Mossadeq: the Mob’s Leader

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Mossadeq was hated as much by his royalist and conservative compatriots as by the AIOC and the British Government. Sources are cited in abbreviations inside brackets at the end of each paragraph. See web/bibliography.

[In 1952 Mossadeq] instigated a confrontation with the shah by asserting that he, as prime minister, had the constitutional authority to appoint the war minister as well as other members of the cabinet. This was the first time that royal control of the military had been seriously threatened. When the shah resisted, Mossadeq took his cause directly to the public. In a radio broadcast, he argued that he needed supervision over the armed forces to prevent nefarious forces from plotting to undo oil nationalization. The public promptly poured into the streets, and after three days of general strikes and bloodshed, forced the shah to back down. The crisis became known as 30th Tir (July 21). [EA2 p117]

[Mossadeq] took over the portfolio of the war minister, changed the name for the ministry to that of defense, vowed to buy only defensive weapons, appointed the chief of staff, purged 136 officers, transferred 15,000 men from the army to the gendarmeries, cut the military budget by 15 percent, and appointed a parliamentary committee to investigate past arms procurements. He also transferred the royal estates back to the state, cut the palace budget; appointed a fellow anti-royalist notable to be court minister, placed royal charities under government supervision; forbade the shah to communicate with foreign ambassadors; forced Princess Ashraf, the shah’s politically active twin sister, into exile; and refused to close down newspapers that were denouncing the palace as “a den of corruption, treason and espionage.” [EA2 pp117-18]

Mossadeq was deemed to be a double-edged sword which threatened not only the oil company and the British Empire but also the shah and his continued control over the armed forces. The royalist speaker of the [parliament] exclaimed in exasperation:

“Statecraft has degenerated into street politics. It appears that this country has nothing better to do than hold street meetings. We now have meetings here, there, and everywhere – meetings for this, that, and every occasion; meetings for university students, high school students, seven-year-olds, and even six-year-olds. I am sick and tired of these street meetings…

“Is our prime minister a statesman or a mob leader? What type of prime minister says “I will speak to the people” every time he is faced with a political problem? I always considered this man to be unsuitable for high office. But I never imagined, even in my worst nightmares, that an old man of seventy would turn into a rabble rouser. A man who surrounds the Majles with mobs is nothing less than a public menace.” [EA2 pp116-17]

By July 1953, some of his colleagues were openly talking of a constitutional committee … to explore the feasibility of replacing the monarchy with a democratic republic. Mossadeq himself called for a referendum to ratify parliament’s dissolution:

“The people of Iran – and no one else – have the right to judge this issue. For it is the people who brought into existence our fundamental laws, our constitution, our parliament, and our cabinet system. We must remember that the laws were created for the people, not the people for the laws. The nation has the right to express its views, and, if it wished, to change the laws. In a democratic and constitutional country, the nation reigns supreme.” [EA2 p118]

[The UK Ambassador] begrudgingly admitted that Mossadeq had “captured the imagination of the people” and that “the National Front were playing a chord which awoke strong echoes among many classes of Persians”. His Charge d’Affaires added: “The Premier is able to control parliamentary and public opinion mainly because of his personal popularity.” [EA1 p187]

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