ALI AMINI, prime minister of Iran in 1961-62, was a sharp-witted, eloquent politician at ease with ordinary people. His introduction of land reform in 1961 was one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the country's
Amini was born in Tehran in 1905 - on the eve of Persia's constitutional revolution, which gave the country a parliamentary regime - into the Qajar royal family, just as his grandfather, Mozaffaruddin Shah, was under pressure to relinquish his power as an absolute monarch.
The revolutionary atmosphere had forced many Qajars to change their way of life and modernise themselves. Amini's mother, Princess Fakhroddovleh, first sent him to a religious school and then to modern schools. When he finished his secondary school he was sent to France where he studied law and economics at Grenoble and Paris universities. Amini was in France when, in 1924, the Qajar dynasty was abolished and Reza Shah Pahlavi took over. Persia later became Iran and the Qajars lost much of their influence and princely titles. On his return, Amini joined the Ministry of Justice and later the Ministry of Finance and Customs. By 1939, he was Director-General of the Economic Ministry. In 1949, following the Allied invasion of Iran, Reza Shah lost his throne and his son, Muhammad Reza Shah, took over. A year later, Ahmad Qavam, the uncle of Amini's wife, became prime minister, and appointed Amini his deputy. Amini gradually gained national prominence in his own right, rather than as the son of Princess Fakhroddovleh, a woman of considerable personality and influence. Reza Shah reputedly said of her that she was the 'only man amongst the Qajars', who ruled Iran for 130 years .
Amini was very much influenced by Qavam, who had been prime minister twice before. Qavam was known for his pro-British feelings, but now felt that the United States had the upper hand as a major post- war power. Amini was impressed by this line of thinking. He had joined parliament in 1948, and served in the cabinet several times, especially in the early days of Mohammed Mossadeq, who became prime minister in 1951. Mossadeq was a champion of nationalisation of Iran's oil industry who attempted to curtail the Shah's power and that of his western backers. Mossadeq was overthrown in 1953 in a coup backed by the West and was replaced by General Zahedi. What damaged Amini's image in the eyes of many nationalists was the fact that he served in General Zahedi's cabinet, where he signed an agreement with western oil companies which was seen as detrimental to Iran's national interests.
In 1956, Amini was sent to Washington as Iran's ambassador where he established a rapport with the Kennedy family, especially wlth the young Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline. When in 1961 Amini was appointed prime minister it was generally believed that the Kennedy administration had influenced the Shah. The perception that the US Democratic Party are in favour of reform and change in Iran at any cost, has always been a factor in Iran's political scene and ironically enough still is.
At that time the Shah was still under pressure. The opposition were repeating Mossadeq's demands that the monarch should reign and not rule. Elections had been rigged and demonstrations were daily occurrences, and there was no other loyal politician to match the link Amini provided between the Shah and the opposition. Amini wanted to create a power base for himself and sought support for his programmes through dialogue with all sections of Iranian society. His common touch and his knowledge of popular culture and basic Islam made his job easier. He visited leading clergy in Tehran and Qom, including Ayatollah Khomeini. He sacked some generals and criticised members of the Royal Family for corruption.
Amini's appointment as prime minister only whetted the opposition's demands. Some opposition leaders hoped to create a rift between the Shah and Amini. But they themselves were too divided and their coalition too fragile to act together. The Shah did not trust Amini; after all, Mossadeq was also from the Qajar family and loyal to him, yet had tried to curtail the Shah's power. Amini was the only prime minister after Mossadeq who was his own man. He wanted to be a strong prime minister and not His Majesty's humble servant in the manner of most of his predecessors and successors.
Amini gave in initially to some of the opposition's demands. Mossadeq's pictures once again appeared in newspapers and the main opposition forum, the National Front, held large meetings. But it was short-lived, as the economic situation worsened and pressures from the radical elements in the National Front affected Amini's relations both with the Shah and with the National Front. Its leaders were arrested and its activities curtailed.
Meanwhile, as the government put the first stage of the land-reform bill into practice, Amini's government antagonised the landlords and their supporters among the mullahs. But Amini went ahead with the implementation of the land-reform bill, which remained his greatest achievement as prime minister.
Pressure grew on Amini from all sides. He wanted the Shah to reduce the military budget. The Shah refused. The Americans also refrained from bridging the budget deficit. Amini tendered his resignation in July 1962. The Shah accepted. From then on the Shah turned the country into an absolute monarchy. The Shah's mistrust of Amini meant that he was kept under surveillance by the secret police for years. Towards the end of his rule the Shah turned to Amini and other experienced politicians who were out of favour for advice, but it was too late.
Amini, like many other Iranians, came to Paris after the revolution in 1979. He re-entered politics as the liberal face of the monarchist opposition in exile but to no avail. He retired and remained at home with his wife Batoul who died last summer. They are survived by a son Dr Iraj Amini.