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LIBERATION MOVEMENT OF IRAN. A political party whose program is based on a modernist interpretation of Islam, the Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI) was founded in May 1961 by leaders of the former National Resistance Movement (NRM). A few days after the ouster of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (Muhammad Musaddiq) in August 1953, with his close collaborators either under arrest or surveillance, some of Mossadegh’s less politically prominent followers founded the NRM as a secret organization to uphold the nationalist cause under the repressive conditions of the new dictatorship. Among its leaders were the cleric Sayyid Riza Zanjani, Mehdi Bazargan, the lawyer Hasan Nazih, and Muhammad Rahim `Ata’i. The NRM had two social bases: the bazaar and students. Key NRM. leaders came from a bazaar background, which facilitated contacts with Mossadeghist merchants who financed the movement; students, for their part, demonstrated. Based in Tehran, the NRM was also present in a few provincial centers, most notably Mashhad, where ‘Ali Shari ati was active.


The NRM organized protest demonstrations against the regime on the occasions of Mossadegh’s trial (fall 1953) Vice President Richard Nixon’s visit to Iran (December 1953), sham parliamentary elections (winter 1954) and the new oil agreement that resolved Iran’s dispute with Great Britain (spring 1954). Internal disagreements-between secular and Islamist activists, between opponents and proponents of collaboration with the communists-weakened the movement, and after 1954 the increasing efficiency of the shah’s security apparatus caused NRM activity to decline, until the organization was crushed in 1957 when all top activists were arrested and held prisoner for eight months.

When in 1960 Mossadeghists became active again in the course of the shah’s liberalization policies, carried out in response to President John F. Kennedy’s election, conflict arose between erstwhile NRM. Leaders and the National Front’s old guard of former cabinet members. Two issues were at stake. First, NRM veterans and their young sympathizers in the National Front wanted to target the shah personally, whereas the more moderate National Front leaders tried to spare him, hoping that he would become a constitutional monarch. Second, the core members of the former NRM, most of whom were also active in Islamic circles, wanted to mobilize Iranians by appealing to their religious values, a policy the National Front’s secular leadership rejected. The dispute came to a head in May 1961 when Mehdi Bazargan, Sayyid Mahmud Taleqani, Hasan Nazih, Yad Allah Sahabi, and eight other men formed a separate party, the LMI. The party was defined as Muslim, Iranian, constitutionalist, and Mossadeghist.

During the nineteen months of its activity, the LMI opposed the shah’s regime and its policies, calling on the ruler to respect the constitution. When the shah named the independent politician ‘Ali Amini prime minister, the LMI tried to accommodate him so as to weaken the shah, unlike the National Front, which considered Amini too pro-American. Amini’s resignation in July 1962 heralded the end of liberalization in Iran. In January 1963 the shah had the entire leadership of the LMI and the National Front arrested, after both had sharply criticized his planned referendum on what would become the “White Revolution.” Although the secular politicians were soon released, the LMI leaders were sentenced to several years imprisonment.

After the violent repression of the June 1963 riots, which propelled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini into the political limelight and in which certain lower level LMI activists participated, the shah’s rule became increasingly autocratic. This made any oppositional party activity in Iran impossible. Several young LMI militants concluded that the legal constitutional methods of their elders having failed, armed struggle was now called for: they formed the Mujahidin-i Khalq [see Mujahidin, article on Mujahidin-i Khalq]. Others decided to continue the struggle against the shah abroad and formed an LMI-in-exile. The chief initiators of this move were ‘Ali Shari`ati, Ibrahim Yazdi, and Mustafa Chamran. The first was active in Paris until his return to Iran in 1964. Yazdi’s base was Houston, Texas, but he was also in close contact with Khomeini in Iraq. Chamran first worked in the United States but then moved to Lebanon, where he had a leading role in the formation of the Amal movement [see Amal].

The LMI reconstituted itself in 1977 with Bazargan as chairman. In 1978 the party would have preferred to accept the shah’s offer of free elections, but recognizing Khomeini’s hold on Iranian public opinion, it went along with Bazargan’s rejection of elections. In the last weeks of the shah’s regime, LMI figures played a leading role in negotiating with striking oil workers, military leaders, and U.S. diplomats to smooth the transfer of power to the revolutionaries. In 1979 most LMI leaders held key positions in the provisional government. After its ouster in the wake of the seizure of the U.S. hostages in November, the LMI gradually became an oppositional force. It was represented in the first parliament of the Islamic Republic but barred from presenting candidates in subsequent elections. After 1982 it sharply criticized Khomeini’s unwillingness to end the Iran-Iraq War. Since then its activities have been sharply restricted, and many of its leaders have been in and out of prison.

Remarkable continuity characterizes the LMI in its two periods of activity. The party’s program derives from a liberal interpretation of Shi’i Islam that rejects both royal and clerical dictatorship in favor of political and economic liberalism, which are both considered more conducive to the flowering of Islamic values than coercion. Based on a relatively narrow constituency of religiously inclined professionals, the party’s major weakness has been its inability to engender mass support.

[See also Iran; Iranian Revolution of 1979; and the biographies of Bdzargan, Khomeini, Pahlavi, Shari ati, and Taleqani.


Chehabi, H. E. Iranian, Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1990. In-depth study of the history and ideology of the party.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/liberation-movement-iran/

  • writerPosted On: July 28, 2014
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