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CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911) was one of two major revolutions in modernIranthat, together with several rebellions, madeIranthe most revolutionary Middle Eastern country of the modern era.Iranowed its revolutionary character largely to the country’s semicolonial status (much like revolutionaryChina); the alliance among merchants, `ulama’ (religious scholars), and modern intellectuals; and the central role in revolutions of many cities. The particular causes of the 19051911 movement included dissatisfaction with the growth of Western power and with economic stagnation, as well as the influence of modern ideas and of the results of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 and the Russian revolution of 1905.

The immediate cause of revolutionary events was, as is often the case, relatively trivial. In December 1905, the governor ofTehranbeat the feet of a sugar merchant accused of raising prices, after which many mullahs and merchants took bast (sanctuary) inTehran’s royal mosque. After their dispersal, many `ulama’ took bast in a shrine and presented demands to the shah; the crucial one was an undefined “house of justice.” The shah dismissed the governor and in principle granted the house of justice in January 19o6 but did nothing further. There followed preaching by radical preachers, and a sayyid was killed by an officer; as a result, a great mass of mullahs and others took bast in Qom in July 1906. A huge crowd of merchants and tradespeople, estimated at twelve to fourteen thousand, took bast in the British legation inTehranand began to demand a parliament. In August, Muzaffar al-Din Shah accepted this demand, and the first parliament, or majlis, was elected in accordance with a six-class system, which gave more power to the popular-class guilds than they were to enjoy in subsequent parliaments, elected under a nonclass system.

The first Majlis opened in October 19o6, and a committee wrote a Fundamental Law, which the shah signed only when he was mortally ill, in December 19o6. A longer Supplementary Fundamental Law was signed by the new shah, Muhammad `Ali, in October 1907. Together,. these made up the Iranian Constitution that remained, with minor amendments, until the 1979 revolution. It was based largely on the Belgian Constitution of 183o, but on `ulama’ insistence it included references to Islam and a provision that a committee of five mujtahids would pass on the constitutionality of parliamentary laws. This remained a dead letter. The intent of the parliamentarians was to set up a Western-style constitutional monarchy with power held by parliament and its chosen ministers, but this rarely happened.

There was a flowering of liberal and radical newspapers and societies during the revolutionary period. The new shah brought back a conservative prime minister, the Atabak, and the Majlis majority did not insist on itself making this choice. Those opposed to autocracy comprised several groups: merchants and tradespeople; the `ulama’ opposition, led by the liberal sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i and the opportunistic sayyid `Abd Allah Bihbahani; and liberals and radicals, such as the then-socialistTabrizdeputy Sayyid Hasan Taqizadah. The far left and the shah were both involved in the killing of the Atabak on 31 August 1907, by coincidence the same date as the signing of the AngloRussian Treaty dividingIraninto spheres of influence. The introduction of Russo-British cooperation inIranhelped doom the revolution.

The shah, with the aid of the Russian-led Cossack Brigade, staged a successful coup against the Majlis and the opposition in June 1908. OnlyTabriz, led by two guerrilla leaders from the popular classes, held out. When Russian troops moved in, in I9o9, the guerrillas moved to Gilan, where the constitutionalist movement was also strong. In the south, the Bakhtiari tribe had its reasons to oppose the shah, and in July I9o9, the Bakhtiaris and the northern revolutionaries converged onTehran. They deposed the shah and installed his minor son, Ahmad Shah, under a regency. Although leftists, including those influenced by Russian social democrats, were strong in the opposition, and in the strong Democrat Party, most power went to a conservative, Bakhtiari-led cabinet.

Severe financial problems led the government to seek a foreign adviser untied toBritainandRussia, and they brought in an American expert, Morgan Shuster, to reform Iranian finances. Shuster wished to appoint a British subject to head a tax gendarmerie, but the Russians said this violated the Anglo-Russian Treaty, andBritainwent along withRussia’s position. In November 1911, the Russians issued an ultimatum and sent in troops, and for several yearsRussiaandBritaincontrolled the government, marking the real end of the revolution, although the constitution and the experience of political participation remained as its legacy.

[See alsoIran; Majlis; Qajar Dynasty.]


Bayat, Mangol.Iran’s First Revolution: ShNsm and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909.New York, 1991. Questions the usual importance given the `ulama’ and usefully incorporates Russian material, especially on the role of the left.

Browne, Edward G. The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 Cambridge, 1910. The classic work, a partisan prorevolution book written during the revolution; still useful for its translated and summarized primary sources and as a primary source itself of one perspective. Keddie, Nikki R. Iran: Religion, Politics, and Society.London, 198o. Collection of articles, including “Religion and Irreligion in Early Iranian Nationalism” and others discussing the constitutional revolution.

Lambton, Ann K. S., ed. QajarPersia: Eleven Studies.Austin, 1988. Martin, Vanessa. Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 1906.London, 1989. The first of three recent comprehensive books on the revolution, readable and strong in its discussion of Shiism and the role of the `ulama’.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/constitutional-revolution/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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