Democracy for the Middle East?

Bah, Humbug!

by Firas Al-Atraqchi

Dissident Voice
February 23, 2003



Mainstream media, talk shows and online columns in the past few weeks have been festooned with the urgent call to liberate Iraq from dictatorship and install democracy in the region. "Liberating the Iraqi people," we are told, makes for a sound moral and legal argument. "Other Arab nations will become democratic," we are also told.


However, to the informed reader and Middle East analyst, the call to liberate Iraq is a thinly veiled hypocrisy that is as much an insult to the intelligence as it is to the people of the region.


History provides ample proof that no undertaking in the Middle East has been for the liberation of the peoples of the region.


Iraq's eastern neighbor, Iran, is perhaps the most illuminating case in point. In 1906, an intelligent, nationalistic, and affluent character by the name of Mohammed Mossadegh worked diligently to bring constitutional reform to Iran. Mossadegh was most concerned with Russo-Anglo attempts to carve up Iran as a chessboard for early twentieth century imperialism. He sought to create a free and stable Iran, free from tyranny and oppression.


In 1951, the Iranian people held their first, and last, truly democratic elections and chose Mossadegh to lead Iran. His first act was to nationalize the oil industry, which had been under British colonial rule.


In 1951, journalist J.H. Carmical, reporting for the New York Times, wrote "Since Anglo-Iranian is owned by British interests, with the British Government holding a majority of the stock, nationalization of the Iranian oil properties would be a severe blow to the British economy." (New York Times Archives, March 25, 1951)


Sensing that it would lose all-important oil revenue, the British government sought U.S. help in staging a coup to overthrow Mossadegh and return the pivotal oil fields to Western control.


On August 19, 1953, the New York Times reported that "there has been considerable speculation here over General Schwarzkopf's recent visit to Iran. He returned to the United States last week after a trip to Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan and Iran. State Department officials said the department had arranged for General Schwarzkopf's visits to Lebanon, Syria and Pakistan, but that he had made the Iranian visit on his own initiative 'to meet old friends' there."


The Soviets charged that Schwarzkopf (father to Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf of the Gulf War) had secretly paid 5 million dollars to a General Zahedi who led the coup, and that the CIA and British SIS had helped funnel the funds. It was revealed later (this is all well documented history now) that Iranians covertly working for the CIA and posing as communists harassed Iran's Shiite religious leaders and staged the bombing of a prominent cleric's home in a campaign to turn the country's Islamic religious community against Mossadegh's government.


After much legal wrangling and an initially-failed coup attempt, Mossadegh was ousted on August 20, 1953 and the Shah of Iran once again ruled Iran with an iron grip. Mass executions of Mossadegh loyalists followed as Iran was returned to serfdom and a virtual vassal state.


Rather than protest the overthrow of a democratic institution, an August 6, 1954 New York Times editorial charged that "underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism." Message: Iran got what it deserved for wanting to control its own oil resources!


However, the Shah's hold on Iran was untenable, at best, as Iranian society admired and supported Mossadegh. Consequently, to ensure that no harm would come to the Shah and oil interests in Iran, the CIA and the Israeli Mossad in 1957 began to train, equip, and mentor a new police force in Iran, the Savak, who came to be known as one of the world's most brutal security forces. Its main task was to suppress opposition to the Shah's government and keep the people's political and social knowledge as minimal as possible. Amnesty International would later report that the Savak had the worst human rights record, far outpacing the loathed East German Stasi, and the Soviet KGB.


From an Amnesty International report in 1976: Iran, under the CIA-backed Shah, had "the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran."


What are we to surmise from the above? A democratic election, the first of its kind in the Middle East, is thwarted and overthrown for oil interests. And the result? Less than 25 years later, a fundamentalist regime led by Ayatollah Khomeini would rise to power in Iran and extremism would spread throughout the Middle East.


Revolutionary Iran, having overthrown the Shah, would then turn its hatred and bitterness on Israel and the U.S., accusing them, and rightly so, of having supported the Shah's brutal treatment of his own people.


Freedom for the Middle East? Hardly. More like freedom to siphon oil from the Middle East. Ask any Iranian and they will proudly tell you that Mossadegh brought a shining moment to Iran's modern history.


Within a year of the Iranian revolution, a war erupted between Iraq (former U.S. "friend" in the region) and Iran.


Could this be punishment for overthrowing the Shah?


Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. He is a columnist for, where this article first appeared. He can be reached at:


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