Iran's despotic mullahs must not be replaced by son of deposed Shah. The people want a democratic republic – Struan Stevenson

The nationwide uprising in Iran is now heading into its sixth month, with more than 750 people killed, including many women and children, and over 30,000 arrested.

The defining curse that for generations has thwarted the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations, namely the corrupt and brutal alliance, whether tacit or explicit, of Iran’s monarchists and clerics, has once again reared its head. The overthrow of the Shah in the 1979 revolution was hailed by the Iranian people as a deliverance from cruel oppression.

The monarchy's relationship with the clergy, who hijacked the revolution to seize power, was a complex one. It derived its ‘divine’ claim to legitimacy from the clergy, and the clergy derived their social power and wealth from the monarchy's acquiescence. The two institutions were a major impediment to the formation of a developed civic society based on democratic values and human rights.

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The clergy, with some exceptions, tried to stay in the Shah's favour and maintained pervasive relations with Savak, the Shah’s hated secret police, who brutally murdered and tortured political activists and intellectuals, including authors, academics, artists, and poets. But, following widespread demonstrations against his oppressive rule, the Shah fled in January 1979, never to return.

In 1980, after his father's death, Reza Pahlavi proclaimed himself Reza Shah II, and said he wanted Iran to have a constitutional monarchy. Despite abundant financial resources, his failure to emerge as a credible opposition figure has underlined the fact that the monarchy is a spent force that belongs to the past and has nothing to offer for the future of Iran.

Indeed, the self-proclaimed “Crown Prince” has created hostility in Iran by stating his would-be support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the theocratic regime’s reviled equivalent of the Gestapo. During a talk show with Iran International TV in 2018, he said: “I am in bilateral contacts with the (regime’s) military, the IRGC and the Basij. We are communicating. They are signalling their readiness and expressing willingness to align with the people.”

It is the warmongering IRGC and their paramilitary Basij, who have shot, arrested, tortured, raped and brutalised opponents of the regime at home and abroad for four decades. They are blacklisted as a foreign terrorist organisation in America, and Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, and a huge majority of EU lawmakers, recently called for their blacklisting in Europe. For Reza Pahlavi, who has remained largely invisible in opposition circles for the past 44 years, to suggest a role for the IRGC in a future Iran, is an outrageous indication of the total illegitimacy of the monarchy.

During the current protests, the mullahs are trying to link the opposition to the monarchy, to discourage people from joining the protests. But in defiance of this trick, protesters can routinely be heard yelling “Down with the Oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader (Khamenei)” and “No to the Shah! No to the mullahs!”

Demonstrators carry historic flags of Iran and portraits of Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the last Shah of Iran, during a rally outside the Munich Security Conference (Picture:Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)Demonstrators carry historic flags of Iran and portraits of Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the last Shah of Iran, during a rally outside the Munich Security Conference (Picture:Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)
Demonstrators carry historic flags of Iran and portraits of Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the last Shah of Iran, during a rally outside the Munich Security Conference (Picture:Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

Reza Pahlavi does not represent the Iranian diaspora. The thousands of Iranians who have been demonstrating in North America and Europe, including the 100,000 who rallied in Berlin in October 2022 and the 10,000 in Paris earlier this month, have made it abundantly clear that they are not looking to the past, but to the future and to a democratically elected republic.

On the anniversary of the 1979 anti-Shah, anti-monarchist revolution, parliamentary groups in the UK, France and Italy issued statements supporting the current uprising in Iran. On February 9, the Norwegian Parliament held a major conference on the Iran uprising, attended by representatives of all of the main political parties. Yesterday, a similar meeting was held in the House of Commons in London.

International support for the people’s uprising is expanding exponentially. In fact, earlier this month a resolution backing the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran was passed by 165 congressmen from both main parties in the US House of Representatives.

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Given this level of international support, it was therefore a great surprise and disappointment to see that Reza Pahlavi was invited to the recent Munich Security Conference, as an assumed representative of the Iranian opposition. This was a huge mistake and another example of how the West can so often get it wrong on Iran. Munich is developing a bit of a reputation for historic mistakes.

Indeed, Reza Pahlavi organized a small group of protesters to meet outside the conference last Sunday and astonishingly, there amongst the one or two placards being brandished by the monarchists, was a large photo of the infamous Parviz Sabeti, former head of Savak. Sabeti fled Iran with the deposed Shah during the 1979 revolution and now lives in America. Chillingly, the Farsi slogan on his placard proclaimed: “Nightmare of future terrorists.” Promoting the return of Sabeti is like endorsing the return of Heinrich Himmler.

Threats, lies, warmongering, deploying terror gangs abroad and crushing dissent at home are the hallmarks of the oppressive theocratic regime, which massacred over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 alone. The courageous protesters and their resistance units, led from the start by extraordinary women, who risk their lives daily by demanding the overthrow of the mullahs, deserve the West’s unequivocal backing.

The EU and UK must now follow America’s lead by blacklisting the IRGC and indicting Khamenei, Raisi, Rouhani, Zarif and the other tyrants, for human rights abuse and crimes against humanity. The time for weakness and appeasement is over. We should recall our ambassadors from Tehran and expel their diplomatic staff and agents from our territories. Only the overthrow of this tyrannical regime will avert a nuclear disaster and restore peace, justice and democracy to the Iranian people and the wider Middle East.

Struan Stevenson is coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. His latest book is entitled Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History.

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