The Iranian constitution revolution which led to the formation of Iranian parliament took place in a span of five years between the years 1906 to the year 1911. Such a revolution was the first in Middle East and opened a way for change in Persia and it also formed the basis for the modern era practices in Persia (Iran) (Afary Janet, pp 23). The constitutional revolution was geared by the need to liberate the country from poor governance the country was experiencing in the early 1900s which was characterized by corruption, foreign intervention and manipulation. To cub these practices, there was need to come up with written laws to be used in governing the country thus the constitution revolution. The process of constitutional revolution was complex and involved all the parts of the country. It also led to changes in the cultural practices in most of the parts and is also credited as the root of democracy in Iran (Afary Janet, para 3).
The Iranian constitution revolution (1906-1911)
Since 1781, Iran was being ruled by Qajar Dynasty-a royal family. Under his rule, Persia had succumbed to the Russian and British policies which had led to international rivalry and eventually the weakening of the central governments making them susceptible to corruption. Regional nobles were managing the country and in return paid the monarch tokens. Due to this control by the foreigners, the country became dependent on the nobles for their income, security as well as national income (AbsoluteAstronomy, para 5). Freedom fighters fought to ensure this was corrected thus giving rise to the constitutional revolution in Iran. Mozaffar al-Din Shah, the ruling monarch issued a proclamation calling for a national consultation parliament known as Majlis to be formed and the subsequent writing of the constitution. After this proclamation, elections were held to elect parliamentarians to steer the constitution formulation. After Majlis formation in Tehran, the constitutionalists formulated a short constitution in 1906 which was mainly based on the French and Belgian constitutions. This constitution formed the basis of the modern system of parliament in Iran (Centenary Conference, para 4).
During the Mozzarar-al-Din reign, the state was decentralized and the management of this state was mainly carried out by shah’s chancellors. During this period, Shah had taken loans from the government of Russian and Britain to help in financing his extravagant lifestyle. He had also signed concessions with these foreigners which were mostly meant to earn him more loans to sustain the running of state. One such concession is the D’Arcy oil concession whereby Shah had made a concession with Britain in which Iran was to provide oil to Britain for a period of 60 years at subsidized prices. The concessions expanded to include trade items such as weapons and tobacco. This form of administration was raising concern with all sectors including the noble classes, the scholars and even the religious groups. There was need to curtail the royal authority and also an establishment of policies to curb foreign influence on Persia especially the Russian influence which was growing at an alarming rate (Afary Janet, para 4).
Persia had a dual system of administrations prior to constitution revolution era. During this period, several patriarchs including the clerks, notable locals who included the princes and provisional governors and the tribes were carrying out the duties of checking out the patrimonial powers of Shah but only in some particular areas. The set of laws that were in operation included the shariat law emanating from the Quran, the hadiths and the decisions made by the jurists and the customary laws of urf which were also of pre-Islamic origin. The customary law dealt with criminal wrongs and conduct (American Iranian Friendship Council, para 6).
The first parliament (majlis) consisted of deputies mainly from Tehran and also the provinces. The deputies were elected on a two year term basis which was according to the article 5 of the constitution. Decisions of the parliament were made using the rule of majority and all their deliberations were to be publicized. Article 13 of the constitution provided that the journalists were allowed to attend as well as publish the debates of the parliamentary assembly. The parliament also had the power of legislation and in doing so, it was to propose laws and also approve legislation handed over to the body by the ministers. All financial transactions were to be ratified by majlis. The majlis also had power to sign any government treaties and contracts as well as foreign concessions. Establishing budgets for all the ministries was also the task of the parliament (Centenary Conference, para 6).
After the constitution revolution, the powers of the Shah were reduced and his duty included upholding the constitution. Although he was the head of state, his governance was influenced by ministers in the parliament. Shah’s powers to control the treasure were eliminated by the majlis and his powers were curtailed as specified by the constitution. The constitution also guaranteed the press their freedom and also gave freedom to form organizations by the citizens. The newspapers and the parliament were given many rights as compared to the era before the introduction of the constitution. These rights were violating the hierarchies of authority and social status which had been in existence in Iran. Under the constitution, the majlis had power to make and pass laws which it deemed beneficial to the citizens and the government. All laws in operation in the country had to obtain the approval of the parliament before being executed. Also, national resources could only be sold out if the parliament approved them unlike in the past where Shah had powers to make decisions regarding the nation all alone (Afary Janet, para 7).
By curtailing the powers of Shah, the parliament sought to reduce the intervention and influence the influence the foreign powers were having on Iran. Despite its success in curtailing the powers of Shah, the constitution had flaws in that many vital issues had been left unresolved. The laws did not provide for the bill of rights and also did not explicitly separate the functions of the three arms to the government that is, the legislature, the executive arm and the judicial branch of government. There was thus need for the amendment of the constitution and the majlis formed a committee to look into these issues in 1907. Since the constitution was mainly based on European laws, the members of the committee were supposed to learn foreign languages to help in easier consultation with the Europeans (American Iranian Friendship Council, para 8).
The first amendment of the constitution was approved in 1907 and the provisions of the amendment included a clause which granted citizens freedom of speech and association. It also consisted of laws necessitating individuals to be granted security for their property as well as their lives. Under this amendment, Christians, the Zoroastrians and the Jews were given a formal recognition as citizens of Persia and also given equal treatment under the law. This amendment is discredited on the ground that it failed solve the conflict which had persisted between the religious laws and the secular laws. It also gave new institutional powers which were unprecedented to clerical establishment thus undermining the civil liberties the constitution had just granted. This amendment also led to the curtailing of the powers of the parliament as well as the judiciary (Centenary Conference, para 8).
Constitutional order was reestablished in 1909 and the main concern of the parliament was on the nation’s finances. Morgan Shuster who was an American advisor on finances was invited to Persia in 1911 and was appointed the treasurer of the nation’s finances. Morgan fully supported the constitutional order and he exposed both Russia and Britain’s schemes to the public using the newspaper of the times London. The two great powers, Russia and Britain sought to remove Morgan from that post but he was defended by the Persian parliament. In response, the Russian administration with the aid of Britain sent troops to Persia bringing an end to the constitution revolution in Iran (American Iranian Friendship Council, para 9-10).
The Iranian constitution revolution marked the beginning of fight against imperialism and poor governance in Persia. It also marked the beginning of democratic movement and also led to establishment and recognition of the citizen’s rights of speech as well as the freedom of speech. This movement also prevented the complete take over of Persia by Russian administration. Though it had many flaws, the constitution revolution in Persia formed a basis of today’s constitution and parliament in Persia and even for other countries.
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