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The Quest for Democracy in Iran: A Century of Struggle against Authoritarian Rule

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Overview

The Constitutional Revolution of 1906 launched Iran as a pioneer in a broad-based movement to establish democratic rule in the non-Western world. In a book that provides essential context for understanding modern Iran, Fakhreddin Azimi traces a century of struggle for the establishment of representative government.

The promise of constitutional rule was cut short in the 1920s with the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Shah, whose despotic rule Azimi deftly captures, maintained the façade of a constitutional monarch but greeted any challenge with an iron fist: “I will eliminate you,” he routinely barked at his officials. In 1941, fearful of losing control of the oil-rich region, the Allies forced Reza Shah to abdicate but allowed Mohammad Reza to succeed his father. Though promising to abide by the constitution, the new Shah missed no opportunity to undermine it.

The Anglo-American–backed coup of 1953, which ousted reformist premier Mohammed Mosaddeq, dealt a blow to the constitutionalists. The Shah’s repressive policies and subservience to the United States radicalized both secular and religious opponents, leading to the revolution of 1979. Azimi argues that we have fundamentally misunderstood this event by characterizing it as an “Islamic” revolution when it was in reality the expression of a long-repressed desire for popular sovereignty. This explains why the clerical rulers have failed to counter the growing public conviction that the Islamic Republic, too, is impervious to political reform—and why the democratic impulse that began with the Constitutional Revolution continues to be a potent and resilient force.

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Editorial Reviews

The Nation

For Azimi, all Iranian history after 1905 is an attempt to fulfill, partially accommodate or circumvent the ideals of a constitutional movement that placed popular representation at the fore of its priorities. He traces how at various moments public alienation and resentment have been articulated or expressed and finally, how "a culture of confrontation" emerged. His book goes a long way toward recuperating a history of Iranian democracy that has been expunged by Orientalists who wonder aloud if there is something about Muslim lands that makes them inhospitable to democracy or, alternatively, those who have dismissed periods of hectic parliamentary activity as mere chaos.
— Negar Azimi

Financial Times

Fakhreddin Azimi's The Quest for Democracy in Iran is particularly strong on retrieving the importance of the Constitutional Revolution and threading it through to the Islamic Republic's current dialectic between republicanism and theocracy.
— David Gardner

Choice

The sophistication of [Azimi's] concepts of democracy and authoritarianism, his command of the sources, and his intellectual clarity and energy have combined to produce an insightful book that will draw the attention of all interested in Iranian culture and history.
— L. J. Alderink

Roger Owen
Twentieth-century Iranian history provides wonderful examples of recurring themes of revolution, authoritarian rule, and the attempt to create democratic institutions. In this landmark book, Fakhreddin Azimi illuminates a subject of the greatest importance to Iran, the Middle East, and, indeed, the rest of the world. Elegantly written and deeply informative, The Quest for Democracy in Iran is a must read.
Ehsan Yarshater
Azimi's impressive book offers a penetrating analysis of what sustained authoritarian rule in Iran over the last one hundred years and how the aspirations and quest for social justice, the rule of law, and freedom have remained both frustrated and resilient. He shows that the key hopes and agendas associated with the 1906 Constitutional Revolution remain as salient as ever.
Wm. Roger Louis
The Quest for Democracy in Iran is a book of immense erudition, yet it is also a work of passion and sympathy for the Iranian people. A rigorous and fair-minded assessment of the Pahlavi dynasty and the revolution under Khomeni, it will command the attention of the general public as well as scholars.
The Nation - Negar Azimi
For Azimi, all Iranian history after 1905 is an attempt to fulfill, partially accommodate or circumvent the ideals of a constitutional movement that placed popular representation at the fore of its priorities. He traces how at various moments public alienation and resentment have been articulated or expressed and finally, how "a culture of confrontation" emerged. His book goes a long way toward recuperating a history of Iranian democracy that has been expunged by Orientalists who wonder aloud if there is something about Muslim lands that makes them inhospitable to democracy or, alternatively, those who have dismissed periods of hectic parliamentary activity as mere chaos.
Financial Times - David Gardner
Fakhreddin Azimi's The Quest for Democracy in Iran is particularly strong on retrieving the importance of the Constitutional Revolution and threading it through to the Islamic Republic's current dialectic between republicanism and theocracy.
Choice - L. J. Alderink
The sophistication of [Azimi's] concepts of democracy and authoritarianism, his command of the sources, and his intellectual clarity and energy have combined to produce an insightful book that will draw the attention of all interested in Iranian culture and history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674027787
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Fakhreddin Azimi is Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Note on Transliteration xiv

Prologue: In Search of a National Covenant 1

Part I Constituting a National Community (1906-1953)

1 Constitutional Trial and Error 19

2 Pahlavist Absolutism 69

3 Restoration of Parliamentary Politics 118

Part II Authoritarian Supremacy: Consolidation and Collapse (1953-1979)

4 The Trajectories of Monarchism 157

5 Revolution: Chronicle of an Implosion 201

6 The Edifice and Emplacements of Royal Rule 224

7 Elective Affinities: Western Imperial Interests and Authoritarian Monarchy 258

8 The Architecture of Royalist Hegemony 277

9 A Culture of Confrontation 307

Part III The Eclipse of Popular Sovereignty: Iran since 1979

10 The Unfolding of Clerical Rule: Oligarchy by Divine Right? 357

11 The Culture of Politics: The Presence and Absence of the Past 412

12 Predicaments and Prospects 423

Epilogue: The Resilience of Modernity 437

Abbreviations 453

Notes 455

Index 481

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A book for scholars, historians, political leaders and anyone interested in an original in-depth account of the Iranian socio-political events in the last 100 years.

    I just finished reading Azimi's book cover-to-cover! I was forcibly struck by the forthrightness and its daredevil audacity in both style and substance. Seldom have I seen such a vast sum of hard facts packed in concise easy-to-follow parcels.<BR/>The book carries you effortlessly through a century of upheavals as if on a magic carpet. Yet, it is an undeniable documentary in condemnation of the "Great Men of Power," foreign and domestic, tragically in denial and betrayal of the very principles they purportedly espouse--freedom, democracy, free enterprise and all! Above all though it's the harbinger of the simple truth that these noble aspirations and struggles, although kept in check for some time, may not perish.<BR/>Nothing seems to have escaped Azimi's reticle in his account and analysis of the contemporary Iranian politics. You'll experience several "aha's" on each page and by the time you're finished reading the book you'll find yourself nodding "amen!" If none happens though, I assure you by the time you're done you'll have vastly improved your vocabulary! Azimi has an arsenal of bullet-sharp words at his disposal and he keeps them well-oiled and shiny. When he uses them he hits the bull's eye with a marksman's precision saving the reader pages of explanations. Without this knack the book could have amounted to thousands of pages.<BR/>Azimi's book is a precious gift to Iranians and those interested in the Iranian recent history. I know my mind could not possibly go back to its original dimensions after having read it. I expect The Quest for Democracy in Iran to soon be translated into major languages. It is a text for those at the helm.

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