In This Review

Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed
Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed
By Misagh Parsa
416 pp, Harvard University Press, 2016

Iran has often seemed to be on the brink of democracy. During the twentieth century, the country experienced three major political upheavals: the Constitutional Revolution of 1905–11, the oil nationalization movement of 1951–53 and the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79. Each differed from the others in important ways, but all constituted a reaction to corruption, misrule, and autocracy. They all reflected the spread of literacy, the rising expectations of a growing middle class, and the impatience of a wealthy business community with official mismanagement. They were all characterized by an aspiration for some form of democratic government. Yet each time, that aspiration was disappointed. 

The constitution of 1906 created a parliament to check the power of the shah and give the Iranian people ultimate control of their country. Yet two decades later, the shah once again ruled as an absolute monarch, parliament had become a rubber stamp, and the new constitution was largely ignored. The 1951–53

To read the full article

  • HALEH ESFANDIARI is a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran.
  • More By Haleh Esfandiari