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His royal lowness
Why should we go from one aqazadeh system to another?

October 26, 2001
The Iranian

Many years ago, I was invited to attend an informal breakfast at the Harvard faculty club. Reza Pahlavi was visiting and had expressed interest in meeting some of the students. We were a handful of students who sat across from a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt-wearing son of the ex-Shah of Iran. The day before he had given a talk to members of the Harvard and Boston community and I had been rather surprised at the number of people who began crying the minute he opened his mouth. There was nothing awe inspiring about him and nothing he said was necessarily interesting or thought provoking. This is not to say he is a "bad" person. Just that he came across so ordinary to me, I couldn't understand why anyone would cry upon seeing him. Sitting on a couch across from him that morning only reinforced the blandness of him and of his way of thought.

I am much alarmed and a little surprised by the talk I hear of Reza Pahlavi tasting good to some people's palate as an alternative to the current regime in Iran. People of my father's generation (the generation who refers to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as "oon khoda beeyamorz"), influenced by nostalgia and prodded by the gibberish heard on Radio 24 Saateh and seen on NITV, seem to think of the Pahlavis as potential saviors of Iran. In his various appearances on US and European media (not to speak of the LA based reactionary media) Reza Pahlavi has come across as a balanced, democracy loving, educated, English speaking, completely viable leader of Iran. In response to the question of "you seriously can not be advocating a return to a monarchy in the 21st century?" these people respond that he just wants to stand in a free referendum and the people can chose for their selves.

There are many layers to my alarm and disbelief at this line of thought. One layer is based on my above-mentioned experience but then again, I concede you don't have to be very charming or smart to be the democratic leader of a country (especially in a Bush-led kinda world). The other is that I cannot understand how anyone can believe in royalty, believe that someone's blood is bluer than their own just because they have a certain name. This seems to especially be the case with the Pahlavis for whom the word "dynasty" barely even applies. I mean don't you need more than 2 rulers to call yourself a dynasty? In their case it's actually only 1 1/2, the first came into power through a coup d'etat he led himself and the other through a coup d'etat the Americans led for him. In all fairness, it's not Reza Pahlavi's fault that his ancestors had a thing for coups (speaking of which, who are the Pahlavi ancestors anyway?), but then again, that's the problem of claiming royalty through your ancestors: You get the good and the bad. If you're not responsible for your father's mistakes (like overthrowing an extremely well-loved leader with the help of foreigners in 1953), then you shouldn't reap the benefits either. If you do want to be recognized as the third monarch of the Pahlavis, then well, let's talk about your family's past. Either way, it doesn't look pretty.

Let's cut the guy some slack. Let's put aside logic and a belief that a move from a Republic to a Monarchy is retrograde and just go straight to the horse's mouth. To this end, I visited his website rezapahlavi.org with the hopes of understanding for myself, and illuminating for others, the deeds and actions of Reza Pahlavi.

I begin of course with the personal page: There is a picture of the 40-year-old man and a brief biography. We read about who is parents were, his siblings, his wife and children, where he was educated and then we are told he left Iran in 1978 to complete his Air force training but since the death of his father, he has lived in Egypt, Morocco, and the United States. My initial goodwill immediately melts away. I mean c'mon... Did you just happen to end up in Egypt by chance? What could you possibly hope to gain by not saying what would be obvious to just about anyone who reads this? Is the absence of the word "revolution" meant as a way of denying its occurrence? Its legitimacy? Khajaalat kesheedee? What could be the reason?

The website also has various treaties on non-violent resistance, a correspondence section where he receives and answers people's queries, a rather useful latest news link, media information, and "my goals". I search rather vainly for a section that even remotely could be called "charities" or "foundations" or "scholarships" -- anything that would point to the Pahlavi family's philanthropy. I'm not saying there is none, just wondering if there is, what is it and where can I find information about it if not on his website? The only time the word "financial assistance" appears, it is to ask for it from others. And now that we're talking money, I was wondering what he does for a living? Is he preparing full time for a nonviolent secular democracy that would eventually vote for a king? Really, how does he make a living? He doesn't have to because he has money? In which case, I ask again, what was the name of that charity?

We now get to my favorite part: It is called "my goals".

We are at first informed that Iran was doing splendidly in all aspects but then POOF! "a catastrophe descended upon my homeland and reversed decades of progress." Put aside for a minute what you now know of the eventual shape of the Islamic Republic (which frankly at this point, one could make an argument that more has been done to create civil society than before the Revolution). Iran, whether you want to admit to it or not, went through a POPULAR uprising, and the same people that Reza Pahlavi now exults to high heavens, those same people, more than 20 years ago, ousted the Pahlavis. That an Islamic Republic took its place is quite another story but to call the revolution a catastrophe is, to say the least, not accurate.

My favorite question is related to the next rousing paragraph:

I have called for unity among all groups dedicated to a democratic agenda and outcome to work together for a common cause the establishment of a democratic and secular government. I intend to lead this movement culminating in a national referendum, beyond this system, and with international supervision, as a means to guarantee freedom and self-determination for the people of Iran.

I'm curious to know why exactly he should lead it and not anyone else? If it's because of his name and lineage, then from step one, we have a problem and I doubt that any good will come from a democratic movement not based on merit, achievement, and qualifications. If he feels he should lead because he is qualified to do so, does he mind telling us all why he is so qualified? What has he done with his life in the past 22 years? What has the family done for Iranians if not in Iran then abroad? Why should we go from one aqazadeh system to another?

Additionally, I have listened to the broadcasts that Reza Pahlavi has put on his site with CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, etc. The inaccuracy of the information he provides is rather appalling really. For example, the idea that Iran has the only constitution in the world not based on popular sovereignty is such an egregious error, one wonders if he has ever even glanced at it. Iran's problems now one can argue are actually related to the fact that the constitution is based both on popular sovereignty AND divine sovereignty.

Then I tried to read his ideas on the Iranian elections. Based on his letters to his fans (or retractors to be fair to the man), Reza Pahlavi believes Iranian elections to be an undemocratic event. Repeating what is often fed to the listeners of Radio 24-Saateh by its slew of pseudo-analysts, Reza Pahlavi remarks to "compatriots" that "the process in Iran is NOT an election, rather it is a selection, of a handful of individuals who are approved by the Guardian Council to run in that undemocratic event."

The interesting thing to me is that there is SO MUCH with which to criticize the Iranian regime, so why go for the one thing that has happened in a positive way, i.e. the development of a critical and aware electoral polity? How utterly condescending to say that the 20 million who voted for Khatami knew not what they were doing. If it is as bad as you say, if the existence of the Guardian Council (a completely undemocratic institution by anyone's measure) completely undermines the democratic nature of the 1997 and 2001 elections in Iran, then I honestly like to know what he thinks people were doing, all those people who with their eyes open and without any pressure voted for Khatami, and no, they were not under pressure to vote so they could get coupons, daftarcheh baseej, or jobs.

Statistics on the elections show that in the 1980s when there WAS this kind of pressure on people to vote, the number of people who voted in elections was still less than the 20 million votes Khatami has gotten each time. The city council, parliamentary, and presidential elections of the recent past in Iran are democratic events, albeit imperfect ones. They have led to the creation of a culture where people do feel their votes count, that voting is a civil duty, something that cannot be said about the political culture of pre-revolutionary Iran. And I suggest if Reza Pahlavi has no or little respect for the opinions of these more than 20 million people, he stop referring to them to further his political agenda.

I have nothing against Reza Pahlavi. He seems like a nice person really. What I am against is people giving up their ability to think imaginatively in politics, to think that the only alternative to what exists is something from the past (and yes, despite his protestations, Reza Pahlavi is from the past.) We do not live in a binary world where only two options are available to us at a time. There are in Iran right now, and outside of it, a large group of thinkers and activists whom without the benefit of the Pahlavi money and privilege and without any of the sense of entitlement that ousted royal families traditionally have, have contributed more to the propagation of democratic ideas in Iran than Reza Pahlavi (and the monarchists) have done in the past 22 years.

I don't see why every time the door hits the framework, there is talk of restoring the Pahlavi dynasty (and I don't care if it's through a referendum or not.) Are we so unimaginative and so desperate that after all these years, we think we are incapable of building a new progressive political system? Have the events of the 1979 revolution taught us nothing? Has it not taught us that just because we are against one thing, we don't have to necessarily be for its opposite?

I believe my generation has learned these lessons. I just hope our father's come to learn them too.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Naghmeh Sohrabi

By Naghmeh Sohrabi

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