Reza Pahlavi's card for a new Iran

Reza Pahlavi's card for a new Iran


06 | 06 | 2023


The recent wave of protests in Iran has showed the need of a unifying figure for leading the opposition to the Islamic regime; the ousted dynasty could play a role

En la imagen

The front picture on the official Pahlavi's website

The social protests that spread throughout Iran since September have been described as the most daring challenge the Islamic regime has faced thus far. The Iranian government reacted with a heavy hand. Some Western officials and experts expected the hardliners' takeover of power in Iran could exacerbate protests and eventually lead to regime change. However, for a change in the regime, a substitute must be available. Otherwise, the country would be left in chaos. The current state of the Iranian opposition lacks organization and unity, making it ineligible to be the successor of the Ayatollah regime. The protests in Iran have led to unprecedented solidarity between the opposition factions. While many differences remain, many consider putting them aside in favor of unity. Many revolution supporters have repeatedly urged well-known figures outside Iran to form an anti-regime coalition. Following several attempts to launch a unified online campaign against the regime, the spotlight was set on former crown prince Reza Pahlavi after being interviewed on Manoto TV, a broadcaster based in London with sympathy for the ousted dynasty.

Pahlavi defended a democratic vision he had long advocated for: free elections to create a constituent assembly that would decide Iran's future form of governance. When asked why he wasn't actively leading the protests, according to the version offered by an article published by an American think-tank, Pahlavi said, “Whatever we want to do, we must have legitimacy from inside the country. If we are to negotiate in the international arena on behalf of our fellow Iranians, we have to be able to say that we are backed by political prisoners, civic activists, and political and intellectual currents inside the country who have enabled us to speak on their behalf.”

The response to the comments was approving. A hashtag labeled “You Represent Me” quickly went viral amongst the Iranian people, inside and outside Iran. Other answers included a petition declaring Pahlavi as “My representative,” signed by over 390.000 people, and support expressed by Iranian celebrities. Iranians in cities like Tehran and Izeh shouted slogans such as “Pahlavi, you are our representative” and “Pahlavi is our choice, the leader of our revolution.”

While having been criticized by some supporters of ethnic minorities, Phalavi has had the support of Abdullah Mohtadi, leader of the left-wing Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan. Mohtadi alluded to Pahlavi's ‘political capital’ and suggested that he join an anti-regime coalition. However, the online campaign in support of Pahlavi also has many critics. In response to the original one, the hashtag “He Is Not My Representative” has been widely circulated, including in the form of graffiti, "No to Shah, no to Supreme Leader, death to the oppressor," and protest signs, "Reza Pahlavi is not my representative," in Iran. The critics have warned that the last time a revolutionary was chosen by the people, referring to Rouhollah Khomeini, things did not turn out well.

Pahlavi has some support in Iranian society, though it is difficult to determine how widespread it is. Pahlavi's support is also founded on his support for broadly open and liberal democratic politics, although he has never condemned his father's and grandfather's authoritarian rule. Unlike some of his ultra-nationalist, right-wing, and harsh-sounding supporters, he frequently attempts to be inclusive. He has refused to commit to the restoration of the monarchy but has not renounced the ‘prince’ term most of his supporters use to address him, even expressing a preference for a republic.

While some regime opponents blame Islam, Pahlavi affirms his Shia Muslim religion and repeatedly calls ‘non-regime clerics’ to join the people. He has made a comparable offer to members of the Iranian armed forces and the IRGC, insisting they must be a part of Iran's future. Prince Reza Pahlavi has been active in Europe, touring the continent and advocating “revolution in Iran,” He has been garnering support for the protests through cooperation with other prominent dissident figures, as well as negotiations with diplomats and officials from other countries.

On March 1st, he was invited to the EU parliament to deliver a speech and answer questions about his view of post-Islamic Republic Iran. His speech focused on how European countries, as well as the Iranian people, would benefit from a regime change in Iran. He elaborated on the economic and security benefits that a democratic Iran would bring to Europe, adding that European countries' support serves both Europe and the western world as a whole “because the movement for freedom and democracy in Iran carries the promise of a brighter, safer and more prosperous future for all democratic nations.” Mentioning the Iranian regime's terrorist activities in Europe, he urged MEPs to help further isolate “the regime that occupies” Iran and extend their support for the Iranian people.

While the US has designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, the EU has been quite reluctant to do so. Europe has recently witnessed several demonstrations in its capitals demanding the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Pahlavi claimed that the European Union's designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization is the first step towards “meaningfully limiting the regime's ability to oppress Iranian people and terrorize yours.” Pahlavi listed the Islamic Republic's threats to European nations, citing its military support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the most recent example. “The Islamic Republic is the only government outside Europe to be actively aiding and abetting Russia’s invasion through the provision of military equipment,” he reminded the members of parliament. Pahlavi stated emphatically that he would never back a foreign war against Iran, accusing the current regime of “waging war against Europe, against its land, people and culture’’ just as it did with Iran. He assured that after the regime's demise, there would be no power vacuum, and Iran would ultimately become a European and Western ally. “Iranian people have the talent and the will, the technical experts, the political forces, and the national unity to manage a transition from this regime to a secular democracy,” he bragged.

In early February, eight opposition figures, including Pahlavi, met at Georgetown University's Institute for Women in Washington. The prominent activists vowed to work together to restore democracy to Iran, emphasizing the importance of unity against the Islamic Republic. They also stated that they are working on a charter and hope to set the groundwork for political representation of protesters' goals in Iran and gain support for isolating the Islamic Republic. The event was considered a turning point, signaling the emergence of a united opposition to represent the Iranian democracy movement. Now that various opposition voices have banded together in unprecedented numbers to depose the regime, Western democracies must engage with and support the Iranian people, Pahlavi said.

Nevertheless, Prince Pahlavi is not what the Iranian people should focus on. The focus should be on forming an inclusive coalition. While Pahlavi had some support, only a broad front could effectively defeat the regime. Pahlavi himself seems to believe in this statement. In a comment, Pahlavi stressed that help to Iran’s national revolution must be based on three common principles: Iran's territorial integrity, a secular democracy based on human rights, and people's right to determine the form of political regime in free elections. All major pro-democracy political groups of the opposition share these three demands. If they can overcome their numerous divisions and form a unified front, the Islamic Republic will be forced to confront something it has avoided for decades: a united opposition with a clear alternative to its rule.