What is Reza Pahlavi, prince of Iran, up to?

There’s no accounting for destiny and Pahlavi could find himself back in Tehran despite his honesty and political missteps.
Sunday 13/01/2019
A voice for change. Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of Iran’s last shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.                                  (AP)
A voice for change. Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of Iran’s last shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (AP)

As Iran descends ever deeper into economic and political crisis, Reza Pahlavi’s star is in the ascendant. During anti-regime rallies, protesters chanted “Reza Shah, blessed be thy soul,” a reference to the founder of Iran’s Pahlavi dynasty. Protesters called for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the former crown prince, and the restoration of the monarchy in Iran.

Pahlavi is giving more frequent television interviews. He has been presenting his vision for a democratic Iran at highly publicised Washington think-tank events. Can he capitalise on the misfortunes of the regime in Tehran? Is he capable of mobilising the nation against its rulers? Can he persuade the pillars of the regime to withdraw their support and shift loyalty, just as Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did four decades ago?

To judge by the Hamletian self-doubt and the honest indecision Pahlavi has displayed in recent public appearances, the prospects for his triumphant return to Tehran are dim, at least in the near future.

Consider Pahlavi’s November interview with the London-based Iran International TV. Following a generally convincing performance, although one lacking a concrete plan of action to topple the leadership in Iran, the former crown prince was asked: “Will you run the risk of returning to Iran?”

Pahlavi responded: “It’s not about risk but duty. However, one must, as the saying goes, act rationally. The conditions must be present. We do not act in a suicidal but in a rational manner. We must take into consideration the emotional dimension by listening to our heart but we also have a brain and should put our faculty of reason to good use. It is a combination of both.”

In other words, although Pahlavi’s heart desires his return to Iran, his faculty of reason dictates otherwise. Where does the conflict between Pahlavi’s emotions and intellect leave his potential followers? Why should they risk life and limb following the lead of an undecided prince? Adorned with the thorny crown of doubt, the former crown prince is not likely to mobilise the masses any time soon.

Pahlavi has also been rather too truthful. Asked about the fate of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers should there be regime change, Pahlavi dithered. Rather than issuing a Khomeini style-general amnesty, which the grand ayatollah incidentally failed to honour after the 1979 revolution, Pahlavi discussed different options. He distinguished between the innocent and those who perpetrated crimes. The former would go free, the latter would be punished, he said.

The distinction, of course, forces the IRGC leadership to support the regime all the more energetically to escape justice. Pahlavi has yet to learn that complete honesty, which is a virtue among citizens, is a vice for statesmen. The truth, after all, is the most precious of all commodities and political leaders must be economical with it.

Pahlavi’s candid style was on display once again in December. Making an appearance December 14 at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Pahlavi called for freedom of the press, even as he attacked unnamed journalists at Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America and BBC Persian.

The man who aspires to lead the democratic opposition to the Islamic Republic accused journalists at those outlets of being unduly influenced by the Islamic Republic. Pahlavi may well share his father’s and grandfather’s dislike of the free press but why express it so directly? What message did he communicate other than the spectre of censorship, even if there was change in Iran?

Of course, there’s no accounting for destiny and Pahlavi could find himself back in Tehran despite his honesty and political missteps. After all, if Zahir Shah managed to find his way back to Afghanistan, why should Pahlavi not end up in Tehran? But does he really want to take the mantle of leadership after the ignominious forced exit of the man who previously sat on the Peacock Throne?

 

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