and social reforms (particularly through the White Revolution) upon Amir Abbas Hoveyda and his administration.

In the 1990s and the decade following 2000, the Shah's reputation has staged something of a revival, with many Iranians looking back on his era as time when Iran was more prosperous[33] and the government less oppressive.[34] Journalist Afshin Molavi reports even members of the uneducated poor—traditionally core supporters of the revolution that overthrew the Shah—making remarks such as "God bless the Shah's soul, the economy was better then;" and finds that "books about the former Shah (even censored ones) sell briskly," while "books of the Rightly Guided Path sit idle."[35]

Moghissi argues that women were better off under the Shah than under the regime that succeeded him. Far from reforms in Iran promoting the cause of female equality, gains made under the former regime have been lost, she says.[36] It may be true that some Muslim women voluntarily don the veil (hijab) as an affirmation of their Islamic identity, in protest against Western slavery to fashion. However, for many women in present day Iran, where its wearing is legally enforced, it is far from empowering. She dismisses images of veiled-women and of harems as guaranteeing women's space and freedom as romantic and naïve.[37] "Women who are persecuted, jailed and whipped for their non-compliance with hejab find the dress code anything but empowering," she remarks.[38] The number of women in work may indeed have increased in Iran since the days of the Shah but mainly in low paid jobs or in "coercive apparatus designed to control and police other women."[39] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi describes the Islamist regime as a "reign of terror," a "theocracy which affords the government almost limitless power over all aspects of Iranian life."[40] SAVAK's successor organization, SAVAMA, run by a former deputy chief of SAVAK, is reportedly structured and run in exactly the same way.[41]

Mohammad Reza Shah was too insensitive towards the concern of many of his subjects that government should enjoy some degree of Islamic legitimacy. By alienating the religious scholars, or clergy, he was unable to achieve a balance between temporal or spiritual authority that attracted wide support. He was too ready to use strong-arm tactics to enforce his rule and even well intentioned reforms through the SAVAK, acting like a dictator not a constitutional monarch. Much of the infrastructure was left in place for his Islamist successors to enforce their moral and dress codes through the agency of religious police, or "morality police." Sadly, Mohammad Reza Shah celebrated two-thousand five-hundred years of Iranian kings but he also presided over the demise of the oldest monarchy in the world. Had he earned the love and respect of his people, had he had found a way to work with the religious leaders not against them, had he had allowed greater freedom, the monarchy may have continued. The religious leaders in Iran had worked with the Shah's ever since Iran first became a Shi'a state, thus monarchy as such was not anathema or necessarily unacceptable. Iran's subsequent isolation from and hostility towards the West may be an over-reaction to the Shah's readiness to ally himself too closely to the West.

On the other hand, his manipulation of the Majlis built on the tradition of the great powers, which, during his father's reign, dominated Iran, so much so that the British and Russian ambassadors would each present the Shah their list of approved candidates for "election."[42]

Marriages and children

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was married three times.

Fawzia of Egypt

His first wife was Princess Fawzia of Egypt (born November 5, 1921), a daughter of King Fuad I of Egypt and Nazli Sabri; she also was a sister of King Farouk I of Egypt. They married in 1939 and were divorced in 1945 (Egyptian divorce) and 1948 (Iranian divorce). They had one daughter, Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi (born October 27, 1940).

Soraya Esfandiary

His second wife was Soraya Esfandiary (June 22, 1932-October 26, 2001), the only daughter of Khalil Esfandiary, Iranian Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, and his wife, the former Eva Karl. They married in 1951, but divorced in 1958 when it became apparent that she could not bear children. Soraya later told The New York Times that the Shah had no choice but to divorce her, and that he was heavy hearted about the decision.[43]

He subsequently indicated his interest in marrying Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, a daughter of the deposed Italian king, Umberto II. Pope John XXIII reportedly vetoed the suggestion. In an editorial about the rumors surrounding the marriage of "a Muslim sovereign and a Catholic princess," the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, considered the match "a grave danger,"[44] especially considering that under the 1917 Code of Canon Law a Roman Catholic who married a divorced person could be excommunicated.

Farah Diba

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi married to his third and final wife, Farah Diba (born October 14, 1938), the only child of Sohrab Diba, Captain in the Imperial Iranian Army, and his wife, the former Farideh Ghotbi. They were married in 1959, and Queen Farah was crowned Shahbanu, or Empress, a title created especially for her in 1967. Previous royal consorts had been known as "Malakeh" (Arabic: Malika), or Queen. The couple remained together for twenty years, until the Shah's death. Farah Diba bore him four children:

  1. Reza Pahlavi, the Crown Prince (born October 31, 1960)
  2. Farahnaz Pahlavi (born March 12, 1963)
  3. Ali-Reza Pahlavi (born April 28, 1966)
  4. Leila Pahlavi (March 27, 1970–June 10, 2001)


On the revolution

  • The role of the U.S.: I did not know it then—perhaps I did not want to know—but it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted… What was I to make of the Administration's sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran?… Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country.[45]
  • Promise to the nation: I, too, have heard the voice of your revolution. As the Shah of Iran and as an Iranian, I will support the revolution of my people. I promise that the previous mistakes, unlawful acts and injustice will not be repeated.[46] This speech is said to have been written by the uncle of Shahbanou Farah and was given to the Shah in a rush, as the Shah was sick and in a bad mood he couldn't write or say speeches himself.

On the role of women

  • Women are important in a man's life only if they're beautiful and charming and keep their femininity and… this business of feminism, for instance. What do these feminists want? What do you want? You say equality. Oh! I don't want to seem rude, but… you're equal in the eyes of the law but not, excuse my saying so, in ability… You've never produced a Michelangelo or a Bach. You've never even produced a great chef. And if you talk to me about opportunity, all I can say is, Are you joking? Have you ever lacked the opportunity to give history a great chef? You've produced nothing great, nothing!… You're schemers, you are evil. All of you.[47]

- When later he was asked in an interview by Barbara Walters if he had said this, he answered "Not with the same words, no."[48]

  • Justice and common sense required that women enjoy the same political rights as men … we who wanted to place the nation on the path to progress could not relegate our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to the same category as the insane and the criminal …[49]
  • I have never believed that women were diabolical creatures if they showed their faces or arms, or went swimming, or skied or played basketball. If some women wish to live veiled, then it is their choice, but why deprive half of our youth of the healthy pleasure of sports?[50]


  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Crown of Empire of Iran-1926
  • Grand Collar of the Order of Pahlavi of Empire of Iran-1932
  • Collar of the Order of Muhammad Ali of Kingdom of Egypt-1939
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB)(Great Britain)-1942
  • Grand Cross of the Order of the White Lion, 1st Class w/ Collar of Czechoslovakia-1943
  • Croix de Guerre w/ Palm of France-1945
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Propitious Clouds of China, special grade-1946
  • Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit of the United States-1947
  • Knight of the Order of the Golden Spur of the Vatican-1948
  • Royal Victorian Chain (RVC) (Great Britain)-1948
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Zulfiqar of Iran-1949
  • Collar of the Order of Hussein ibn Ali of Jordan-1949
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Renaissance of Jordan-1949
  • Order of the King Abdul Aziz Decoration of Honour, 1st Class of Saudi Arabia-1955
  • Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Bundesverdienstkreuz of West Germany-1955
  • Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Order of Merit of Lebanon-1956
  • Grand Collar of the Order of the Yoke and Arrows of Spain-1957
  • Grand Cordon of the Grand Order of the Hashemites of Kingdom of Iraq-1957
  • Grand Cross w/ Collar of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy-1957
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of Idris I of Kingdom of Libya-1958
  • Collar of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum of Japan-1958
  • Grand Cross of the Grand Star of the Decoration of Honour for Merit of Austria-1958
  • Knight of the Order of the Elephant of Denmark-1959
  • Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion-1959
  • Order of Pakistan, 1st Class-1959
  • Order of Ojaswi Rajanya of Kingdom of Nepal-1960
  • Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer of Greece-1960
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold of Belgium-1960
  • Grand Cross w/Collar of the Order of St Olav of Norway-1961
  • Grand Collar and Chain of the Order of Solomon of Ethiopia-1964
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Supreme Sun of Afghanistan-1965
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Nile of Egypt-1965
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of the Liberator San Martin of Argentina-1965
  • Grand Cordon w/Collar of the Order of Independence of Tunisia-1965
  • Grand Collar of the Order of the Southern Cross of Brazil-1965
  • Grand Cordon of the Order of Muhammad of Morocco-1966
  • Order of Mubarak the Great of Kuwait-1966
  • Order of al-Khalifa of Bahrain-1966
  • Order of Independence of Qatar-1966
  • Order of the Badr Chain of Saudi Arabia-1966
  • Order of the Chain of Honour of the Sudan-1966
  • Grand Cordon of the Yugoslavian Grand Star of Yugoslavia-1966
  • Collar of the Order of the Seraphim of Sweden-1967 (Knight-1960)
  • Order of the Crown of Malaysia (DMN)-1968
  • Order of the Maha Chakri of Thailand-1968
  • Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Lion of Finland-1970
  • Military Order of Oman, 1st Class-1973
  • Grand Collar of the Order of Charles III of Kingdom of Spain-1975
  • Collar of the Order of the Aztec Eagle of Mexico-1975


  1. Madelain K. Albright, Remarks before the American-Iranian Council, March 17, 2000, Washington, D.C. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  2. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Answer to History (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1980, ISBN 9780812827552), 49.
  3. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 52.
  4. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Teresa Waugh, The Shah's Story (London, UK: M. Joseph, 1980, ISBN 9780718119447), 51.
  5. Pierre Renouvin, World War II and its Origins; International Relations, 1929-1945 (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1969), 329.
  6. James Risen, Secrets of History: The C.I.A. in Iran The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  7. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 84, 88.
  8. Robert Graham, Iran, the Illusion of Power (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1978, ISBN 9780312435875), 66.
  9. The Shah Persian Iran. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  10. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi Iran Chamber Society. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  11. Stephen Kinzer, All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003, ISBN 9780471265177), 66.
  12. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 82.
  13. Vladimir Kuzichkin, Inside the KGB: My Life in Soviet Espionage (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1990, ISBN 9780233986166), 217.
  14. Iran—State and Society, 1964-74 Country Data. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  15. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Mike Wallace, Mike Wallace interviews Mohammad Reza Pahlavi YouTube. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  16. Fred Halliday, Iran, Dictatorship and Development (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1979, ISBN 0140220100), 279.
  17. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Mission for my Country (London, UK: Hutchinson, 1974, ISBN 978-0091203818), 173.
  18. Halliday 1979, 47.
  19. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 193.
  20. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 102.
  21. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 115, 121.
  22. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 113.
  23. Thomas R. Moore and Reza Baraheni, Iran's "Progress," The New York Review of Books, February 17, 1977. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  24. Charlotte Curtis, Tent City Awaits Celebration: Shah's "Greatest Show" The New York Times, October 12, 1971. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  25. Richard W. Cottam, Nationalism in Iran (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979, ISBN 978-0822952992), 329.
  26. Ledeen 1982, 22.
  27. Clinton Bennett, In Search of Muhammad (New York, NY: Cassell, 1998, ISBN 9780304337002), 168.
  28. 1979: Shah of Iran flees into exile 'BBC, January 16, 1979. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  29. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 23.
  30. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 170.
  31. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 29.
  32. Nations Represented by Goodwill Messages on Apollo II Disc New Mexico State University, Space Grant. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  33. Afshin Molavi, The Soul of Iran: A Nation's Journey to Freedom (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2005, ISBN 0393325970), 74.
  34. Elaine Sciolino, Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (New York, NY: Free Press, 2000, ISBN 9780684862903), 239, 244.
  35. Molavi 2005, 10, 74.
  36. Haideh Moghissi, Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis (London, UK: Zed Books, 1999, ISBN 9781856495899), 104-109.
  37. Moghissi 1999, 87.
  38. Moghissi 1999, 5.
  39. Moghissi 1999, 114.
  40. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 188.
  41. Francisco Gil-White, If the Ayatollah Khomeini was an enemy of the United States ruling elite, why did he adopt the CIA's security service? Historical and Investigative Research, February 23, 2006. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  42. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 70.
  43. Soraya Arrives for U.S. Holiday The New York Times, April 23, 1958. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  44. Paul Hofmann, Pope Bans Marriage of Princess to Shah The New York Times, February 24, 1959. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  45. Ernst Schroeder, What Really Happened to the Shah of Iran Payvand, March 10, 2006. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  46. Catherine Yesayan, The Unthinkable Asbarez, December 1, 2020. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  47. Oriana Fallaci, Interview with History (New York, NY: Liveright, 1976, ISBN 9780871405906), 270-272.
  48. Elaine Sciolino, The Last Empress The New York Time, May 2, 2004. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  49. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 117-118.
  50. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1980, 118.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ansari, Ali M. Modern Iran since 1921. New York, NY: Pearson Education, 2003. ISBN 9780582356856
  • Bennett, Clinton. In Search of Muhammad. New York, NY: Cassell, 1998. ISBN 9780304337002
  • Cottam, Richard W. Nationalism in Iran. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979 (original 1964). ISBN 978-0822952992
  • Dreyfuss, Robert. Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. American Empire Project. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books, 2005. ISBN 9780805076523
  • Fallaci, Oriana. Interview with History. New York, NY: Liveright, 1976. ISBN 9780871405906
  • Graham, Robert. Iran, the Illusion of Power. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1978. ISBN 9780312435875
  • Halliday, Fred. Iran, Dictatorship and Development. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1979. ISBN 0140220100
  • Harris, David. The Crisis: The President, the Prophet, and the Shah—1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam. New York, UK: Little, Brown & Co., 2004. ISBN 9780316323949
  • Kapuściński, Ryszard. Shah of Shahs. New York, NY: Vintage, 1992. ISBN 0679738010
  • Kinzer, Stephen. All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN 9780471265177
  • Kuzichkin, Vladimir. Inside the KGB: My Life in Soviet Espionage. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1990. ISBN 9780233986166
  • Ledeen, Michael Arthur. Debacle, the American Failure in Iran. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1982. ISBN 978-0394751825
  • Milani, Abbas. The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution. Washington, DC: Mage Publishers, 2000. ISBN 9780934211611
  • Moghissi, Haideh. Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis. London, UK: Zed Books, 1999. ISBN 9781856495899
  • Molavi, Afshin. The Soul of Iran: A Nation's Journey to Freedom. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 0393325970
  • Pahlavi, Farah. An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah—A Memoir. New York, NY: Miramax Books, 2004. ISBN 9781401352097
  • Pahlavi, Mohammed Reza. Mission for my Country. London, UK: Hutchinson, 1974. ISBN 978-0091203818
  • Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza. Answer to History. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1980. ISBN 9780812827552
  • Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza, and Teresa Waugh. The Shah's Story. London, UK: M. Joseph, 1980. ISBN 9780718119447
  • Renouvin, Pierre. World War II and its Origins; International Relations, 1929-1945. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1969.
  • Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup, the Struggle for the Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979. ISBN 9780070535909
  • Saikal, Amin. The Rise and Fall of the Shah 1941—1979. London, UK: Angus & Robertson, 1980. ISBN 9780207144127
  • Sciolino, Elaine. Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran. New York, NY: Free Press, 2000. ISBN 9780684862903
  • Shawcross, William. The Shah's Last Ride: The Death of an Ally. London, UK: Chatto & Windus, 1989. ISBN 9780701132545
  • Zāhidī, Ardashīr, and Aḥmad Aḥrār. The Memoirs of Ardeshir Zahedi. Bethesda, MD: IBEX, 2006. ISBN 9781588140388

External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2022.


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