Iranians reject a hypothetical monarchist alternative

Par Nader Nouri

Despite a fierce crackdown and several hangings, the protest movement for change is showing unexpected resilience in Iran. All the reasons for this protean revolt, which began in September, remain relevant. First, the thirst for freedom and then the urgency of emancipation from the yoke of a regime that impoverishes the population by squandering the country's wealth on systematic corruption and the military and nuclear ambitions of its Islamist leaders. The value of the Iranian currency is falling and inflation is reaching 60%. What is at stake in the current crisis for the regime is primarily a question of survival.

To succeed in overthrowing Ali Khamenei's dictatorship, the opponents must unite their forces and present a viable alternative that can embody the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people. A united front of opponents, to which the Iranian people in revolt are constantly calling, is necessary to ensure the success of the alternative both in overthrowing the dictatorship and in transferring sovereignty to the people after its demise.

Uniting the opposition forces requires a sincere and resolute commitment by the opposition groups and personalities to a project that is likely to win the consensus of the majority of Iranians, in this case a republican, democratic and secular system that looks to the future.

Yet, in parallel with the irreversible weakening of the ruling power by the popular uprising of recent months, there has been a recent opportunistic launch in Washington of a controversial alliance project that seems to have created division rather than unity. The alliance of a few exiled opponents around Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Iranian dictator, has quickly provoked a reaction from the public, who hold an unfavorable view of the Shah's son's claims to be the successor to the ayatollahs.

Several factors contribute to the disqualification of Reza Pahlavi for this role. First, because he has not renounced his title of crown prince, just as he never officially renounced his oath, in November 1980, as successor to his father, who died a few months earlier, to the imperial throne, and refused to proclaim a clear and definitive adherence to the republican system, its principles and values. His website states, "Reza Pahlavi firmly believes in the inherent equal rights of men and women, and as such, he has declared his daughters Noor, Iman, and Farah to be his heirs in succession."

The return to the monarchy is seen by many Iranians as a regression and an about-face from the values of the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution, which threw into the dustbin of history the system of hereditary monarchy that had ruled Iran since ancient times. History shows that once rid of it, no people have ever agreed to return to this form of autocracy of its own free will after having overthrown it. Especially in a country like Iran, which has never had a democratic system of governance and is in no way comparable to constitutional monarchies in the West. Even in Europe, in the 1974 referendum, nearly 70 per cent of Greeks voted to abolish the monarchy, although it was overthrown by a military coup in 1967 to end the dynasty established in 1863, and voted to establish a democratic republic that is now part of the European Union. Examples of this refusal to return to monarchy can be also cited in the Middle East and Asia (Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) where attempts to restore the monarchy have failed.

Another essential element that discredits the "crown prince" in the eyes of the Iranians is his refusal to denounce the abuses during his father's reign and to distance himself from the officials of the infamous Shah's secret police who are today moving freely around him. For decades, the Shah and his SAVAK have imprisoned, brutally tortured or murdered political activists opposed to his dictatorship as well as dissident intellectuals in Iran. Today, it is not a belated criticism of the exactions of his father, which he often describes simply as "errors of the distant past", which will convince Iranians of the sincerity of its author, who claims to want the establishment of a Western-style democracy in his country like Khomeini who claimed in Paris to want to establish a democracy without mentioning any specifics as to how he intended to do so.

Iranians were recently stunned by the presence of a notorious torturer and former senior SAVAK official in charge of suppressing the internal opposition, Parviz Sabeti, at a rally (February 12 in Los Angeles) of Reza Pahlavi's supporters. In the past 44 years, this number two in the SAVAK had never appeared in public after fleeing the country in 1979. There was an immediate call from many exiled Iranians for his prosecution for crimes against humanity.

Other elements of discredit: his links with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (the IRGC/Pasdaran) on which he claims to be banking to bring about a peaceful transition of power in Iran! "I am in bilateral contact with the military, the Revolutionary Guards and the Bassiji [militias linked to the IRGC]. We are communicating. They are signaling their readiness to cooperate and express their willingness to align with the people," he told Iran International TV, a Persian-language channel broadcasting from London. These words ring false to the ears of Iranians who have seen and suffered for almost six months the repression, crimes and abuses of the Bassiji militia and the Pasdaran against peaceful demonstrators.

Moreover, Reza Pahlavi has been repeatedly asked to return to the Iranian people, as a gesture of goodwill and to distance himself from his father's misdeeds, the billions of dollars of public funds transferred illegally by his father to foreign accounts, which he has obviously refused.

The reality is that the monarchical project has no foothold in Iran and is primarily a media operation supported by Persian language television channels abroad, including "Iran International TV" generously funded by the Saudi kingdom.

Moreover, the leaders of the current regime are no strangers to this sudden promotion of the monarchist option, which in addition to a discourse full of ambiguities on the methods and mechanisms of "transition" to another system of government, rejects "any use of force" to overthrow a regime whose extreme violence and lack of consideration for human life is no longer to be demonstrated, and this while he does not even have a structured organization on the ground, an absolute necessity for the change of the regime without going through chaos. It is therefore simply a machination orchestrated by a few strategists, some of whom are directly linked to the current power, to divert the liberated energies of the Iranian people to benign ways and without a real threat to the regime whose only concern is to remain in power, whatever the cost. It is also a way to discourage Iranians from real prospects for a better future and life. Thus, the choice before them would be between evil and a lesser evil: a "mullarchic" dictatorship or a monarchic autocracy. But Iranians are well aware that they deserve better after so many sacrifices. Efforts to restore the monarchy in Iran are being made without taking into account the intelligence of the Iranian people who have already lived through the painful experience of the hijacking of their democratic revolution by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. We know what happened next.

*Nader Nouri is a former Iranian diplomat in Paris. He is the Secretary General of the Foundation for Middle East Studies (FEMO) based in Paris.