Patriot of Persia : Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup, Paperback

Patriot of Persia : Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


On 19 August 1953 the British and American intelligence agencies launched a desperate coup against a cussed, bedridden 72-year-old.

His name was Muhammad Mossadegh, the Iranian prime minister.

To Winston Churchill he was a lunatic, determined to humiliate Britain.

To President Eisenhower he was delivering Iran to the Soviets.

Mossadegh must go. And so he did, in one of the most dramatic episodes in modern Middle Eastern history.

But the countries that overthrew him would, in time, deeply regret it.

Mossadegh was one of the first liberals of the Middle East, a man whose conception of liberty was as sophisticated as any in Europe or America.

He wanted friendship with the West - not slavish dependence.

Here, for the first time, is the political and personal life of a remarkable patriot, written by our foremost observer of Iran.

Above all, the life of Muhammad Mossadegh is a warning to today's occupants of Downing Street and the White House, as they commit us all to intervention in a volatile and unpredictable region.




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Patriot of Persia: Muhammed Mossadegh and a very British coup by Christopher de BellaigueI was going to start this review by commenting that there were two misleading things about the title: the first is that this is in fact a biography of Mossadegh's life rather than an account of the coup, the second that the description of the coup itself focuses on the CIA role without any mention of UK involvement (although there is coverage of the British persuading the US that a coup was necessary). But as I looked for the touchstone I discovered that the US subtitle of the book is "MM and a tragic Anglo-American coup", different in both tone and content from the UK one. Anyway, to the review. In some ways this has quite an old-fashioned approach to biography writing, literally starting with Mossadegh's birth and ending with his death, and packing the author's analysis quite closely around the facts of Mossadegh's life. This is exacerbated by de Bellaigue's style of writing, which is fabulously elliptical and impressionistic - especially in the early chapters I felt that other biographers would squeeze a paragraph out of the information he was putting into a sentence. <i>Six-foot-three of glowering, muscle-bound ambition, Reza Khan crushed the shell of Qajar power. He wrote no foreign language, and barely his own; his culture was cards and wenching, though later he acquired the genteel vices of opium and extortion. ... Iran seethed as he started his ascent. Banditry and insurgency threatened the whole flimsy structure. It was one of those times when the Persian longing for a strongman capable of dragging the country back from the precipice seems like the summit of logic and good sense.</i>de Bellaigue loves a good anecdote, quote or nickname (Brainless Shaban, Icy Ramazan, Sugar-lip Zeynab) - anything that creates an image in the reader's mind. All this makes the book an enjoyable read, although there are a couple of downsides - because it's so elliptical there were times when I would have liked a statement to be more backed up with argument (eg, in above, 'the Persian longing for a strongman'?), and I occasionally worried that I was coming away with an impression of what had happened rather than detailed knowledge.But in any case, the story is interesting and important. Overall it's a portrayal of Mossadegh himself, with plenty of complexity and contradictions. de Bellaigue shows us his strong adherence to his values and integrity, his love for political theatre, his vision but also his fussiness over details, and demonstrates how these made Mossadegh so popular among the Iranian people but also so frustrating to his political colleagues and opponents, and how it led him to miss opportunities to make compromises. de Bellaigue thinks, for example, that it would have been possible to reach an acceptable compromise with the British over Anglo-Iranian Oil (now BP) which would have met Iranian requirements and averted the coup. That doesn't mean that the book is not critical of the UK and US approaches, far from it. But reaching a compromise would actually have achieved Mossadegh's ends better than nobly standing above the fray. Certainly, without the coup, the modern Middle East could look very different.<i>Wealth distribution; a military under civilian control; modestly enhanced rights for women in the face of clerical unease; these were the most visible parts of a modernisation programme which would have brought Iran substantially closer to a secular, constitutional regime. The final year of Mossadegh's premiership is a salutary episode in modern Middle Eastern history - an opportunity spurned because of the British obsession with lost prestige and the American obsession with Communism.</i>

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