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Definition: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 1919–1980 shah of Iran (1941–79)

Summary Article: Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza Shah of Iran (1919–1980)
from Oil: A Cultural and Geographic Encyclopedia of Black Gold

Born in 1919, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the son of Reza Khan, an army officer. The father was ruthless, overthrowing the government of Iran in 1921 and installing himself as prime minister. In 1925, he named himself Shah and his son a prince. Reza Khan raised his son among men, believing that a feminine atmosphere might corrupt him. Often ill as a child, Pahlavi was once near death, ascribing his recovery to God's grace. Educated in Switzerland, Pahlavi returned to Iran in 1936. Once back in Iran, he entered Tehran's Military Officers’ School. Reza Khan arranged for his son to marry the sister of Egypt's King Farouk. The couple did not take to one another and they divorced, though not before she bore him a daughter. A second marriage, no less successful, followed. Pahlavi's third marriage was a source of contentment and new children.

In 1941, in the midst of World War II, Britain occupied Iran, doubtless to protect its access to oil. The British forced Reza Khan into exile and installed Pahlavi as Shah, evidently believing that the new Shah would reward the British with more oil. Britain hoped Pahlavi would bring stability to Iran. Ordinary Iranians thought Pahlavi weak and under the influence of the West. After all he had been educated in Switzerland. In 1951, the Iranian Parliament voted to nationalize the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (once the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and now British Petroleum). An outraged Britain refused to import Iranian oil, depriving Iran of revenues. Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, the driving force behind nationalization, demanded more power from Pahlavi to reform the economy. In 1952, Pahlavi dismissed Mossadegh, perhaps fearing him as a rival. After four days of riots, Pahlavi reinstalled Mossadegh, though he dismissed him again in 1953. Pahlavi fled Iran when Mossadegh refused his dismissal. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) entered Iran, stirring up pro-Pahlavi sentiment, and he returned to Iran. Once in power again, Pahlavi purged the army of all officers with ties to the Communist Party. He created a secret police to ferret out enemies. In the 1960s, he cancelled elections and purged Parliament of his opponents. At Pahlavi's urging, his closest childhood friend, Asdullah Alam, formed a new government and extended the right to vote to women. In 1963, during a political power struggle, Pahlavi arrested his long-time critic the Ayatollah Khomeini, causing widespread riots. Pahlavi ordered the army to kill protestors and the riots collapsed. In 1973, Pahlavi was a leader of the embargo by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the quadrupling of oil prices worldwide. His leadership gorged Iran with oil revenues. Between 1970 and 1974, Iranian oil revenues increased from $1 billion to $20 billion. Amidst widespread protest, Pahlavi fled to the United States where he sought treatment for cancer in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini returned and led the Iranian Revolution which overthrew Pahlavi. By then, oil had come to dominate the economy, accounting for 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 77 percent of government revenues in 1978. With Pahlavi in the United States, leaders of the Iranian Revolution took oil off the market. Prices surged and long lines formed at gasoline stations, causing the 1979 energy crisis. Pahlavi died in 1980.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, during a visit to Washington, D.C., on November 15, 1977.

(AP Photo)

See also: British Petroleum; Iran; Mossadegh, Mohammad; 1979 Energy Crisis; United States

  • Abrhamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton University Press Princeton NJ, 1982.
  • Reich, Bernard, ed. Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press Westport CT, 1990.
  • Zonis, Marvin. The Political Elite of Iran. Princeton University Press Princeton NJ, 1971.
  • Christopher Cumo
    Copyright 2014 by Xiaobing Li and Michael Molina

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