Iran’s exiled prince Reza Pahlavi has revealed that his father Mohammad-Reza planned to pass the throne to him just before the monarchy fell in the 1979 revolution.
In a three-hour interview with entrepreneur and best-selling author Patrick Bet-David -- himself of Iranian Assyrian and Armenian origin -- Pahlavi said when his father, the last shah of Iran, knew about his cancer he wanted his son to succeed to the throne but his aspiration was eclipsed by the emergence of a leftist-religious revolution that altered the course of Iran’s history.
The former crown prince, who has long campaigned for a secular and democratic Iran rather than a restoration of the monarchy, has a large fan base in Iran and abroad. During the Women, Life, Freedom protests – ignited by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 -- Pahlavi became a leading opposition figure, but he has critics among other dissident activists who do not see him as the leader of the opposition.
Despite at least four decades of Islamic Republic propaganda to indoctrinate Iranian children and youth against the Pahlavis, Iran’s last dynasty is still revered among Iranians, who chant slogans to honor the two Pahlavi kings who reigned in the 20th century during gatherings and rallies. Reza Pahlavi enjoys support thanks to his hereditary gift, among middle aged and older Iranians, but also he is popular among the Mahsa Generation Z youth, who see him touring the world to make the voices of Iranians heard and talking about transitioning from the Islamic Republic.
Asked about if he would consider running for a position in Iran after the collapse of the Islamic Republic regime, Pahlavi emphasized that the Iranian people are the ones who should decide on the future form of the government. “In order for people to be empowered, they have to have more than hope. They have to actually believe that it can be done. I believe that it can be done.”
He argued that most Iranians share Western values and the Islamic Republic is the obstacle on Iran’s path to connect to the global community. “We (Iranians) are your allies in principle” as a democracy seeking country. He asserted, “how many democracies do you know that go to war against one another?” He argued that Iran after the Islamic Republic is a country that the world can count on as a flagbearer of peace rather than an instigator of conflicts.
Questioned by Bet-David about how he sees the colossal challenge of overthrowing clerical rule, Pahlavi said, “There was a time I didn’t think that I would possibly see the fall of the Berlin Wall in my lifetime.”
The interview was the first time Pahlavi defended some of the policies of his father, tacitly trying to vindicate the last monarch and his notorious intelligence agency SAVAK. The secret police, domestic security and intelligence service, operated from 1957 until prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar ordered its dissolution during the climax of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Pahlavi argued that many of the prisoners held by SAVAK were among thousands of Soviet KGB agents active in Iran. He charged that Iran’s current ruler Ali Khamenei was among such prisoners who had undergone training under KGB in Palestinian camp in Lebanon.
Pahlavi also talked about how the US government at the time helped the Islamic revolutionaries topple his father while Bet-David showed a video of a debate in which former US President Ronald Reagan criticized Jimmy Carter for undercutting Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi. The prince also talked about his meeting with Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1978 at the White House. According to Pahlavi, the US politicians believed the establishment of an Islamic government in Tehran can stop the spread of Communism in the region.
Asked about why Iranians revolted against his father, he said the country was progressing toward a modern era “too fast,” explaining that the advances were rejected by the clergy who were conservative about any change in the social structure of Iran. “All of a sudden you find a country, where the income per capita jumps to the level it was, and people’s purchasing power made them capable of having so much more... and then you have the resistance coming from the clergy who never liked where my father was taking the country.”
Now Iranians have the lowest purchasing power unprecedented in history while women and minorities are persecuted,and Iran is far from the goals of Iran’s monarchs who believed the country would take its place among the top five countries of the world.