Newark, Delaware (Feature — Special to Informed Comment) –
The debate over the coup 1953 still lingers on especially now that there are discussions whether the Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, after forming a coalition with a few opposition figures, might even seek the return of monarchy, the monarchy which ended in 1979. On Facebook, clubhouse and on tweets and on some outlets, we are witnessing a new debate. This debate has brought out new participants.
Next August will mark the 70th anniversary of the 1953 Coup which toppled Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh’s government. But among Iranians, mainly the diaspora, and some experts, both the legitimacy of his government and the Coup have been questioned. I asked several scholars of the period, whether in their opinion, his government was democratic and if there was indeed a Coup.
A recent article in the Tablet questions the validity of some of these facts.
As my friend Ervand Abrahamian recently pointed out to me, ““I think those who harp on the word ‘democracy’ to claim that in Iran, prime ministers were not elected by the public but chosen by the monarch. This is only their interpretation of the constitution. By the same yardstick you should claim that none of the premiers in Western Europe were democratically elected because the monarch would as a formality invite a politician to form the government. In the Iranian constitution, as in places like the UK, the monarch was supposed to merely invite the person elected by the parliament to form the government. We describe such procedures as ‘democratic.’ So why not apply the same term to Mossadeq’s government.””
And as my friend and fellow journalist Stephen Kinzer said, “I think the idea behind this is to tell Americans that we have nothing to be sorry for. We love hearing this.”
The original Constitution of Iran, ratified in 1906, states clearly that the Shah or King should reign and not rule. This was the point of contention between the Shah and Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh was a constitutionalist and had a doctorate in law (unlike the Shah who never finished even a two-year college). He did not want to weaken the monarchy as the author claims. He wanted the rule of law to preside.
The Shah and his family were corrupt to the bone. The Shah may not have been corrupted early on, as he was still young and learning, but even Alam, the Shah’s closest confident and his court minister writes in his seven-volume memoirs that the royal family had their hands in the till. Taking bribes for favors was an acceptable practice and even encouraged by the Shah.
Mosaddegh’s cabinet was comprised of some of the best of the crop, educated and decent men of the era who adhered to the same principles as Dr. Mosaddegh. All of them, including my own father, were jailed after the Coup and none ever agreed to work with the coup government afterwards. Mosaddegh’s foreign minister, Dr. Fatemi, was executed, whilst in a feverish state. His head of gendarmerie, Afshartoos, was kidnapped, tortured, and later murdered. What all these men had in common and ever desired is that which we aspire to in the West.
Peter Theroux, the author of said revisionist article, refers to an obscure rapper who seems to have tweeted some obscene language against Mosaddegh. Since the author seems to be poorly informed about current affairs, let me remind him that during the demonstrations of the Green Movement of 2009, photos of Mosaddegh were on display. Two of the most famous women political prisoners of Iran- both lawyers, Narges Mohammadi and Nasrin Sotoudeh– are disciples of Dr. Mosaddegh, one having been married on the anniversary of the oil nationalization.
Famous Iranian poets (male and female) have written dozens of poems in his honor. No Iranian has been honored as much in prose and in poetry.
Comparing the two governments of Dr. Mosaddegh with the present regime in Tehran is like comparing apples to oranges which Theroux tries to do.
Mosaddegh did not believe in using force against his people. He passed some of the most progressive laws in the Majlis (the parliament). He was against censorship and allowed a free press even if it was oppositional. He let demonstrations take place even if there was dissent. He was a master politician, who worked within the laws of the country, but his hands were tied from within and without. He even wanted to create a non-oil economy. In a gesture of amazing political shrewdness, he left the Majlis and came into the streets, announcing famously, this is the real parliament, among the people. Mosaddegh respected the rights of all religious minorities including the Bahais. He is in a photo with Jewish Iranians who had come to visit him. He was respectful to the Shah and some even criticized him for kissing the hands of the monarch’s second wife, Soraya. He showed civility on all occasions.
The Supreme Court Justice, William O Douglas, after visiting Iran, in his book, Strange Lands and Friendly People, became an admirer. He praised Mosaddegh as a champion of democracy and a strong leader. In an article in the New Republic dated April 28, 1952, he wrote, “I have great admiration for him. When he left this country in November, empty-handed, I was sad for him because of the tragedy of the situation. The British said, ‘He won’t last three months as prime minister. We have a prime minister we’ll put in when Mosaddegh falls.” And referring to Iranian polls he said, “I say a man who can control a country at the polls like that is a strong man.”
“I think we should be supporting Mosaddegh, because those opportunities don’t come very often in the Middle East.”
Mosaddegh was never pro-Tudeh Party ( the Communist party of Iran) as the author claims and in fact was fiercely against Soviet influence in Iran. He did not get a message from Kianouri but a few representatives of the Tudeh came to him before the Coup, to ask for arms to defeat the coup organizers. Mosaddegh who never trusted the Tudeh, told them, let the hands of a PM be cut off if he uses arms against his own people.
Mosaddegh refused to use force to stay in power.
The three clergymen Mr. Theroux refers to were pro-Shah no doubt. But Kashani had allied with Mosaddegh at first. Mosaddegh knew that Iran is a religious country and thus the clergy have influence within the population and needed their support. The rift between him and Kashani began when the latter wanted favors, asking Mosaddegh to appoint his young, corrupt, and inexperienced son. Mosaddegh had told my own father (read the Harvard oral history interview with Nosratollah Amini) who was a liaison between him and Kashani, that such action is not in the realm of the Prime Minister’s office. He emphasized that only the people can elect their representative. Kashani was angry at this answer, telling my father to tell the PM that he would bring him down if he refused (using foul language- which he was infamous for) thus changing his allegiance. It is no wonder that Kashani became the mentor of Ardeshir Zahedi and his father, who were both key figures in the Coup.
In a later interview with the Egyptian newspaper “Al Misri,”, he said, “Here, the people love the Shah and a republican government is not the right thing for Iran.”
Mr. Theroux assures us that on August 19,1953, the Shah flew to Rome, knowing he would return. The Shah, on the other hand, whilst residing in Hotel Excelsior in Rome, told reporters, “I may buy a farm in America.” Then, after the fall of Dr. Mosaddegh, he was reluctant to return, telling his wife Soraya, “They may try to assassinate me.” The CIA paid for his return from Rome to Baghdad, where he collected his parked Beechcraft and flew to Tehran. There exists a newsreel showing that, when he arrived, the only person allowed to approach his car was Sha’ban the brainless. Two days later, there was a rent-a-crowd celebration of his return.
It is worth mentioning that Sha’ban the brainless, head of Tehran thugs who orchestrated the anti-Mosaddegh demonstrations (from prison) once released, received a Cadillac from Zahedi for his services. A few years later, he was the guest of honor in Israel. Incidentally, Shaban Jafari, alias bee-mokh died in Los Angeles on August 19, 2006. Good riddance I say.
The 1953 Coup was a joint CIA-MI6 coup d’etat against the government of Dr. Mosaddegh. First and foremost, because of oil nationalization and second because he was the ONLY politician of Iran who could not be bought. The British did not want to set a precedence in the Middle East or elsewhere. The Suez Canal was an example. In subsequent years, it became the motto for toppling the governments of Chile and Guatemala, both of which had attempted to nationalize their natural resources.
Mosaddegh, after defending his nation at the Hague and at the United Nations, while flying back to Tehran, stopped in Cairo and received a hero’s welcome. There is a street in his name in Cairo.
All the while, British scholars and (spies) such as Ann Lambton and Robin Zaehner were busy at the British Embassy in Tehran fomenting anti-Mosaddegh propaganda. According to released documents which Mr. Theroux conveniently ignores, the CIA operatives were writing articles in Washington and sending them off to Tehran to be published in Iranian papers. Richard Cottam reveals on film that “I was writing anti-Mosaddegh articles which would appear the next day in the Persian papers.”
After the Coup, which the CIA has admitted while MI6 is too clever and cunning to do so or even open their archives, the British PM Anthony Eden, on a yacht on the Mediterranean, said famously, tonight I can sleep in peace.
Mosaddegh was perhaps the only PM who, to his own detriment, always took the side of his people, and never was after power or monetary compensation. He lived a frugal life and even when he was exiled to his humble residence, after being put on trial for “treason” and held in solitary in a military prison for three years, he was surrounded by Savak agents and close to 50 soldiers. To the surprise of many, two of the agents living there, became among his admirers, shedding tears after he had died.
I visited Ahmad Abad in 2005 and in fact made a film (to be finished). It was indeed a most undistinguished estate, in a state of decay as the Shah purposely forbid any renovation. Later, the IRI, always having disdain towards him, as he believed in the separation of state and religion, let the estate deteriorate further.
When nearly a million people gathered at this very place after the Revolution, some on foot, Khomeini, referring to this huge gathering, said I do not understand why people have gathered for some bones and dead flesh!
Dr. Mosaddegh came from nobility, yet he went against that nobility. (Mosaddegh was a Qajar). He was highly influenced by a philanthropic mother who taught him to be honest and live by the rules. Najmeh Saltaneh as she was called, may have been born into an aristocratic family but instead of amassing wealth, she established the first charitable hospital almost 100 years ago.
The CIA’s role is unquestionable, and without it the clergy nor the paid members of the Parliament and thugs could not have acted alone. The number varies on how much the CIA spent. Both Richard Helms and Richard Cottam discuss the deep involvement of the Agency in their books. Kim Roosevelt, Donald Wilbur, and their co-conspirators take credit for the downfall.
So how is it that still after nearly 70 years, this shameless coup is denied by some so- called experts?
Mosaddegh, unlike the Shah, who visited the White House and loved the pomp and glory, when coming to the U.S., visited the Supreme Court and put a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. He went to the Liberty bell in Philadelphia. He thought that the Americans would support him in his quest for democracy. He believed in the Jeffersonian model. Perhaps he miscalculated. Once a Republican administration took over (Eisenhower), pressured by the British, and on the bogey of Communism, the wheels turned against him. The CIA later admitted that Mosaddegh had not been pro-Tudeh.
Mosaddegh asked to buy much needed agricultural equipment not military hardware. The Shah’s appetite for more arms made him the gendarme of the region. It was also a lucrative business for the arms merchants.
The Shah was a tragic figure who was also weak and never trusted anyone, dismissing many PM’s.
He let go of Zahedi, who had been chosen by the Americans over the objection of the British whose candidate was Seyed Zia. (The British had interned general Zahedi as he had pro-German tendencies). Later, afraid of a coup by Zahedi, he shipped him off to Switzerland, with a 5 million dollar “thank you” from the U.S.
He even arrested PM Hoveyda, who served him loyally for seventeen years and who was later executed while in custody at the hands of the IRI in prison.
The Shah wanted yes men. He did not want to hear of any mismanagement or dissent. Until the very last days, he wanted to hear of a rosy situation, which was not the case. It was too late when he declared that I have heard your voice of Revolution.
Alam clearly points to this fact in his memoirs. “Your majesty, this is not 1953, it is a far worse situation.”
In politics, no one is beyond making mistakes. Dr. Mosaddegh was a politician of many attributes. Did he make mistakes? Surely. But was he under tremendous sanctions and pressures from all sides? Yes. Was he a democrat? Absolutely to the core.
His French teacher, a Mademoiselle Renee Viellard, attested to his immense loyalty towards his homeland. “I have carefully kept some of the precious memories I have from my only pupil. I believed that this extraordinary person could have a huge role on the life of his country. He was only 27 when I met him but the two envelopes, I have from 1914 and then 1953 and their content shows a flawless and deeply committed person. If you compare the student of 44 years ago vis-à-vis the current leader in Tehran, you can clearly deduce that he [Mosaddegh] was neither after material goods, was not prejudiced nor narrow- minded. He loved his country unreservedly.”
Gaston Fournier, in an article in Le Monde, compares Mosaddegh to Cyrus the Great.
The London Telegraph wrote in its obituary that Mosaddegh showed to the world that a weak nation can stand up to Great Britain and that he paved the way for other nations to secure what had been plundered economically.
PM Nehru of India said, “In our struggle for freedom and independence, we have learned a great many lessons from Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh.”
In a show of some appeasement to the reader, Mr. Theroux gives a little credit to Dr. Mosaddegh- admitting that he was a decent man. A fact he is unable to ignore in this very distorted article. Yet even that credit is stingy.
“He undoubtedly won hearts and minds with small acts of integrity.”
While driving to Ahmad Abad, some 30 kilometers from Tehran, we stopped at a garage to ask for directions. The man asked us where we were heading. When we told him, he said, oh to that great man’s house? He was a mechanic.
To this day, he is regarded as the man who defended his nation, who stood up to the declining and rising powers and who exposed corrupt individuals who were bought, whether among the clergy or monarchists, even taking the bold action of sending the Shah’s twin sister, Ashraf abroad. She too was an agitator.
Mosaddegh’s government lasted no more than two years. He could have accomplished more if he had been given the chance. Alas, his tenure was cut short by foreign and domestic actors and with that the aspirations of a nation for democratic rule vanished.
He has been judged with awe and respect as a visionary politician. And his prestige shall remain intact.