Iran’s long-exiled prince wants a revolution in age of Trump

Reza Pahlavi
Reza Pahlavi

Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s exiled crown prince

Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s exiled crown prince, wants a revolution.

Pahlavi, the son of the last shah to rule before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has seen his profile rise in recent months following the election of US President Donald Trump, who promises a harder line against Iran.

Pahlavi’s calls for replacing clerical rule with a parliamentary monarchy, enshrining human rights and modernizing its state-run economy could prove palatable to both the West and Iran’s Gulf neighbors, who remain suspicious of the country’s intentions amid its involvement in the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

“People have given up with the idea of reform and they think there has to be fundamental change. Now, how this change can occur is the big question,” Pahlavi said.

Pahlavi left Iran at age 17 for military flight school in the US, just before his cancer-stricken father Mohammad Reza Pahlavi abandoned the throne for exile. The revolution followed, with the creation of the Islamic Republic, the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and the sweeping away of the last vestiges of the American-backed monarchy.

Yet the Pahlavis and the age of the monarchy have retained their mystique in Iran, even as the majority of its 80 million people were not alive to experience it. Television period pieces have focused on their rule, including the recent state TV series “The Enigma of the Shah,” the most expensive series ever produced to air in the country. While incorporating romances or mobsters into the tales, all uniformly criticize the royal court.

But Pahlavi, 56, insists young Iranians increasingly look toward Iran’s past.

Under his father’s rule, Iran experienced a rapid modernization program financed by oil revenues.

“If you look at the legacy that was left behind by both my father and my grandfather … it contrasts with this archaic, sort of backward, radical system,” Pahlavi said.

Since the US election, Pahlavi has given a growing number of media interviews, including with Breitbart, the far-right website once run by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Pahlavi also has sent letters to the Trump administration.

Gauging national sentiment toward restoring the monarchy in Iran is impossible, especially after the crackdown that followed the country’s disputed 2009 election. Iranian state media routinely refer to the Pahlavi monarchy as “despotic,” but there has been some reassessing of history in other quarters.

A book published last year, “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Last Days of Imperial Iran,” offered a revisionist view of the shah.

While acknowledging the abuses of his feared intelligence service and the corruption surrounding his rule, the book portrays him as a fatalist in an era of disappearing Middle East monarchies.

“The regime has repressed discussion of the Pahlavis for so long that it has had the opposite effect of making young Iranians inside the country curious about what they don’t know,” said historian Andrew Scott Cooper, the book’s author.

Pahlavi said members of the hard-line Revolutionary Guard would be assured they would not be “all hung and shot.” Most importantly, he said Western governments need to keep their distance and not threaten military action.

That is an exceedingly optimistic vision, especially considering the amount of power the Guard and other hard-liners wield in Iran’s economy. It also largely ignores the concerns many in Iran have about Western meddling. Pahlavi’s father took power following a 1953 coup engineered by Britain and the US.

Pahlavi, who still resides in the US, said he has not had any “side occupation” since 1979, and has received financial support from his family and “many Iranians who have supported the cause.”

He said: “My focus right now is on liberating Iran, and I will find any means that I can, without compromising the national interests and independence, with anyone who is willing to give us a hand.”

Pahlavi said he had yet to meet with the Trump administration despite his letters.

For now, Pahlavi said he looks forward to meeting with Trump and his administration. But he pins his hopes on Iran’s sense of history, something Cooper also acknowledged.

“For many Iranians, the revolution is unfinished business,” the author said.


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