Iran’s 1906 constitution, based on the Belgian model, called for a parliamentary system of government. The finished document, the Supplementary Fundamental Laws, contained two main sections.
First was a “bill of rights” guaranteeing each citizen
equality before the law, protection of life, property, and honor, safeguards from arbitrary arrest, and freedom to publish newspapers and to organize associations.
Second was a section (according to Abrahamian) that
concentrated power in the legislative branch at the expense of the executive.
The legislature now obtained, in addition to the powers given to it earlier, the authority to appoint, investigate, and dismiss premiers, ministers, and cabinets, to judge ministers for ‘delinquencies,’ and to approve annually all military expenditures.
The executive, on the other hand, was declared to ‘appertain’ to the shah but to be carried out by the ministers.
The shah was to take his oath of office before the deputies. His court budgets had to be approved by the National Assembly. His sons brothers, and uncles were barred from the cabinet.
His person was vested with the nominal command of the armed forces.
His sovereignty was described to be derived not from God, but the people.‘The sovereignty is a trust confided (as a Divine gift) by the People to the person of the King.’
His ministers were responsible to parliament only and could not ‘divest themselves of their responsibility by pleading verbal or written orders from the monarch.’
‘If the National Assembly shall, by an absolute majority, declare itself dissatisfied with the cabinet or with one particular minister, that cabinet or minister shall resign their ministerial functions.’
The shah, in fact, retained only one important source of power: the prerogative to appoint half of the Senate . . . .
The Supplementary Laws differed from the Belgian constitution in two respects:
- First, it acknowledged the existence of provincial councils, allowing them latitude to supervise all reforms so long as they observed the limitations of the law.
- Second, it recognized the importance of religion and religious leaders, stating that the Twelver doctrine of Shi’ism was the official religion of Iran, only Muslims could be appointed cabinet ministers, and no law could contradict the Shari’a.
As Keddie states, the constitution, while not replaced until 1979, was — after 1912 — “more often honored in the breach than the observance.”
The CIA intervention which precluded even a symbolic bow at Iran’s constitutional tradition was perhaps the most outrageous violation, occurring as it did in the midst of the democratic interlude; the issue of oil further contaminated the Iranian perception of US intentions.
As the shah exerted increasing control over his countrymen in the aftermath of the coup, decreasing ‘lip service’ was paid to constitutional principles.
The Shah, lacking the ability to attract any significant popular support, was compelled to rely on the instruments of terror under his control . . . .
By 1960, the Shah seemed to be a prisoner of his totalitarian trend. His regime became increasingly dictatorial, and with the growth in dictatorship came a steady deterioration in the Shah’s relations with the foci of power that had been allied with him, especially the landowners, large merchants, and religious leaders.
These groups naturally resented the reduction of their own powers, and as they moved toward passive opposition the Shah’s dependence on the security forces increased still more.
Cottam also argues that
it is problematical whether Mossadeq could have been capable of reversing the trend toward totalitarianism had he been successful in wresting control of the security forces from the Shah.
This perception was not widely shared by the Iranian public.
Instead, it was more usually felt that the country’s opportunity for liberal and nationalist leadership had been abrogated by a foreign power — the United States.
Increased American assistance to the shah in the aftermath of the coup perpetuated this understanding.
[…] can find more information on Mossadegh in our posts on Cold War Iran: Mossadeq, The CIA Coup, and the Constitution 1906-1079) and Oil, Mosaddegh, and CIA Intervention. You might also want to take a look at Gaming Cold War […]