Exiled former crown prince Reza Pahlavi

Many Iranians Vote For Exiled Prince, Others Demand Alternatives

Sunday, 01/22/2023
Maryam Sinaiee

A British Iranian journalist and political analyst and a regular contributor to Iran International

Iran's exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, has urged pro-democracy forces to unite following arguments over endorsing him as trustee in transition to secular rule.

“I’m extending my hand, once again, for cooperation to all pro-democracy forces, including individuals, parties and groups, to support the Iranian national revolution on the basis of three minimum common principles: Iran's territorial integrity, human rights-based secular democracy, and people’s right to determine the form of the [future] political system through a free vote,” he said in a statement published via his social media accounts Saturday.

The statement came after a petition endorsing him as representative of his supporters to lead a transition from the Islamic Republic to secular rule launched Tuesday by actor Ehsan Karami received over 300,000 signatures by Saturday. “This petition helps the people of Iran to express their opinion,” Karami said.

One of the first to support the campaign was expatriate Iranian football star Ali Karimi, a key supporter of the popular uprising, who has millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter. The number of signatures has now risen to over 350,000 on Sunday.

Karami said he had launched the petition because the exiled crown prince had in an interview with London-based Manoto TV asked the people of Iran to give him power of attorney to lead the movement against the Islamic Republic.

Iranian football star Ali Karimi with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on December 21, 2022

In response to a question why he was not openly accepting the leadership of the movement, Pahlavi said any kind of work, presumably lobbying with world powers and international organizations, required “a legitimate basis or some kind of power of attorney from inside Iran."

Signatories of the petition include several celebrities but so far Karimi is the only high-profile expatriate opposition figure recognized as one of the likely members of a future transitory council to have signed the petition and campaigned for it.

Other known figures representing the protest movement, including actress and human rights activist Nazanin Bonyadi, journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, actress Golshifteh Farahani, activist Hamed Esmaeilion, and Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi have so far neither endorsed nor rejected the plea.

Some regime opponents imprisoned in Iran, including Manouchehr Bakhtiari have endorsed him. Bakhtiari is an ardent believer in reviving the monarchy. He is jailed for his anti-regime activism after his 23-year-old son Pouya was shot in the head during the November 2019 protests in Karaj.

Political prisoner Manouchehr Bakhtiari with his son Pouya who was killed by a sniper during the 2019 protests in Iran

The petition has given rise to intense arguments on social media with those in favor tweeting with the hashtag “I endorse power of attorney” and others using the hashtag “I do not endorse power of attorney”. The exiled prince is currently among the top ten Persian-language hashtags on Twitter now.

In recent years, the former crown prince has not laid claim to the throne, and at least on one occasion said his own desirable government would be a republic rather than a monarchy, but many of his supporters, who always refer to him affectionately as ‘The Prince’ see him as the future king of the country.

“Based on the Iranian Constitution [of 1906], Prince Reza Pahlavi is the heir to the Iranian throne. There’s no plan for him to establish a government … This [power of attorney] is giving him permission to meet political representatives and officials of other governments,” Kamelia Entekhabifard, chief editor of the Persian website of The Independent, told the BBC’s Persian television Wednesday.

Entekhabifard argued that giving such power of attorney to the exiled crown prince would prevent others without proper credentials, a clear past, and well-defined demands to meet with foreign officials.

“At least the Prince is emphasizing the principles of territorial integrity of the country, freedom of religion, equal rights for all Iranians,” she said while stressing that Pahlavi has always emphasized it is the Iranian people who should decide their future form of government through free elections.

Others -- notably some republicans and leftist politicians and activists – reject giving power of attorney to the exiled crown prince while even some of his supporters say empowering one person is undemocratic and would pave the way for future troubles.

In their view, only a council consisting of prominent political figures and activists can be a true representative of the Iranian people in any talks over the future of the Islamic Republic with world powers.

“I endorse power of attorney”, the Marxist Iran Left Party (Fadaiyan-e Khlagh) said in a statement Saturday, “is undemocratic both is form and content” and argued that appointing the exiled crown prince as Iranians’ representative, without setting any conditions, is similar to the yes-no referendum in 1979 that determined Iran's form of government as an Islamic Republic and disregards the “political and civil society in the country”.

Proponents of endorsing the exiled prince as a representative say those who do not want him can propose their own candidates, but the revolution needs leadership.

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