Reverberations of the Great Iranian Coup

For most of the world, Iran’s history of opposition towards the West begins in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The story, however, for most Iranians, begins in 1953, when the British intelligence, MI6, with the aid of the CIA, managed to successfully orchestrate a coup d’état to topple the democratically elected government and oust prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, installing the Shah who maintained two decades of dictatorship under his rule.

Mossadegh became prime minister in 1951. He was a political reformer, and during his term, he became largely popular for nationalizing the oil industry in Iran. This angered the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that dominated the market during that period. He posed a serious threat to the British, through his ability to challenge economic supremacy over Iran’s largest natural recourse. This caused the British government and the United States to intervene and lead a covert coup, named “Operation Ajax”, under the condition that American oil companies are allowed to share in the profits of Iranian oil. The Western super powers re-instated the Shah, previously weakened by the parliament.

This historical incident sparked the beginnings of anti-Americanism in Iran and the region. A wave of Islamic fundamentalism began to gain popularity as the Shah’s authoritarian, pro-US dictatorship increasingly allowed foreign companies to privatize Iran’s oil, imposed Western culture on a country that’s majority were religious conservatives, and carelessly spent tax money on personal expenses. His monarchy lost its legitimacy and he was dethroned by popular demand and replaced with an Islamic government led by Shia cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini. It seemed like resorting to religious extremism and a revolution resulting in the complete political transformation of the current regime was the only way to gain national sovereignty and combat the growing Western cultural, political and economical hegemony slowly devouring the country. Today’s Iran is a country known for its adamant anti-American policies, its questionable nuclear program, claimed to have destructive purposes, and a dominant Islamic regime more popular than ever. Newton’s laws of motion state that “To every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” Fanaticism doesn’t just sprout out of nowhere. It is a result of years of oppression and Western influence. This socio-political pattern is not foreign to neighboring countries in the Middle East, where theocratic politics are gaining momentum in opposition to secular dictatorships and unfavorable Western political influences.

Westerners’ image of Iran was constructed through years of hostility towards the West since the Islamic Revolution against the pro-US dictatorship. Mainstream American and European media outlets repetitively associate Iran with religious fundamentalism and violence, but fail to shed light on the superpowers’ race to gain profits from Iranian oil and the consequences these actions had on the political nature of the country, which played a pivotal role in igniting the Iranian Revolution. For many Iranian nationalists, this political coup represented lost hope in a future away from Western interventionist policies that continue to meddle in Iran’s internal affairs till this day. Mossadegh, at the time, represented the country’s aspirations for a reformist government that sought to return the oil to the people and reject Western intervention. It might be too farfetched to claim that if it weren’t for the American and British orchestrated coup, it would have changed the course of history and Iran would have a national, secular government, but surely its not far from the reality of what could have been.

Gaining a holistic view of Iran’s decades-long internal struggles and the external influencing factors that often dictated the policies that governed the country, provide a better understanding of the situations that allow religious fundamentalism to flourish and eventually become the mainstream school of thought.. Events, like the coup d’état, and the motives behind them are more complex than how Western media might portray them. Having an understanding of history is essential for evaluating current events in Iran, from its nuclear program to its relations with world powers and Israel. Being conscious of the past and having a non-biased view is what helps us fairly judge the actions of a nation and the reasons behind those actions.

Nour Chamoun

Published in Mish Jareedi May 2013 Printed Edition – click here to view original publication