The 1953 CIA coup puts the Shah on the throne
With the United States in the back, the Shah consolidated
his power. All opposition was suppressed by the most brutal
means of the secret police - SAVAK - built from 1957 by the
CIA. In the mid-1960s, Bertrand Russel recommended using
tyranny in Iran as a study object for what "the West
understands with the free world." The Shah aimed to
implement a comprehensive modernization of the Iranian
society financed by the oil revenues. Before the
agricultural reformsin the 1960s, a small number of
landlords owned over 70% of the arable land. The Shah's
reforms broke the landlord's aristocracy, but the new
self-sufficient peasants were given no opportunity to
cultivate the land effectively. The Shah focused on the
development of large state estates, often in close
cooperation with the large Western agricultural companies.
The state goods were based on imports of advanced Western
technology. But the lack of planning and of professionals -
many of the large-scale irrigation plants worked poorly -
prevented an increase in agricultural production. The
extensive import of foreign technology was a burden on the
balance of payments.
The small farms fell due because the small farmers did
not get loans to improve production. The result was that
Iran, as previously exporting grain, was forced to import
grain for several billion dollars annually. Furthermore, the
escape from rural areas led to a huge influx of urban slums. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how IR can stand for Iran.
The Shah's plans were to make Iran a mighty
industrialized country by the year 2,000. Oil revenues
multiplied after the oil crisis in 1973, and should
be the foundation for this development. But in this field,
too, the plans failed. Oil revenues were not enough to
finance imports of the advanced Western industry. Iran
lacked professionals - half the population remained
illiterate. The Shah sought to circumvent this difficulty by
engaging tens of thousands of foreign professionals. The
transport network failed and the rising corruption led to
many projects never being completed. Unemployment grew.
Imports of foreign finished goods crushed the traditional
traders and craftsmen.
Iran as a regional superpower
At the same time, the Shah's dream was to make Iran a
regional superpower in the Middle East. About a third of the
state budget went to reconstruction. Multi-billion-dollar
military equipment was purchased every year in the '70s -
especially from the United States. Up to 1978, the country
bought weapons for $ 18 billion - from the United States.
Furthermore, no less than 11,025 Iranian officers were
trained in the United States during the period 1950-76. The
United States has invested heavily in making Iran an
important support point in West Asia.
However, the economic development of the country
benefited only a small minority. The Shah himself had become
one of the richest men in the world, but the majority of the
population had not improved his standard of living. The
forced modernization had at the same time created violent
cultural and social conflicts. In the 70s, the regime became
increasingly dependent on the police and military apparatus.
In 1976, Amnesty International estimated the number of
political prisoners to be somewhere between 25,000 and
100,000. The Shah's power plans and the rapid
industrialization had made Iran increasingly dependent on
the United States.
The rebellion against the shah grew from the beginning of
1978 very quickly. All this year, the uprising was based on
peaceful demonstrations and strikes. Periodically, many
hundreds of thousands walked the streets. The revolt in Iran
was unique in modern history. Not just by the massive
endorsement and the longevity, but also by the masses of
peaceful protesters month after month defying a mighty
military apparatus and a secret police notorious for their
torture and cruelty.