|Biographical detail : ||The second Pahlavi Shah of Iran whose aggressively modernising and secularising policies led to the Islamic revolution.
Reza Pahlavi succeeded his father Reza Shah in 1941. Muhammad Reza lacked experience and failed at first to dominate Iran’s political forces, which included Muslim clergy, secular nationalists and big landlords. In 1953 a bid for power by the nationalist politician Mosaddeq forced him to leave the country, but he returned after a western-supported military counter-coup. With growing confidence and army support he used rising revenues to push through modernising reforms behind a parliamentary facade, suppressing both conservative Islamic and communist opposition. His leanings were towards the west, but like his father he asserted Iran’s claim to be dominant regional power.
Reza Shah proved to be hostile and contemptuous of Islam. Hundreds of madrassah students who dared to protest against the regime were shot in the streets, madrassahs were closed, and leading ulama were tortured to death, imprisoned and exiled. There was nothing democratic about this secular regime. SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police imprisoned Iranians without trial, subjected them to torture and intimidation, and there was no possibility of truly representative government.
Reza Shah closed down the Majlis to affect his modernisation programme and systematically denied fundamental human rights to Iranians. The Iranian people became increasingly dissatisfied with the forced pace of modernisation, by corruption of the new rich, and by vast spending on arms to shore up Shah’s increasingly megalomaniac vision of Iran as a world power. In 1976 agitation by communists, nationalists and Islamic set off popular demonstrations which the ailing, indecisive Shah failed to suppress with sufficient force.
In January 1979 he left Iran, ostensibly for his health. The exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to establish an Islamic republic, ending 3000 years of Persian monarchy and sweeping aside the attempts to modernise and westernise the country.
Like his father, the last Shah died in exile, of cancer in Egypt.