The Nationalist Uprising: Sprouts of Independentism

  November 09, 2021   Read time 3 min
The Nationalist Uprising: Sprouts of Independentism
The Shah and his unpopular Prime Minister did not break up the gathering or prevent new sympathizers, including theological students and artisans, from joining it

The accumulation of grievances nursed by several groups against Nâsir al-Dïn Shah and Muzaffar al-Dîn Shah over a period of fifteen years reached its peak in December 1905. The growing discontent at the latter’s ever-increasing extravagance and love of foreign travel, at the new tariffs and the arrogance of the Belgian official, and at the exploitation of the country by foreign concessionaires was focused, not unustifiably on *Ain al-Dawlah, the Prime Minister. A large number of merchants took sanctuary (bast) in the Masjid-i Shah (“Royal Mosque”), where they were joined by many leading mullahs. The Prime Minister ordered his paid supporters to beat the refugees, who, however, did not disperse but went to the holy shrine of Shah *Abd al-'Azim, a few miles from the city. The threats and promises of the Shah and his unpopular Prime Minister did not break up the gathering or prevent new sympathizers, including theological students (tullâb) and artisans, from joining it.

The scandal finally became so grave and intolerable that the Shah sent an autograph letter (dast-i khat) in which he promised the crowd to dismiss the Prime Minister, to convene the 'Adälatkhänah (“House of Justice”), to abolish favoritism, and to make all Persians equal in the eyes of the law. A few months elapsed before the mullahs of Tehran realized that these were but empty promises. In April 1906 they presented to the Shah a petition reminding him of the disturbances of December 1905 and praying His Majesty to fulfill his promised reforms. This petition produced no effect. Instead, it prompted the Shah and his Prime Minister to resort to every possible means to ensure that such demands were not pressed further. Their repressive measures, however, backfired. Many outstanding mullahs and vu'äs (“preachers”) began to denounce tyranny from the pulpit. This prompted the Prime Minister to take more severe measures. He first ordered the expulsion of two mullahs from the city. The seizure by the soldiers of one of them aroused great opposition. In the course of the upheaval the soldiers fired on a crowd and killed a number of innocent people. The bloodshed stirred up further turmoil in the now-garrisoned city of Tehran.

These events led to another important bast. The mullahs, joined by artisans and tradesmen, took refuge in the “Congregational Mosque” in the center of the city, but on being besieged by soldiers they retired to Qum, eighty miles south of Tehran. In the meantime the Prime Minister ordered the merchants to open their shops, which had been closed as a gesture of protest, or else have their merchandise looted by his soldiers. Upon this threat some bankers and merchants approached the officials of the British Legation inquiring if they could seek protection on legation premises. This led to the last and most important bast. By the first of August 1906 about 14,000 Iranians had taken refuge in the British Legation demanding, as the condition of their return to their homes and businesses, the dismissal of the Prime Minister, the recall of the religious leaders from Qum, the grant of a constitution, and the establishment of a national assembly.

The mounting discontent and the increasing popular pressure for reforms and a constitutional regime compelled the Shah “to bend his proud neck before his humble subjects,” and he issued a formdn for the formation of an assembly. On September 8, 1906, the regulations for an assembly, as drafted and embodied in an electoral law, were submitted to the Shah and ratified by him on the following day. Nevertheless, the nationalists were apprehensive. They feared that the Shah and his supporters might have new tricks up their sleeves and might, under favorable circumstances, revoke the new instrument of government. Furthermore, because of poor roads and inadequate transportation facilities it would probably be a long time before the provinces could complete their elections and send their representatives to the capital.

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