Dr. Alinaghi Alikhani:  A Technocrat’s Perception of the Revolution

January 14, 2020 by  

M. Reza Vaghefi

Dr. Alikhani had an illustrious early life which culminated in achieving a d’ estate doctorate degree in economics from a top university in France, comparable to a Ph.D. in the top universities in the United States. Before going to France for advanced studies he was part of youth movement pursuing social justice for people. His junior brother was an engineering student at Abadan Institute Technology and did the same although more intensively siding with affiliates of the Tudeh Party which damaged heavily the oil nationalization movement under Dr. Mossadegh.
Upon returning to Iran in late 1950s, Dr. Alikhani was hired by an emerging monster called SAVAK, not for spying but for economic analysis, something that American agencies like CIA do as a routine to objectively advise the government. When he realized the stigma attached to working for SAVAK, even as an economist, he was ready to get out and was intrigued to be tapped by late Assadolah Alam to be his Minister of Economy.
In a recent interview, before his passing away with a TV reporter, he was asked if the Islamic revolution could have been prevented. I was surprised when he said that it could but before scattered and then organized demonstrations began. Here is what surprises me. A man of his caliber and intellect, not necessarily of experience, but with his analytical thinking should have known better.
I have read all 6 volumes of Alam’s memorials, masterly organized and edited by late Dr. Alikhani. It is the best evidence that necessary conditions were brewing way way before a tragic fire at an Abadan movie house which took precious lives of about three hundred people galvanizing and commencing a revolutionary movement. An unwelcome event that ended, prematurely, the leadership of late Jamsheed Amouzegar, an honorable and incomparable civil servant. 
In order to assess the late Alikhani’s observation about the roots of the revolution, it would be advisable to divide the basic causes that led to Pahlavi regime’s collapse. The causes are divided into two parts. One part is primarily of Micro-internal nature composed of economic, social and political nature, and macro one primarily related to regime’s behavior toward the world and primarily Shah’s patron, the United Sates, which brought him back to power in 1953 and 25 years later facilitated his departure.
The micro causes are composed of various actions, all half-baked. For instance, one of the reasons that Shah installed Dr. Ali Amini as prime minister in early 1960s was the political pressure applied by Kennedy administration on Shah to initiate land reform. The “tiller of the land” concept. It was supposed to be part of reform movement that would allow people to own something and be ready to defend it, an American idea, although it been floated around before by late Hassan Arsanjanie who became Minister of Agriculture. For centuries, rural parts of Iran where most of the land was owned and produced crops and produce, had its well-established organizational structure. Landlord, who owned the land, water, fertilizer and cash to facilitate operations, was the sole owner of means of production. The labor, to put these resources and produce the product was supplied by the farmer who tilled the land. Generally, the product was divided between landlord and famer on a simple formula of 3 to 1 and in some places, it was 4 to 1. It worked for hundreds of years. I know this procedure first-hand and saw it on numerous occasions.
All of a sudden, this relationship crumbled with no workable or operational structure to replace it to help farmers. The relevant government functionaries that were charged with buying the products like wheat, barley etc. from farmers were buying, sometimes, imported wheat at a higher price. This of course reduced the very incentives that made farming attractive. So many farmers sold the land and moved to big cities like Tehran. Then they experienced first-hand the major stratification that had emerged, to a large extent, by the in-flow of dollars specially after 1973: ”Oil Crisis”. This scenario explains, to a large extent, the result of agricultural sector. The emerging industrial sector did not fare l any better.
Manufacturers were forced to share their profits with workers. It was not a voluntary action. Good intentions badly implemented.

Great Opportunity Lost
In a 1973 conference in Shiraz an incredible economic plan, the brainchild of some top Iranian economists was submitted to Shah. He disagreed with the Plan and ordered projects that would have major inflationary consequences. No one raised a hand. The only exception was an economist by the name of Mr. Majlumian (I do not know his first name) who said such measures would have serious inflationary and socially disruptive consequences. In Alam’s Memorials Dr. Alikhani mentions numerously that some of the economic measure are dangerous and reminds Alam, who at the time was Minister of Imperial Court, and extremely influential, that what was happening in the country would have dire consequences and it was imperious to discard or at least halt them. Even Alam, who enjoyed extraordinary influence with the Shah, would not dare repeat such concerns to His Majesty. Alikhani mentions terrible problems that were due to unorganized, and probably corruptive in nature, that Shah was unaware of. All of these were small measures that, once summed up, would ultimately undermine Shah’s regime because they widened the gap between the poor and the rich the evidence of which was quite visible all over Tehran and other major cities. Middle class and the poor, who suffered from inflation, could easily see the result of unearned wealth derived from corruptions and profiteering by elements in the government and their enablers.
Shah really believed that God was on his side and his regime was not threatened by anybody. He had been led to believe that everything was OK and when things began to unravel rapidly, he was depressingly and unpleasantly surprised.
The macro aspects that undermined Shah’s rule were more serious because they affected Shah’s stand in European and American political circles. The lack of support was evident when such leaders met in Guadalupe, an island in the Caribbean see, where decision was not to support the Shah. 
Mr. Jimmy Carter, the US president (1976-80) had met with the Shah in Tehran and considered Iran an Island of stability in midst of turmoil. But things began to change when Shah was invited to Washington and was faced with a large demonstration of Iranian students and others sympathetic to their cause. The British and French had turned negative about the Shah. But it was mostly the United States that pulled the plug for a number of reasons that had occurred over many years. Mr. Carter had campaigned on human rights. In 1976, there was a conference in Hiroshima, Japan, where the leadership the Council for International Development was meeting. The leader of the conference, a former President of Cornell University, the Conference Chair, reminded some members including Iran’s Minister of Science and Higher Education, that things may change if Mr. Carter won the election and he predicted he may indeed win the 1976 presidential election. And if that happens, countries with bad human right records, may face turmoil. There were many oppressive regimes in the Middle East at the time, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia come to mind. But his administration singled out Iran and used the machination of his administration and the outcome is quite familiar. Other reason that gradually diminished Shah’s prominence in western mind had happened slowly over time.
It all began in 1962 when Shah, at a news conference in Moscow, Russia (USSR of the day) indicated that the affairs of Persian Gulf should be dealt with by the countries around the Persian Gulf. This was the first slap at US face which had helped Shah’s come back.
Once Shah felt quite secure he agreed with reinstatement of “Extraterritorial Privilege” for foreign personnel, also called “Capitulation” which had been voided by Reza Shah the Great decades ago. This privilege was required by the United States as they called it “Status of Forces” before thousands of US military and civilian personnel poured into Iran. The American government probably was unaware pf the past experience the Iranians had had with the issue and probably they never cared leaving it to the authorities to deal with any issue that may arise. This act led an unknown clergy (at the time) to lead a revolt that was violently put down by Alam with tacit agreement of Shah. Although the rebellion was put down, it remained active under the radar and gradually, but systematically, provided the elements that composed major ingredients, including special schools for girls well indoctrinated, and who later performed at the front line of the revolutionary movements.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi loved Iran, no question about it, but the policies that he implemented, unknowingly, undermined the very foundation of his regime. During the last 10 years of his reign he had direct control of the Armed forces, which by Constitution he was the Commander-in- Chief, but had created various security organizations that would directly report to him. It seems that the truth seemed a rare commodity in reports that he received. He did also direct the foreign affairs of the country in addition to the energy sector which poured resources into the system of the disorganized economic actions by private and public sectors that Dr. Alikhani referred to in his editorials to the 6 volume memorials of Assadolah Alam. By 1977, Shah had concentrated all major decision making powers in his hand and when events began to unravel there was no one to blame for and probably Shah was not ready to accept the blame himself.
Worse than anything else, Shah was surrounded by spies and sycophants who praised him vehemently and immeasurably providing a corruptive environment that he was incapable of reigning in even if he wanted. Everything was too little and too late and the Divine Right of King that Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had deep belief in was nowhere to save his thrown and years of progress began to regress.


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