I am unifying voice of Iran: Reza Pahlavi

I am unifying voice of Iran: Reza Pahlavi

Cansu Çamlıbel - WASHINGTON

Iran needs a unifying voice in opposition and “I am that voice,” said Reza Pahlavi, last heir to the overthrown Pahlavi Dynasty, which opposes the Islamic Republic of Iran from exile. Pahlavi has also expressed support for a parliamentary democracy in Iran amid demonstrations that have spread across the country creating political turmoil.

“[Iranian] people need a unifying voice today,” Pahlavi told daily Hürriyet in Washington on Jan. 6.

“I am that voice,” he said, answering a follow-up question as to whether he could be that voice.

Conservative opponents to Iran’s reformist president Hassan Rouhani hit the streets in Meshed in late December, triggering massive nationwide demonstrations that transformed into some of the biggest anti-regime protests since 2009.

As discussions over both the causes and potential effects of the turmoil continue, Pahlavi has stated that the turmoil demonstrates “frustration, bringing the entire regime into question.”

Pahlavi has been in exile since 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution overthrew his father Raza Shah Pahlavi’s government, together with the 54-year-old Pahlavi Dynasty. After spending some time as an exile in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and France, Pahlavi moved to the United States.

Pahlavi has clearly expressed his vision for the future of Iran as a secular, parliamentary democracy.

“[The protests] no longer demand reform but an abolition of the system once and for all. People are revolting against the system, which has given them false dreams… People want freedom and they know this regime will never offer it to them,” he said.

“All these years my message has always been that a secular parliamentary democracy would best serve the Iranian people’s interests, as one sees everywhere in the world, irrespective of culture. It is a guarantee of self-determination. I think Iranians are ready for a fundamental change. They have learnt the hard way. They have paid the price,” he added.

He thinks such transformation occurs in three stages. First, a “unifying voice” to unite “all political forces irrespective of their ideological orientation” has to be formed. Second, a transitional period “where a temporary government is formed to set the stage for a constitutional assembly at the earliest possible moment.” And finally, “a normalization period” takes place.

“Normalization means electing the first parliament of this new democracy and thereby forming government,” he said.

“Nobody can come out right away and impose this or that. It is a democratic process. The most important thing in a regime change is the collaboration and participation of military and paramilitary forces, which need to side with the people and topple the regime. This is the biggest question that concerns me. To provide an exit strategy, a possibility to survive,” he said.

Pahlavi disagreed when I suggested cries from the streets did not seem to focus on creating a secular form of governance.

“Just consider the chants of recent days. They include ‘death to the dictator,’ ‘death to Khamenei,’ ‘death to the Islamic Republic’ and ‘the Islamic Republic must be destroyed.’ Regarding non-clerical/secular government, they have also cried ‘we don’t want an akhundi [clerical] Iran,’ among other similar slogans. They are clearly against this religious establishment,” he said.

“They are against religious rule in the form the regime practices because every aspect of discrimination in Iran stems from the regime trying to impose a singular religious ideology onto others,” he added.

Pahlavi has also criticized the “reformism” of President Rouhani, who represented hope when he came to power and sealed the nuclear deal with the former U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Nothing has changed in the ultimate structure of the regime. The final decisions are still made by the supreme leader, no matter how many puppets pretend to have authority,” he said.

“Whether Rouhani, Khatemi or Ahmedinejad… at the end of the day, the problem is the system itself. All these promises are false promises of reform as they force people to choose between evils every time the mockery of so-called elections take place,” he said.

The Iranian opposition

Pahlavi describes the current state as a “period of activism, civil disobedience and popular uprisings,” stressing once more the need for a unified voice. He said he could facilitate such unification through his “political heritage.”

“My role today is to help unify opposition voices and provide an environment of solidarity,” he said, adding that he is in touch with opposition forces.

“In fact, many of them are working more closely with me than ever because they realize that unless we do this the vacuum cannot be properly filled. We have a heavy responsibility on our shoulders. I am doing my part and I hope others do their part too,” he said.

“The day my political mission ends is the day the Iranian people go to the polls and vote for a future of their choosing,” he added.

International support needed

He also stressed the importance of international dialogue, but emphasized that the veins of this dialogue should be fed by “the actual democratic position.”

“If the status quo remains, and foreign governments do not open any line of dialogue with the actual democratic position the Iranian people, then once again Iran will miss an opportunity,” he said.

“The outside world should clearly state they are siding with the people and not the status quo. The world can minimize the price Iranian people will pay by standing with them today. You have been talking to the Khameneis, Ahmedinejads and Rouhanis of this world but not the people of Iran. Supporting the Iranian people is a matter of conscience,” he said.

“We cannot rely on anybody but ourselves. However, if the democracies of the world were willing to assist us, we could get rid of the regime sooner,” he said, underlying that he is strictly against “military intervention.”

He called on the U.S. President Donald Trump “to help tech companies provide access to Iranian people because sanctions are putting certain companies at a disadvantage.”

“If the world is really serious then we need more than words, we need specific actions,” he said, acknowledging a potential dilemma for the U.S. president, who has campaigned for stricter sanctions against Iran.