Prince Reza Pahlavi: Separating Myth from Reality

On December 14, 2018, Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran's last monarch, participated in a discussion forum at the Washington Institute.  He presented an opening statement, followed by taking questions from the host and reporters from major news outlets, including Persian-language Western media.  His remarks were met with mixed reactions from the Iranian community across the globe, as well as from self-proclaimed Iran experts, leading to endless discussions among proponents as well as detractors on various social media platforms.  Some of his more controversial statements were sensationalized by mainstream media, which created a controversy of its own.  In the wake of the hype generated by this event and the discourse that ensued, it is reasonable to place Mr. Pahlavi's comments into perspective in an attempt to differentiate fact from fiction.

First and foremost, the notion that Mr. Pahlavi is seeking to restore the monarchy in Iran or that his objective is to become Iran's next shah must be readily dismissed.  At the forum, the prince explicitly defined his role and aspirations with regard to Iran's present and future.  He affirmed that he does not take a political position or advocate a political ideology.  His role, he stated, is "to be able to have a diverse set of political ideologies understand the priorities that we face today about the commonality interests of a democratic Iranian future."  Mr. Pahlavi has vehemently refuted any ambition to become Iran's future monarch in numerous past interviews and public statements.

There was a claim from certain Persian-language European media outlets of Mr. Pahlavi insinuating that the Trump administration should seize "Iran's assets and hand them over to the opposition movements."  In response to a request for elaboration from a reporter affiliated with one such network, Mr. Pahlavi asserted that resources belonging to the Iranian people that have been surreptitiously amassed or invested by the regime, instead of being frozen, should be diverted to benefit the Iranian people and democracy-seeking movements.  "Democracy-seeking movements" include laborers in Khuzestan province, who have been protesting for nearly a month for unpaid wages, and those who took to the streets across the country to protest the regime during the months of December 2017 and January 2018.  Whose assets should be targeted?  A good example is Mr. Sadeq Larijani, the head of the regime's Judiciary, who is worth an estimated $300 million and has been designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control for commission of serious human rights abuses against Iranian citizens.  The interest alone earned from Mr. Larijani's assets can be used to support democratic movements inside Iran, such as providing the Iranian people access to the internet when the regime disrupts its availability during protests.

There also has been some outcry with respect to what Mr. Pahlavi called the infiltration of Persian-language Western media networks by the regime's reformist faction.  This was perceived as if Mr. Pahlavi were suggesting a purge of journalists, correspondents, or reporters subscribing to the reformist ideology.  Undeniably, political persuasions should not be a factor in making decisions regarding any journalist's employment.  However, in this case, we are not talking about normal political affiliation or ideology.  Far from normal, the Islamic Republic is an Apartheid regime that adheres to a policy of repression and corruption.  Some of these networks have effectively become de facto propaganda platforms for this regime and specifically for the reformists.  They accomplish this by spread of disinformation, omission of important facts, and systematic bias in favor of the regime.  They also have a virulent tendency to attack and disparage democratic movements; Iranian dissidents; and opposition activists, including Mr. Pahlavi himself.  Individuals working for these networks who adhere to the reformist dogma are certainly entitled to free speech.  However, with free speech comes accountability, especially to those who are fighting for the same rights enjoyed by journalists living in democratic Western countries.  Furthermore, these media operations were created with the explicit mission of giving voice to democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, while the actions of these journalists have been anything but.  They must not, under the pretense of free speech and diversity of viewpoint, trample upon democratic aspirations of millions of Iranians who were the intended target of these media outlets, funded by taxpayer money from U.S. and European governments.  The noticeable imbalance between regime opponents and supporters working in these media outlets, with domination of the latter group, is evidence of the reality that there is a breach of free expression and diversity in viewpoint. 

At the Washington Institute, Prince Reza Pahlavi said that for 40 years, he has "worked toward a single objective: a secular democratic Iran built upon the pillars of human rights and rule of law."  According to Mr. Pahlavi, his focus is on guiding this process of change so that its outcome is secular, democratic, and lasting.  This has been his belief and the position he has steadfastly held since the 1979 Revolution.  It is very easy to misinterpret the statements of a person with sociopolitical popularity when there is preconceived bias.  It is especially easy when there is an inherent disagreement with such person, and it is remarkably convenient when platforms are readily available to publicize and disseminate misconstructions, intentionally or otherwise.

Réza Behrouz, D.O. is an Iranian-American physician and opposition activist, based in San Antonio, Texas.  He can be followed on Twitter at @Behreza.

Daniel Jafari, M.D., MPH is an Iranian-American physician, opposition activist, and member of the Iran Revival (Farashgard) network, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He can be followed on Twitter at @DanielJafari.

This article is reflective of the authors' own opinions and not that of their employers.  The authors have no financial disclosures.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.