Daswani, Bhawana A.
"Iran and the Iranian Political System"
What role did foreign intervention play in the formation of Iran's pre-modern and modern political history?
Iran is a state that Europeans never colonized. Iran's borders were not drawn artificially by colonial powers but result from the historical balance of power between its shahs and their neighboring rulers. Iran's geographic location between the Russian empire in the north and the British empire in the south allowed it to survive the heyday of European imperialism as an independent state. Both empires allowed it to remain a neutral buffer between their respective domains. As they became more familiar with Europe in the nineteenth century, they became more aware of their own backwardness. As long as Iran was less developed than Europe, it would forever remain vulnerable to imperialist encroachment. Consequently, "catching up with the West" became the major goal of Iran's intellectual and political elite.
They believed that the rule of law was the secret of European superiority, whereas arbitrary rule prevailed in Iran. They concluded that constitutional government had to be introduced to strengthen the nation.
At the outset of the 20th century, Iran was embroiled in a bifurcated struggle. On the one hand, Iranians struggled to maintain their national independence in the face of growing colonial pressures. Iran's geopolitical importance made it a central focus of the colonial "Great Game" between Russia and Great Britain. Ultimately, in August 1907, the two great powers decided to carve Iran up into spheres of influence; the agreement sealed Russian supremacy in the north and British supremacy in the south of Iran.
Under the influence of ethnically defined European nationalism, the prerevolutionary elites of Iran defined Iran as a Persian country, ignoring its ethnic diversity. After the revolution, Twelver Shiism came to be the...