Constitutionalism and Emergence of a New Foreign Policy Paradigm

  November 09, 2021   Read time 2 min
Constitutionalism and Emergence of a New Foreign Policy Paradigm
The years between the Constitutional Revolution in Iran (1905-6) and the coup (Tétât of 1921 were a prelude to a transition in foreign policy. Although this period witnessed the intensification of Iranian nationalism, it was not until after the First World War that the early signs of a departure from traditional foreign-policy.

However, this does not necessarily mean that all the elements of traditional foreign policy continued as before. The impact of the national awakening on the policy-making process was significant in two principal ways. One was the nationalization of the objectives of foreign policy. The other was the emergence of new policy makers. The continuation of traditionalism in foreign policy was apparent particularly in the persistent disparity between the means and ends of Iranian foreign policy. But interestingly enough, even this pattern of political unrealism was no longer so much influenced by traditional factors such as Shi*i fanaticism, ignorance, and forcible seclusion. Rather, it was profoundly conditioned by a growing nationalism.

The adjective “Constitutional” by which the movement is commonly designated does not reveal the true nature of the stirrings that occurred in the turbulent years under discussion. It might convey the impression that establishment of democratic institutions was the primary object of the movement. Such an impression may even be reinforced by the statements of some of the leaders of the movement. Malik al-Mutikallimin, a leading Constitutionalist orator, went so far as to state that liberty was “the highest goal” of the movement, and that all other goals such as justice and independence from foreign control were of secondary significance.1 There is little doubt that a few of the Constitutionalists shared this view, but the movement was primarily born out of opposition to foreign domination as exemplified by the tobacco monopoly uprising and the “popular” opposition to the Russian loans and, finally, to the Russian tariffs.

Constitutionalism (Mashrütlyat) was little understood, misunderstood, or, at best, confused with parliamentarism. As such, it could not have become the rallying point of the movement. In fact, some of the supporters of the movement confused constitutionalism with the reestablishment of Islamic law (Mashrü'lyat) as the foundation of the “new” order. Once they discovered the discrepancy between their conception of constitutionalism and that of some of the Westerneducated leaders of the movement, they withdrew their support and joined the ranks of the opposition.

Constitutionalism became the symbol around which various groups gathered because it meant to most of its supporters a movement for the “true independence” of Iran. The bazaar merchants, the dergy, the Western-educated intellectuals, and some members of the newly emerging groups in Iranian society all were agreed, at least in principle, that independence was a worthy cause. Nationalism doaked in constitutionalism was the predominant feature of the movement. Said E. G. Browne: My own conviction is that the mere tyranny of an autocrat would hardly have driven the patient and tractable people of Persia into revolt had tyranny at home been combined with any maintenance of prestige abroad or only moderately effective guardianship of Persian independence. It was the combination of inefficiency, extravagance and lack of patriotic feeling with tyranny which proved insupportable ; and a constitutional form of government was sought not so much for its own sake as for the urgent necessity of creating more honest, efficient, and patriotic government than the existing one.

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