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Memoirs of Sharif-Emami, Prime Minister [Persian Language]

Habib Ladjevardi, editor
ISBN: 0-932885-22-5
Format: Softcover
Trim: 5½ x 8½ inches
Publication Date: 01/01/1999
Pages: 340
Language: Persian

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As cabinet minister, president of the Senate, president of the Pahlavi Foundation, president of the Iran Chamber of Industries and Mines and twice prime minister during the reign of Mohammad-Reza Shah, Jafar Sharif-Emami was a key player in major events and decisions of the time. For some years, he was also the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Iran, giving him additional informal influence among Iran's political elite.
Sharif-Emami was born in Tehran on September 8, 1910. His father, Haj Mohammad-Hossein, with the title of Nezam al-Eslam, was a cleric who worked in the offices of Seyyed Mohammad Emami, the Imam Jomeh of Tehran. Sharif-Emami received his primary education at the Sharaf School in Tehran. He then pursued his high school education in the technical field, attending Tehran's German School.
Upon graduation from high school, the Ministry of Roads sent him with thirty other young men to Germany. There, Sharif-Emami studied for eighteen months and returned to Iran in 1930, where he was employed as an assistant foreman in the installation department of the State Railroad Organization in Khuzestan.

Three and one-half years after joining the State Railroad Organization (thanks to his own perseverance), the Ministry of Roads sent him to Sweden for further technical studies. Upon returning to Iran in 1939, Sharif-Emami resumed work with his former employer. He quickly moved up the organization, and was already a department head in Tehran in August 1941 when British and Soviet forces invaded Iran.
During his years at the State Railroad Organization, Sharif-Emami had a number of opportunities to meet and observe Reza Shah. As a result he developed much respect for the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. In his view, during the reign of Reza Shah: responsibilities were treated extremely seriously. Everyone had to be totally attentive and very conscientious while carrying out their duties. His Majesty, himself, personally monitored every thing. Nothing but one's own effort could lead to promotion. There was no place for intervention or personal connection.

Sharif-Emami's memoirs give us a glimpse of the interplay between an absolute ruler (in this case Reza Shah), who issues orders without consultation, and the ruled, who must implement those orders regardless of their feasibly: They would always place the train schedule before His Majesty so that he could monitor whether the train left the station exactly on time and reached the next station exactly on time. If the train deviated from the schedule, [Reza Shah] would demand an explanation. Therefore, we had instructed the locomotive driver to travel a little faster [en route] and to slow down and pull the brakes and stop the train exactly on the minute as he reached the station.

In the summer of 1943, the British and Soviet forces arrested Sharif-Emami along with a number of political figures, military officers, journalists, and employees of the Railroad Organization because of their alleged ties to Germany. During his confinement, Sharif-Emami was able to establish personal relations with many of his fellow prisoners. In the ensuing years, these friendships were used for their mutual benefit.

After his release from detention, Sharif-Emami did not return to the Railroad Organization. Instead, he was appointed director general of the Irrigation Agency, a post that launched his political career. In his new position,, he came into official contact with top government officials, including the monarch, Mohammad-Reza Shah.

Within four years Sharif-Emami was being considered for a cabinet post. In June 1950, the new prime minister, General Haj-Ali Razmara, initially appointed him acting minister and then minister of roads.

The assassination of Razmara in March of that year, changed the direction of Sharif-Emami's career. The new prime minister, Hossein Ala, placed him on the High Council of the newly created Plan Organization. In August 1953, when the government of Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled, General Zahedi, the new prime minister, promoted Sharif-Emami to managing director of the organization.

Within three months, however, Sharif-Emami quit the Plan Organization and decided to run for a seat in the Second Senate. According to election laws of the time, candidates had to win elections in both phases of the electoral process in order to become a senator. Phase one entailed election of seventy-five candidates by the public. In phase two, fifteen senators were selected from among the seventy-five candidates. Sharif-Emami, successful through both phases, describes here the process established by the election officials to ensure that the fifteen senators of their choice would come out on top.

While in the Senate, Sharif-Emami took a leading role in opposing Prime Minister Zahedi, bringing himself closer to the Shah who had become weary of Zahedi's intentions. In April 1957, when Dr. Manouchehr Eghbal formed a cabinet, he brought Sharif-Emami back to the executive branch by appointing him minister of industries and mines. In this post, Sharif-Emami played an important role in planting the seeds of Iran's private sector, giving some legitimacy to his appointment later as president of the Iran Chamber of Industries and Mines.

The years 1960 to 1963 were a prelude to the Revolution of 1979: the economy had been mishandled, the United States was pressuring the Iranian government to carry out reforms, the remnants of the National Front questioned the legitimacy of the government, and students demonstrated. The Shah, put on the defensive for the first time since 1953, responded by dismissing the cabinet of Dr. Eghbal and replacing him with Jafar Sharif-Emami on August 27, 1960. But Sharif-Emami, who lacked both domestic and foreign support, was unable to deal with the looming economic and political crisis.

To placate the opposition and respond to U.S. pressure, the Shah appointed Ali Amini as prime minister (1961-1962). Amini immediately launched a number of initiatives including land reform and an anticorruption campaign. Sharif-Emami was one of the targets of the campaign. Lacking the whole-hearted support of the Shah and with waning U.S. support, Amini, too, could not govern and was forced to resign.

At this stage the Shah appointed his trusted aide, Asadollah Alam, as prime minister (1962-1964). Alam, fully supported by the Shah, used political skill and military force to disarm the opposition. The single most serious challenge he faced was the Fifteenth of Khordad uprising inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini. He quelled the threat with the full power of the security forces and as a result restored the supremacy of the Shah over other competing elements, a feat similar to that of General Zahedi a decade earlier.

Once the status quo had been reestablished, Sharif-Emami was able to reappear on the political stage. He was elected to the Fourth Senate as member and chosen by the senators as president -- a positions he held for the next fifteen years, until August 1978, when he was asked once again to form a cabinet. Sharif-Emami's second opportunity as head of the executive branch was even shorter than the first. He lasted only two months as the revolutionary current became more forceful.

The monarchy fell on February 11, 1979. A few days before that, Sharif-Emami left Iran, to take up exile in New York City. He lived there for nearly twenty years and died there on June 16, 1998. He was buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

In his memoirs, Sharif-Emami discusses some of the reasons for the collapse of the monarchy, one of which he believes was disregard for Iran's constitution. Sharif-Emami holds that less attention was paid to the proper implementation of the constitution during the later years of the reign of Mohammad-Reza Shah than the earlier period. He asserts that the distribution of power between the monarch and the three branches of government was gradually changed in the Shah's favor.

Razmara as far as possible tried to discuss all issues in the council of ministers because at that time [1950] it was considered important for the cabinet ministers to present their opinions and to offer advice before signing government decrees. If they disagreed with the proposal, they were to write "I disagree."

During Hoveida's era [1965-1977] many issues were not discussed in the cabinet, each minister pursuing his own agenda [rather than acting collectively] as the council. Decrees would be passed around and signed without discussion or even a reading. However, in the earlier period, it was possible for a decree to be discussed for two hours and either approved, rejected, or revised. What I mean to say is that during the last years the situation was such that the council of ministers was not involved in state affairs.

The issues of [the Ministry of] Post and Telegraph were the business of its minister. The issues of the minister of finance were also his own. They did not interfere very much in each other's affairs. This was a very dangerous procedure and was against the constitution.

While in previous governments-both those that I led and those in which I was a member-not only government bills, but also all cabinet decrees had to be studied and it was possible that two or three ministers would oppose it. Nevertheless, everyone had to sign the decrees. Those who were opposed, would write, "I am opposed."

Sharif-Emami remembers Mohammad-Reza Shah as a patriotic leader deserving of much respect. He does not, however, approve of the Shah's style of management. Sharif-Emami says, "It was really too bad because he worked so hard and strove so vigorously." However, to ensure his programs were implemented his way, he did not give enough authority to his subordinates, nor did he have sufficient confidence in them.

If he had granted greater authority to those in charge, he could have questioned and dismissed them if they made mistakes. This is why over time his control over the state diminished-was nearly lost. If one attends to details, one loses a sense of the big picture. Unfortunately, His Majesty made this mistake. Those who could occasionally advise him told him, "Your Majesty, it is better if you do not meet with all the ministers. Do not receive all of them. Do not attend to every detail. Spend your time on major issues."

Notes on the Interview

Sharif-Emami's memoirs were recorded by me during three sessions lasting a total of nine hours on May 13, 1982 and May 12 and 24, 1983 at his apartment in New York City. Although I had met Mr. Sharif-Emami a number of times before the Revolution, I had not seen him since then.

In April 1982, while in New York City, I obtained his telephone number from a mutual acquaintance, called, and asked to see him. He invited me to his home. He lived on the East Side in a modern building in which he occupied an apartment on one of the top floors.
At the initial meeting, I told him about our project to collect the oral history of Iran and he agreed to participate. He had certain conditions, however. He said, for instance, "I'm not going to discuss personal matters relating to the Shah or his sister." I said we wanted him to be comfortable with whatever he said.

In early May 1982, I telephoned him again and arranged to go to his apartment at 9:30 A.M., Thursday, May 13 to begin recording his memoirs. All three recording sessions took place with the two of us alone in his study. His study was furnished with a desk, a large sofa and a couple of leather chairs. Facing the sofa was a bookcase filled with perhaps 100 to 150 books, mostly on Iran. Before we began recording his memoirs, he told me that he had left nearly 11,000 books in his house in Tehran which, along with the house, he had offered to give to the new government to be designated as a public library. He had also offered certificates of deposits in a Tehran bank, income from which was to be used to maintain the library. He had sent this proposal to the Revolutionary Council through his wife who was still in Tehran. The Council had accepted his gift and conditions, according to Mr. Sharif-Emami, and the agreement had been implemented for a few months before the books were transported to Qom and the house was confiscated for other uses.

Mr. Sharif-Emami also spoke of having kept a diary for the preceding thirty years, containing notes regarding various appointments in Iran and meetings and discussions around the globe as president of the Senate and prime minister. He was very dismayed that he had not brought these notes out with him. He said, "I knew there was going to be a revolution, but I didn't think the revolution was going to be so extensive as to affect things such as my diary and memoirs-because I did have the chance to bring them out but didn't think of it. And later when I wrote my daughter and asked her to send these notes to me, she told me that during one of the initial inspections of the house, the revolutionary guards had spotted these notes because they were hand-written and had taken them." He was wondering whether the notes were still available or whether they had been thrown away or destroyed. This reminded me of similar regrets expressed in his interview by Mr. Abolhassan Ebtehaj who had kept notes for decade-the essence of his work and his meetings and his career which were no longer available to him to use to write his memoirs.

Mr. Sharif-Emami told me that his daily routine consisted of going to bed at midnight and waking up at 6 A.M. After reading the morning newspaper, he would begin work in his study in the same serious way he had in Iran prior to the revolution. Part of his day was spent learning Spanish. He repeated what many other narrators had told me: the revolution had forced him into retirement. Otherwise he would still be carrying on his long daily work schedule.

Although I arrived at Mr. Sharif-Emami's apartment at 9:20 AM, we did not begin recording his memoirs until a little after 10:00 AM, because there was a lot he wished to say, some of which he subsequently repeated on tape. Courtesy did not allow me to cut him short, although with body language I attempted to steer us toward the beginning of the recording session. At lunch he referred to this segment of the day as the "hors-d'oeuvre."

After we had recorded for about two hours, his son Ali, a graduate of the Harvard Business School, arrived and the three of us went to an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood for lunch. During lunch I asked Mr. Sharif-Emami a number of questions which I hoped I could ask again on tape. These questions included his role as the Grand Master of the Freemasons in Iran, his acquaintance with Ayatollah Beheshti, his knowledge of the expulsion of Ayatollah Khomeini from Iraq, the transfer of Pahlavi Foundation property in New York City to the Islamic Republic, the Shah's financial ties to the Pahlavi Foundation, and whether there had been a plan to assassinate Ayatollah Khomeini before his return to Iran.

Mr. Sharif-Emami and I returned to his apartment after lunch. After two more hours of tape had been recorded, I left the room for a few minutes. When I returned to continue the interview, Mr. Sharif-Emami surprised me by saying, "I think maybe we should end our meeting now. If you can send me the transcripts as they are typed, I will go over them, add necessary details and dates, and will elaborate wherever necessary and delete repetitions to make it more coherent. I think I've been jumping from one topic to another this afternoon." I tried to reassure him by telling him that moving from one topic to another in an oral memoir is not a sign of disorganization. It is the result of an interview process that brings forth material that has long been forgotten. I told him a reading of other oral history transcripts including those of American statesmen would show that it is common and part of the nature of the process. Although I repeated this explanation in several forms, it did not make the slightest impression on Mr. Sharif-Emami.

I have two hypotheses as to what happened. One is his own explanation, that he felt uncomfortable with a tape that did not show him to be in control of his narrative and that it was not as organized and sequential as he wished. Therefore, he wanted perhaps to have an outline next time to help him proceed chronologically and to stay within certain topics. A more plausible reason could be that he felt he had gone too far in criticizing the former regime during the last half hour of the interview. When he talked about the active and responsible role of the Council of Ministers during Razmara's tenure as prime minister (1950), I asked him to explain when and how the role of the Council of Ministers had been diminished and why Iran's elder statesmen had allowed the change to take place. In his response, Mr. Sharif-Emami made some revealing statements about the Shah and his style of kingship. He also said that the monarch's pride and ego had prevented him from consulting the elder statesmen of Iran, such as himself.

As it turned out, I was unable to see Mr. Sharif-Emami again for a whole year. Our second session took place on May 12, 1983, almost exactly a year later. Our third and final session took place two weeks later on May 24, 1983. I was unable to schedule another appointment with Mr. Sharif-Emami because he said he was busy writing his own memoirs. Consequently many of my questions remained unanswered and detail of events beyond 1961 remained with him. I have not seen his written autobiography, but I hope that he has addressed many of the important questions in that manuscript.


Notes on the Interview
Family and Educational Background
Employment at the State Railroad Organization
Continuation of Studies in Sweden
Return to the State Railroad Organization
Reza Shah's Visit to Site of Train Accident
British and Soviet Invasion of Iran
Detention by the Allied Forces
Director of the Irrigation Organization
Crash of Mohammad-Reza Shah's Airplane
Provision of Water for the Provinces
Water Dispute with Afghanistan
Minister of Roads in Gen. Haj-Ali Razmara's Cabinet
Rooting out Corruption
Personal Qualities of Prime Minister Razmara
Collective Resignation of Razmara Cabinet
Reduced Role of the Cabinet in Decision-Making
Disregard for the Constitution
Change in Qualification of Cabinet Ministers
Opposition to the Cabinet of General Zahedi
Razmara's Decentralization Initiative
Razmara and the Oil Question
Hossein Ala's Cabinet and Membership on the High Council of the Plan Organization
Mohammad Mossadegh's Cabinet
August 1953 Coup d'état
Personality and Characteristics of Mossadegh
More on Opposition to General Zahedi's Cabinet
Election to the Second Senate
Trip to Lebanon
Minister of Industries and Mines in Eghbal Cabinet
Genesis of the Private Sector
Formation of Industrial and Mining Development Bank
Dispute with Ebtehaj over Shiraz Fertilizer Plant
Ali Amini's Cabinet
Ending the Autonomy of the Plan Organization
Project to Fulfill Iran's Need for Electricity
Evaluating Dr. Manouchehr Eghbal's Premiership
The Sharif-Emami Cabinet (1960-1961)
Iran's Relations with Neighbors
Process of Selecting Cabinet Ministers
Relations with Afghanistan
Elections for the Twentieth Majles
Demonstration by Teachers and Fall of Sharif-Emami
Process of Selecting Prime Ministers
Process of Approving Government Bills
Direct Contact of Minister with the Shah
Distribution of Intelligence Reports
Dispute over the Budget with the Shah
Shah's Reluctance to Delegate Authority
Iranian Oral History Project
Project Summary
Use of the Memoirs
Publishing the Memoirs
Note on Recording Names of Narrators
2: List of Narrators
3: Libraries Holding the Collection
4. Conversation with Sharif-Emami during Lunch
Freemasons in Iran
Acquaintance with Ayatollah Beheshti
Departure of Ayatollah Khomeini from Iraq
Transfer of Pahlavi Foundation Property in New York to the Islamic Republic
Shah and the Pahlavi Foundation


Habib Ladjevardi has been the director of the Iranian Oral History Project at Harvard University since 1981. Born in Tehran, he grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., and was educated at the Yale Engineering School and the Harvard Business School. Dr. Ladjevardi returned to Iran in 1963 and began work as personnel manager in his family's business. Subsequently he was responsible for founding the Iran Center for Management Studies in Tehran, where he taught until 1976. He also served on a number of boards and councils in the private and public sectors. Dr. Ladjevardi received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford in 1981.

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