Reza Pahlavi, son of overthrown shah, is no advocate for a democratic Iran

Iran’s deposed monarchy as brutal and illegitimate as current theocracy

By Gen. Hugh Shelton, originally published in Washington Times, Monday, May 8, 2023

The recent wave of nationwide uprisings in Iran has reverberated around the world, signaling a clear desire for regime change. The Iranian people seek the end of the current medieval theocracy. And while the question of what comes next — in other words, a viable alternative — remains critical, a strange figure has suddenly surfaced in discussions about Iran‘s future: Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed and detested shah.

Mr. Pahlavi, who has been a socialite over the past four decades rather than a serious political figure, has been on a world tour of late, including a visit to Israel earlier this month. While he claims to be an advocate of democracy, his actions and statements suggest otherwise. His recent behavior stands in stark contrast to the aspirations of the Iranian people, who have taken to the streets in nationwide protests against the oppressive regime since September of last year.

In announcing his visit to Israel, Mr. Pahlavi sought to portray it as an opportunity to inform the world that “the Islamic Republic does not represent the Iranian people.” That is hardly news. Anyone genuinely interested in Iranian affairs would have reached this conclusion decades ago.

Social media has been awash with videos from across Iran, showing people from all walks of life chanting slogans like “death to the dictator.” These slogans have been propagated since 2014 through the network of Resistance Units linked to the main opposition organization Mojahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which has been advocating a secular and democratic Iran since before the 1979 revolution. The MEK played a pivotal role in toppling the shah before establishing itself as the primary opposition to the fundamentalist mullahs’ regime.

It is ironic that 44 years after the MEK helped topple his father’s regime, Mr. Pahlavi is attempting to lay claim to the MEK’s democratic vision for Iran‘s future. The MEK is the primary component of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, the most enduring coalition of democratic opposition groups.

NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi has presented a 10-point plan for Iran‘s future after the ayatollahs’ overthrow, which calls for free and fair elections, the separation of religion from the state, and the protection of women’s and minority rights. This plan has garnered strong support from a diverse range of prominent Western elected officials and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Before his visit to Israel, Mr. Pahlavi declared himself an “advocate for a democratic Iran.” Upon arriving, however, he did not correct his hosts when they referred to him as Iran‘s “exiled crown prince.” This persistent lack of forthrightness is not surprising, given that when his father died in 1980, Mr. Pahlavi pledged to restore the deposed monarchy. He has neither retracted his vow nor expressed any commitment to enabling the Iranian people to choose their leaders freely.

Mr. Pahlavi‘s recent efforts to present himself as a potential leader of Iran‘s future are misguided and disingenuous, given his family’s history of brutality and illegitimacy during their reign. The shah’s regime was infamous for its severe human rights abuses, corruption, and economic exploitation of Iran‘s resources.

In this context, there is no doubt that Mr. Pahlavi understands that in the event of free and fair elections, only the tiniest segment of Iran’s electorate would even consider his name as part of a list of candidates.

In 1975, his father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to whom Reza subsequently pledged allegiance, formally banned all political parties other than his own, prompting further crackdowns on dissent by his reviled secret police force, SAVAK. By some accounts, the number of political prisoners in the country then swelled to over 100,000, with many of them being subjected to torture. Dissidents, artists, writers and journalists were among those persecuted and silenced. READ MORE…

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