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History, Mohammad Reza Shah’s Consolidation of Power

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza Shah, Mosaddeq, Savak, White Revolution

Although he had succeeded his father as shah in 1941, prior to 1953 Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi had been overshadowed by Mosaddeq and other politicians and seemed destined to remain a passive, constitutional monarch. Following the coup, however, he moved to consolidate power in his own hands. With the help of the military and later a secret police, the Savak, the shah created a centralized, authoritarian regime. He suppressed opposition by former National Front supporters and Communists, tightly controlled legislative elections, and appointed a succession of prime ministers loyal to him. In 1961 the shah dissolved the Majlis, instructing the prime minister to rule by decree until new elections were held.

Initially, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi did not demonstrate the same enthusiasm for development and reform programs that his father had shown. His early reforms were undertaken only with prodding from the United States, which believed that dissatisfied Iranian peasants were susceptible to influence by local agents of the USSR. In the early 1960s more than 60 percent of Iran’s inhabitants were sharecroppers who received a subsistence share (usually 20 percent) of the harvest from their landlords. A land reform program implemented between 1962 and 1971 required landlords to sell most of their land to the government, which then resold it to the peasants. Although widely promoted as a major rural reform effort, only half of the peasants obtained any land under the program, and about three-quarters of those receiving land got less than 6 hectares (15 acres).

Mohammad Reza Shah took more interest in industrial and public works projects, and between 1963 and 1978 numerous development schemes contributed to an increase in industrialization and urbanization. The shah presented his program as an integral part of a wider reform effort known as the White Revolution, initiated to prevent a Red, or Communist, revolution from originating at the grass roots level. The middle class expanded, but much of the urban growth resulted from the migration of poor villagers seeking city jobs. Consequently, slums proliferated on the outskirts of cities. Government policy focused on the creation of modern industrial facilities but neglected the development of social services. The construction activity under the White Revolution stimulated expectations of political and social change. Oil revenues tripled after 1973 due to higher prices and increased sales, providing ready funding for the shah’s programs. However, economic success only caused the shah’s regime to become more repressive as his confidence in his rule grew.

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