Newark, Del. (Special to Informed Comment) – It is likely that, if the elected government of Iran’s Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh had stayed in power, the Middle East or at least Iran would look very different now.
But, in history, we cannot reach satisfactory conclusions based on ‘ifs‘. We have to consider only the facts and the events that took place.
Ray Takeyh, who keeps harping on the ill-founded notion that Dr. Mossadegh was not democratically elected– most recently in a column in the arch-conservative Commentary — continues to reiterate that statement based on incorrect assumptions and lacking any documents. In fact, in his recent article, filled with much disinformation and misinformation, every other line can be questioned. His goal, in pushing this view, is to show that Mossadegh’s government was not democratic or democratically elected and thus, when foreign powers acted against it, they were right to do so.
First, when we talk about ‘democratically elected’ what do we mean? How does a parliamentary system work? Is the PM elected by the Parliament like in Great Britain? The answer is YES.
Which country do we have in recent modern history whose government was totally democratically elected? Not many. Even if we look at the U.S. we have doubts as many of our citizens are prevented from voting. In Iran of 1950’s, half of the population, that is women, were not even allowed to vote until much later (although Mossadegh was preparing a bill for their enfranchisement).
On this subject, Maziar Behrooz, associate professor at San Francisco University, who has researched and written both about the Tudeh Party and the Coup, says, “If one reads and understands Iran’s 1906-1907 constitution, it becomes clear that under Iran’s parliamentary system, members of the Majles (parliament) were elected by popular vote (in 1951, by male suffrage). The Majles would then vote for one of its members as Prime Minister and the person thus elected would be rubber-stamped by the Shah (issuing a royal decree). This latter act would be a ceremonial act under normal constitutional procedures. Hence, to say that Dr. Mosaddegh was not elected democratically is incorrect and shows the author’s lack of knowledge of constitutional procedures during that period.”
Mossadegh was elected by the majority of the Majles, the parliament of Iran, which was comprised of his supporters as well as those who were opposed to him. Some of its members were corrupt and had received British financial support. As professor Mark Gasiorowski, a scholar of this period and author of an important book on the topic, says:
“Takeyh’s argument is that Dr. Mossadegh was appointed by the Shah, rather than elected.”
Dr. Ali Gheissari, in his well-documented piece, The U.S. Coup of 1953 in Iran, Sixty Years On, published in the journal of The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, dated September 2013, writes, “Technically the Shah no longer had the constitucional power to dismiss the premier without the approval or the request of the parliament (the Majles). Mosaddeq, on the other hand, had already obtained considerable emergency powers from the parliament in the previous year in order to strengthen his position. He could bypass the parliament and legislate by decree, and he could limit the powers of the Shah.”
Mossadegh was elected repeatedly in his district, always gaining the highest number of votes, which Takeyh fails to mention.
The elections for parliament in this era generally were not very democratic, with wealthy landowners, the Royal Court and other powerful entities and figures, as well as the British embassy and perhaps the Soviets, using various means – presumably very extensively -to get their preferred candidates elected. Also, women (50% of the population) were not allowed to vote. All of this certainly occurred in the 1952 parliamentary election — the only one that occurred when Mossadegh was in power.
Dr Abrahamian, distinguished professor of Iranian history and the author of many important books says: “I have spelled this issue out in my new book (Oil Crisis in Iran) on US documents and on the Mossadeq period. The chapter on parliamentary politics tries to spell out the shah’s limited powers in the constitution and that it was the prerogative of the majles to elect the Prime Minister–the shah’s authority was supposed to be purely a formality. So Mossadeq was legally elected premier. Takeyh, I suspect, is accepting Reza Shah’s interpretation of the constitution–but then Reza Shah could choose his prime minister because he could dictate to the majles on who to elect. The fundamental laws of 1906 are quite clear: all the ministers are elected by the majles and responsible only to the majles.”
Despite many interferences, Iran in the Mossadegh era, experienced some of its most democratic years: the press was free, though manipulated by the above-mentioned forces as well as the CIA (in a televised interview, the CIA operative Richard Cottam stated, “I would write a piece in the evening and the next day it would be printed (translated) in one of the Teheran papers that we controlled”).
Not only the press, but political parties (except for the Tudeh) and civil society groups were very free; demonstrations and rallies occurred frequently, with little obstruction; and there was little or no repression or unlawful activity by the government. Mossadegh, who was against violence by any means even to save his government, never suppressed dissent as Mr. Takieh wrongly states.
“Despite Iran not being fully democratic, yet it was considerably more democratic than most other countries in the region at the time, and much more democratic than it ever was either before or after Mossadegh’s premiership.” (Gasiorowski).
Continuing with Gasiorowski, let’s not forget that black Americans were largely prevented from voting at this time and severely harassed in various other ways, including lynching, so the US could hardly be called fully democratic.
Dr. Mossadegh was elected despite it all — with the support of many Iranians and despite the objections and interference of monarchists, the Tudeh party, the clerics, and the rest.
“The CIA begrudgingly con-ceded that despite increasing parliamentary opposition, Mossadeq had continued to receive votes of confidence mainly because of his apt handling of the oil crisis.” Memorandum from John Waller (CIA) to Roosevelt, FRUS, in the book, The Oil Crisis: From Nationalism to the Coup d’Etat, Ervand Abrahamian, Cambridge University Press, 2021)
Dr. Mossadegh’s government lasted less than twenty-eight months. Financial and political pressure from within and without was placed on his government. He was portrayed as being pro-Soviet, a convenient lie that was instilled by the British and later the Americans. Although George McGhee later wrote: “I do not believe that Mossadeq formed an alliance of his own with the Soviet Union. Mossadeq was in my view, first and foremost a loyal Iranian.”
Mossadegh was a nationalist who saw that the saviour of his nation would be the nationalization of its oil industry. However, the British considered this act to be endangering their interests, political and financial. The British would not even accept the 50/50 proposal, as had been offered by the Americans to Saudi Arabia.
On this issue, George McGhee, the then representative of Harry Truman in the oil negotiations, writes that with great disappointment he went to the Shoreham Hotel to give the bad news to Dr. Mossadegh. “You’ve come here to send me home” said Mossadegh. “Yes,” I said. “I am sorry to have to tell you that we can’t bridge the gap between you and the British. It’s a great disappointment to us as it must be to you. It was a moment I will never forget. He accepted the result quietly, with no recriminations.” McGhee also writes that Eden had persuaded the Administration not to continue the talks with the Iranian delegation and to send Mossadegh back to Iran. (Envoy to the Middle World, George McGhee)
It was the Cold War and the Americans finally went along with the British meme that if Iran nationalized its oil, and if Mossadegh’s government stayed on, the Soviets would take over. The British were scared that Iran’s example would lead to other countries in their quest for the control of their sources of natural wealth. Egypt was a clear example. Mossadegh was eulogized in Cairo when he set foot there. He had become the hero of the region. The British saw signs they did not like.
Later, President Nasser, talking about the Suez nationalization, would say: “I went to pull the tail of the British lion. When I got there, I saw that Dr. Mossadegh had already cut it off.”
The United States, a close ally, finally succumbed to the British demands, promoting the bogey of the fear of communism, but with its self-interest in mind. In addition, unlike the democratic administration of Truman which had tried to find a solution to the oil question, Eisenhower was persuaded by the Dulles brothers to go along with the British plans for a coup d’état. In fact, when Mossadegh’s government was under immense financial pressure due to British sanctions, he had asked the American government for help. Truman had been in favor but then a Republican administration came to power in Washington.
The British foreign office advised the Americans not to assist Mossadegh’s government economically. An orchestrated effort was in place to bring his government down. Only a few days after the Coup did the foreign office send a communique to the State Department that now they could give the Zahedi government full-fledged help, and money flowed to Iran, personally enriching some of the coup perpetrators.
Mr. Takeyh wishes to rewrite history. He has done so in a number of articles written on this very subject. But there is never new information on his part. It is a repeat of the old, revisionist conjectures. If there has been libel, as charged by Takeyh, it is Mr. Takeyh himself who has libelled Iran. Mr. Takeyh should not try to distort history as we cannot deny facts. The British MI6 and the American CIA toppled the democratic government of Dr. Mossadegh for financial and political reasons. Through the years, the facts have been given to us in black on white, through government publications, and various archives, although the British have attempted to withhold much on their part. But the work of major scholars, Iranians, and Americans, testify to this truth.
The truth is Mr. Takeyh, even with his latest revisionist article, cannot escape real history.
Bonus Video added by Informed Comment: