GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
REZA PAHLAVI: STUDENT UNREST IN IRAN SHOWS REFORM IS AT DEAD END; NOW IS THE TIME FOR REGIME CHANGE
Reza Pahlavi II is the eldest son of the Shah of Iran, driven from power after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Reza Pahlavi lives in exile now near Washington, where he spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on June 19.
NATHAN GARDELS: What is the significance of the latest bout of student unrest and subsequent repression across Iran in the last couple of weeks? By most accounts, it is the greatest upheaval Iran has seen since the 1979 revolution.
REZA PAHLAVI: It is interesting that you raise 1979. Actually the boiling point was reached in 1978, a few months before the revolution. Now, 25 years later, the same thing is happening as the society reaches another boiling point that portends the regime change ahead.
The overwhelming majority of people in Iran today are just fed up. They are fed up with two decades of brutality, corruption, mismanagement, economic decay, unemployment and personal harassment.
It is clear now that even the reform they voted for and hoped for with (President Mohammad) Khatami is not going to materialize. People cannot see their life chances being wasted yet again for years to come.
People sense the weakness and reactive nature of the regime and sense opportunity. Despite the immediate brutality of the regime-hired thugs who are now conducting the repression, the fear factor is decreasing. Clearly, the momentum against the regime has shifted in recent weeks. Even commanders of the Revolutionary Guards in the eastern provinces are resigning instead of following orders to crack down. The minister of higher education has resigned. Everyone knows this is the time to be with the people or against them.
The knowing smile on the faces of the young people today is the same look I saw on the faces of those who came out in the streets against Milosevic during his final days in Serbia.
I am in contact with many people inside Iran. The unrest is spreading not just beyond the student movement, but beyond Tehran into the provinces.
GARDELS: What should the West be doing? President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have all said that the United States "must stand with the aspirations of the Iranian people." The Europeans are less enamored with this aggressive encouragement of Iranian dissent.
PAHLAVI: The recent statements made by the Bush administration have gone a long way in boosting the morale of the students. I just spoke with a 24-year-old student on a TV call-in show. She said, "You canft believe what they are doing to us here. But we are resilient. We will keep fighting. We just hope the world hears us. Donft leave us alone."
Thanks to Bushfs statements, they know the world is listening and watching. No one, least of all the students, expects any kind of direct intervention as we saw in Afghanistan or Iraq. And no one is asking for that. Nor is it necessary. The students want solidarity, and they want the world to understand they are going all the way.
Everyone is aware of what happened after Desert Storm, when Iraqis were encouraged to stand up and fight and then everything was dropped and they felt abandoned. People in Iran know the limits, but they also know the power of Western pressure and attention.
Recent statements from Europe, including by (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair, are also encouraging. They have let the Iranian leaders know that the brutal crackdown underway is not acceptable. In the name of human rights, they are threatening to scale back the political and trade contact they have opened and cultivated with the regime. All of this is encouraging to the students and others in Iran who want self-determination and not rule by the mullahs.
GARDELS: How much is this most serious outbreak of unrest in 25 years linked to the regime-changing invasion of Iraq?
PAHLAVI: As I said, the main reason for rebellion just now is that Iranians have reached the saturation level, the boiling point, of frustration with the regime. Obviously, getting rid of the dictator next door has had a positive impact. It is a bit like the Eastern bloc. Changes in Poland affected the Czechs, which affected the East Germans and so on. The same kind of liberation epidemic, if you will, has come to our region.
The difference with the Eastern bloc is that when the regime in Moscow fell, it was quickly followed by collapse throughout the Eastern bloc. In our region, the main culprit of fundamentalism and terror, the regime of clerics in Iran, is still standing. But the noose is tightening, and they know it.
GARDELS: Where do you see it going? What is the demand?
PAHLAVI: It is absolutely clear to the protesters that the reform movement is dead. No one any longer hopes for any magical transformation by this regime. Only a few at the top are hanging on to power at the expense of the people. The demand, therefore, is for regime change that will bring a secular, democratic government. The mullahs should be out of power and the government should be based on popular self-determination.
I am committed to this position. This is my mission. To that end, I have promoted a national referendum that will include all parties so that the people of Iran can choose the government they want -- a demand with much resonance these days in the streets.
In the meantime, I am encouraging nonviolent civil disobedience to press for this referendum, which many of the students are following. Like the kids in the streets of Belgrade not long ago, these kids in Tehran are smart. They donft want to return brutality with brutality.
And, by the way, for them the coming weeks are historically important because July 9 is the fourth anniversary of the last big student uprising that pressed for acceleration of the stalled reforms of the Khatami government.
GARDELS: The White House has become convinced that the entire spectrum of the ruling political class in Iran, moderates as well as hard-liners, is committed to obtaining a nuclear weapon, especially since the United States is at the doorstep in Iraq. How should the world respond to that prospect?
PAHLAVI: It is no longer a question of moderates or conservatives. As everyone inside Iran understands, it is a question of the totality of the regime. That is why a change of regime is the best antidote to the development of mass destruction weapons in Iran.
No one in the world would trust the ruling mullahs in Iran with their finger on the trigger of a nuclear bomb. Therefore, the best way to stop them from getting the bomb they want is to not make deals with this regime, but to invest in democracy. That is the best safeguard against the extremism that is the root cause of all the problems in the Middle East.
If anything, the regimefs intent to obtain a bomb places great urgency on the arrival of democracy so that we can avoid any type of foreign intervention.
(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.