The Shah and I: The Confidential Diary of Iran’s Royal Court, 1969-1977
by Asadollah Alam, introduced and edited by Alinaghi Alikhani, translated by Alinaghi Alikhani, by Nicholas Vincent
St. Martin’s, 568 pp., $27.95
In 1975 Asadollah Alam, the minister of the imperial court and an intimate of the Shah of Iran, noted in his diary that Iran was everywhere triumphant. Oil revenues were pouring in. The economy was booming. The Shah was firmly in control. The powerful industrial states, from Germany to Japan, were falling over themselves to court the Shah’s favor. But within two years, everything changed. The economy was in difficulty, there were rumblings on the streets, tremors of revolution. By February 1979, the Shah’s regime lay in ruins, and Khomeini and his followers had taken power in Tehran.
Alam’s diary, covering the period between 1969 and 1977, ably edited by Alinaghi Alikhani and skillfully translated into English, helps us to understand this extraordinary turn of events because it brings us, as no other book since the revolution has done, close to the Shah himself, his mind, and his character. It tells us a great deal about the inner workings of the Shah’s court and parts of his government, and about the Shah’s relations to his family, his ministers, and foreign heads of state.
Alam was well placed to make such observations. He came from a rich and powerful family who owned estates in Birjand, in eastern Iran. His great grandfather had established connections with the British government in the nineteenth century, which the family maintained down to Alam’s own time, and this served Alam well in his political career. He married the daughter of a politically well-connected family and was given important jobs, serving as a provincial governor, cabinet minister, and, in the 1960s, as prime minister. In 1966, he was appointed minister of court, a post he held until shortly before he died in 1977. If the term “ruling class” has any meaning for Pahlavi Iran, Alam was certainly a part of it.
As minister of court, Alam saw the Shah almost every morning and was responsible for the Shah’s daily schedule. He was often the Shah’s intermediary with the British, American, and Soviet ambassadors—the three most important diplomats serving in Tehran. The Shah used him to carry out other major assignments. He was in fact as close to the Shah as any other man in Iran. The two had become friends when they were young and although the relationship could never be one between equals, the Shah greatly trusted Alam, relied on his advice, used him as a confidant, and entrusted to him many family matters. If the Shah wished to reprimand one of his brothers or sisters (a not infrequent occurrence) it was Alam who conveyed the royal displeasure. So intimate was the relationship that the two men shared a secret life of adulterous affairs. One gathers from the diaries that Alam and his minions made the arrangements for the constant stream of young women who were flown in from Europe to spend one or two nights in the royal bed—not of course at the palace but …