Modernizing Iran, 1953–1978

  • Patrick Clawson
  • Michael Rubin
Part of the The Middle East in Focus book series (MEF)


For 25 years, the shah’s agenda was to modernize and Westernize Iran. The country was transformed: income per person rose fivefold, and on average cities tripled in size. Almost half the population became urbanized, and 25 times more students graduated from high school than before World War I. Iran transformed from being a poor country like its eastern neighbor Pakistan to being a relatively more affluent developing country like its western neighbor Turkey or the Balkan nations. Iran also became a significant regional power, with a large and modern military. Paradoxically, the shah’s success at enriching and empowering Iran offended many Iranians’ nationalist pride since it depended not only upon Iran’s own power, but also upon assistance and close association with the West, and the United States.


International Monetary Fund Land Reform Iranian Government Tenant Farmer Islamic Revolution 
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  1. 1.
    Shahrough Akhavi, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi Period (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1980), pp. 76–90, speculates the shah’s aim was in part to secure clerical nonobjection Iran’s entry into the Baghdad Pact later in 1955; if so, he was successful.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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    The phrase is from the masterful study by Faisal bin Salman al-Saud, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Power Politics in Transition (London: I.B. Tauris, 2003), p. 129.Google Scholar
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  37. 41.
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    Graham, Illusion of Power, p. 150 and pp. 144–151 describe SAVAK as generally incompetent. An interesting account of SAVAK’s structure and activities is provided by a high-ranking intelligence official who defected to the Islamic Revolution, Hossein Ferdust, Zohur va Sequt-e Saltanat Pahlavi: Jeld-e 1, Khatarat-e Arteshbod Sabeq Hossein Ferdust (Tehran: Entesharat-e Etelaat, 1369 [1990/1991]), pp. 379–519.Google Scholar
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    On the arms procurements, see also Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 133–137 and 157–176.Google Scholar
  45. For a detailed account of how the corruption worked in the case of one important general, see Safa’addin Tabarraian, “Serab-e Yek General: Bazshenasi-ye Naqsh-e Arteshbod Tufanian dar Hakemiyat-e Pahlavi-ye Dovom” (“General Toufanian: A Review of his Part in Second Pahlavi’s Rule”), Tarikh-e Mo’aser-e Iran (Iranian Contemporary History), 1:3 (Fall 1997), pp. 119–182. This publication from the Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (Moasseh-ye Motala’at-e Tarikh’e Mo’asser-e Iran) in Tehran, has many fine articles on Qajar and Pahlavi history.Google Scholar
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    Ann Schulz, Buying Security: Iran Under the Monarchy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989), p. 135.Google Scholar
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    Schulz, Buying Security, p. 152; cf. p. 157 for the military budgets 1948–1977. For a contrasting sympathetic view, see Alvin Cottrell, “Iran’s Armed Forces Under the Pahlavi Dynasty,” in George Lenczowski, ed., Iran Under the Pahlavis (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978).Google Scholar
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© Patrick Clawson and Michael Rubin 2005

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  • Patrick Clawson
  • Michael Rubin

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