Nov 24, 2016

1889 Persia: Qajar Kings maintained the threefold functions of government, legislative, executive, and judicial

Fath-Ali Shah and his sons
In theory the king may do what he pleases; his word is law. The saying that ‘The law of the Medes and Persians altereth not’ was merely an ancient periphrasis for the absolutism of the sovereign. He appoints and he may dismiss all ministers, officers, officials, and judges. Over his own family and household, and over the civil or military functionaries in his employ, he has power of life and death without reference to any tribunal. The property of any such individual, if disgraced or executed, reverts to him. The right to take life in any case is vested in him alone, but can be delegated to governors or deputies. All property, not previously granted by the crown or purchased—all property, in fact, to which a legal title cannot be established—belongs to him, and can be disposed of at his pleasure. All rights or privileges, such as the making of public works, the working of mines, the institution of telegraphs, roads, railroads, tramways, etc., the exploitation, in fact, of any of the resources of the country, are vested in him, and must be purchased from him before they can be assumed by others. In his person are fused the threefold functions of government, legislative, executive, and judicial. No obligation is imposed upon him beyond the outward observance of the forms of the national religion. He is the pivot upon which turns the entire machinery of public life.

Such is, in theory, and was till lately in practice, the character of the Persian monarchy. Nor has a single one of these high pretensions been overtly conceded. The language in which the Sháh addresses his subjects and is addressed by them, recalls the proud tone in which an Artaxerxes or Darius spoke to his tributary millions, and which may still be read in the graven record of rock-wall and tomb. He remains the Sháhinsháh, or King of Kings; the Zillu’llah, or Shadow of God; the Qibliy-i-’Alam, or Centre of the Universe; ‘Exalted like the planet Saturn; Well of Science; Footpath of Heaven; Sublime Sovereign, whose standard is the Sun, whose splendour is that of the Firmament; Monarch of armies numerous as the stars.’ Still would the Persian subject endorse the precept of Sa’dí, that ‘The vice approved by the king becomes a virtue; to seek opposite counsel is to imbrue one’s hands in his own blood.’ The march of time has imposed upon him neither religious council nor secular council, neither ‘ulamá nor senate. Elective and representative institutions have not yet intruded their irreverent features. No written check exists upon the royal prerogative.

...Such is the divinity that doth hedge a throne in Persia, that not merely does the Sháh never attend at state dinners or eat with his subjects at table, with the exception of a single banquet to his principal male relatives at Naw-rúz, but the attitude and language employed towards him even by his confidential ministers are those of servile obeisance and adulation. ‘May I be your sacrifice, Asylum of the Universe,’ is the common mode of address adopted even by subjects of the highest rank. In his own surrounding there is no one to tell him the truth or to give him dispassionate counsel. The foreign Ministers are probably almost the only source from which he learns facts as they are, or receives unvarnished, even if interested, advice. With the best intentions in the world for the undertaking of great plans and for the amelioration of his country, he has little or no control over the execution of an enterprise which has once passed out of his hands and has become the sport of corrupt and self-seeking officials. Half the money voted with his consent never reaches its destination, but sticks to every intervening pocket with which a professional ingenuity can bring it into transient contact; half the schemes authorised by him are never brought any nearer to realisation, the minister or functionary in charge trusting to the oblivious caprices of the sovereign to overlook his dereliction of duty.

...Only a century ago the abominable system prevailed of blinding possible aspirants to the throne, of savage mutilations and life-long captivities, of wanton slaughter and systematic bloodshed. Disgrace was not less sudden than promotion, and death was a frequent concomitant of disgrace. 
- George Curzon  (‘Persia, and The Persia Question’)