The Shah of Iran, Mahmad Reza Pahlevi, was deposed in 1979 and exiled to Egypt with his family where he died one year later. Upon reaching the age of twenty, the late Shah's son Reza Pahlevi II was crowned in his stead by those loyal to the monarchy, but the fact that the young prince was in exile robbed the move of any practical significance.
Reza II is now 58 years of age, sufficiently experienced, still comparatively young and with a long period of active life ahead of him. He is seen by many within Iran and outside of it as the natural heir to the ayatollah regime once it collapses - if he so desires. True, a good many Iranians remember the cruel and dictatorial nature of the Shah's regime, but since the rule of the ayatollahs is infinitely worse, there are a good many Iranians pining over rose-colored memories of that former period. They see Reza as the only person capable of finding a common denominator that can convince most of the opposition to rally together and begin a rebellion to attempt, and hopefully succeed, in ridding the country of suffocating theocratic rule.
Mahmoud Al Udi, a journalist at the Elaph website, the daily Arabic independent online newspaper, spoke to Reza recently and published a four part interview with him. The entire interview will be brought below, in installments, along with readers' comments and my remarks (the latter in parentheses, MK).
Reza Pahlevi: 'The Iranian people's famished stomachs will do away with the Iranian regime.' The crown prince posits that only secularism can save Iran from political disintegration.
By Mahmoud Al-Udi
(Paris). In the course of an interview for Elaph with Crown Prince Reza Pahlevi II, the eldest son of the former Shah, he spoke about many issues that touch upon the deteriorating situation in Iran, calling the situation one of unprecedented deterioration in every sphere. This has nothing to do with internal decline in terms of freedom, economics etc., but to the way Iran's internal collapse will deleteriously affect the entire region.
In the first part of the interview in Paris, Pahlevi opened various issues, leading with his absolute faith that secularism is the only solution that can preserve religious liberty for all Iranians as well as ensure that religion is not used for political purposes. Taking advantage of religion is the basis for the present regime's existence and the means by which its administration continues to lead the country and its regional environment to wrack and ruin.
Elaph reporter: Did you support the former Iranian President Mahmoud Khatami's declaration several days ago when he said that Iran has regressed at least a century in terms of democracy and justice?
Crown Prince Reza Pahlevi: "I think the consequences of the way the current regime thinks and acts are much more dangerous. Most dangerous of all is that this regime is bringing Iran and its surroundings to ruination, and I want to stress that the severity of the situation is way beyond administrative failure or corruption.
"The entire infrastructure is being destroyed. In the past, we were a model of successful pluralism, with multiple ethnic groups and a large variety of religions and sects, all living in a palpable peace and social harmony, but the Shiite ethnic ideology that today's regime is based on is a source of the inner deterioration which is being exported to neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. The Sunni-Shiite conflicts, replete with the most terrible ideas, began from there. In the past, we did not live in this kind of atmosphere, we did not experience the ethnic disagreements we see today.
"This regime wants to make being secular a sin. We want the separation of church and state to prevail, because secular society does not accept sectarian thinking and we see that as a deliverance.
Elaph: You say that secularism is the solution. Can you explain that more clearly?
Prince: "Yes, it is the solution because Iran can have ethnic and religious pluralism for its many distinct communities. We are in need of an ideology that ensures the population's ability to live together no matter what sect or religion each person belongs to. This is nothing new, Iran once had an atmosphere of equality, democracy and liberty. We want to see the French model in Iran, for example, because that is the best example of coexistence: Muslims, Christians and Jews live together under one flag in one homeland."
Elaph: What happened as Iran went progressively from being a model of living together to its present state?
Prince: "The value system based on equality and coextistence existed in Iran until the revolution led by the mullahs, who brought in sectarianism and ignorance, and now we are very close to pre-Renaissance Europe, when religious leaders made the decisions, constituted the government and held all the power in their hands.
"If a poll of Iranians were to take place, the results would show that the people want freedom and equality, dream of a constitution that promises them these values and realizes the aspirations of Iranian youth. We have large numbers of young adults who do not agree with and cannot bear to continue to live under the present regime."
The crown prince remembers an important event in which Khomeini and other Arab leaders, headed by the late Egyptian President Anwar al Sadat and the late King Hassan II of Morocco participated and says: "Khomeini claimed that he and his regime represent the authentic Islam, but President Sadat and King Hassan II retorted: 'Do you think we are not real Muslims? And if you, Khomeini, represent the side that is correct and authentic Islam, whom do we represent?'"
Elaph: Why do you think secularism is definitely on the way? Is it really just a matter of time?
Prince:: "The Iranian regime believes that secularism is opposed to Islam, without understanding that it is not opposed to religion per se, it simply ensures freedom. I ask Khatami as a religious man: 'You are familiar with the 12 Imams (who led the Shiites from the 7-9th centuries). Why were just two of them rulers? Do you want to rule in the name of the Islamic revolution or in the name of Shia Islam?'
"Khatami's declaration is a veiled admission that the regime is based on an error, that now we are facing an admission of the failure of coexistence. I think that very soon we will be able to implement the separation of religion and state, so that the populace is freed from suppression. From my viewpoint, the public has reached a high level of development and involvement so that it is only a matter of time (until we achieve a secular government). This is directly connected to Iranian culture, a culture with good reasons for national pride."
Summing up, Crown Prince Reza Pahlevi II adds: "At the end of the day, when your stomach is empty, there is a dearth of products to purchase and a pervasive feeling that there is no real change on the horizon, the people weep for liberty and know full well that there are conditions for ensuring liberty. I have full confidence that Iranian citizens will accept responsibility for guarding these limitations. If you look at Iran, you will discover that it can progress because of its human and natural resources as well as the multi-faceted talents of its people. Yes, there is a certain amount of readiness, but we must not remain as we are now. The present situation frustrates the Iranian people and our neighbors are surely influenced by the level of this frustration in our country.(End of part I)
"An Iraqi who hates traitors" writes under the heading "The contented Middle East," as follows:
"The people of the Middle East brought the world all kinds of cultures, all the monotheistic) religions were born in this region. In addition to this historic background, the area has vast natural deposits (of oil and gas) that were meant to change the entire Middle East population into the richest in the entire world. Since that is so, whence all the poverty, backwardness, destruction and that accursed hatred that sets each of our countries on fire one after another? Hasn't the time come for all the sane people who live in these states to get together, call themselves the "Association of Middle Eastern States" and begin a grassroots initiative, not an official one, that brings about a meeting of all the sane people, far from the religious, ethnic and sectarian consciousness – and concentrates on man, on how to guard his honor, on how to provide him with a decent living, on how to spread love, peace and cooperation for the good of all the nations of the Middle East."
Another reader greets the first reader's words sarcastivally: "...Far from the religious, ethnic and sectarian consciousness,?.. Are the Arabs capable of living with others? The massacres of Christians in 1933, of Jews in 1948, of Shiites against Kurds just a few months ago and the terrible blow to Kurdish honor in Kirkuk…?"
(to be continued)
Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky