In the mid-1970s Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, lectured the West on its decadence and profligacy; by the 'end of...



In the mid-1970s Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, lectured the West on its decadence and profligacy; by the 'end of the decade, he was in self-imposed exile, his country taken over by religious mobs. Why was his fall so swift and steep? Saikal, a political scientist and journalist, slights the religious reaction to the Pahlavi dynasty, and instead stresses economic factors and their political concomitants. For him, the Shah's power was illusory. Placed on the throne by the Western powers during World War II, rescued by them in the early 1950s after Mossadeq's abortive attempt to nationalize Iranian oil, the Shah remained an American dependent, becoming increasingly hooked on economic and military aid. He took the evolutionary approach to oil nationalization and spent the next 20 years centralizing his regime around his own personality, improving Iran's relations with the Soviet Union, and shrewdly instituting the ""White Revolution"": thereby, he neutralized his internal opposition--the Left and the illegal Tudeh (Communist) party--while preventing real political institutions from developing in Iran. But when the sudden oil wealth, after 1973, brought the West to Iran begging investment opportunities, the consequences of the Shah's vision of a powerful Iran dispensing military and economic munificence in the Persian Gulf set the social upheaval in motion. The revolution, says Saikal, was the result of a top-heavy, corrupt bureaucracy; the emergence of new social classes resulting from contracts and new wealth; the abandonment of farmland (even after land reform) for economic opportunity in already overcrowded Teheran; and a seemingly pervasive secret police which had created an atmosphere of fear and terror in the country. Had political institutions developed, there would have been safety valves for grievances and the Shah could have ruled as a constitutional monarch. As there were none, the fragmented opposition groups rallied around Ayatollah Khomeini whose role Saikal claims has been greatly overemphasized, but whose followers seized control of the revolution. Saikal's balanced, well-grounded analysis of the Shah's regime provides a secular approach to Iranian history--that will, in the long run, have to be amplified with consideration of both the religious and nationalist components. And at the moment, Hoveyda (above) gives a more vigorous and personal account of the course of events.

Pub Date: April 10, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980