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THE outburst of feeling in Iran calls for serious examination. Was it simple in origin, just the inability of negotiators to come to an agreement about oil royalties, or were there deeper causes? Is the outburst a symptom of a social renaissance, of a determination to throw off the sloth of centuries? Such a renaissance would be particularly welcome to the British, who are by no means interested only in oil but regard the prosperity and contentment of the Iranian people as of high importance if only as the best barrier against Communist propaganda.
In the course of the oil crisis the Iranians, who when Riza Shah abdicated swore that they would never again submit to a despotism, submitted to the dictatorship of two men: Ayatullah Kashani and Dr. Mossadegh. It was Dr. Mossadegh who received full powers from the Majlis for six months, and who issued decrees having the force of law; but he shared authority with Ayatullah Kashani, in theory merely the Speaker of the Majlis, but also the religious leader of the Fadayan-i-Islam. It was this organization which furnished the men who assassinated the Prime Minister, Razmara, and his Minister of Education, and thereby, to judge from the chronology of events, hastened remarkably the passage of the oil nationalization bill into law. Kashani is one of those mujtahids (religious pundits) who hated the modernization of the realm effected by Riza Shah but were unable to resist a ruler strong and ruthless enough to use troops in the mosque at Meshed to quell religious disorders and to beat a mullah for denouncing the queen for appearing in public without a veil. The social changes, in particular the unveiling of women, were unpopular with all the mujtahids; so was the introduction of European codes of law, which restricted their field of work and carried Iran farther from their ideal of government, in which religious and secular powers are in the same hands.
Ayatullah Kashani has reason to be hostile to the British in particular, because he was one of the Iranians interned during the Second World War under Anglo-Iranian supervision for dangerous intrigues against the Allies. Fortunately there is no question of a miscarriage of justice, for not only did he freely admit at the time that he had worked for the Germans, but recent articles in the Iranian press lauding his patriotism boast that he did his best to help Rashid Ali Gailani, whose coup d'état in Iraq nearly handed that country over to the Axis, and the Mufti of Jerusalem, one of the most determined opponents of the Allied cause. Kashani likes to refer to the former glories of Islam, ranging "from China to Poitiers," and to the dissatisfaction which must arise in the breasts of all Moslems when they see that whereas "yesterday a few Moslems ruled over many non-Moslems," today "many Moslems are governed by a few non-Moslems."
The reversal of fortune which Kashani laments resulted partly from the decay of Turkey, Iran and Egypt, partly from the increasing strength of England, France and other Western countries. The superior power of the West was able to employ as an instrument a system of privileges, known as the Capitulations, which in their origin were sensible enough, as tending to keep apart two different social and legal conceptions which might otherwise clash, but which eventually developed to the point where the European (and the American) were better off in regard to taxation and in judicial matters in Turkey and Iran than Ottoman and Iranian nationals. During this period the West carried out and operated in those countries enterprises for which it alone had the capital and the technical ability. The railways in Asia Minor, the Suez Canal and the oil industry in Iran were all created by foreign money and skill, and they tended to be regarded as symbols of the vanishing domination of the West. The better run they were, the more criticism they tended to incur, as the scapegoats for the frustration felt by people whose miseries were due in the main to the neglect, corruption and incompetence of their own rulers.
A desire to establish complete equality with the West forms the background of the oil dispute. Dr. Mossadegh, however, has another important motive in the desire for what he calls neutrality, a desire reinforced by the course of events since 1944. In that year three foreign companies--two American, the third the Royal Dutch Shell--applied for oil concessions in Iran, in territory formerly included in the Anglo-Iranian concession but abandoned in 1933 as part of the new agreement. Negotiations were proceeding normally, with the interests of the Iranian Government being defended by a distinguished firm of American oil engineering consultants, when the Soviet Government sent to Teheran a high official who demanded with insistence an oil concession in northern Iran. Filled with apprehension, the Iranian Government decided to postpone all oil talks until after the war, that is, until all foreign troops, whether British or American or Russian, should have been withdrawn. The American and Shell representatives withdrew, regretting the decision but naturally accepting it as within the competence of a sovereign state; but the overbearing tone of the Soviet envoy's complaints and the fury of the Soviet press and radio were such that Dr. Mossadegh, to forestall any possible surrender to Soviet pressure, persuaded the Majlis to rush through a bill which in effect ruled out the grant of any foreign oil concession in future. It was in violation of this law that Qavam al Saltana, after withdrawing Iran's complaint against the U.S.S.R. from the Security Council, got rid of the Soviet troops which had stayed on in Iran after the Treaty date for withdrawal, by undertaking to bring in a bill providing for the formation of a Russo-Iranian company to prospect for and exploit oil in northern Iran. When eventually brought in, this bill was rejected by the Majlis with only two dissentient votes. The Russians attacked the decision furiously, alleging unfair discrimination, on the ground that since the British had an oil concession in the south, Russia had a right to an oil concession in the north. Dr. Mossadegh accepted the charge of inequality of treatment but decided to redress the balance, not by admitting into Iran a company which would set to work to sovietize it, but by ejecting the British firm, regardless of its legal rights.
The British have been reproached for treating the oil question as a material problem, but the tone was set by Dr. Mossadegh, who might have built his case in the first place on his desire for independence and "neutrality," but preferred to launch against the oil company an attack based on facts and figures often distorted or misunderstood. The securing of the concession in 1901 is sometimes regarded by critics as itself reprehensible, though to be just to the Iranians they do not use this argument. It was in fact proof of remarkable enterprise, for the prospects were poor. It took seven years and the expenditure of large sums of money before oil was found in commercial quantities and another five years to get the refinery working; and it was some 18 years in all before the infant company established itself among the older oil concerns. A common charge, that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was less generous than other companies operating in the Middle East, ignores the fact that a 50-50 arrangement (equal division of the net profits) was discussed in the negotiations of 1948-49,[i] but fell to the ground because the Iranian negotiators demanded half the profits on all the activities of the A.I.O.C., whether in or outside Iran. The negotiators then drew up the Supplemental Agreement of 1949, which was accepted by the Iranian Government but refused ratification by the Majlis. The oil company then reverted, in February 1951, to the proposal to share profits equally, but on Iranian oil alone. This offer, which was accepted, would have seemed a victory for Prime Minister Razmara, had he revealed it; but he insisted on its being kept secret until some suitable moment, and it was still unknown to the public when he was murdered a month later. Dr. Mossadegh was not really interested in royalties, and never considered seriously any of the offers subsequently made--from that of the directors of the company (which the United States Ambassador thought satisfactory to Iran) to the recent proposal recommended by Mr. Truman and Mr. Churchill. The difference between the two parties is still considerable. The British Government and the oil company accept nationalization of the oil industry, provided that the whole question of compensation is submitted to arbitration under the International Court. Dr. Mossadegh accepts arbitration in principle, but wishes to limit it to the physical assets in Iran, and before resuming negotiations he demands payment of a sum of £49,000,000 which would have been payable if the 1933 Agreement had been allowed to stand and the Supplemental Agreement had been ratified. This money, which had been placed in reserve, was of course spent when the export of oil from Abadan was stopped by the Iranian Government.
It is often suggested that since the British Government had nationalized certain industries in the United Kingdom its attitude towards the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry was unreasonable. This argument overlooks the fact that in the 1933 Agreement the Iranian Government undertook not to cancel or modify the concession unilaterally and to submit disputes to arbitration. It is relevant to point out that in the matter of arbitration with smaller states the British Government has a good record. Since the war it has twice submitted such disputes to the International Court: the fisheries dispute with Norway and the dispute with Albania over the mining of two British naval vessels and the death of nearly 150 seamen. The first case was lost; the second was won, and damages were awarded. No damages have in fact been paid, but the British Government has vindicated the right of ships to pass in safety through a channel which a Russian satellite government had tried to close.
The extract given from Kashani's appeal hardly suggests a moral renaissance in Iran, since it throws upon the West all the responsibility for the present state of the Moslem world. To try to evade moral responsibility is a common human failing, but in the Iranian character this is carried to unusual lengths. Britain has been a convenient scapegoat for Iran since the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907. Throughout the nineteenth century the independence of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan was defeated by Britain as strenuously as it was assailed by Russia. In that period, the Crimean War, the Berlin Congress and the Afghan frontier dispute of 1885 were merely the most intense moments of a struggle which hardly ever ceased; and if it is suggested that the aims of Britain and Russia were equally selfish, it cannot be denied that British policy was a support to the Middle East, Russian a menace. Early in the twentieth century Russian pressure on Iran was particularly severe, but Britain was no longer in a position to use force or a threat of force to defend Iran, since the danger of war with Germany was already great, and Britain could not afford to quarrel with Russia and Germany at the same time. The 1907 Agreement at least confined Russian pressure to the north of Iran, but it was attacked by the Iranians in that it fell short of that armed resistance to Russian pressure to which British policy had accustomed them for nearly a century. From that moment the Iranians have attributed to Britain all the ills from which they have suffered. Thus when Riza Shah became unpopular through greed and tyranny, his people, who had rejoiced in his rule when it established order and got rid of the Capitulations, invented the theory that he was irremovable because he enjoyed the support of the British. Acting on this theory, Dr. Mossadegh in a recent document repudiated the 1933 oil agreement on the ground that Riza Shah had been a British puppet. In other words, the Iranians wish to repudiate this one action of the former Shah while continuing to enjoy such benefits as the restoration of their ancient monuments, the modernization of their country, and the abolition of the Capitulations. To finish with this aspect of the Iranian case, we must add that the Majlis, which nationalized the oil industry at Dr. Mossadegh's instigation, had lately passed a resolution that Riza Shah, this "stooge of the British," should be referred to officially as "The Great."
Dr. Mossadegh profited by the oil dispute to request the removal of all British consular officers from Iran, for alleged interference in the internal affairs of the country. This measure will probably have been widely approved, since many Iranians claim, without any evidence, that all tribal disturbances were the result of British intrigues. Large areas of Iran are inhabited by tribes, often non-Iranian: Kurdish, Turkish or Arab. In the days before Riza Shah, when the Teheran Government had little influence in the provinces, the tribal leaders formed an element of authority which residents and travellers had to take into account. When the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company began operations in southwest Persia, Teheran could afford no protection, and nothing could have been accomplished without the coöperation of the Shaikh of Mohammerah, whose tribal area included Abadan, and of the chiefs of the Bakhtiari tribe, in whose territory the first productive oil wells were found. When Riza Shah established order throughout his realm he brought the tribal chiefs under control, but he set up instead an authority which, if maintained, is far better: that of a strong central government.
The rôle of the tribes in the economy of Iran was no more understood by Riza Shah than it is today by the educated resident of Teheran, who looks upon them as savages to be kept down. He regarded the tribes as he regarded camels, as out of date, and unsuited to a world in which Teheran was to have an opera house (with no opera), a bourse (with no shares to buy and sell), and an iron and steel foundry hundreds of miles from the sea, for which there is no iron ore in Iran. Regarding the settled tribes as at least one step farther towards civilization, he prevented the migratory tribes from moving between their summer and winter pastures, without, however, helping them to change over from a pastoral to an agricultural mode of life. He thereby caused the almost complete disappearance of the herds of horses the tribes used to rear, and reduced seriously the numbers of their sheep and goats.
When British and Russian troops entered Iran in 1941 it seemed probable that at least some of the tribes who had suffered from Riza Shah would seek to establish some degree of independence, and would be wanting to know the attitude of the British authorities. The case against encouraging any such hopes was overwhelming. It would have run counter to Britain's traditional desire for a strong and prosperous Iran and would have added unreasonably to the burden of the Iranian Government, weakened by the foreign invasion and by the abdication of Riza Shah, who for 20 years had been the mainspring of everything. Moreover, listening to tribal complaints would soon involve the listener in internal rivalries for the leadership of the tribes. Finally, anyone who hoped that the tribes could be induced to resist the Germans if they should invade Iran would be building on sand-- an opinion which hardly needed the confirmation of experience in the First World War, when the German Assistant Military Attaché poured out gold to encourage the tribes to resist the Russians and, on seeing them vanish with their subsidies as soon as the Russians appeared, committed suicide.
The unanswerable case against giving any encouragement to the tribes against their own Government, which rests on an enlightened view of British interests, was fully approved by the British Government and strictly followed. The theory that the tribes would never have given trouble but for the British has nevertheless been used by scores of Iranian journalists who would never leave the comforts of the capital and make a serious study of the tribal question by (for instance) spending a few months with a migratory tribe, studying its place in the country's economy. Iranian esteem is better satisfied by attributing tribal unrest to British intrigue than to bad government by Teheran. This is also enervating to Iran, however, since abuses which are attributed to British machinations will be left for others to remedy instead of being attacked by the Iranians themselves.
An alternative excuse for inaction is lack of revenue, an excuse which ignores on the one hand the recalcitrance of the rich Iranians to payment of income tax, and on the other hand the unpaid work which is done in other countries by such bodies as the Women's Voluntary Services in Britain. Dr. Mossadegh fell into this error when he attributed the slums of Teheran to the oil company. The Directors of the company, present on the spot, naturally offered to show Dr. Mossadegh, who had never seen them, the houses built by the company for its employees. Perhaps a better answer would be to remind Dr. Mossadegh that the first thought for the welfare of the slum-dwellers of Teheran, which resulted in the opening of a clinic, came not from wealthy Iranians like Dr. Mossadegh himself, but from Mrs. Dreyfus, wife of the United States envoy to Iran. The Iranian would probably believe that, given enough money, he could solve the housing situation by just erecting houses. Those who have had to do with housing projects in England, however, know that when the houses are up, the hardest task still remains: to select the tenants from applicants perhaps ten times as numerous as the houses available. If a committee did not spend hours of careful labor, seeing the applicants and trying to balance such factors as war service, sickness, the number in the family, and difference of sex requiring separate bedrooms for growing children, the houses might as well not have been built. No Iranian asked about this question has ventured to deny that such houses if erected in Teheran would tend to be filled with the relatives, friends and protégés of the persons in power at the time.
Iran might perhaps urge in self-defense that she did not grow but was formed artificially. Between 1905 and 1907 the country passed from a personal autocracy to a form of government based on the Belgian. Apart from some weak municipalities, often headed by a paid official from Teheran, there are no organs of popular government except the Parliament, where the deputies spend most of their time in political manœuvre and pay little attention to the far more difficult task of reform. The government is over-centralized and burdened with a mass of officials, two-thirds of whom are superfluous if not actually prejudicial to the public welfare. The need for decentralization was foreseen by the first Iranian Parliament in 1907, when it passed a law providing for the creation of provincial councils. This law has never been applied. During the war it was brought to the notice of Iranian statesmen as a possible means of forestalling wider demands from such elements as the Azerbaijanis and the Kurds, but in vain. Local pride and patriotism are common in Iran, and members of a provincial council might well have found satisfaction in providing their province with schools and roads and bridges, and in trying to make it as healthy as the oil region, where the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company had stamped out malaria and had almost mastered that terrible eye disease, trachoma.
To show his dissatisfaction with the British policy Dr. Mossadegh broke off diplomatic relations. This should not be taken too seriously: Riza Shah severed diplomatic relations with the United States, and later with France, on pretexts which were generally regarded as frivolous. What is more serious is the campaign, official and unofficial, designed to persuade the people of Iran that Britain is their enemy--one might say their only enemy. The persecution mania of which this is a symptom and a continuing cause is to be met with everywhere in Iran. A foreign traveller visiting a remote corner of the country in 1952 found that the peasants, though they had never seen an Englishman, were convinced that "British spies" had bored holes in the roofs of their houses to make them leak. Such pointless accusations are by no means new. During the war, at the height of the shipping shortage, British and other Allied vessels carried 70,000 tons of wheat to Iran to relieve a shortage which was due partly to hoarding but largely to the action of the Russians in keeping back Azerbaijan wheat from its normal market in Teheran. Yet a rumor was spread, both orally and in the press, that the British were burning Iranian wheat in order to starve the population. This kind of accusation is of course useful to the Iranian landlord who hoards wheat in time of scarcity and whose peasants would be able to mend the roofs of their houses more effectually if they received a larger share of the product of their labor. It is also of the greatest use to Russia, who is able to continue her work of undermining the Iranian state behind this barricade of anti-British propaganda. That the Russian aims have not changed is clear from the behavior of the Russians in northern Persia during the years 1941 to 1947 and in Eastern Europe ever since the end of the war. Besides, we have their own admission in the course of the Russo-German negotiations before Hitler attacked Russia as revealed in the record of these negotiations from the German archives, since published by the United States. Invited to join the Axis, the Russians laid down certain conditions, one of which was that the German Government should recognize as "the center of Soviet aspirations" a band of territory stretching from the Caucasus in the general direction of the Persian Gulf.
For two years Iranian statesmen have been declaring that unless their demands are conceded in full their country will fall a prey to Communism. It seems probable that Razmara, and since his murder, Dr. Mossadegh, would not have encouraged Tudeh agitation as a weapon against the British if they had feared the strength of Communism, and that Dr. Mossadegh would not have refused four offers, all recognizing the nationalization of the oil industry, if he had regarded the risk of being ousted by a Tudeh government as serious. Meanwhile Iran is receiving not only military aid from the United States, but assistance under Point Four to improve social and economic conditions. To what extent Point Four and similar aid will be successful in erecting a barrier against revolution will depend mainly on how far down the aid filters and on whether the Iranians will have learned to help themselves when it ceases. It was a success when the American example in planting a suitable type of tree set the local people planting trees for themselves; it would be a failure if a newly irrigated area prepared by foreign aid were to be handed over to absentee landlords chosen by nepotism and political influence.
Dr. Mossadegh has shown signs of realizing that Iran has two great needs--land reform and local government. But the hastily-drafted decrees which he has issued in virtue of the full powers conferred upon him for six months give little ground for confidence in their success. The landlords are ordered to give up part of their share of the crops grown on their land, but they were ordered to do this under a law of 1947 and nothing happened. Then of the various councils which the decrees are to call into existence the higher ones are to be overweighted with officials-- a prospect which induces profound skepticism; while at the lower end the village council will be to all intents the landlord, since it is to consist of the landlord and four persons who will be under his thumb, i.e. the village headman and three peasants. The provisions for financing these various bodies are vague and unlikely to ensure a regular, still less an adequate, income. Finally, this inexperienced village council is to be loaded with duties which seem to be rather more important, except for the omission of secondary education, than are performed by the London County Council. It is unfortunate that decrees on matters of such importance should have been issued without any attempt to discover how similar problems have been dealt with in other countries. The East is naturally sensitive; but perhaps those who are benefiting Iran under Point Four could suggest to the Iranian Government that there exists abroad an immense mass of experience in dealing with land and local government questions, and that in the end much time might be saved by a study of that experience. Iranian investigators would be well advised to study the highly successful Gezira scheme, in the Sudan, where an immense area of newly irrigated land was developed between 1926 and 1950 by a foreign company which was required to encourage the growing of cotton and other suitable crops and in return was allowed to take 20 percent of the net profit, the remaining 80 percent being divided equally between the Sudan Government and the cultivators. In 1950 the company retired and the Sudan Government took over its functions and the 20 percent profit which it had been drawing. The cultivators, who had been protected by fixed rents against exploitation by the landlords, have become very prosperous: indeed it is claimed that their annual income is greater than that of any other agricultural population, even that of the United States. However, such schemes require security for foreign investment and management.
Hopes for the future of Iran, which must in any case be restrained by reason of the known difficulties in the way, are still further limited by the discovery that of the many hundreds of Iranian students now in the United States the great majority do not wish to return to Iran but intend to stay in the United States if they can manage to secure permission to do so. Thus while American and British missionaries are providing excellent medical services for poor Iranians (and would be providing excellent education too but for Riza Shah's excessive nationalism, which closed their schools in 1940), and while America is providing money and advice and help to improve social and economic conditions in Iran, the young men who might have been expected to return to give their country the benefit of their foreign education and experience are as a class showing only a verbal interest in its fate.
Is this, however, a total loss to Iran, or does she not rather benefit by the defection of the fainthearted? The peasant remains as an element of stability where the better-educated professional and political classes seem often volatile and irresponsible. He is usually described as inert, but he has a momentum of his own as steady as the seasons which his work has to follow. The Communists would find in him a recalcitrant subject for propaganda, and in Iran that propaganda lacks in any case the best instrument of revolution, a strong urban proletariat. Nevertheless, the peasant is grossly oppressed by a feudalistic land system, and it is to be hoped that some remedy that does not involve violence can be found for this abuse.
[i] Cf. "Crisis of Confidence in Iran," by E. A. Bayne, Foreign Affairs, July 1951.