Iran's long-exiled prince wants a revolution
Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah to rule before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has seen his profile rise in recent months following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who promises a harder line against the Shiite power.
Pahlavi's calls for replacing clerical rule with a parliamentary monarchy, enshrining human rights and modernizing its state-run economy could prove palatable to both the West and Iran's Sunni Gulf neighbors, who remain suspicious of Iran's intentions amid its involvement in the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
But the Mideast is replete with cautionary tales about Western governments putting their faith in exiles long estranged from their homelands. Whether Pahlavi can galvanize nostalgia for the age of the Peacock Throne remains unseen.
"This regime is simply irreformable because the nature of it, its DNA, is such that it cannot," Pahlavi told The Associated Press. "People have given up with the idea of reform and they think there has to be fundamental change. Now, how this change can occur is the big question."
Pahlavi left Iran at age 17 for military flight school in the U.S., just before his cancer-stricken father Mohammad Reza Pahlavi abandoned the throne for exile. The revolution followed, with the creation of the Islamic Republic, the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the sweeping away of the last vestiges of the American-backed monarchy.
Yet the Pahlavis and the age of the monarchy have retained their mystique in Iran, even as the majority of its 80 million people weren't alive to experience it. Television period pieces have focused on their rule, including the recent state TV series "The Enigma of the Shah," the most expensive series ever produced to air in the country. While incorporating romances or mobsters into the tales, all uniformly criticize the royal court.
But Pahlavi, 56, insists young Iranians increasingly look toward Iran's past. He pointed to recent demonstrations at the tomb of the pre-Islamic King Cyrus the Great, which have been claimed by a variety of anti-government forces as a sign of unrest. Under his father's secular and pro-Western rule, Iran experienced a rapid modernization program financed by oil revenues.