His father, Mirza Hedayat Ashtiyani, served the Qajar government as the minister of budget and finance from 1874 to 1895. Mossadeq, who was deeply influenced by his mother’s progressive opinions about female roles in society, tried to extend the rights of women in Iran.
When his father died, Mossadeq succeeded him in the family profession as a mostowfi (auditor). He was appointed chief mostowfi in the province of Khorasan at the age of 14. Mossadeq, who supported the Constitutional Revolution, was elected to the First National Assembly as a deputy from Isfahan.
However, his credentials were rejected because he had not yet attained the minimum legal age to serve as a deputy in Parliament. He studied public finance in Paris and obtained a doctoral degree in law at Neuchâtel University in Switzerland in 1914. After returning to Iran, he held several important posts successively, including vice minister of finance, governor of Fars, minister of finance, governor of Azerbaijan, and foreign minister.
After Reza Khan ousted the Qajar shah from the throne during the 1921 coup and established the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, Mossadeq became a leader in the nationalist opposition to the Pahlavi dictatorship. Mossadeq was imprisoned in 1940. When Reza Shah was dethroned by the Allies in 1941 for sympathizing with the Nazis, and his son Mohammad Reza was installed as the new shah, Mossadeq was released.
In 1944 Mossadeq was elected as a deputy from Tehran to the 14th Parliament. During that time, he played a significant role in enacting the Single-Article Bill, which forbade the government from granting foreign concessions without the approval of parliament.
In October 1949 a group of politicians, university students, merchants, and guilds in the Tehran bazaar (marketplace) gathered in front of the shah’s palace to protest the rigging of the 16th parliamentary election.
These protesters, led by Mossadeq, established the National Front. Under Mossadeq’s leadership, the National Front drove the movement to nationalize the British-run petroleum industry. The oil nationalization law was approved by both the Senate and Parliament in March 1951.
Mossadeq was elected prime minister on April 30, 1951. The British government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) opposed the oil nationalization law and sued the Iranian government in the International Court in the Hague. Mossadeq attempted to establish Iranian political and economic independence and to democratize the system established by the Pahlavis; he favored both the nationalization of the oil industry and domestic reforms.
However, his government fell in August 1953 as the result of a coup d’état that was backed by the United States that opposed the oil nationalization and Mossadeq’s alleged communist ties. Mohammad Reza returned to power and Mossadeq was imprisoned on charges of acting against Iran. He was subsequently placed under house arrest; Mossadeq died at age 85 on March 5, 1967. He is regarded as a national hero.