Reza Shah: The Founder of Modern Iran?

Table of Content


            Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878-1944) or commonly known as Reza Shah was one of the most dominating figures in the history of Iran. From being a common soldier to a king, he undoubtedly left his stamp on his country. He was responsible for the transformation of Iran into one of the most powerful nation in the Middle East. Despite this accomplishment, Reza Shah’s reign was marked by dictatorship and violence that eventually led to his exile in 1941.

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            Subsequently, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Reza Shah’s son to a second wife, inherited the throne and continued with his father’s “White Revolution,” a move that signaled Iran’s gradual Westernization through land reform and women’s suffrage. Like his father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s efforts paved the way for the decline of rural Iran and the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. However, the long time opposition of the religious clergies and other traditional Islamic forces were against the modernization of Iran. Among his most prominent opponents in his move towards modernization was Ayatollah Khomeini.

            Mohammad Reza Shah continued the legacy of his father in international diplomacy, in which the United States and Great Britain were the primarily allies, but differences in policies forced the two Western powers to withdraw their support. On the other hand, Germany and Soviet Union were consistent with alliance. This paper shall delve on the life, career, rise to power, and eventual fall of Reza Shah Pahlavi, relating the positive or negative side of his ruling that charted the early developments of Iran.


The early life of Reza Shah

            From the electronic book, the ‘The self-made King’, by Cyrus Ghani which was published in 1999 by Iranian Historical Archives web site, narrates the biography of Reza Shah Pahlavi. Based on the biography, Reza Shah was born on March 16th 1878 from the town of Alasht in the province of Savadkuh, Reza Shah was formerly named as “Reza Savad-Koohi” and became known as “Reza Khan” derived from his provincial birthplace. During his early life as an army, he renamed himself as Reza Khan, but eventually changed to “Reza Khan Mirpanj” after gaining military rank promotion. The military rank promotions have been consistent that made it to his position as Minister of War, and then again renamed himself as “Reza Khan Sardar Sepah”, naming after the Persian title position being the Head of the Armed Forces. The rise to power as the Shah of Persia has brought his surname as “Pahlavi” which was then known to Persians as Reza Shah Pahlavi (1).

            The ancestry of Reza Shah can be traced in the late 17th century, having Mohammad Khan as the first member of the family.  The family belonged to a small clan of Palani located in the Savadkuh province. Their clan has belonged from soldiers who contributed to the local armies. Reza Shah was the eldest son of Reza Khan.  His grandfather, Morad Ali Khan, was an officer serving in the local provincial army regiment and died during a siege in Heart in 1848 (1).

In 1903, Reza Shah married Tajmah, a Hamadan native, who bore him a daughter they named Fatemeh. After their daughter’s death, he divorced Tajmah. In 1916, Reza Shah got married to Nimtaj, the eldest daughter of Teimour Khan, who was a Brigadier General serving in the regular army who traces their roots from Caucasus. From Nimtaj, Reza had four children that include Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who became Crowned Prince in 1925 (Ghani Cyrus, February 1999). In 1922, Reza Shah had a third marriage with Turan Amir Soleimani, the daughter of Issa Majd Saltaneh, who was at that time was one of the most recognized men. A year later, after divorcing Turan, he married Esmat Dolatshahi as the fourth and last spouse, in which Reza Shah has four sons and a daughter (1).

Reza Shah: The Military Man

Ghani (1999) has also accounted the life of Reza Shah as a military man. Accordingly, through the efforts of his uncle, Abol Qasem, Reza Shah entered the Cossacks Brigade in 1893-94 at the age of 15. There are no current records documenting Reza’s service until 1911. It was believed that he served as a guard for the Dutch, Belgian, or German Legion.

In 1911, under the leadership of Farmanfarma, Reza Shah participated in battles against Salar al Dowleh who was trying to overthrow the Tehran Government in order to restore Mohammed Ali, his brother, to the throne. During that battle, he was elevated to the rank of First Lieutenant. In 1912, he was promoted to Captain because of his proficiency in handling machine guns (2). By 1915, Reza Shah was already recognized in the military service for his bravery. Because of this, he was frequently chosen by his senior officers to accompany them on their military expeditions. Soon his integrity, intelligence, and professionalism spread throughout Iran as well as other provinces. By this time, Reza Shah already had a rank of colonel (2).

Conspiracy with the Russians

            Further in Ghani’s (1999) accounts, by 1918 Reza Shah has already caught the attention of the senior officers of the Iranian government and British delegation. His most important exploit was perhaps the role he played in the ouster of Col. Clerge, who was recently appointed by Kerensky to head the Cossack Division. Reza Shah conspired with the forces of Starosselsky in moves to remove Col. Clerge from his division.

The latter received false accusations for sympathizing with subordinate Russian officers. Although his intentions were not clear, the rebellion and secessionist movements in the northern part of Iran that was openly supported by the Bolsheviks which was the primary reason for his acceptance of the accusations hurled on Col. Clerge (3). As cited, another reason why he supported the move to oust Col. Clerge was because he was promised a promotion if he support Starosselsky. It was revealed in the newspaper Ra’ad published in 1918 that Reza Khan and a certain Col. Filartov have conspired for the removal of Col. Clerge from his command (3).

Upon the ouster of Col. Clerge, Reza Shah was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. Accordingly, Reza Shah was also the “mastermind” behind other plots of removing top ranking military officials, similar to the ouster of Col. Clerge. More than his promotion, his new rank as Brigadier General has given him more ancillary benefits. Likewise, Reza Shah’s leadership of military campaigns in the Northern region of Persia has tagged him as a reputable and courageous military leader. However, his prominence and relations with the Russian officers eventually slowed down (3).

Alliance with the British

            As further derived from the electronic book, in 1919 Reza Shah started to gain the attention of British senior officers represented by Gen. Dickson, who had a high regard for him. This was strengthened by the fact that Reza Shah showed his hostility towards the Russian Cossack officers (4). Reza Khan was highly sensitive with what was transpiring in his beloved country of Iran. During his childhood, he already showed disgust with the despicable condition of his country and army. And, as a young soldier who has experienced different battles, it bothered him most that it was the Russians and not the Persians who was running their country (4).

In ‘Encyclopedia of World Biography on Reza Shah Pahlavi’ electronic archive which was published in 2005, some officers of the Cossacks Brigade left with the exception of the White Russians who were still in-charge at the end of the Russian Revolution. By 1920, Reza took command of other Persian officers in removing the Russians from their command (1).

The Coup d’Etat and Rise to Power

            As documented by the Encyclopedia of World Biography (2005), Reza Shah successfully ousted the government in Tehran on February 21st 1921, together with brilliant journalist Sayyed Ziya al-Din Tabatai who was part of the planning. Subsequently, Tabatai was positioned as Prime Minister and Reza Shah became the War Minister, as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But, the two could not meet on certain goals and methods during the succeeding three months (1). Since Reza Shah was the most dominant figure during that time, Tabatai was forced to relinquish his position and went to exile. Ahmad Shad, the last among the Qajar kings appointed Reza Shah as Prime Minister before going on an indefinite leave for Europe (1).

In October of 1925, the entire Qajar Dynasty was overrun by Reza Shah’s men through a coup d’état, and Reza Shah ascended to the throne and become Iran’s new king in a couple of months. In April of 1926, he changed his name to Reza Shah Palavi and ushered in the Palavi Dynasty (2).

Reza Shah as Ruler of Iran

            The electronic archive documentaries of Looklex Encyclopedia have featured ‘Reza Shah Pahlavi’ in 1996 which discusses the timeline of Reza Shah’s ruling in Iran. It cited from the documentaries that the strong personality and charismatic figure blends in Reza Shah’s character which was one of the principal reasons why he rose to power. And, aside from his political intelligence, he likewise capable of organizing and mobilizing people to rally behind his cause, as well adept to divide and weaken his opponents (1).

Reza Khan utilized a similar strategy used by Ataturk in Turkey for Westernization of Iran. One of his first moves was to establish a national civil service and a strong police force. At the same time, he initiated reforms to hasten the economic development of the country. Among the most important measures he initiated were the infrastructural establishment of Trans-Iranian Railway and the construction of 20,000 kilometers road trail (1).

To may Iranians, the rise to power of Reza Shah in 1921 symbolized the dawning of a new era in the history of Iran. His rise from being a soldier to a king is comparable to rise to power of French military man Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), and as well as the Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte (1895–1948). To note with comparison and contrast, Reza Shah’s rise to power similar to Napoleon Bonaparte and Folke Bernadotte have likewise glaring differences. First, Napoleon entered a military school prior to his ventures in the army. Like Reza Shah, Bernadotte was a soldier then a diplomat who ended up as a king, except that the latter ruled a foreign country. In contrast, Reza Shah rose from among the ranks and rules his very own people.

Rezah Shah’s national policies was characterized by two main characteristics namely nationalism and modernization. With this in mind, he was often compared to Peter the Great (1672-1725) of Moscow, who was responsible for leading Russia towards the path of modernization. Reza Shah was also compared to Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) whose reform measures were similar to his (1).

According to the Iranian historian Reza Niazmand who authored ‘Reza Pahlavi the Great’ which was published in the electronic publication of Reza Phalavi web site in 2006, it is noteworthy to mention that prior to his reign as a king; Reza Shah had initiated steps that would establish a strong national government as well as expanding control over the country. He had a brilliant group of army officers and younger bureaucrats in his government, in which were mostly trained in Europe. Jointly, they implemented a comprehensive program of change that would map out Iran’s modernization (1)

In order to build a strong central authority, Reza Shah created 40,000 strong heterogeneous armed forces. In 1926, he convinced the Maljis to enact a law that would pave the way for the establishment of a universal military conscription. Throughout his reign, Rezah Shah used the army to strengthen his control as well as to pacify Iran and take control of the tribes. He used military force in settling with the tribes (2).

Internal and national reforms

            In ‘The Era of Reza Shah 1921-1941’ from the electronic library of the US Library of Congress (1987), it accounted that one of the major concerns of Reza Shah’s government was to initiate internal and national reforms in Iran. He constructed roads, provided wireless service, and took over control of telegraph service from the British. His major accomplishment was the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway which stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea. He did it without asking for any loan from foreign countries. Aside from that, he likewise established trade monopolies paving the way for limitations in the freedom of merchants. He likewise created the National Bank of Iran (1).

            Reza Shah, like Shab Abbas I and Nader Shah, attempted to destroy the prestige and power of the clergy. His initial moves include partial discarding of Islamic laws, abandonment of Moslem education, and abolition of religious processions.  Reza Shah likewise replaced the Islamic calendar with the old Persian-Zoroastrian solar calendar. Mosques were modernized and equipped with pews and pilgrimage to Mecca was discouraged (1).

In addition, Reza Shah instituted educational reforms which concluded the monopoly of clerics in the field of education. He codified laws establishing a body of secular laws, which were subjected to application and interpretation of a secular judiciary outside the power of religious establishment. Aside from that, he excluded clergies from becoming judges. Reza Shah established a system of secular courts (1). Moreover, Reza Shah transferred vital and lucrative tasks of notarizing records from the clergies to notaries. He implemented encroachments on the administration of vaafs as well as on the licensure of graduates of religious seminaries (1).

Socio-cultural and educational reforms

            As additionally derived from the US Library of Congress (1987), the socio-cultural and educational reforms were another aspect in modernizing Iran. On personal identification of families, individual titles were abolished and people were required to select a family name. Men were required to wear European attire and headgear while the women were asked to remove their veil. In 1934, the University of Tehran was established as well as the Persian Academy, which was principally responsible for eliminating Arabic and other foreign words from the Persian language (2).

            On March 21, 1935, Reza Shah issued a proclamation requesting foreign dignitaries to use the name Iran when making formal correspondences. Persia is a term “Iran” in the Persian language. Critics of the decree claimed that such move was culturally damaging and marked the separation of Iran from its ancient past. Iran literally means “Land of the Aryans” (2). Rezah Shah also spearheaded the Women’s Awakening Movement (1936-1941) which tackled the issue of “unveiling” of the women. The aim of this movement was to establish balance between emancipation and control of women (2).

            Reza Shah even went to the extent of ordering his wife and daughter to appear in public without the veil as an example for other Iranian women. To ensure that there is strict enforcement of this policy, military officers were constantly going around (2). Aside from that, Reza Shah also planned to change the names of several towns and replace it with names of pre-Islamic kings and mythological heroes to eliminate Arabic words in the Persian language.  It was the ultimate objective of the Pahlavi Dynasty to integrate secular nationalism (3).

Foreign relations

            The electronic history journal ‘Reza Shah Palavi’ of the Network of Iranian-American Society (2008) has documented that,  in 1928 Reza Shah worked for the abolition of privilege of Europeans to become subjects of their own consular courts instead of Iranian courts. Due to his arousing suspicion of both Britain and the Soviet Union, he likewise circumscribed contacts with foreign embassies. The commercial policies being implemented in the Soviet Union during that time had already created adverse affects on Iran (1).

In 1932, Iran’s relation with Great Britain was strained after the former canceled their agreement with the latter as far as oil exportation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company is concerned. Despite the signing of a fresh and better pact which was eventually signed, it did not meet the demands of Iran and left both sides disappointed. As a countermeasure for British and Soviet influence, Rezah Shah established German commercialism in Iran. Germany was established as the largest trading partner of Iran before World War II (1).

Reza Shah’s modernization plan for Iran was quite ambitious. He intended to develop large-scale industries, initiate infrastructure projects, build a cross country railroad, set-up a national public school system, implement reforms in the Iranian judiciary, and enhance health care. It was his belief that putting educated personnel in his strong and centralized government would auger well for his modernization plan (2).

He sent many Iranians, including his son, to Europe so that they can undergo training. For sixteen years, the numerous development projects that he initiated led to the urbanization of Iran. His projects saw the rapid progress of public education as well as the formation of new social classes namely a professional middle class and an industrial working class (2).

Secular Nationalism

            From the article ‘Iranian Nationalism’ by Pejman Yousefzadeh which was published in 2008 by Persian-Iranian Journal, Reza Shah was instrumental in shaping nationalism in Iran by integrating a distinctly secular ideology and minimizing the influence of Islam on the country. He was insistent with other countries to refer to Persia as Iran. Literally, the latter means “land of the Aryans.” By doing this, Reza Shah wanted to place emphasis on the racial distinction between Iranians on one hand and Arabians on the other (1).

             According to Yousefzadeh (2008), even Reza Shah’s inclusion of Pahlavi in his name was meant to infuse Iranian nationalism. “Pahlavi” is derived from one of the Old Persian language, Pahlevan which means “champion”. The wrestling houses or zurkhaneh, on the other hand, were initially designed by Persians as a reaction to the Arab invasion which led to the spread of the Islamic practices. These houses likewise served as training grounds for Persian uprising against Arabian conquerors (1).

It was then perceived that Reza Shah wanted to transform Iran into a Republic prior to his rise to the throne. This was to emulate the efforts of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, who was successful in transforming his country into a secular republic. However, the Mullahs (Islam religious teachers) who were considered as defenders of the Shi’a Faith were against this move. But, most of Reza Shah’s projects were successful in limiting the role of Islam in Iran. With the establishment of strong Iranian armed forces, new military ranks and titles were comparable to the religious titles accorded to Mullahs (2).

Conflicts with the British

From the historical accounts of Pamela Maxson, author of  ‘Muhammad Riza Shah Palavi’ which was published in 1999 by the Northern Virginia Community College Press, the Great Britain already showed great interest with Iran through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, even before Reza Shah ascended to the throne. This partnership provided benefits for both countries especially Iran, which received military and political support from the British government (1). However, throughout the reign of Reza Shah, he experienced constant conflicts with Great Britain which was due to the influence of the latter on the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (1).

            In order to free himself from the influence of the British, Reza Shah secured an alliance with the Soviet Union and Germany. The latter accounted for forty percent of trading with Iran. There were many German advisors in the Iranian government and at the onset of the Second World War, Iran remained neutral (1). Although the British Empire had control of India, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East, it was essentially for the purpose of maintaining status quo and not designed for capturing territories or using military or aggressive force. Great Britain’s desire on Iran was geared towards taking advantage of the economic benefits that it has achieved as a result of its partnership with Iran (2).

            It may be reflected that Reza Shah considered the British influence as totally different from that of the Soviet Union, which was showing signs of aggressiveness. Thus, even when the breaking of the oil agreement between the British and Iranian government created tension between their foreign relations, both parties handled the situation with rational minds and restrain.

The Soviet Threat

            As further cited from the historical accounts of Maxson (1999), one of the major crises that marked Reza Shah’s reign was the continuous threat of Soviet Union. The gradual advance of the Soviet Red Army in the northern provinces of Iran endangered the integrity of the entire state (2).

            Prior to his ascencion to power, the Soviets were already attempting to assemble a separatist Communist government in Gilan province. With the help of military as well as diplomatic countermeasures, the Soviet threat was concluded with the signing of the Soviet-Iranian Treaty on February 1921 which consequently paved the way for the pull out of Soviet troops from the territory of Iran (2). However, the negotiation of the Iranian diplomats in Moscow called was initiated when Reza Shah was not yet in full command of the country and was spearheading military operations between the Northern rebels and their Soviet comrades (3).

Balancing Soviet and British Influence

            In ‘History of Modern Iran’ 1999 electronic publication of Mid East Web, it cited that Reza Shah was willing to work hand in hand with neighboring countries which were getting weary of potential Soviet expansion and attack, in his pursuit of protecting their independence and security,. In 1937, Reza Shah joined a regional alliance called Saadabad Pact with other countries like Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At this point in time, Reza Shah was already decided to look for a third party as a means of escape from the threat of the Soviet Union as well as the influence of Great Britain (1).

Similar to the 1911 experiment wherein Morgan Shuster, an American expert, was invited to assist in the reorganization of Persia’s finances, Reza Shah invited Dr. Arthur Chester Millspaugh to help in the reorganization of Iran’s treasury. At the same time, he appointed Dr. Kurt Lindenblatt, a German, as governor of the National Bank of Iran (1).

Likewise, he invited several German technicians as advisers in the development of Iranian industry and communications. While their invitation to the United States and Germany was in no way a move towards establishing military or political alliance with the two countries, Reza Shah saw this as a crucial factor in limiting Iran’s dependence to Soviet Union and Britain (1). During his reign, Reza Shah tried to avoid being involved with Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Although many of his development programs demanded the technical expertise of foreign engineers, as much as possible he awarded contracts to non-British and non-Soviet companies.

Although the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was operated by the British, and thus had control of Iran’s oil fields, Reza Shah still avoided the British and looked into European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, among others for technical advice. When Iran declared its neutrality at the onset of World War II, the British insisted that the German engineers and technicians were spies and called for the expulsion of the Germans. Reza Shah did not give in to the call saying that it would compromise his development programs. The British aroused suspicion because Reza Shah has secretly forged a pact with the Nazi Germans (1).

The fall of Reza Shah

            The Mid East Web (1999) further accounted that at the onset Reza Shah had popular public support for his efforts to restore order, unify the country, and strengthen national independence as well as on his economic and educational reforms. However, while he achieved success in all of these, Reza Shah began to take away the powers of the Majles (members of parliament). Likewise, he started to muzzle the press, and arrested critics of his administration. The police chiefs under his government were notoriously harsh. Religious leaders were either imprisoned or exiled (2).

             In 1936, the government and religious leaders experienced their worst confrontation. As worshippers were protesting the reforms being initiated by Reza Shah, the troops destroyed the sanctity of Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashhad. The incident led to the death of twelve worshipers and injury to many protesters. In addition, Reza Shah likewise ordered the killing of powerful tribal chiefs. Bureaucrats who were gaining power were likewise put to death. His minister of court and close confidant Abdul-Hosain Teimurtash was imprisoned and silently executed (2).

As time passed by, Reza Shah began to amass huge parcels of land. The tax policies that he is applying proved too much for peasants and the lower classes. This resulted to the landowners having control of lands and the peasant situation deteriorated during the reign of Reza Shah. By the middle of the 1930s, the people were becoming hugely dissatisfied with their leader (2).

            It may be interpreted that if there was one weakness that consumed Reza Shah, was perhaps his desire to become wealthy, particularly real estate. In his desire to acquire property, there was a time that he relied on other people who in turn amassed wealth for themselves; as a self made man, he the tendency to delegate his authority to other people. Compared to other reformers, Reza Shah lacked ideology, party, and well-defined program. Since he was totally in control of every aspect in his life, he had to learn how to improvise and decide on the spot as he saw fit. Although he had a superficial idea of modernization, Reza Shah was able to influence the country to realize the need for change, without which modernization is unlikely.

            By the late 1930s, Reza Shah’s reign was marked by despotism and dislike. The Majiles, the Iranian Parliament, disagreed with his decrees. Likewise, freedom of the press was suppressed and political leaders such as Mossadegh and Teymourtash were incarcerated or killed instantly. Any exercise of democracy was quickly quashed. The urban middle class, managers, and technocrats were treated with an Iron Fist because the industries owned by the state were unproductive and ineffective. The bureaucracy whom he initially established began to crumble as anyone who disagreed with his whims was imprisoned at a time when Reza Shah likes (2).

            In addition, he took away the lands of the Qajar Dynasty (ruling family of Iran in the period 1796-1925) as well as from his rivals and added it into his own estates. Corruption and institutionalization found its way in Reza Shah’s government. He completely relied on the military and army, which constantly received half of public revenue just to keep them loyal. While the landed upper class were no longer influential during Reza Shah’s reign, his main opponents did not come from the gentry but were composed of Iranian tribes, clerics, as well as the new breed of young intellectuals (2).

            It may be said that throughout the term of Reza Shah, the accomplishments of his vested interests would not have been possible without his military officers. Reza Shah knew that he would be criticized for his reform measures which are the reason for the implementation of a ban on criticism. He strengthened his army to ensure the security of the country but in the process a number of officers resorted to tyranny and suppression of the masses.

The Rise of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi

            In this section of the paper, it may be also important to discuss the transition of the Reza Shah Pahlavi regime, as it was tossed to his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who inherited the regime after the exile of his father in 1941.

            As again derived from the US Library of Congress (1987), it accounted that during the German invasion of Russia in World War II, the Allied forces accused Reza Shah of collaborating with the Germans. In 1941, the Allies demanded that Iran cut its ties with Germany and expel the German advisors (3). At that point in time, Iran was already an important partner for oil and was considered the best supply route to Russia. Due to Reza Shah’s failure to comply with the terms of the Russo-British Plan of using Iran as a supply route as well as his refusal to expel the Germans in Iran, the British and Russians jointly invaded Iran on August 26, 1941.

             Meanwhile, Great Britain and the Soviet Union was worried that Reza Shah would align his oil-rich state with the Germans during the Second World War. However, the strongest motive of the Allied invasion was Reza Shah’s decision to remain neutral as well as his refusal to let Russians use Iran as training and supply depot for its war campaign against the Germans.

For that reason, Winston Churchill gave Iran the nickname; “The Bridge to Victory” (3). During the Russian and British invasion of Iran, the Persian Army was no match for the joint forces and was easily overran. The combined forces of the Soviets and British found their way into Iran using a massive air, land, and sea assault. Reza Shah could not believe the news that 15 Iranian divisions waved the white flag without giving it a good fight. Likewise, some of his troops decided to disperse and leave their posts while those left behind were held captives by the Allies (3).

The vaunted strong military of Reza Shah put up little resistance and hostilities lasted for less than a week. The Iranian king had no other alternative but to abdicate his throne in favor of Muhammad Reza Shah Palavi, his son. After his abdication, Reza Shah was forced into exile. Initially, he fled to Mauritius and then to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he either died or was poisoned by British agents on July 26, 1944.  It was Reza Shah’s son who added the title “The Great” to his father’s name (3).

            There was still discontent in the new Iranian government as a result of the continued influence of the British in the country’s oil industry. On April 29, 1951, Muhammad Mosaddeq was appointed Prime Minister primarily due to his spearheading moves to remove British influence and nationalize the oil industry. A couple of years later, Mosaddeq successfully nationalized the oil industry of Iran. Mossadeq became a popular figure in Iran and protests actions forced Mohammed Reza to go into exile (3).

 However, the United States realized that Mohammed Reza was the only leader capable of stabilizing the Middle East. Using the CIA, they devised a plan to oust Mosaddeq and after only a day in exile, Mohammed Reza regained his throne. In 1963, the Pahlavi Dynasty initiated the White Revolution, the first step in Mohammed Reza’s efforts to Westernize and modernizes Iran. However, the gap between the rich and the poor widened. Aside from that, the Iranian oil industry was not generating enough wealth to be equally disseminated to the people. Opposition for the Shah was gaining ground lead by Ayatollah Khomeini (3).

The Legacy of Reza Shah

            From this section, we would recall the discussions on the legacy of Reza Shah, wherein some of his development programs were highly criticized for being wasteful and being pro-British. For instance, Reza Shah decided to forego the economically-benefiting construction of an east-west railway system in favor of a north-south system simply because the British wanted to move their troops to Russia and the Indian subcontinent as part of their defensive strategy. It may be noted that one negative aspect of modernization that Reza Shah failed to address was public health. Historical accounts from previous references tell that most of the cities in Iran had no access to modern medicine and sanitation. Additionally, there was high incidence of infant mortality, from which Tehran had less than 40 registered doctors.

             Reza Shah was the first Iranian king after 1,400 years to honor the Jews by praying to the Torah and bowing when he toured the Jewish community of Isfahan. This boosted the self-esteem of the Jews in Iran which prompted them to make Reza Shah their second most respected Iranian leader next to King Cyrus the Great. On the positive aspect of his ruling, the efforts of rebuilding, unifying, and strengthening Iran was considered by many as a gargantuan task that required much time and energy. One cannot help but be amazed by the strength of Reza Shah in instituting social and cultural reforms amidst fierce opposition from sectors with vested interests.

We may also remark to support the findings that Reza Shah ushered in what is called “meritocracy” (which means system advancement is according to individual capability or success), referring to the political leadership of Reza Shah. It can be noted that his government has inherited wealth, earmarked international linkages, economic competence and performance. The main thrust of his government was to transform a lethargic society into an active and enlightened citizenry.

From the electronic article of Chris Pearson (2009), entitled: ‘Jottings on Gholam Reza Afkhami’s the Life and Times of the Shah’ which was published by WordPress.Com, he wrote and described the positive findings on the legacy of Reza Shah Pahlavi, as follows:

·         The contributions made by Reza Shah to modernization efforts in Iran were invaluable and were far greater than the criticisms he received from his detractors;

·         There is an underlying reason when it comes to Mossadegh and the infamous coup that ousted him;

·         There is an underlying reason when it comes to Mossadegh and the infamous coup that ousted him;

·         The government’s dream of establishing a “Great Civilization” resulted to an alternative modernity amidst the grandeur of ancient Persia and the promise of Westernization in the field of science and politics.

It can be recalled that prior to Reza Shah’s ruling, Persia was at the mercy of the feudal system being enforced by the Qajar Dynasty, which in return made capitulations with one foreign power to another. As a result, the feudal lords basically surrendered Persian sovereignty to the Soviets and the British, who was essentially in control of several aspects in the country.

At the same time, the rulers of the Qajar Dynasty were more worried about keeping their foreign paid “subsidies” than protecting the interest of Iran and improving conditions of the citizens. In contrast, Reza Shah stepped forward against the feudal lords and foreign countries. Despite all the criticisms being hurled at him, the reforms he initiated created a positive effect on Iran. To this very day, ordinary Iranians are still reaping the benefits of Reza Shah’s legacy.

While the Qajar rulers made no moves to fight British and Russian influence, Reza Shah refused to surrender his nationalism and just allow the British and Russians to interfere in his country’s affairs. So present day Iranians owe a lot to Reza Shah. When Reza Shah agreed to abdicate his throne, Iran was back to where they were before—in turmoil and under foreign occupation. At first, the British thought of installing Crown Prince Hamid Mirza Qajar and in the process reinstating the Qajar Dynasty. However, they decided to go for Mohammed Reza Palavi since there was not an instance wherein a previously ousted dynasty assumed power again. Another reason is that Hamid Mirza was not able to communicate in Persian.

Upon assumption of power, the very first thing on Mohammed Reza Palavi’s agenda was to improve and promote its oil industry. He sought the help of the AIOC in getting better terms for Iran until it is capable to independently handle its oil market.  However, Dr. Mossadeq was not a staunch supporter of Iran’s gradualism so that when he initiated radical steps to nationalize oil, the economic well-being of Iran was set aside. London, for its part, took Iran out of the oil industry picture as well as launching an oil embargo against Iran.

Eventually, the government of Mohammed Reza Pelavi began opposing him and moved for the ouster of Mossadeq which had the backing of huge segments of the Iranian community.  So with Mossadeq out of the picture, it paved the way for Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s gaining prestige, popularity, and confidence as a ruler and focus on his father’s dream of turning Iran into an industrialized state.

Throughout his life, Reza Shah was focused on turning Iran into an industrialized state which he called “Great Civilization” which looks back to its roots and ancient culture while looking forward to a bright future ahead. Reza Shah worked so hard to diversify Iran’s economic wealth and establish a private sector which would eventually take over the place of oil as the foundation of Iranian economy.

Although Reza Shah may have been too ambitious and aggressive, the situation called for it. His aggressiveness was quite evident in several areas of their economy: a rapidly growing GDP, vastly improved literacy rates, the birth of a manufacturing sector, and the establishment of a natural gas line expanding from the Gulf to the Soviet Union.  One of the biggest legacies of Reza Shah was the emancipation of women from being a second-class citizen to becoming a productive member of Iran’s political and socio-economic development.

Discussions on positive and negative points

            As previously mentioned throughout the overall discussions, we may as well highlight the findings on the positive and negative points of Reza Shah Pahlavi’s legacy in modernizing Iran.

            It can be perceived that the rise to power of Reza Shah Pahlavi was ushered by his strong desires to contribute socio-cultural-economic-political development in Iran, which was entangled from the Qajar Dynasty. Thus, it positively brought him with some motivations to raising himself from the ranks-and-file of the Persian army, wherein he succeeded at the long run. For Reza Pahlavi, his capabilities have long reached the successful turn of events, until the time he has risen to power. Again, the positive response of Reza Shah has depicted in social restructuring, from which he patterns the “mapping out” of modernizing Iran similar to his Western allies. As mentioned, one of the modernization efforts have been indicated in establishing the infrastructural programs, like the construction of road networks and the train as one of the means of transportation.

            It can be reflected that in a country where poverty is tried to be responded must indicate the basic requirements of the citizenry, as exemplified by providing the basic transportation and communication infrastructure in order to continuously and consistently access the flow of economic resources. From which, the flow of economic supply chain would augment the poverty situation of provinces which can have the accessible means of marketing or supplying their local products. In which case, the regional and provincial economic programs of Reza Shah Manifests in his social-infrastructural mapping, interlinking the provinces and regions of Iran.

            In a sense, the positive fundamental governance of Reza Shah could have been hampered by circumstantial events within his government or the political system. Like many other countries and governments, the opposition is another stakeholder with vested interests; be it socio-cultural, economic or political. But, it was evident in Iran that being a Muslim country, the traditional and ideological cultures have sought to position during Reza Shah’s national campaigns for modernizing Iran.

            On the negative side, the system of governance has eventually diminished from “public trust”, as it was also tried to be taken advantage by the opposition Islamic groups who dared to oppose the modernization. In return, Reza Shah’s governance has tightened the state policies, from the government was tagged as tyrannical. In a sense, the tyranny could have not been felt in the national manifestation of political power, only if the traditional Islamic forces [like of Ayatollah Khomeini and other opposition groups] were rendered with political negotiations. In summary, the reign to power of Reza Shah has ushered the attempts of modernization, but it failed in a country where religious fundamentalism is popularly entangled.


            It was historically proven that the reign of Reza Shah could have transformed the societal development of Iran. From this point of view, it also correlates on the situation that a governmental leadership spearheads the critical developmental change of a country. At hindsight, the “political will” of Reza Shah could have threatened the Muslim country that was not yet ready to accept the Western civilizations, from which the doors for international relations have attempted to be opened, but many have turned their backs to the future development of a country in a modernized world. In conclusion, Iran may have retained the goodwill of Reza Shah, but for a few fundamentalist would try to forget the historical procedures of modernizing an Islamic society.

Works Cited

Encyclopedia of World Biography. “Reza Shah Pahlavi Biography”. 2005. 02 May 2009 <>

Ghani, C. “Iran and the Rise of Reza Shah”. 1999.  Iranian.Com. 02 May 2009 <>

Looklex Encyclopedia. “Reza Shah Palavi.”. 1996. 02 May 2009  <>

Mid East Web. “History of Modern Iran”. 1999. 02 May 2009. <>

Maxson, P. “Muhammad Riza Shah Palavi”. 1999. Northern Virginia Community College Press. 02 May 2009 <>

Pearson, C. “Jottings on Gholam Reza Afkhami’s The Life and Times of the Shah”.

            2009. Iranian Freedom. 02 May 2009


Reza, N. Reza Shah the Great”.  2008. Farah Palavi.Org. 02 May 2009 <>

US Library of Congress. “The Era of Reza Shah: 1921-1941”. 1987. 02 May 2009 <>

 Yousefzadeh, P. “Iranian Nationalism.” 2008. Persian-Iranian Journal. 02 May 2009 <>

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Reza Shah: The Founder of Modern Iran?. (2016, Dec 01). Retrieved from

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