SINCE IT EXPERIENCED the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Westerners have developed an idea of Iran as a highly conformist, authoritarian state that is based on a conservative reading of Islamic teaching. In the decades before this revolution, Iranian politics, while predominantly authoritarian, were anything but conformist or dull.

Based on historian Fred Halliday's 1979 work, it is useful to see 20th-century Iranian history, before the 1979 revolution, as defined by five crises. The first was a Constitutional Revolution from 1905 to 1911, which established a parliament, the Majlis, in an effort to modify the power of the Qajar dynasty. Second, from 1919 to 1921, the Qajar dynasty was deposed and Reza Khan came to power and crowned himself shah. Third, as part of the wartime foreign ...

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