|Biographical detail : ||An Iranian patriot.
For the past century, Britain handled its relationship with Iran as badly as possible, running the gamut of folly from condescension through exploitation to oppression. For a long time the country was run for the benefit of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in which Britain secured a majority shareholding. As late as 1947, this yielded £7m for the Iranians, and £15m for Britain.
As a result, there was a mounting local agitation for nationalisation – Iranian oil for the Iranians. Foremost among the campaigners was Muhammad Mossadegh, a hero and inspiration to many of his people.
An aristocrat Mossadegh had spent some years before the first world war in France and Switzerland. An intellectual he held occasional government offices, in which he was perceived with mistrust by the ruling class and immense popularity by showing himself an enemy of corruption and the standard-bearer for liberalism. “This is not a parliament, it’s a den of thieves!” he proclaimed furiously when the country elected its parliament in 1943.
When Mossadegh became prime minister in 1951, he told the police to let the press write whatever it chose about him. When his wife reported that a policeman had booked her for driving the wrong way up a one-way street, and had refused to let her off when told her identity, Mossadegh telephoned the police chief and told him to promote the man to run the traffic department.
Such conduct did not, however, endear him to the Shah. In 1940 he spent five months in solitary confinement, released only when the crown prince intervened on his behalf. For years, Mossadegh resisted accepting government offices even when these were offered, preferring to deploy his rhetoric as a free man.
Obsessed with nationalising oil, Mossadegh won a rerun poll on this platform. His immense popularity forced Reza Shah to make him prime minister in 1951, and Mossadegh at once pushed nationalisation through, bringing him admiration almost throughout the World.
The British exploited Washington’s anti-communist paranoia to secure its support for a shutdown of the Iranian oilfields, and an embargo on oil exports. Eventually, on 19 August 1953, Mossadegh was removed by a CIA plot after days of chaos and violence on the streets. Put on trial at the British ambassador’s insistence, he was convicted, and spent three years in solitary confinement. He then retired to his country estate, until his death.
A millionaire landowner, Muhammad Mossadegh lacked credibility as a social reformer, but to many Iranians he has remained a national hero.