Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Iranian Democracy in the 20th Century

For many in the U.S., the history of diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran is the history of non-relations covering the past 27 years. For it was in 1979 that Iranians succeeded in forcing the Shah to abdicate, followed a few months later by a further regime change that brought the clerics to power in a theocracy. A crowd of young Iranians stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, seizing 52 embassy personnel and holding them captive for 444 days. A long-shot rescue attempt ended in disaster at a rendezvous called Desert One.

This was not the first regime change brought to fruition by the Iranian people. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the despotism of the ruling dynasty sparked a rebellion that, in 1906, finally forced the monarch (Shah) to issue a constitution.

From the start, this ‚ÄúConstitutional Revolution‚ÄĚ was under multiple pressures. Hardly had the ink dried on the constitutional decree than the Shah reneged. More than once he detained government ministers. More than once foreign troops, Russian and British, invaded in support of the Shah. But in 1909 he went into exile in Russia. Nonetheless, foreign interventions continued, wreaking havoc on parliament and ministers. By December 1911, the end of the second parliament, the experiment in democracy essentially was over. At least one U.S. citizen died in the fight for freedom.

Another attempt at democracy was made after World War II. This time the interference came from Britain and the U.S. whose agents overthrew the elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh and restored the Shah to the Peacock throne in 1953.

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