Following the war, Iran was politically unstable, and the shah proved to be highly unpopular. His pro-Western orientation, lavish lifestyle, and efforts to Westernize Iran did not sit well with conservatives and Muslim clergy. In addition, his authoritarian tendencies soon came into conflict with Iran's nationalist factions, the most powerful of which was headed by Mohammed Mossadegh, who became prime minister in 1951. In early 1953, after a power struggle with Mossadegh, the shah was compelled to leave Iran, but he soon returned to power with the support of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Britain's MI6 intelligence agency. The shah ousted Mossadegh in a countercoup and ordered his arrest in August 1953.
The shah subsequently embarked upon the main project of his reign, the creation of a large, technologically advanced military. While his domestic policies did create economic growth—albeit unevenly distributed—he also created a ruthless secret police force (SAVAK) that quashed all opposition. The shah aggressively lobbied the Americans for military assistance and matériel, often citing the importance of Iran as a Cold War ally, specifically as a member of the Baghdad Pact and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). The United States was reluctant, however, to grant his request for large weapons purchases because of his heavy-handed rule. Successive American administrations tried to convince the shah to implement internal reforms, and to that end in the early 1960s the shah instituted the so-called White Revolution, which emphasized land reform and expanded suffrage.
Beginning in 1970, President Richard Nixon's administration, in a major policy change, permitted huge weapons sales to Iran. These sales continued until Jimmy Carter became president and scaled back arms sales because of the shah's human rights record. Under increasing internal and external pressure to relax his police state, the shah was forced to flee Iran on 16 January 1979. Following his departure the monarchy was abolished, and Iran became an Islamic theocracy led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The shah died of cancer on 27 July 1980 in Cairo, Egypt.
Robert N. Stacy
Pahlavi, Mohamed Reza. The Shah's Story. London: M. Joseph, 1980.; Shawcross, William. The Shah's Last Ride. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.