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Iran Press Report: The Coup Against Mosaddegh, 60 Years After

This week marked the 60th anniversary of the coup, supported by the United States and the United Kingdom, that brought down the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, ushering in more than 25 years of near-absolute rule by Mohammad Reza Shah.  The Iranian press took the opportunity to reflect on the events, with some discussing the historiography of the events and others focused on what the coup means for today’s Iran.  Many hardline sources pointed to the coup as an event that showed Iranians the true face of America, and taught Iran to create a strong Islamic nation capable of withstanding external sabotage.

On the reformist side of the political spectrum, there was in some cases a tendency to look back at Mosaddegh as an ideal of Iranian leadership that should be emulated in today’s era of corruption, a nationalistic leader with scruples who led for all Iranians, not just a political faction.  Today, Bahar ran such a profile in its history section, with Ebrahim Gholi-Tabar Omran presenting anecdotes telling of a man who refused to profit from his position and who wanted every penny to which he was entitled to remain in the national treasury for the good of the people.  He highlights, for example, a remark from an aide looking back on his time with the prime minister: “When a letter arrived and one side was blank, he would tell me to make sure to keep and use the blank side, noting that the cost of paper came from the national reserves.”  However, not all moderate papers took this approach; Mardom-Salari published an interview with Professor Pirooz Mojtahedzadeh, who cautioned against simplifying the events of 60 years prior as a pure unjust coup against a truly righteous politician; instead, he said, it must be noted that Mosaddegh’s fiery style and unorthodox methods made him many enemies and ran him afoul of Iran’s constitution on many occasions:  “Upon becoming prime minister, Mosaddegh angrily and swiftly acted in a unilateral manner.  The first thing he did that was against the spirit of democracy was to take special powers from the Majlis…and whatever he himself wanted done was then done.” 

Meanwhile, perhaps tying into a general conservative view that Mosaddegh’s secular approach was improper, in spite of his legendary nationalization of the oil industry from the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, hardline papers tended to point to the coup as an example for why the Islamic Republic is necessary.  A Javan article that also draws parallels between 1953 and both the downfall of Mohammad Morsi in Egypt and the insurgency against Bashar al-Assad in Syria argued that the presence of Islamic ideals in Iranian political culture since 1979 has protected the nation from all manner of attempts to bring down its government. “National unity and the presence of the velayat-e faqih system with the victory of the Supreme Leader are among the reasons why all the attempts to overthrow the Islamic Republic have failed, and certainly, as long as these two reasons remain established alongside other reasons such as a culture of martyrdom and respect for the Mahdi, another oppression like the 28th of Mordad [August 19, 1953] will not be capable of happening again,” it wrote.  Similarly, in Kayhan, Mohammad Imani wrote that while the United States and the United Kingdom still wish to influence nations like Iran, “today they are faced with the broadening influence of Iran in the Middle East and recognize Iran as the pioneer of science, technology and cultural influence in the world.” 

However, Imani also took the opportunity to use the anniversary as an opportunity to attack not only the Green Movement – which he said played directly into the hands of the plots of foreign powers – but also Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani, for defending some of his cabinet choices with ties to the Green Movement by saying Iran needed to come together and reconcile after 2009. Rouhani is quoted as having said that 2009 saw poor behavior on both sides, both from protesters and from authorities like those who were responsible for the deaths of three detained protesters in Kahrizak prison – and this, Imani argues, shows a complete lack of understanding of the scale of the threat Iran faces from its enemies.  “Is the story of Kahrizak and the lost lives of three detainees – about whom there is no doubt that they were criminals – of equal weight to the major treason of an infected political movement that brought the nation to edge of a cliff in conjunction with an English-American velvet revolution, based on the lies of [reformists Mohammad] Khatami, [Mohammad] Mousavi Khoeniha, [Saeed] Hajjarian, [Mohammad Ali] Abtahi, [Abdolreza] Tajik, and [Mostafa] Tajzadeh…?!”


APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)



“The Leader of the East.”  Ebrahim Gholi-Tabar Omran, Bahar, 31 Mordad 1392 / 22 August 2013.

In Bahar, Gholi-Tabar reflects hagiographically on the legacy of Mosaddegh’s rule, and focuses on the justice inherent in a man who “loved his country like few others” as an example that should be followed.  He notes that Mosaddegh, unlike many rulers, took pains to avoid benefiting personally from the position of Prime Minister. “He refused funds from the government and paid for his home guards out of his own money and refrained from taking advantage of the prime ministerial position, so much so that, as one deputy recalled about his term in office: “When a letter arrived and one side was blank, he would tell me to make sure to keep and use the blank side, noting that the cost of paper came from the national reserves.”  He details other saintly anecdotes, such as the story of an official driver who complained when Mosaddegh gave up the use of a private car and fired him, prompting Mosaddegh to respond angrily that if the driver wanted a salary, he could drive villagers to and from the hospital and be paid out of the prime minister’s own funds; another featured the aged deposed prime minister in his final years explaining his refusal to seek exile for medical treatment.  He writes that even at times of triumphs, Mosaddegh was thinking of being responsible for his citizens; upon his return to Iran after winning dismissal of the UK’s case against Iran at the International Court of Justice, he reportedly admonished an aide who informed him that 6,000 tomans had been spent from the prime ministerial budget to fund lighting for celebrations in one neighborhood, saying: “This is the budget of the nation, not a fund for lighting on my behalf!”

Author



“Are Pari Bolandehs the Only Ones to Blame?” Mohammad Imani, Kayhan, 29 Mordad 1392 / 20 August 2013.”

In an editorial in the hardline Kayhan that leads by mentioning the release of CIA documents that acknowledge the agency’s role in the coup of 1953, Imani argues that Iran has learned from the dark days of the coup and has strengthened itself since the Islamic Revolution – but he questions President Rouhani’s grasp of the seriousness of externally hatched plots. He writes that while the United States and the United Kingdom, who were active in the plot to bring down the Mosaddegh government, still wish to influence nations like Iran, “today they are faced with the broadening influence of Iran in the Middle East and recognize Iran as the pioneer of science, technology and cultural influence in the world.”  He writes that there have been plenty of incidents in which foreign instigators like the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel, have tried to topple Iran’s government, and commends new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for past statements calling events during the Iran-Iraq War, the student protests of 1999, and the Green Movement (or as he calls it, the sedition) of 2009 either external plots or events supported by Iran’s enemies abroad.  However, emphasizing that the history of Iranian relations with the West, from 1953’s coup through the events that followed the 2009 election, has shown the seriousness of the threats against Iran’s sovereignty, he sharply criticizes Rouhani’s remarks last week during the confirmation of his cabinet urging the nation to move on and reunite after 2009, which he said saw incorrect actions by protesters in the street on one side and by authorities such as those in charge of the Kahrizak detention facility, where three detained protestors died in custody, on the other.  “Is the story of Kahrizak and the lost lives of three detainees – about whom there is no doubt that they were criminals – of equal weight to the major treason of an infected political movement that brought the nation to edge of a cliff in conjunction with an English-American velvet revolution, based on the lies of [Mohammad] Khatami, [Mohammad] Mousavi Khoeniha, [Saeed] Hajjarian, [Mohammad Ali] Abtahi, [Abdolreza] Tajik, and [Mostafa] Tajzadeh…?!”



“Mosaddegh is the Most Astounding Political Phenomenon in Iranian Political History.” Interview with Pirooz Mojtahedzadeh by Pooya Didar, Mardom-Salari, 28 Mordad 1392 / 19 August 2013.

In an interview with the moderate daily Mardom-Salari, senior academic Pirooz Mojtahedzadeh argues that there must be a more nuanced view of the events of August 19, 1953, which he says were not simply a coup but were also not simply a popular uprising to overthrow the Prime Minister.  He says that supporters of the Shah claimed the events were a popular movement, and the popular narrative describes it as a direct coup.  However, he argues, Mosaddegh brought problems upon himself in his rule: “Upon becoming prime minister, Mosaddegh angrily and swiftly acted in a unilateral manner.  The first thing he did that was against the spirit of democracy was to take special powers from the Majlis…and whatever he himself wanted done was then done.”  He also writes that whatever one thinks of the Majlis of 1953, and notes that many of them were thought of as traitors and spies, Mosaddegh’s decision on August 16 to dismiss the parliament was against the laws of the nation.  He also speaks of “Mosaddegh-worshippers” who take then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s remarks in 2000 as an admission of guilt and as a request for forgiveness, which he says distorts her comments.  In Mojtahedzadeh’s opinion, Mosaddegh was targeted by the United States in an attempted overthrow on August 16, but much happened between then and the eventual overthrow on August 19, some of which was the leader’s own fault.  He says that historical and political accuracy about the coup is needed, rather than one-sided remembrances: “I’m not opposed to Mosaddegh; I’m opposed to the political legacy that comes from him.”



“Why Are American Coups No Longer Answered in Iran?” Javan, 27 Mordad 1392 / 18 August 2013.

In the hardline Javan, an article examines the 1953 coup, which it calls the “dark and infamous coup that turned the sweetness of movement to nationalize Iran’s oil industry bitter,” and looks at the lessons Iran has learned from the events.  Overall, the article suggests that Iran learned the true face of American involvement in the Middle East from the coup, and after suffering under a further quarter-century of dictatorial rule by Mohammad Reza Shah, Iranians knew that they had to build a unified system that would be impenetrable to foreign interference to prevent America from causing another coup. “National unity and the presence of the velayat-e faqih system with the victory of the Supreme Leader are among the reasons why all the attempts to overthrow the Islamic Republic have failed, and certainly, as long as these two reasons remain established alongside other reasons such as a culture of martyrdom and respect for the Mahdi, another oppression like the 28th of Mordad [August 19, 1953] will not be capable of happening again.” He writes that, as Muslim Brotherhood figures have suggested, America had a hand in the military overthrow of Mohammad Morsi’s regime in Egypt, and that “the American coup d’état train” is also rolling through Syria, where the U.S. is backing “terrorist” acts against the government. 

 

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