Thirty years after his father was overthrown by a popular uprising, the former crown prince of Iran has a unique perspective on the demonstrations gripping Iran these days. On Monday, at a Washington press conference, Reza Pahlavi, the onetime heir to the peacock throne, condemned Iran’s controversial presidential election of June 12 as “an ugly moment of disrespect for both God and man” and called on the Tehran regime to allow for “freedom, democracy, human rights [and] the right to choose.” Pahlavi believes that the situation in Iran has eroded dramatically, charging that the issues go “well beyond election. This is about the sanctity of the ballot box and the legitimacy of the regime as a whole.”
It was the first public appearance since the protests in Iran for the man who was once next in line to be Shah. Speaking with nearly unaccented English, the graduate of the University of Southern California seemed proud to support the movement that is “already invested with the blood of my brave countrymen.” Confident that the opposition will succeed, he believes that the upheaval “will not rest until it achieves unfettered democracy and human rights in Iran.”
Given his father’s dubious human-rights record, Pahlavi hardly seems the right person to be trumpeting democracy for his homeland. But since Pahlavi fled the country with his father 30 years ago, he has let his claim to the throne atrophy. Over time, he’s traveled and spoken widely to champion the democratic cause on behalf of Iranian citizens, saying, “It’s not about me.”
Hardly anyone believes that Iran will ever again have a Shah especially one who resides in Maryland and isn’t allowed to cross the Iranian border. But he would like to return home as a welcomed citizen and share his roots with his wife and his three Iranian-American daughters.
Now 48, flanked by large pictures of Iranians in protest, Pahlavi condemned the violence and called on the government to holster its weapons. “No one will benefit from closing his or her eyes to knives and cables cutting into faces and mouths of our young and old, or from bullets piercing our beloved ‘Neda,’ whose only sin was the quest of freedom.” He was referring to a widely circulated Internet video of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman killed at a protest Saturday by the plainclothes Basij militia.
Pahlavi criticized the Tehran regime for hiding its dirty work and said the regime is little changed today from its inception years ago. “So many of victims’ bodies are dragged to places that even their own families can’t uncover,” he says. “Nothing has changed … [there is] lack of transparency, lack of responsibility.”