Celebrating The Constitutional Revolution Of 1905-1911 And The Constitution Of 1906

by: Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D. 
in Khaneh: Iranian Community Newspaper, Vol. 2, No. 21 (September 2001).

Ninety six years ago on 14 Mordad, [August 5], our forefathers and foremothers succeeded in wining a Constitution, when Mozzafar al-Din Shah Qajar finally gave in to the demands of the Constitutionalists. But soon, his despotic son Mohammad-Ali Shah in collaboration with Russian colonial power clashed with the Constitutionalists. From 1907 until 1911 a protracted war was waged by the Constitutionalists on one side and the despotic Mohammad-Ali and his foreign colonial patrons— Tsarist Russia and Britain— on the other.

Among the achievements of our Constitutional Revolution were:

* the adoption of a constitution modeled after the Belgium Constitution, which itself was modeled after the English Westminister system;

* the adoption of an independent judiciary [edalatkhaneh];

* creation of a parliament [Majles] whose members were elected by the people;

* reducing the absolute power of the monarch to only few powers.

* giving executive power to the cabinet headed by a Prime Minister elected by the Majles.

In 1907, the amendments to the Constitution, added a bill of rights respecting freedoms of the press, and political parties with some restrictions.

The 1906 Constitution was a major achievement despite many of its shortcomings. From its inception in 1906 until 1979 when the Constitution was formally abolished, time and again, the despotic kings Mohammad-Ali Shah Qajar, Reza Shah Pahlavi and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi continuously violated it. For the 73 years of its existence, the 1906 Constitution was a document that pro-democracy activists embraced and defended and for whose defense, they were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered by Mohammad-Ali Qajar, Reza Pahlavi, and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The despotic kings, their sycophants and their colonial patrons wanted a dictatorial system in which they could plunder the wealth of the Iranian people. A freely elected Majles and free press were obstacles for the despots and their colonial masters.

The 1906 Constitution had an inherent contradiction, a contradiction inherent in any constitutional monarchy. This inherent contradiction was painfully apparent for much of its 73 years of existence. By its very nature, an unelected person who is given political power constitutes an anti-democratic institution. In many European countries through centuries of bloody struggles, the democratic movements had succeeded in forcing a reduction in the real powers of the monarch. In other words, a constitutional monarchy is democratic so long as the monarch has no real power. However, as soon as a monarch decides to use any power (constitutional or extra-constitutional), then that system is not democratic any longer, and the system plunges into crisis.

Despite it shortcomings and internal contradictions, the 1906 Constitution embodied the values of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911. These progressive and liberal democratic values were the rule of law [hokomat qanon], rule of the people [hokumat mardom], freedom of the press [azadi matbooat], freedom of political parties [azadi ahzab], modernity [tajadod], and separation of religion and politics [hokumat orfi]. These values and principles were advocated by the veterans of the Constitutional Revolution such as Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and Dehkhoda among many others.

Constitutional rule was suspended under the despotic rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi. In 1941 [1320 Khorshidi] the Allied powers invaded Iran and removed the brutal dictator. Soon, the people's struggle for democracy resurfaced in 1942.

In the post-World War Two period, the pro-democracy movement was led by Dr. Mossadegh. He called for the nationalization of Iranian oil from the British, who in addition to controlling Iranian oil had enormous political control over Iran through their control of Mohammad Reza Shah and numerous deputies in the Majles. In 1947, many of the pro-democracy activists in Iran gathered around Dr. Mossadegh and established Iran National Front to achieve their goals which included nationalization of oil, restoration of Iran's sovereignty, implementation of the 1906 Constitution, and the compelling of Mohammad Reza Shah to abide by the Constitution. The main goals of the Iran National Front, like the goals of the Constitutional Revolution, was to make "the monarch reign but not rule." The Iran National Front was the organizational expression of the Constitutionalists and the Constitutional Revolution, and the darbar [court of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] was the organizational form of the dictatorial anti-constitutionalists [estebdad zede mashrooteh].

In August 1953, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (like Mohammad Ali Qajar) collaborated with foreign powers against the Constitutionalists, undermined the Constitution, smashed democracy, and destroyed all civil liberties. In the 1953 coup, the alliance among monarchists, high-ranking clerics (Ayatollah Uzma Brujerdi, Ayatollah AbolQasem Kashani, Ayatollah Behbahani, and then-hojatolislam Ruhollah Khomeini), toughs [arazel va obash] from the red light district, anti- nationalist [zede-melli] military officers, led and directed by the MI6 and CIA overthrew Iran's nationalist and democratic government. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi established a brutal dictatorship: there were no freedom of expression, no free elections, no freedom for political parties, no freedom of the press. Anyone who criticized Mohammad Reza's tyranny would face imprisonment, torture, execution, and assassination.

The Iranian Revolution of 1977-1979 was a response by the people of Iran to the dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Shah and his subservience to foreign rule. The Revolution began with demands for political liberties, free elections, the release of all political prisoners and succeeded in overthrowing the despised monarch. The revolution began by the June 12, 1977 open letter signed by Dr. Sanjabi, Dr. Bakhtiar, and Darush Forouhar, demanding the Shah to respect the Constitution, free all political prisoners, respect the human rights of the Iranian people as stipulated in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and HOLD FREE ELECTIONS. Unfortunately, a group of violent dictatorial fundamentalists under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini succeeded in defeating the pro-democracy forces and established their brutal dictatorship. In December 1979, Khomeini imposed his anti-democratic constitution on the people. He first created the hostage crisis to undermine liberal democrats who opposed him and his derive to totalitarian rule; and then continued to hold the Americans hostage in order to silence any criticism of the Velayat Faghih constitution. The Velayat Faghih constitution was an inferior document compared with the 1906 Constitution. The Velayat Faghih Constitution had numerous serious anti-democratic institutions. The main feature of the 1979 constitution was that it instituted the sovereignty of a high ranking Shia cleric, which is in direct contradiction to the sovereignty of the people.

Today, the spirit of the 1906 Constitution lives in the hearts and minds of the youth, who fight for the rule of law, democracy, civil liberties, freedom of expression, freedom of political parties, and separation of religion and state, and a JUST judiciary. After 96 years, the Iranian people are still fighting to establish sovereignty of the people and civil liberties in Iran. After 96 years, the people are still fighting against an institution headed by a person who is not elected by the people and is not responsible to them. The Supreme Leader [Vali Faghih] is like an absolute monarch, who is not elected by the people and does not answer to them. Power is concentrated in the hands of one person who is not elected by the people. Khomeini's constitution simply replaced the sovereignty of the king with the sovereignty of a Shia cleric; both deriving their powers not from the people but from the world of the unseen.

The present pro-democracy movement in Iran is consciously and explicitly non-violent. The confluence of ideals of democracy, liberty, nationalism, and non-violence in the present movement has resulted in the adoption of Dr. Mossadegh as the symbol of this movement. Dr. Mossadegh connects the Constitutional Revolution, the pro-democracy nationalist movement [Jonbesh Melli], to the present struggle.

Dr. Mossadegh fought against the dictatorships of Mohammad Ali Shah, Reza Shah, and Mohammad Reza Shah, as today we fight against clerical dictatorship. Dr. Mossadegh fought not to replace one form of dictatorship with another form of dictatorship; but he fought to replace dictatorship with democracy and civil liberties. Today, the Iran National Front continues to lead the century-old struggle of the Iranian people to bring democracy and civil liberties to Iran.

On the anniversary of this day, we remember, honor, and celebrate those who gave us the Constitution of 1906. Our struggle today is the continuation of their struggle to establish independence, freedom, democracy, rule of law, and justice. We are consciously fighting to create a system based on the consent of the governed. Today, the demands for freedom and democracy have been embraced by a decisive majority of the Iranian people. After a century of struggle, our intellectuals and masses alike, are wiser, more sophisticated and more determined than ever before to fight against all forms of dictatorial systems. This time around, we should succeed in establishing a pluralistic democracy.

Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at
Utah Valley State College.