On August 19, 1953, the American and British intelligence agencies launched a desperate coup in Iran against a cussed, bedridden seventy-two-year-old man. His name was Muhammad Mossadegh, and his crimes had been to flirt with communism and to nationalize his country’s oil industry, which for forty years had been in British hands. To Winston Churchill, the Iranian prime minister was a lunatic, determined to humiliate Britain. To President Dwight Eisenhower, he was delivering Iran to the Soviets. Mossadegh must go.
And so he did, in one of the most dramatic episodes in modern Middle Eastern history. But the countries that overthrew him would, in time, deeply regret their decision. Mossadegh was one of the first liberals of the Middle East, a man whose conception of liberty was as sophisticated as any in Europe or America. He wanted friendship with the West—but not slavish dependence. He would not compromise on Iran’s right to control its own destiny. The West therefore sided against him and in favor of his great foe, Shah Muhammad-Reza Pahlavi.
Who was this political guerrilla of noble blood, who was so adored in the Middle East and so reviled in the West? Schooled in Europe of the Belle Epoque, Mossadegh was pitted against dictatorship at home, a struggle that almost cost him his life and had tragic consequences for his family. By the time of the Shah’s accession in 1941, Mossadegh had become the nation’s conscience, and he spent the rest of his life in conflict with a monarch whose despotic regime was eventually toppled in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Here, for the first time, is the political and personal life of a remarkable patriot, written by our foremost observer of Iran. Drawing on sources in Tehran and the West, Christopher de Bellaigue reveals a man who not only embodied his nation’s struggle for freedom but also was one of the great eccentrics of modern times—and uncovers the coup that undid him. Above all, the life of Muhammad Mossadegh serves as a warning to today’s occupants of the White House and Downing Street as they commit to further intervention in a volatile and unpredictable region.
About Christopher de Bellaigue
Christopher de Bellaigue was born in London and now lives in Tehran with his family. He has spent the past decade working as a journalist in the Middle East and South Asia, and his work appears in The Economist, the New York Review of Books, Granta, and The New Yorker.
Muhammad Mossadegh’s influence still lives in the imagination of Iranians. His family estate is a place of pilgrimage, even while the Ayatollahs denounce him as a British agent. The author dissolves the black and white of this posturing into more ambiguous grays, portraying Mossadegh as a constitutionalist attempting to combine the movements of democrats and the Islamic faithful who, known for nationalizing the country’s oil, also introduced wide-ranging reforms of property ownership, education and women’s rights, many of which were later repealed. Months before the 1953 coup, Mossadegh failed to recognize the agreement offered to him. De Bellaigue portrays the young Shah as a fearful, vacillating leader who frequently undercut his own supporters, thereby providing opportunities to opponents like Mossadegh. The author also examines the profound rift between America and Britain, with the latter, particularly under Churchill, stubbornly reluctant to make concessions on oil even as its position was undermined by American profit-sharing agreements with other producers. Ultimately, Cold War politics brought the two countries together. De Bellaigue’s history brings together elements of miscomprehension, accident, chance, surprise, mistaken loyalties and revenge-driven shifts in political alliances. In exploring the story of Mossadegh and his family, the author also shows how Iran, because of its oil, became a pawn in the Anglo-Russian rivalry. – Kirkus Reviews
“Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup” by Christopher de Bellaigue
The Washington Post Book Review – July 21, 2012 (Excerpt)
In 1998, at a Q&A session at a university in Tehran, a student stood up and addressed Mohammad Khatami, the reformist cleric who had recently been elected president in a landslide. We are your army, she told him; just say the word, and we will pour into the streets for you. Khatami replied that reform must happen gradually, within existing frameworks. His approach failed to satisfy the students that day, and it ultimately failed to inoculate Iran against the hardline administration that followed his.
Little wonder that Iranians today continue to mourn the 1953 downfall of Mohammad Mossadegh, the melodramatic, pajama-clad prime minister who is widely considered the most visionary and broad-minded leader in Iran’s modern history. Little wonder that pictures of this balding, droopy-eyed old nobleman are held aloft whenever Iranians rise up to demand greater freedoms and fair elections. To them, Mossadegh is still the personification of these ideals. If not for the CIA-backed coup that removed him, many Iranians believe, he could have saved them from decades of dictatorship and demagoguery.
Perhaps. In a new biography, “Patriot of Persia,” Christopher de Bellaigue, Tehran correspondent for the Economist, sympathizes with Mossadegh in his attempt to bring democracy to Iran but does not let him off the hook for its failure. The book presents a nuanced portrait of an enigmatic man whose brilliance and fairmindedness fatally collided with his pride and rigidity. It also provides context for the dismal state of U.S.-Iran relations today. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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