The Qajar Dynasty, The Constitutional Revolution
AIOC, Anglo-Persian Oil Company, constitutionalists, popular movement, parliamentary system of government
During the early 1900s the idea gradually spread among Iranians that the only effective way to save the country from government corruption and foreign manipulation was to make the shah accountable to a written code of laws. By 1905 this sentiment had grown into a popular movement, the Constitutional Revolution. Following a year of demonstrations and strikes, Muzaffar al-Din Shah was forced to agree to the creation of an elected parliament (the Majlis) and a constitution that limited royal power, established a parliamentary system of government, and outlined the powers of the legislature.
Britain and Russia, apparently fearing that a strong Iranian government might act too independently and threaten their interests in the region, agreed in 1907 to divide Iran into spheres in which each would exercise exclusive influence. Russia then encouraged Mohammad Ali Shah, Muzaffar’s successor who resented the constitutional limits on his authority, to dissolve the Majlis. In 1908 the shah attempted a coup against the elected government, bombing the Majlis building and dissolving the assembly. After a year of fighting between supporters of the constitution and forces loyal to the shah, the constitutionalists prevailed and deposed Mohammad Ali, who fled to Russia. His young son Ahmad Shah, vowing to respect the constitution, was installed under a regent.
The restoration of the Majlis and constitutional government failed to end foreign influence in Iran. In 1901 a British subject had been granted an exclusive 60-year concession to explore Iran for oil. Commercially valuable quantities of oil were discovered in southwestern Iran in 1908, and exports began in 1911. In 1914 the British government purchased 51 percent of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (formed in 1909; renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, or AIOC, in 1935), and from then on behaved increasingly like a sovereign power in southwestern Iran. Meanwhile, in 1910 Russia assisted Mohammad Ali Shah in an invasion of Iran and an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government. The following year, Russia occupied Tabriz and forced the Majlis to dismiss American financial advisor William Morgan Shuster, whom the Majlis had invited to Iran to reorganize the national finances; Shuster’s reforms strengthened Iran but threatened Russian and British interests.
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