Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 3   No. 11 Table of Contents
MEIB Main Page

November 2001 

interview Interview: Reza Pahlavi
former Crown Prince of Iran
Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Shah of Iran, has emerged as a leading figure in the Iranian opposition abroad since the 1979 Iranian revolution, advocating nonviolent resistance to the regime in Tehran and the establishment of a secular democracy. He is a familiar figure in many Iranian homes, due to Persian language satellite television broadcasts beamed in from Los Angeles.

The following interview was conducted by Amir Arsalan Afkhami, a Ph.D candidate in History at Yale University and medical student at George Washington University. Afkhami has been a contributor to the Journal of Iranian Studies, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and Encyclopedia Iranica. He is currently completing his dissertation, entitled "Iran in the Age of Visitations: Cholera and the Politics of Public Health 1889-1911."

Reza Pahlavi
While the Islamist regime in Tehran has long opposed the Taliban movement for ideological reasons, President Mohammad Khatami has joined the clerical establishment in publicly opposing the American military campaign. Why?

The mixed signals emanating from Tehran are due to a profound dilemma faced by the clerical regime. On the one hand, it has sought the replacement of the Taliban with an alternative that it can control, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a long time protege of the Iranian rulers. The clerical regime prefers such proxies to the Sunni Taliban, which it cannot overshadow.

On the other hand, the clerics are afraid of any scenario that may lead to a genuinely respresentative government being instituted in Kabul. This is because a dramatic democratic transformation next door would encourage the Iranian people to press for similar changes, thus directly threatening the clerical regime's survival.

As a result, the regime has devised a carefully-staged policy of double-talk, aimed at confusing the West into appeasement. A smiling Khatami, playing the "good cop" vs. the "bad cop" radicals, has once again attempted to lead people in the West to believe that there are "moderates" that can be dealt with, enabling the regime as a whole to deflect criticism by suggesting that there are areas of cooperation with the US. This pattern is not new, and has until now helped the regime extend its political survival.

Are you aware of any evidence linking elements within the Iranian regime to the Al-Qa'ida network and/or the September 11 terrorist attacks?

The regime's unquestionable 22-year track record on terror speaks for itself. While there is plenty of direct evidence of the regime's involvement in terrorist activities such as the Khobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, in which elements of the regime's Revolutionary Guards - the Qhots division - were involved with Al-Qa'ida, there has not yet been any evidence suggesting the regime's direct involvement in the September 11 attacks. Of course, the compounding effects of 22 years of calls of "Death to America" as a mantra of the autocracy in Tehran cannot be ignored.

What is your perspective on the current warming of the West toward the Islamic Republic in hopes of recruiting Iran for the war against terrorism?

Any "warming of the West," as you put it, towards the regime can only be interpreted by the Iranian people as a sign of abandonment. The West, and the US in particular, should not forget that the regime's biggest acts of terror have been directed towards the Iranian people for more than two decades. Furthermore, as we speak, the regime harbors known terrorists identified on the FBI's recent most wanted list. The clerical regime still operates terrorist training camps within its borders and continues to finance extremist and terrorist organizations outside of its borders, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.

In such crucial times, it is incumbent upon the West to send a clear signal to the people of Iran: that it stands with them, and not against them, in their quest for freedom and democracy. Furthermore, it should maintain pressure on the clerical regime to back its soothing words of condolences with measurable deeds, and indicate clearly that any future warming of relations has to be performance-based, following visible and measurable improvements in human rights, the release of political prisoners, and the protection of freedom of expression.

How stable and credible is the current Islamic Government in Iran?

Due to its level of domestic repression, coupled with a foreign policy based on the export of terror and militant radicalism, the clerical regime has had little credibility in the international arena.

Inside Iran, the once invincible image of the regime has been strained by the multitude of riots and demonstrations that have recently taken place throughout the country. People have openly challenged the regime and demonstrated their frustration with lack of economic progress and the absence of reform as promised by the current president. The prevalence of anti-regime slogans and calls for democracy during the recent "soccer riots" severely shook the confidence of the regime.

What is your ultimate goal in opposing the Islamic republic? Do you envision a return of the monarchy to power in Iran?

My campaign is not about the past or the monarchy; it is about the future, and the unalienable right of the Iranian people to freely choose their political future and elect a democratic government.

This campaign has called for nonviolent civil disobedience against the ruling regime until the current regime permits an internationally-observed referendum to determine the political course of our nation. Ultimately, which form of democracy the people choose - a constitutional monarchy or a republic - is at this stage a secondary concern.

Who are your supporters in Iran?

I consider any individual who has responded to my call for unity and who supports the replacement of the ruling theocracy with a democratic form of government to be a supporter of this cause.

Virtually every sector of Iranian society is today involved. Students and intellectuals are at the forefront of the struggle. They are backed by members of the traditional Iranian economic sector, as well as the technocracy and civil bureaucracy. In addition, many tribal elements are active in the provinces. Some members of the traditional clergy are also defying the regime and initiating calls for the return of the clergy to the mosques. Most importantly, these elements are identifying one another and reaching out to members of the Revolutionary Guards, as well as the army. This I know, because many of them are increasingly contacting me. While I do not anticipate a classic military or paramilitary coup, I do anticipate that a sizeable portion of the military and Revolutionary Guards will break away from the regime and join the people or, at the very least, remain neutral. This is based on information I have received in recent weeks.

The constitutional monarchist opposition to the regime in Iran has frequently been characterized as splintered and ineffective. Do you feel that this has changed in recent years?

text highlight
As indicated previously, our national quest for freedom, secularism and democracy is the common denominator and bond among the Iranian people. This message has resonated quite well among the Iranian people precisely because it goes beyond partisan politics. The issue at hand is the replacement of a theocracy with a democracy. There are two distinct groups in Iran today: the vast majority of the population, who stand for liberty and secularism, and a minority aligned with the ruling elite, who advocate a continuation of the status quo. Having said that, clearly the challenge in this new stage is for the pro-democracy movement to effectively organize itself and broaden its power base and grassroots support.

In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Times, you wrote that a "third force" is working against the current regime in Iran. What is this "third force"?

I was referring to the politically active generation of young Iranians in search of deliverance from obscurantism and backwardness. They have endured the consequences of political repression, coupled with the loss of economic opportunities. As a result, their faith in the long-awaited reforms promised by the regime has dwindled. Clearly, a religious dictatorship is incapable of reform and modernization.

When we read and hear about chants of "beyond Khatami" in major cities throughout Iran, there can be little doubt as to what the people want. They want to move beyond even the best face and "package" the regime has produced. The answer to our national dilemma lies in secularism, and this can only happen after clerical rule has been abolished. I take particular heart in the fact that the "third force" has adopted my campaign's call for a national referendum as a remedy to the country's political stalemate and a process for nonviolent change.

You have frequently stated that you do not support direct military action to bring about change in the the Iranian regime's sponsorship of terrorism. Why are you opposed to military action in Iran and how can the American-led coalition against terrorism bring about change in the Islamic Republic's behavior?

Any kind of foreign military action against my country will immediately galvanize Iranians against it, myself included, and would therefore neutralize a political movement which plays a pivotal role in bringing about democratic change in Iran.

The better solution is to invest in the people of Iran by supporting their quest for democracy and freedom. If the free world is willing to make a clear commitment to support the pro-democracy movement in Iran, the people will be able to take care of their rulers themselves, with no need for foreign intervention.

Just as the Berlin Wall finally crumbled at the hands of the German people and Slobodan Milosevic was eventually toppled by the Yugoslav people, so too will the walls of theocracy be torn down at the hands of the people of my homeland.

Are American economic sanctions against Iran working? Should they be continued?

While I have my doubts about the effectiveness of any unilateral sanctions, I believe that relaxing the sanctions will only strengthen the dictatorship in Iran. The clerical regime must be pressured into changing its behavior, both internationally and domestically, before any such relaxation is considered by the US.

2001 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

MEIB Main Page