The Men of Shah: Counting on All Odds

  January 27, 2022   Read time 2 min
The Men of Shah: Counting on All Odds
The notables dominated on multiple levels – in the cabinet, in the Majles, and, equally significant, at the local level. The latter level determined who went into the Majles, which elected the prime minister as well as the cabinet ministers. The cabinet ministers, in turn, controlled the state bureaucracies.

The country had returned to the rule of the notables with the landed elites again herding their clients, especially peasants and tribesmen, to the polls, and, thereby, dominating both the cabinet and the Majles. The notables were most visible in the cabinet. In these thirteen years, 148 politicians filled 400 cabinet posts, and 12 headed 31 different cabinets. Of the 148 ministers, 81 were sons of titled notables; 13 were Western-educated technocrats linked to the prominent families; 11 were senior army officers; and 8 were wealthy businessmen. Of the 12 prime ministers, 9 came from titled families and themselves had used titles before their 1925 abolition (the old titles crept back into common usage after 1941).

The 3 non-aristocratic premiers, nevertheless, were well connected to the landed upper class. General Ali Razmara, the only non-civilian among them, was the son of a cavalry officer and had studied at St. Cyr before experiencing a meteoric rise through the military by leading successful campaigns against the Kurds, Lurs, and the Khamseh. He was related by marriage to both the Farmanfarmas and the Qavam al-Mulks. Ali Soheily, the second non-aristocrat, was the son of an Azerbaijani merchant and had entered government service in the 1910s through the patronage of Taqizadeh, the famous Tabriz deputy.

In later years, Soheily attached himself to Reza Shah, becoming his minister of roads, interior, and foreign affairs, as well as governor of Kerman, director of the Caspian fisheries, and ambassador to London. Similarly, Abdul-Hussein Hezhir, the third non-aristocratic premier, was the son of an armed volunteer from Tabriz who had fought in the civil war and had been brought into government service by Taqizadeh. He had enjoyed the patronage of Davar and Timourtash.

The other nine premiers were household names. Ali Foroughi (Zaka al-Mulk) was a seminary-trained jurist who had been tutor to the young Ahmad Shah and minister of justice on numerous occasions in the 1910s. He had represented Iran at the 1919 Versailles Conference, thrice served as war minister in the early 1920s, and headed the cabinet during both the1925 coronation and the 1934 Mashed crisis. The latter had led to his resignation. Some thought he had resigned because he had opposed the anti-veil campaign. Others thought he had resigned because the executed custodian of the Mashed shrine had been his son-in-law.
In 1941, Foroughi oversaw Reza Shah’s smooth abdication, privately telling the British that if the latter remained in Iran he would inevitably scheme to return to his “old arbitrary ways.” Even though Foroughi was instrumental in preserving the monarchy, he placed little trust in the new shah. Bullard commented: “Foroughi hardly expects any son of Reza Shah to be a civilized man.” Bullard, in his constant frustration to get Iranian politicians to do his bidding, added caustically: “He is one of the three honest men in Persia.”