State-Building by Revolution and Conquest

When the League of Nations established the mandates system in the Middle East, its member states had no intention of applying the system beyond the Levant and Mesopotamia. Nor did they have the capacity to do so. Outside that region, in Anatolia, Egypt, Persia (officially called Iran since the 1930s), and Saudi Arabia, indigenous nationalist movements and nation-builders established states through revolution, conquest, coup d'état, and anti-imperialist struggle.

The establishment of Saudi Arabia was discussed in Chapter 8. Suffice it to say that in 1924, seven months after Sharif Husayn (the father of Faysal and ‘Abdallah) had himself proclaimed the caliph of all Muslims, ibn Sa'ud kicked the unfortunate monarch out of western Arabia, thus continuing the run of bad Hashemite luck. Ibn Sa‘ud then united eastern and western Arabia into a single kingdom and, in 1932, officially proclaimed it the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The period between the two world wars was a particularly fortuitous one for the kingdom, for on the eve of World War II oil was discovered there, making this relative backwater of the Arab world into a player in international affairs. Until then, however, the attention of the great European powers focused elsewhere in the region.


World War I had both political and economic consequences for Egypt. Although Britain had occupied Egypt since 1882, Egypt had been legally part of the Ottoman Empire until World War I. In December 1914, after the outbreak of war, Britain declared Egypt a protectorate, ending Ottoman sovereignty once and for all.

British rule in Egypt had become increasingly unpopular over the course of its history, and by the end of World War I the British had managed to alienate virtually all segments of the Egyptian population. During the war, the British had established controls over the marketing of cotton, thereby alienating the influential stratum of large landowners. Wartime inflation devastated the living standards of civil servants, the urban poor, and even the peasantry. Peasants also suffered from famine during the war. The complaints of Egyptians found voice among an educated stratum of intellectuals and activists who, at the close of the war, found release from the constraints of wartime repression.

All that was needed to ignite the tensions between much of the Egyptian population and the British occupiers was a spark. That spark was touched off in November 1918, when a delegation of Egyptian politicians, testing the limits of the Woodrow Wilsons twelfth point ("nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured... an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development," in case you forgot), petitioned the British high commissioner in Cairo for permission to go to Paris to represent the Egyptian population at the peace conference. The leader of this group was Sa‘d Zaghlul. Although born into a family of mid-level peasants, Zaghlul had married well (his wife was a daughter of an Egyptian prime minister). He procured a number of important positions in the Egyptian government, including those of minister of education, minister of justice, and vice president of the legislative assembly. During the war, Zaghlul used the last position to organize nationalist committees throughout Egypt.

When the British arrested and deported Zaghlul and his colleagues for their presumption, the committees founded during the war sprang into action. Demonstrations and strikes broke out throughout Egypt in the spring of 1919. They spread from students and labor activists to artisans and civil servants and even the urban poor of Cairo. Peasants, fearing imminent starvation, attacked the rail lines by which scarce food supplies might be taken to distant cities. Alongside the peasants were many rural landowners, who not only had complaints of their own but who feared social upheaval if they stood on the sidelines. The revolt— called by Egyptian nationalist historians the 1919 Revolution — lasted two months before the British put it down by force.

In response to the uprising, the British government appointed a commission under Lord Milner to investigate its causes and to propose a solution. The Milner Commission concluded that Britain could not hope to keep direct control of Egypt and that British interests might best be maintained in Egypt if Britain gave Egypt conditional independence. Only then could the British hope to rein in the most vehement Egyptian nationalists. Thus, in 1922, the British granted Egypt conditional independence. The treaty they imposed on the Egyptians was a disappointment to Egyptian nationalists. The British asserted their right to control Egyptian defense and foreign policy, protect minorities and the Suez Canal, maintain their role (alongside the Egyptians) in the governance of the Sudan to the south, and safeguard the capitulations. Independence indeed. Making conditional independence into unconditional independence would be the focus of nationalist efforts for the next three decades, even after the British sought to placate Egyptian public opinion by negotiating a new treaty on the eve of World War II.

Independence was also hampered by the strange system of governance in Egypt that pit three powerbrokers against each other. First, there was the Wafd, the main nationalist party. Sa‘d Zaghlul had founded the Wafd not as a party but as the platform representing the aspirations of the Egyptian nation. This can be seen in the name itself, which means “delegation” in Arabic and refers to the delegation Zaghlul had put together to represent Egypt at the Paris negotiations. In the contentious environment of interwar Egypt, however, the Wafd was soon joined by a number of other parties also seeking to become the platform for Egyptian aspirations. Arrayed against the Wafd were the king (still a descendant of Mehmet Ali) and the British ambassador. Although the Wafd was extremely popular, both the king and the British conspired against unfettered parliamentary rule. Ultimate power rested, of course, in the hands of the British. The British only allowed the Wafd to take power when it needed to exploit the party's popularity in times of crisis. The first time was in 1936, when the British, fearing the rise of the original “axis of evil,” needed to negotiate a new, less provocative treaty with the Egyptians. The second time was in 1942 when, in the midst of World War II, German field marshal Erwin Rommel's troops threatened Egypt.

In the decades following World War I, the mainstream nationalist movement in Egypt did not advocate radical social change. Indeed, the mainstream nationalist movement in Egypt represented the interests of two groups in particular that feared unbridled democratic rule and social revolution: large landowners and members of the upwardly mobile intelligentsia. Neither group rejected Europe or European ideas, and their brand of nationalism demonstrated the role European conceptions of nation and state had in shaping their worldview. In 1914, one of Zaghlul's more articulate colleagues put the mission of the nationalist movement as follows:

The wave of civilization has come to us with all its virtues and vices, and we must accept it without resisting it. All that we can do is to Egyptianize the good that it carries and narrow down the channels through which the evil can run. We must possess that civilization as it is, but not try to control it.

By narrowing their concerns to independence and by representing the interests of layers of the population that were anything but plentiful, the nationalist movement failed to encompass or even control the totality of the Egyptian public sphere. This left the door open to a host of other political movements that posed alternatives to the mainstream nationalist movement. A communist party, capitalizing on the success of the revolution in Russia and resurgent labor activism, opened its doors in the early 1920s. Then, toward the end of the decade, that apotheosis of modern Islamist organizations, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, began recruiting its first members in the Suez Canal city of Isma‘iliyya. Like the mainstream nationalists, the Muslim Brotherhood had also made its peace with the modern nation-state system and even nationalism. And like the mainstream nationalists, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed to represent the one true voice of Egypt, above the partisan fray. According to its founder, Hassan al-Banna,

The love for one's country and place of residence is a feeling hallowed both by the commands of nature and the injunctions of Islam.... The desire to work for the restoration of the honour and independence of one's country is a feeling approved by the Qur´an and by the Muslim Brotherhood.... However, the love for party-strife and the bitter hatred of one's political opponents with all of its destructive consequences, is a false kind of nationalism. It does not benefit anybody, not even those who practise it.

On the other hand, the brotherhood articulated its message in a language that differed dramatically from that used by the mainstream nationalist movement, a language whose point of reference was Islam. The brotherhood thus spoke to layers of the population left unmoved by or alienated from the mainstream nationalist movement.


In both Turkey and Iran, leaders seeking to centralize their authority and “modernize” their states took power in the wake of World War I.

At the end of the war, the entente powers occupied Istanbul and held the Ottoman sultan virtual prisoner. In 1920, the government of the sultan signed the Treaty of Sevres, which formally severed the connection between Turkish and non-Turkish regions of the Ottoman Empire. It also divided western Anatolia among Greece, Italy, and France. While all three states sent armies of occupation to affirm their claims, Greek ambitions in Anatolia were particularly expansive. Greek nationalists drew inspiration from what they called the megali idea (grand idea). They sought to unite all Greeks from the Mediterranean islands to the Black Sea coast into one state, thereby restoring the glory of the Byzantine Empire. They thus sought to snatch as much territory in Anatolia as possible. But Greek ambitions were also particularly obnoxious to many Turks who chafed at the idea that a former vassal state would now attempt to turn the tables on its former overlord. Throughout unoccupied Anatolia, popular “Committees for the Defense of Rights” sprang up to resist the occupiers. To restore order, the government in Istanbul sent General Mustafa Kemal east to suppress the committees.

Mustafa Kemal hailed from Salonika, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire but now the second largest city in Greece. Trained in various military academies, he fought for the Ottomans in Libya (against the Italians) and in the Balkan Wars (against the Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks). He achieved his greatest fame as a military commander at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. The entente powers conceived the Gallipoli campaign as a quick stroke to knock the Ottoman Empire out of World War I. Their plan was to seize the peninsula south of Istanbul, then march on the Ottoman capital. Rather than a quick stroke, however, the battle degenerated into trench warfare that was catastrophic even by World War I standards. Between one-third and one-half of the British, Australian, New Zealand, French, and Ottoman combatants were killed, wounded, or succumbed to disease. Nevertheless, the Ottomans repulsed the invaders and Mustafa Kemal emerged from the battle a national hero.

Instead of suppressing the Committees for the Defense of Rights, Mustafa Kemal took charge of the rebellion. In a costly war that lasted two years, he forced foreign troops from Anatolia. In the wake of his victory, Mustafa Kemal adopted the name “Ataturk” (father of the Turks) and guided the establishment of a Turkish Republic that has ruled over an undivided Anatolia ever since.

Mustafa Kemal has been at the center of a Turkish cult of personality whose vehemence seems bizarre to outsiders. When Timemagazine asked readers worldwide to choose the most influential “Men of the [Twentieth] Century,” it received over two hundred thousand votes for Mustafa Kemal, not only in the category of “Warriors and Statesmen,” but in the categories of “Scientists and Healers,” and “Entertainers and Artists.” While, presumably, most of these votes came from Turkey, something of a cult has developed around Mustafa Kemal outside Turkey as well. Mustafa Kemal has served as the model for those who claim that the only future for the Middle East is Westernization. Unlike, for example, the Islamic modernists who sought to find a compromise between Islam and Western ideas, Mustafa Kemal and his acolytes sought to impose a model for modernity borrowed directly from the Western experience.

In the early days of the new Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal abolished the caliphate, banned sufi orders, nationalized religious endowments, and closed down Islamic courts. In other words, he established Turkey as a secular state in which private beliefs were tolerated but religion was not allowed to enter into the public sphere. He changed the calendar to a Western calendar and he “Latinized” the Turkish alphabet, arguing that the new alphabet would be easier to read than the Ottoman script, which used Arabic letters. (Since a billion people do quite well using Chinese characters, the argument rings hollow.) Mustafa Kemal granted women the right to vote in municipal elections in 1930 and in national elections in 1934, eleven years before France allowed women to vote. He even proposed legislation forbidding women from wearing the veil in public (contrary to myth, it never became law) and men from wearing the conical hat, the fez, that had been associated with high Ottoman modernity. Although breaking down the fashion barrier between east and west was not far from his mind, state-builders such as Mustafa Kemal regularly legislated on matters of clothing during this period. They wanted to eliminate all clothing styles that alluded to regional, religious, or ethnic identities that might compete with the state for the loyalty of its citizens. They also wanted to advertise government policies (in this case, Westernization) by making citizens into walking billboards for them. And, perhaps most important, they regulated clothing because they could. By attacking something as personal as clothing, governments demonstrated their ability to cow their citizens. The reason why so many Turkish peasants to this very day dress like characters out of the comic strip “Andy Capp” can be attributed to Mustafa Kemal's policies.

In addition to introducing unabashed Westernization into Turkey, Mustafa Kemal might also be viewed as an heir to the great defensive developmentalists of the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Like his predecessors, he attempted to expand the role of the state, centralize power, and spread a single, official ideology to bind citizens to each other and to the state. Following in their footsteps, Mustafa Kemal introduced policies to standardize Turkish legal institutions and educational curricula. Unlike his predecessors, however, he was able to harness twentieth-century technologies and assumptions about governance in support of this project. For example, Mustafa Kemal ruled during a period in which centralized economic planning had become second nature to policy makers. Liberal democracies adopted centralized economic planning in response to the Great Depression. For Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, it provided one more means to control their populations. The Soviet Union adopted centralized economic planning for ideological reasons. Mustafa Kemal thus had a list of blueprints from which to draw, each with an underlying rationale. Ultimately, the economic policies adopted by the Turkish government came closest to resembling those adopted by Benito Mussolini's government. The guiding principles of Turkish economic policy would remain constant through 1980.


Mustafa Kemal shown demonstrating the new Turkish alphabet. {From: Jacques Benoist-Mechin, La Turquie se dévoile, 1908-1938 (Paris: PML Editions, n.d.), p. 231.)

Overall, the fact that Turkey is today a republic and that many Turks consider their country to be part of Europe might be attributed to Mustafa Kemal's policies. In contemporary Turkey there are elections that are relatively free, particularly by Middle Eastern standards. Parliamentary representatives include members of minority groups, such as Kurds, although the formation of political parties based on ethnicity is forbidden. And there is a vibrant press and a host of non-government organizations that address problems and issues of public concern. Nevertheless, the construction of the Turkish state was not as straightforward or humane as many of the devotees of Mustafa Kemal have made it out to be. For example, soon after the Turks expelled the Greek army from Anatolia, the governments of the two states arranged a population transfer. The Turkish government, working under guidelines which had, in fact, been set by the League of Nations, forced up to 1,300,000 Christian Turks out of the country. Many had lived for centuries in Anatolia, spoke Turkish as their native language, and only differed from their neighbors in terms of the religion (Orthodox Christianity) that they practiced. In return, about 380,000 Greek Muslims went to Turkey. Like the ethnic cleansing of Armenians that took place during World War I and the “dirty war” to suppress Kurdish separatism, the transfer of “Greeks” to their “ancestral homeland” displays the dark side of nationalism in all its grisly detail.

There is a dark side to the history of Turkeys official ideology, Kemalism, as well. When Mustafa Kemal took charge of the Committees for the Defense of Rights, no one fighting by his side could have realized the breadth or depth of the changes he would oversee. In fact, many fought in the name of Islam. Others fought merely to eliminate a foreign presence from Anatolia. Thus, from its inception Kemalism met with opposition, and that opposition — and the states response to that opposition — continues to color Turkish politics to this day.

Sometimes, opposition to Kemalism has broken down along ethnic lines. For example, Kurds have resisted the “Turkification” policies of the government. Although one former Turkish prime minister claimed that Kurds were merely “mountain Turks,” Kurds continue to assert an ethnic and linguistic identity separate from Turks. To this day, some Kurds demand cultural autonomy while others go so far as to demand separation from Turkey. Other ethnic and religious minorities have also experienced inequities because they, too, have not fit into the Kemalist mold.

Opposition to Kemalism has also come from those put off by its uncompromising secularism. As early as 1950, the Democratic Party, which had distanced itself from the official secularist line and wrapped itself in Islamic imagery, emerged the victor in Turkish national elections. Since the 1950 elections were the first true multiparty elections in Turkish history, the Democrats victory sent a clear message of disaffection to the country's ruling elites. Then, in 1980, the wall separating religion and politics was officially breached. In the wake of an economic and political crisis, a military junta took power and declared what was called the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis” the new state ideology. The synthesis, as the name implies, married a right-wing Turkish nationalism to what its advocates termed the “Islamic tradition.” The junta hoped that the wide appeal of an ideology that included a call for both political unity and moral virtue would help stem the factionalism and violence in Turkish politics that had reached unprecedented proportions. More specifically, they believed the synthesis would link military officers with Islamic activists in the battle against the non-believers of the political left. But there was a consequence to breaching the wall separating religion and politics: By promoting the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, the junta opened up a space in politics for Islamic political parties, such as the popular Justice and Development Party. And this story has an ironic coda: In 2010, the ruling Justice and Development Party announced the discovery of a military conspiracy against their government. For the first time in Turkish history, civilian rulers arrested the top brass and not the other way around.


The Middle East, 1923

All of which brings up the thorny issue of military/civilian relations. Turkish democracy works until it doesn't. Whenever the Turkish military has felt that stability or the principles of Kemalism is threatened, as it did in 1980, it has stepped into the political process to “restore order” and “uphold the constitution.” Mustafa Kemal may have set the precedent for this himself. In the wake of an internal rebellion in 1925, he assumed sweeping emergency powers for four years. Subsequently, the Turkish military assumed emergency powers three times, in 1960, 1971, and 1980, and forced the replacement of the prime minister in 1997. Like Mustafa Kemal, it relinquished control, but only after “cleansing” the political system by disbanding political parties, jailing, and, in some cases, torturing those it deemed enemies of the state. In sum, any assessment of Turkish democracy has to balance a dynamic public sphere and parliamentary tradition with a history that includes repression and military intervention into politics.


At the beginning of World War I, the Russians occupied northern Persia while the British occupied the south. When the Bolsheviks toppled the tsarist government, they withdrew Russian troops from Persia and the British occupied the entire country. After the war, the British attempted to impose a treaty on their hosts that would have made Persia into a virtual British protectorate. At the same time, the communist government in Russia backed separatist movements in the north.

The Anglo-Persian Treaty of 1919 was so unpopular that no Persian government could afford to ratify it. This created a dilemma for the British. British policy makers wanted to maintain their position in Persia to protect their oil interests and their Indian colony. They also wanted to prevent the expansion of Bolshevism to the south. But Britain could not afford to maintain an occupation force in Persia. Fearing a total breakdown of their Persian “buffer state,” local British envoys encouraged the leader of the Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan, to take matters into his own hands.

Reza Khan came from a Turkish-speaking family in Mazandaran by the Caspian Sea. He had enlisted in the Cossack Brigade at the age of fifteen and rose through the ranks. Soon after British officers took over from the brigade's Russian officers in 1920, he became commander. Reza Shah marched on Tehran with three thousand men and forced the shah to appoint him defense minister. Within a few years he had outmaneuvered his political opponents. After toying with the idea of establishing a republic in Persia with himself as the first president, he had himself proclaimed shah in 1926. Reza Khan became Reza Shah.

Like Mustafa Kemal, Reza Shah was one of several strongmen who took power in the wake of World War I and changed the paradigm for state-building. As a matter of fact, Reza Shah deliberately modeled his policies on those of Mustafa Kemal, and like Mustafa Kemal found policies introduced by Benito Mussolini useful as well. Like his exemplars, Reza Shah was a self-proclaimed modernizer, a centralizer, and a nationalist. Also like his exemplars, Reza Shah disdained liberal democracy and mistrusted parliamentary rule. All three state-builders believed that the masses had to be led by a powerful leader.

Reza Shah was barely literate and reportedly had little patience with abstract discussions of policy. Nevertheless, he promoted an economic and political blueprint called the “New Order,” a name that Mussolini also used to describe his policies. At the heart of the New Order was national consolidation, economic development, and Westernization.

To achieve national consolidation, Reza Shah expanded the military and bureaucracy, suppressed the tribes and secessionist movements that threatened the territorial integrity of Persia, and promoted a single nationalist ideology. The nationalism Reza Shah promoted traced an uninterrupted history of the Persian nation from pre-Islamic times to the present. Islam did not play a role in this nationalist ideology, and the Arab/Islamic conquest was presented as the beginning of a period of darkness. Changing the official name of the country from Persia to Iran, described earlier, was one of the actions Reza Shah took to highlight the pre-Islamic, “Aryan” roots of his domains. To strengthen the population's Persian identity, Reza Shah had ethnic and regional clothes outlawed and Arabic and Turkish place names replaced with Persian ones. The province of Arabistan thus became the province of Khuzistan. He also commissioned the Iranian Academy to eliminate Turkish and Arabic words from the Persian language. The project failed, mainly because about 40 percent of Persian words come from Turkish and Arabic.

Reza Shah used the resources available to the state to spread the official ideology. There was, for example, the public school system he had created, which held a captive and an occasionally impressionable audience. And to reach those no longer of school age, Reza Shah founded the “Society of Public Guidance.” He modeled the society on the propaganda machines of Italy and Nazi Germany, and he used it for the same purposes they did. The society scripted radio broadcasts and published journals, pamphlets, newspapers, and textbooks parroting the official national narrative. The fact that most Iranians still believe, decades after the Islamic Revolution, that the tenth-century poem, the Shahnameh, is their national epic speaks to the effectiveness of Reza Shah's efforts.

Like Mustafa Kemal and Mussolini, Reza Shah adopted a state-directed economic policy to eliminate foreign control over the economy and to foster rapid development. Under the shah, the state canceled foreign concessions, established a national bank to take the place of the British-run “Imperial Bank,” and took control of posts, telegraph, and customs from foreigners. The state also set high tariffs to protect the infant industries being established. To accumulate capital for investment, the state confiscated landholdings of many of the wealthiest landlords and ulama and instituted government monopolies over select industries. Most importantly, the state acquired revenues from oil. The shah himself negotiated new terms for the d'Arcy concession, first threatening to cancel the concession entirely, then granting the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company two years later) a concession for another sixty years. Although the company increased its payments and obligations to the Iranian government, it was clear to all but the self-impressed shah that the British government had proved the more wily negotiator.

The capital accumulated from confiscations, monopolies, and oil enabled the shah to launch an ambitious program of what would later be called “import substitution industrialization.” Reza Shah believed that Iran should produce as many domestically consumed goods as it could, rather than importing those goods from abroad. This would keep money circulating within Iran rather than pouring out. The policies of Reza Shah (and Mustafa Kemal) thus differed from those of nineteenth-century state-builders in a significant way. Because European imperialists disapproved, defensive developmentalists in the nineteenth-century Middle East could not do the sorts of things their successors could do to build industry. Instead, their only recourse to modernize was by selling cash crops or raw materials, by offering concessions, or by taking out loans. This only served to integrate their states further into the world economy. Times had changed, however. The age of free trade was long gone. So was Europe's desire and capability to project direct power into Turkey and Persia. Reza Shah and Mustafa Kemal therefore tried to nurture their national economies by freeing them from the constraints of the world system. Unfortunately for them, it was a fool's errand. Nevertheless, import substitution industrialization would become the norm among states on the periphery of the world system after World War II.

Reza Shah resembled Mustafa Kemal in another way as well: Like Mustafa Kemal, Reza Shah associated modernization with Westernization. Reza Shah and Mustafa Kemal might have associated the two because it was easier to borrow from the West hook, line, and sinker than it was to sort out what was essential to borrow from what was not. They might have associated modernization with Westernization simply because they presumed Western modernity, represented by secularism and fedoras, was modernity. They might have adopted the trappings of the West to gain stature among Europeans who also believed that their modernity was the only modernity. After all, European diplomats did not take their Japanese counterparts seriously until the latter substituted high hats and tailcoats for kimonos at international conferences. Or Reza Shah and Mustafa Kemal might have used the trappings of the West to distinguish themselves from their domestic opponents. Whatever the case, Reza Shah looked at Western modernity and instead of seeing a source of inspiration saw a source from which to draw.

At the top of his list was secularism. Reza Shah expanded the role of the state in society at the expense of the religious establishment. This was a task that was more difficult in Iran than it was in Turkey. In Iran, the ulama were involved in a broader range of activities than their counterparts in Turkey. They were also more closely interwoven with the rest of society. In Turkey, on the other hand, tanzimat policies had effectively done much of Mustafa Kemal's job for him. Nevertheless, the changes introduced by Reza Shah were sweeping. He required the ulama to be certified by the state and denied them any role in the administration of justice, save for a limited role in matters concerning family law. And since the job of the ulama had been to apply shari‘a, its role, too, diminished. In its place, Reza Shah introduced the French civil code and the Italian penal code. But Reza Shah did not stop there. He also tried to keep any displays of religiosity out of the public sphere and limited the state's engagement with religion. During his reign, the state refused exit visas to pilgrims wishing to go to Mecca and Medina or to the Shi‘i holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq, and Shi‘i rituals deemed “barbaric” or potentially subversive were prohibited. To further exasperate ulama, Reza Shah had statues of himself erected in town squares throughout Iran, violating the religious injunction against representation of the human form.

In addition to secularism, Reza Shah appropriated other features of Western modernity. Like Mustafa Kemal, for example, he prescribed the appropriate clothing for the “modern Iranian.” After a trip to Turkey in 1934, he prohibited women from wearing the veil (thus outdoing his mentor) and required all adult men to wear Western clothes and a brimmed hat that obstructed one of the positions for prayer. His visit to Turkey also resulted in his first forays into women's rights. During his reign, the state mandated female education, outlawed discrimination against women in public facilities, and ended the segregation of men and women in places they might mingle, such as coffeehouses and cinemas. Iranian women did not have the right to vote (as they do now in the Islamic Republic), but then again, under Reza Shah voting did not mean much anyway. In his crusade for women's rights, Reza Shah was hardly motivated by a desire to expand the range of civil liberties available to Iranians. That would have been too much out of character. Reza Shah had a different goal in mind. Like other authoritarian figures whose stance on the “woman question” appears progressive, Reza Shah sought to expand the reach of the state into the home and to replace the “private patriarchy” of the husband/father-dominated family unit with a “public patriarchy” defined by the state.

Reza Shah's New Order changed the face of Iran. It brought to Iran the institutions of a modern state, which then expanded into domains no Persian state before it had penetrated. The New Order triggered the formulation of a powerful national myth which has yet to be superseded. It also brought about social changes, from resolving Persia's “tribal problem” in favor of the state to creating an industrial working class.

In the wake of the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979, however, many of these accomplishments — and, admittedly, this word must be used advisedly — have been lost in a narrative that gives pride of place to Reza Shah's autocratic style of rule — a style which his son, the last shah of Iran, supplemented in ways his father could only have dreamed of. It is therefore ironic that of all people, Reza Shah might rightfully claim a place in the pantheon of heroes of the revolution. Without the Iran that Reza Shah had created and passed on, the revolution would have been unimaginable. It is not just that the autocracy or secularism that the two Pahlavi shahs put in place provoked a revolutionary backlash. It is, more importantly, that revolutionary Islamic movements of the sort that overthrew the monarchy in 1978-1979 can only thrive under modern conditions, and that Reza Shah was largely responsible for shaping those conditions. This is a thread of the story we shall take up in Part IV of this book.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!