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PAHLAVI, REZA SHAH (15 March 1878 – 26 July 1944), Iranian monarch and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. Of modest origins and without a formal education, Reza joined the Cossack Brigade at an early age. In February 1921, with the support or approval of the British military and civilian personnel in Iran, Reza (then a brigadier general and known as Reza Khan) launched a coup together with Sayyid Ziya’ al-Din Tabataba’i, a pro-British journalist who briefly became prime minister before being forced into exile. Following the coup, Reza Khan became war minister and commander of the army, and he concentrated his efforts on creating a unified standing army and consolidating his own position, eventually assuming the premiership in October 1923.

From the outset, Reza Khan betrayed a contempt for constitutional procedures and principles. In the face of mounting, primarily religious opposition, he abandoned the republican campaign which he had instigated in 1924 and concentrated instead on establishing a dynasty of his own. His success in suppressing regional contenders and rebellions enhanced his power to the detriment of his parliamentary opponents, who failed to block his assumption of the throne in late 1925.

Enjoying the support of a large section of the intelligentsia, Reza Shah embarked on reforms which embodied ideas that had long been in the air. The strengthening of the army and the centralized bureaucratic state proceeded, as did efforts to disarm and settle the pastoral nomadic population coercively. Public health care and secular primary and higher education received particular attention. Substantial reform in the institutions of justice, together with the promulgation of modern legal codes enabled the government to terminate the capitulations [see Capitulations]. Measures to expand urbanization, strengthen and modernize the Iranian economy, build factories and roads, extend electrification, modernize transportation and communications, and construct a trans-Iranian railroad, among other things, went hand in hand with the imposition of modern dress and headgear for men, the abolition of traditional honorific titles, the adoption of surnames, and the persianization of the calendar.

Many of these reforms, particularly the secularization of education and the legal system, directly encroached on the privileges of the `ulama’ (community of religious scholars). The outlawing of the veil in January 1936 in defiance of religious and traditional sensibilities aggravated the situation. Reza Shah, however, tolerated no opposition. He was inspired by a nationalism which sought its mythological repository in the pre-Islamic era of Iranian history and affected the whole ethos of his rule.

Despite socioeconomic reforms, the power of the shah remained arbitrary and no institutions were developed to depersonalize the state. Parliamentary politics was reduced to a mere facade. Rarely courteous toward subordinates, the quick-tempered shah ruled by fear and by rewarding docile loyalty. Those whom he perceived to be capable of endangering his own power or his son’s subsequent assumption of the throne often met a tragic end, even if they were his closest aides. Reza Shah was deeply suspicious of the Russians and particularly of the British; toward the end of his reign, with the outbreak of World War II, Iran’s close economic ties with Germany, and refusal on the grounds of neutrality to expel German nationals, prompted the Allied occupation of the country in August 1941. Reza Shah abdicated and was exiled to South Africa, where he lived until his death. Reza Shah rarely made public speeches; he had a remarkable ability to absorb and remember details, was frugal, and was very keen on amassing a personal fortune, particularly through the acquisition of land. He was essentially pragmatic, espousing no coherent intellectual creed, and yet nationalism, etatism, anticlericalism, and a desire to modernize Iran were important elements in his political outlook.

[See also Iran.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

No scholarly biography of Reza Shah exists in English. For a slightly dated but still useful account of developments during his reign, see Amin Banani, The Modernization of Iran, 1921-1941 (Stanford, Calif., 1961). On his early political career and rise to power, see Houshang Sabahi, British Policy in Persia, 1918-1925 (Portland, Ore., 1990), and Michael P. Zirinsky, “Imperial Power and Dictatorship: Britain and the Rise of Reza Shah, 1921-1926,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 24.4 (November 1992): 639-663. See also E. Eshraghi, “Anglo-Soviet Occupation of Iran in August 1941,” Middle Eastern Studies 20.9 (January 1984): 27-52.

FAKHREDDIN AZIMI

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/pahlavi-reza-shah/
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