His Majesty Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (اعلیحضرت محمدرضا شاه پهلوی; October 26, 1919 – July 27, 1980) also knows as Aryamehr, was the last Shah of Iran, ruling from 1941 until 1979. He was born in Tehran, Iran.
As a young man, he was educated at Institute Le Rosey, a Swiss boarding school and in Tehran at the Military College.
His father, Reza Pahlavi, (1877–1944), rose from the post of Minister of War to that of Prime Minister, before he was elected by the Iranian National Assembly (parliament), also known as the Majlis of Iran, as Shah in 1925, starting the Pahlavi dynasty. Concerned that Reza Shah was about to align his petroleum-rich country with Germany during World War II, Britain and the USSR occupied Iran and forced him to resign in favor of his son. His mother was the shah's second wife, Tadj ol-Molouk (1896 – 1982).
At the end of World War II, political unrest dogged Iran and in 1953 the nation's nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, forced the Shah to flee the country. He was quickly escorted back to power and fired Mossadegh through a counter coup, led by General Fazlollah Zahedi, which was supported by the American CIA and Britain's SIS (MI6).
With Iran's great oil wealth, Mohammad Reza Shah became the pre-eminent leader of the Middle East, and Guardian of the Gulf. He abolished the multi-party system of government such that he could rule through a one-party regime in autocratic fashion. The Shah started the secret police force, SAVAK. He made major changes to curb certain ancient elite factions by breaking up all large and middle-sized estates for the benefit of more than four million small farmers. In what was called 'the White Revolution', he took a number of modernization measures, viewed as populist by some commentatators, including extending suffrage to women, to favour the people. He instituted exams for Islamic theologians to become established priests ("mullahs"), which were widely unpopular and broke centuries-old religious traditions.
His policies led to strong economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s but at the same time, opposition to his autocratic rule increased. On January 16, 1979 he and his family were forced to flee Iran a second time following a year of extreme turmoil and public protests leading up to the Iranian revolution. Following the Shah's departure, conservative Muslims — led by the Ayatollah Khomeini who had returned from French exile — staged a revolution, abolished the monarchy, and established an Islamic Republic.
The exiled monarch, with a history of repressive violence, had become unpopular in much of the world and travelled from country to country in his second exile seeking what he hoped would be a temporary residence. For a while he stayed in Panama, but his non-Hodgkins lymphoma began to grow worse, and required immediate and sophisticated treatment. Reluctantly, President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to make a brief stopover in the United States to undergo medical treatment. The compromise was extremely unpopular in Iran, where the new regime had now vilified the Shah as an American stooge. Khomeini demanded the former monarch's return to Iran to face trial and execution for his alleged misdeeds. Once the Shah's course of treatment had finished, the American government, eager to avoid further controversy, pressed the former monarch to leave the country. He was welcomed by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and remained there until his death on July 27, 1980. He is interred at Al-Refai Mosque in Egypt.
Wives and children
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was married three times. His first wife was Princess Fawzia of Egypt (born November 5, 1921), a celebrated beauty of her day, daughter of King Fuad I of Egypt and his second spouse, Nazli Sabri, and a sister of King Farouk I of Egypt. They married in 1939 and divorced in 1948 after her failure to produce an heir to the throne (although later she did in fact have a son with her second husband). Fawzia was extremely unhappy at the Iranian court and longed to return to Egypt, which she did shortly before the fall of her brother and the abolition of the Egyptian monarchy. They had one daughter, Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi (born October 27, 1940).
His second wife was Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiari (June 22, 1932-October 26, 2001), daughter of Khalil Esfandiary Bakhtiari, Ambassador of Iran to the Federal Republic of Germany, and his German wife, Eva Karl. They married in 1951 and divorced in 1958 when it became apparent that she could not bear children. Given the title Princess Soraya of Iran after the divorce, she briefly debuted as a film actress, appearing in the 1965 movie "Three Faces of a Woman," and became mistress of its Italian director Franco Indovina, 1932-1972.
The Shah's third wife was Farah Diba (born October 14, 1938), daughter of Sohrab Diba, Captain in the Imperial Iranian Army, and his wife, Faredeh Ghotbi. They were married in 1959, and Farah was created Shahbanu, or Empress, a title created especially for her (previous royal consorts had been known as Malake, or Queen); she bore him four children:
- Reza Pahlavi II, the Crown Prince (born October 31, 1960)
- Farahnaz Pahlavi (born March 12, 1963)
- Ali Reza Pahlavi (born April 28, 1966)
- Leila Pahlavi (March 27, 1970 – June 10, 2001)