Wednesday, May 22, 2024
HomeOpinionExiled Reza Pahlavi operating like seasoned statesman

Exiled Reza Pahlavi operating like seasoned statesman


Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi seems to be everywhere these days.

Last month the 62 year-old son of the late Shah of Iran traveled to Israel with his wife Princess Yasmine.

While there, Pahlavi was received like, well, royalty – by everyone from Israeli-Iranians forced to flee from their homeland following the 1979 Islamist takeover to Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog. 

Pahlavi’s historic visit was preceded by meetings with Iranian diaspora activists and European leaders at the Munich Security Conference in February, an event usually attended by Islamic Republic officials such as former foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif.

Pahlavi also spoke at the British parliament in late February about Iran’s future and shortly thereafter addressed the Oxford Union, where he was greeted by thousands of supporters.

Pahlavi then showed up at the European Union Parliament in Brussels, asking it to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. 


Pahlavi during an appearance at the European Parliament in Brussels in early March where he asked it to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
Getty Images

While the prince’s rise on the global stage may appear recent, his popularity within Iran is nothing new.

For years, Iranians have not only shouted their affection for Pahlavi on the nation’s streets, but have clamored for his return home.

Popular support on the ground and recent polling indicate Pahlavi has emerged as the leading opposition figure against the Islamic Republic. 

Pahlavi’s rising popularity and ascent on the world stage comes at a pivotal time in Iranian history.

The ruling Islamic Republic has faced a popular revolt since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last September for “improperly” wearing a hijab. Since then, the regime has battled widespread demonstrations and a growing campaign of civil disobedience led by young Iranians, particularly women.

The current revolt is one in a long series of uprisings that began in December 2017, when Iranians publicly declared their leaders to be irredeemable and demanded they be replaced by a secular democracy.


Pahlavi's parents pose with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, during their visit to Washington DC in 1977. The US was a strong ally of the Shah and his rule.
Pahlavi’s parents pose with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, during their visit to Washington DC in 1977. The US was a strong ally of the Shah and his rule.
Getty Images

Pahlavi is the heir to a 54 year-old dynasty that – although ultimately overthrown – is viewed by many as having modernized Iran.

Despite the regime’s intolerance of dissent, affection for the royal family within Iran never disappeared. But the 2017 demonstrations marked the first time that Iranians expressed such sentiments so publicly, with some demonstrators even calling for Pahlavi to lead the nation.

Chants such as “Reza Shah, bless your soul” — which salute Reza Pahlavi’s grandfather Reza Shah, the founder of modern Iran – have become a key slogan against the Islamic Republic’s current leadership.  


For many Iran observers, Pahlavi represents the most obvious successor to present leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if and when the current regime is sent packing.
For many Iran observers, Pahlavi represents the most obvious successor to present leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if and when the current regime is sent packing.
ZUMAPRESS.com

Pahlavi’s growing stature is only likely to continue. For one thing, many Iranians find hope in his demands for a secular representative democracy to one day replace the mullahs.

Pahlavi also has an uncanny ability to connect with everyday people that would be the envy of politicians and royals alike.

At a time when Iranians suffer from a complete lack of trust — instilled by decades of division-sowing by the Islamists — the prince’s most valuable asset is the confidence he’s earned among his compatriots. 

Perhaps, most crucially, Pahlavi has managed to bridge the divide between supporters of a constitutional monarchy and proponents of a republic.


An image from the widespread protests for democracy in Iran in 2017. That movement was the first time Iranians publicly called for the end of the current Islamist regime.
An image from the widespread protests for democracy in Iran in 2017. That movement was the first time Iranians publicly called for the end of the current Islamist regime.
AP

Pahlavi insists that Iran’s fate must be determined by its people in an internationally monitored referendum when the regime is disbanded.

Steeped in theories of civil resistance by Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, Pahlavi has urged Iranians to resist the regime nonviolently to avoid the bloodshed witnessed in nearby nations such as Syria. 

Well aware of the chaos following the ouster of Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq, Pahlavi has also advocated for national reconciliation efforts to reintroduce low and mid-level members of the Ayatollahs’ apparatus into any post-transition society.

Pahlavi clearly wants to avoid the mistakes (and violence) of de-Baathification and the disbanding of Saddam’s military in Iraq.


Pro-democracy protesters gather in London earlier this year where they held a banner featuring Pahlavi, who many feel is the only Iranian opposition leader who can lead the nation into the future.
Pro-democracy protesters gather in London earlier this year where they held a banner featuring Pahlavi, who many feel is the only Iranian opposition leader who can lead the nation into the future.
Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

The international community has taken note of Pahlavi’s popular appeal and democratic credentials.

But Jerusalem has demonstrated the greatest foresight by treating the Pahlavis’ trip as a de facto state visit – complete with a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The Israeli government’s recognition of Pahlavi’s importance should come as no surprise.

Once a staunch pre-1979 ally, Jerusalem possesses a keen understanding of Iran’s internal workings, while the Mossad has managed to penetrate the regime’s security agencies with deadly efficiency.

Most crucially, Israeli leaders believe that the regime’s overthrow is the only sure way to stop the existential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.


Pahlavi's warm reception in Israel is testament both to the strong relations Jerusalem had with Tehran during his father's rule as well as Israel's opposition to restarting the multi-lateral Iran nuclear talks.
Pahlavi’s warm reception in Israel is testament both to the strong relations Jerusalem had with Tehran during his father’s rule as well as Israel’s opposition to restarting the multi-lateral Iran nuclear talks.
AFP via Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Biden administration appears to feel otherwise.

Not only does Washington hope to revive the failed 2015 nuclear agreement, it has completely ignored Pahlavi and his growing global ascent.

The regime has much to gain from the deal’s revival, which would provide Tehran with tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets.

Such funds would only further reinforce the regime’s rule as it kills more of its own people while threatening regional and global security.

But this seems of little bother to the Biden administration, which views Iran’s pro-democracy movement as a distraction from the nuclear agreement rather than an opportunity to boost US national-security interests. 

Nonetheless, with or without US support, the Iranian people appear determined to see their current leadership sent packing.

While Pahlavi’s future role in Iran clearly has yet to be determined, his actions suggest it will be high-profile and political.


With its single-minded focus on restarting the Iran nuclear talks, Pres. Biden has appeared reluctant to tackle the larger issues around Iran's quest for democracy. Biden has yet to also reach out to Pahlavi.
With its single-minded focus on restarting the Iran nuclear talks, Pres. Biden has appeared reluctant to tackle the larger issues around Iran’s quest for democracy. Biden has yet to also reach out to Pahlavi.
REUTERS

Meanwhile, the crown prince’s world tour will likely continue as Iran itself remains mired in unrest and its people struggle for democracy.

“My only mission in life is to see the day the Iranians go to the polls and decide their own fate,” Pahlavi has repeatedly stated.

That day now appears closer than any other time in Iran’s history.

Alireza Nader is the Engagement Director at the National Union For Democracy in Iran (NUFDI).



This story originally appeared on NYPost

RELATED ARTICLES
- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments