As the world watches the conflict in Iran unfold, many commentators have tried to make a connection between the current protests and either the coup of 1953 or the revolution of 1979. But what do we know of the history of that country and how well do we know its leaders? Some of the major political players who have dominated the trajectory of the recent history of Iran include Mohammed Mossadegh
, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi
, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
All links above are to Wikipedia pages. For more extensive articles and information, check below the fold.
In 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected leader of Iran, was deposed in a military coup orchestrated by the United States and the UK. This exhaustive collection of material assembled by the New York Times, entitled "The Central Intelligence Agency's secret history of its covert operation to overthrow Iran's government in 1953," offers an inside look at how the agency stumbled into success, despite a series of mishaps that derailed its original plans. Written in 1954 by one of the coup's chief planners, the history details how United States and British officials plotted the military coup that returned the shah of Iran to power and toppled Iran's elected prime minister, an ardent nationalist.
Mossadegh was replaced by The Shah, who ruled until 1979. Here is a fascinating 5 part BBC documentary entitled "The Last Shah of Iran."
And here is a fantastic and comprehensive 1978 New Yorker article
that details the growing opposition to the Shah in Iran during the late 70s, the failures of The Shah during his quarter century reign, and the rise of Khomeini. Excerpt: [The economist went on to talk about the religious revival. “I was very active in politics during my high-school years,” he said. “At that time—the early nineteen-fifties—there were only two important groups: the Communist, or Tudeh, Party, and the National Front—which included the Pan-Iranians, who wanted to take over parts of Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan. The young had absolutely no interest in religion. After that, the political situation calmed down. There was a brief revival of politics in 1961 and 1962, when Ali Amini came to office as Prime Minister. He started the land reform that the Shah later claimed as his own. The Tudeh Party was dead then, but the National Front was strong. The religious people didn’t count. Khomeini became important only after he was driven into exile by the Shah. The Shah’s father, Reza Shah, had been very successful in fighting the mullahs. He made a direct assault on the clergy—forcing women to take off veils, riding into the shrines and beating the mullahs. He had public sympathy, because then the clergy were corrupt and wealthy. They were hated by everybody. Now they have lost their lands and the religious foundations. The mullahs have been purified. They have the power of poverty.”]
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rose to the position of Supreme Leader after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Last year, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put together this 30-page dossier on the elusive and powerful mullah entitled, Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran's Most Powerful Leader.
To access the report, click on the "Full Text" icon near the top of the page to get a complete PDF.
And in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran. Presenting himself as humble, soft spoken, and extremely religious, he was educated as an engineer and fought in the Iran-Iraq War. A product of the revolution of 1979, Ahmadinejad believes in the "pure life" of Islam and rejects what he considers the corrupting influences of Western culture. This recent New Yorker article
is both a profile of Ahmadinejad and a comprehensive look at the upcoming (now dated, obviously) elections. The article discusses, among others, former President Khatami and the reformist challenger to Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who is referred to in the article as "The Persian Cincinnatus."
Other fantastic archived articles from the New Yorker regarding Iran:
A dissident economist’s attempts to reform the revolution.
an article about Mohammad Tabibian by Laura Secor, February 2, 2009
Young Iranians confront the collapse of the reform movement.
by Laura Secor November 21, 2005 - written in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, it discusses Ahmadinejad
Who’s winning the fight for Iran’s future?
by Joe Klein February 18, 2002