Reza (Rida) Pahlevi (Pahlavi), shah of Iran 1925-1941; b. Reza Khan in Alasht, Manzaderan, Persia (modern northern Iran) 1878-03-16, d. Johannesburg, South Africa 1944-07-26. First shah of the Pahlevi dynasty.
Reza Khan was the son of an army colonel who belonged to a family of tribal chiefs in the remote northern province of Manzaderan. He enlisted in the Persian army after the death of his father and received training from Russian officers. He distinguished himself as a leader and rose through the ranks to assume command of the armed forces after leading his Cossack brigade in the coup of 1921 which brought prime minister Tabataba'i to power and soon thereafter took up the influential cabinet post of minister of war.
Khan was known more for being a silent, poker-faced and highly efficient career officer but was also a nationalist and idealist who objected to the massive influence of foreign profit-seekers and proved to be more ambitious than anyone thought. By 1923, through shrewd divide and rule tactics, he had consolidated his hold on the civilian government and gained the premiership himself. He then combined a policy of higher taxation with high military expenditure to ensure the efficiency of the armed forces
upon which he relied for support.
In 1925 the Shah was in Europe for medical treatment and refused to return when asked to. Khan was talked out of proclaiming a republic but the shah was deposed anyway and Khan was elected shah himself and crowned the following year.
His policies aimed to strengthen the unity and sovereignty of the nation and he acted swiftly to put an end to endless tribal warfare and reined in foreign companies that were operating unchecked on Persian territory. Control of the economy which had been managed by foreign interests was returned the the central government in Tehran and he started a program of infrastructure, including railways, hospitals and universities meant to improve the standard of living and education. In 1935 he
emancipated women and discouraged the traditional veil many of them wore and decreed that the country be named Iran. At the same time, some of his western-oriented
reforms alienated him from the powerful clergy, beginning a resentment of the monarchy that would fester for decades to come.
On the foreign front he wasn't quite as successful since his two-faced policies pitting Britain against the USSR turned against him when those two countries allied
themselves in World War II. After he showed signs of favouring Germany, Iran was subject to Anglo-Russian occupation to ensure a route for the transit of military
supplies from British India and the Indian Ocean to the Soviet Union. At about this time, Khan thought it wise to abdicate and leave the leadership of the country to his
son Mohammad Reza. He himself went into exile, first in Mauritius, when the British denied him permission to go to Canada, and then in South
Africa, where he also died.
Although sometimes derided by purists as the son of a goatherd of entirely unroyal lineage, Reza Shah Pahlevi brought modern ideas of government to Iran and propelled the country into the 20th century while creating a national identity that still characterises modern Iran.