Popular Pahlavis

Alireza’s death is a clear reminder of the popularity of the Pahlavis three decades after the people booted them out of the country. It’s clear as day, but pundits, analysts, scholars and the majority of political activists dismiss it just as they ridiculed the popularity of the mollas and political Islam before the revolution. They can’t put aside their personal bias: How could spoiled rich leftovers of a dead dynasty of dictators with a history of repression have any sympathy with the same masses who put an end to their reign?

Easy. The Islamic Republic is THAT unpopular. In other words, it’s not that the Pahlavis are popular. It’s that anyone other than the current ruling elite — from Mousavi to Pahlavi — would be welcomed with open arms, not for what they stand for, but for standing up to Khamenei, his army of thugs, and unbearable religious repression.

Don’t kid yourself. Put aside your bias and you will see that Farah Pahlavi is the least hated political personality among Iranians. And in Iranian politics, that means massive popularity.

I’ll bet my life that if she got on a plane and went to Tehran, she would shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic ten times more than last year’s Green Revolution. You wouldn’t see half of Tehran rushing to welcome her as they did when Khomeini returned from exile; in 1979 the Shah had already fled the country and the the generals were demoralized. Instead thousands would show up; dozens, maybe hundreds, would be shot and clubbed to death by basijs and revolutionary guards. And she would be thrown into jail. But the regime would not dare to execute her. Not even this blood-soaked regime. Farah’s act of true courage (rather than issuing statements and visiting art galleries in Paris) would make her and the nostalgic secular legacy of the Pahlavi dynasty soar higher in popularity. As long as she sits in prison, the Islamic Republic would have a real problem on its hands, worse than their worst nightmare.

Would she do it? Probably not. But I honestly would not be surprised. If Reza does it, I’d be shocked but the impact would not be much less.

The Pahlavis are THE most significant political “force” out there. I don’t like the idea of monarchy, much less the Pahlavi variety experienced up to 1979. But reality is what it is. There’s nobody in opposition inside or outside Iran who comes close in terms of the influence they could potentially have. The question is do they have Khomeini’s balls?

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