AN OPEN LETTER TO PRINCE REZA PAHLAVI
It is now 20 years since the overthrow of Monarchy in Iran and the establishment of Islamic Republic in Iran. There has been enough time for all different political tendencies in Iranian scene to re-evaluate the plans and programs that they had been advocating for Iran's future. The most important development has been among the intellectuals sympathetic to the left. After the fall of the Soviet Union, they saw the atrocities of the Communist system they had supported, and they have been distancing themselves from the programs that even justified dictatorship, by calling it dictatorship of the proletariat. One point is important to note though, that the Left was never in power in Iran, and so the Left in Iran has basically not done any crimes in Iran and it is good that the experiences of Killing Fields of Cambodia and the collapse of the Soviet Union helped the Iranian Left to open its eyes to the dictatorial system of Communism. And thanks to the world developments, the former Iranian Left are basically supporting a secular democratic republic for Iran.
Another political tendency in Iran, namely the followers of political Islam, as a consequence of the atrocities of Islamic Republic of Iran, are becoming more and more believers in a secular Republic. This is the result of developments of the last 20 years in Iran and Afghansetan, which has opened the eyes of these intellectuals. Among them, the members of Nehzat-e Azadi are being disillusioned about any Islamic state, and this trend will continue among the Iranian Islamic intellectuals who support freedom; and more and more they are asking for a secular democratic republic, and for religion to become the private matter of the individual.
The separation of state and religion is highly supported by forces close to the Jebh-e Melli and the nationalists in general and for them, constitutional monarchy or secular republic, as long as it is independent and democratic, they are OK with it.
It seems like the "Islamic" element in the state is only present in mojAhedin-e khalgh's program, which is calling for a Democratic Islamic Republic, and in practice, they try very hard to say that their intended republic is a secular system, although they insist to have their rank and file women wear Islamic scarf. This force is basically looked at as a non-democratic force and the majority of the people who are looking forward to a *secular democratic* future in Iran, do not see the mojAhedin alternative, to be fully democratic or secular, and until the time they change their platform to a secular republic, and change their structure to a democratic organizational plan and practice, there is not much hope in any alliance with this force, although because of its armed strength, regardless of its popularity, it may become an alternative in Iran, in case the government of Islamic Republic suddenly falls apart.
Another major force in the Iranian scene is Khatami, and the groups and individuals, that in various degrees, associate themselves with it and call themselves the "reformists". Basically until they drop their support of Religious Apartheid in Iran, they are not a force that can drive the country to a secular democracy. They are calling a dictatorship of Religious Apartheid, an Islamic Democracy, just because some Islamists are enjoying limited political rights. This is not something that can make Iranian people happy and certainly does not put an end to tyranny and corruption in Iran. But as the forces looking for a secular republic gain strength, the ones siding with the reformists will join this new force of Iranian political scene, and the ones who have been instrumental in the atrocities of Islamic Republic in the last 20 years, will go back to their hardliner friends, or will leave Iran for a safe haven.
Now let’s look at the monarchists. There are two forces in the political scene that have actually been in power for a significant length of time and have long records of violations of human rights and atrocities against the Iranian people. These two forces are Islamic Republic functionaries and the Monarchists. All other forces have basically been on paper, or in plans, or in limited organizational entities, trying to get to the power, but none has ruled Iran in for any significant length of time. The periods of rule by some Kurdish groups in Kurdestan, and some Azeri groups in Azerbaijan, and Mossadegh's government in Iran, have been very short and this is why all criticisms of such groups is limited to their programs or to the criticism of similar groups in other countries.
Now looking at the monarchy in general and the Pahlavi rule in Iran, in particular, one can see that it has been a history filled with dictatorship and repression and you can ask about the specific atrocities of Savak from many of the Iranian intellectuals who still live abroad and have had first hand experience in Savak dungeons. Evin was not built by Islamic Republic, it was built by the Shah and its torture chambers were used by Savak long before there was an Islamic Republic. They can tell you many sleepless nights, fearing Savak, for their life, for having a book of Samad Behrangi in their house.
Why I am writing you this letter is because I have seen you talking about democracy and human rights, and trying to discuss a future Iran with these values. If one is looking for democracy and human rights, the best way to define them, is by critic of Islamic Republic and the previous monarchies, as they were both the best exemplifications of violations of human rights in Iran. Human rights violations in iran were not done by the Soviet Poliburo or by Hitler's Gestapo. They were done by the Shah's government and now are done by the Islamic Republic.
I think if you sincerely believe in democracy and human rights, you should call the end of Iranian monarchy and be the first one to criticize the Pahlavi regime for its violations of human rights and for its hope of using Islamists to offset the victory of the democratic forces of Iran. You should be the first calling for a secular republic for Iran. I think this way, you can play a significant role in uniting the opposition to Islamic Republic. When people voted for Islamic Republic, they were voting for republic against monarchy, monarchy which had proven to be a repressive system in Iran, but the mollah's used the sincere wishes of the Iranian people for democracy and republic, and by a trick options on the ballot, legitimized their *Islamic Republic* by a vote.
The programs of restoration of Monarchy by monarchists and Islamic Democratic Republic of the likes of mojAhedin have only delayed the transition of Iran to a secular republic. I think all political forces of Iran should call for a secular republic in Iran. Of course this is no guarantee to have a *democratic* republic in the future, but if this happens with a thorough critique of dictatorship of Islamic Republic and dictaroship of the regimes preceding it, we can have a hope for a truly democratic republic in the future. But a monarchy will definitely be non-democratic in a short while. Not because of your intentions, but because the forces that have surrounded monarchy and have legitimized it in the Iranian history, which are not the democratic forces. I will explain below.
I believe that because you have never been involved in the atrocities of the past monarchy, and because in your experiences of last 20 years in secular republics outside Iran, you can play a significant role in the transition of Iran to a secular republic and denouncing the platform of monarchy will pave the way for a united political force for a secular republic.
I have written elsewhere that the reason why monarchy becomes dictatorial is not a psychological reason. Current fascinations with pre-Islamic Iran and the beautiful Iranian cultural heritage, should not make us lose sight of the fact that Iran's monarchy throughout Persian history has been one of the main pillars of despotism in the Middle East. The predominance of state ownership, and ownership of water in the past, and state ownership of oil in modern times, are main reasons for strength of state central power. Even today with the pressure of the non-centralizing forces of different Shi’a Ayatollahs, the state has not broken apart, whereas in places like Lebanon, the same forces quickly broke apart the central state. So the state ownership makes the state in a way the main owner of the country. It is more the state that pays the people than people paying state by taxes. The state remains the biggest landowner and the biggest capitalist, etc.
I also had noted that one may ask the reason of the above reality? My answer is that Iran has had many powerful decentralizing forces in its make-up. The most prominent one used to be ashAyer, which are still a strong decentralizing element in Iran's social life. The other force is the enormous number of nationalities and religious minorities including orders such as Sufis, Izadis, etc. In modern times, political thought has also grown into a decentralizing element. I think with the exception Turkey, Iran has had more types of political groups than all its neighbors. The leftists were hundred flavors, Moslem activists the same, nationalists the same, tajadood-garas the same way. In fact, states like UAE are much less "turbulent" than Iran, because such diversities do not exist there, and Arab dominance over Indians workers is guaranteed. Only Palestinian element, in some of those countries was the de-stabilizing factor, and it was the strongest in Kuwait, for a long time, and that is why Kuwait developed a parliament, and real parties, long before the Gulf War, and this element sided with Saddam’s invasion. In Iran, these strong decentralizing elements were controlled by the strength of a powerful central state.
Also in modern times, education, health, and social services are primarily state-owned in countries like Iran, because they have been introduced from above, as the world standards were being scaled up, in these arenas, and because of the people's pressure from below, the main owner of the country, the state, became the deliverer for such services. In the case of education, being a *must* for industrial development, the state had no choice but to make it happen, when entering partial industrial development even before Reza Shah, at the time of Amir Kabir.
One may say, 70% of the above factors are also true for a republic and why shouldn't we be afraid that a republic to become a dictatorial state like Saddam Hossein's republic, or Rajavi's ideal republic. My response is that yes this is right, and such a danger exists, and this is why I am very doubtful of state-centric economic platforms to form Iran's economic plans, although for a country like Spain, with its European surroundings, and background, I would not be as worried. Again this is why a republic by itself does not guarantee democracy in Iran, and the separation of power and *form* of the state is very important. So in short in a monarchy, for sure we would have a dictatorship in a short while whereas in a republic, there is no guarantee to have a democracy but if we remain vigilant, we can have a good shot at it.
So going back to the issue of monarchy, I say this is the worst poison to advocate for Iran and the main threat of falling back to monarchy is not just from the monarchists. The main threat is a force like MKO to come to power and turn Iran into a new monarchy afterwards. Iran's monarchy will never be a Sweden and monarchy is the gate to tyranny in Iran. We should not try it again to prove it. We did it once after Ahmad Shah, and again after Reza Shah’s departure, and the first days of democratic monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah. It is not a psychological factor and the bad intentions of the monarch. It is, as I noted above, the reality of Iran, that monarchy will be nothing more than a dictatorship in our land. Monarchy will move in the direction of despotism, as it gets its legitimacy from its historical Persian Empires and that is its "natural" way to deal with diversity. Any sincere monarchist of the past, who claims to care for human rights and democracy in Iran, as his/her first step, should repudiate any platform of monarchy for the future of Iran.
Frankly, any future monarchy in Iran, may be formed by someone like Massoud Rajavi, than by someone like you. This is why Ahmad Shah was dropped in favor of Reza Khan. You hardly believe in the law of Iranian monarchy that the girls cannot inherit the throne. I wonder if you still can believe that someone for being born from a woman who has decided to marry someone in Pahlavi family, should qualify to be the best head of state for a country and the millions of Iranians are written off for that position even before they are born. All these could have stayed put as a tradition, if monarchy had evolved in Iran like some European countries. Even Bakhtiar was allowed to become a prime minister when virtually Shah was out of the throne. And now even the tradition is broken in Iran and even you have a hard time to believe in it to represent Shi’a king of the 1905 Constitution. You would be having a hard time to believe that 5 mojteheds should vito the laws of Iran, which is assumed in the 1905 Constitution. Times have just passed that constitution and the monarchy itself, and this is just a block in the development of Iran to its next stage of political development. Please just look around you and see some diehard old monarchists who still want to revive the Savak chambers, to take care of their opponents, and in secret only blame the Iranian intellectuals for their own failure, which made the people stand up against the monarchy, and that they are waiting to come to power, to take revenge against these intellectuals, and still do not admit that in reality majority of the Iranian people, at the time of the 1979 Revolution said, that they do not want the monarchy.
So my suggestion to you is to denounce the monarchy and call for a united front of all Iranian political forces to form a secular republic in Iran and I would suggest that you run for the presidency. If Reza Shah started with a call for a Republic and ended with Monarchy, I hope that although you have started with a monarchist platform, to be instrumental in forming the first democratic secular republic in Iran.
Advocating for secular republic is when you can condemn the atrocities of the Shah’s army against Dr. Fatemi. This is how you can come to terms with great Iranian leaders like Dr. Mossadegh. This is how you can truly relate to the plight of centuries of Iran’s struggle for democracy and human rights, which you have now joined. And in this light, one can see the contributions of many states monarchist or Islamic, in a historical context. This is how sincere people who have been with a dictatorial regime have distanced themselves and wholeheartedly worked for a democratic republic, which they believed in. The best example in our times was Yaltsin in Russia, who came from the ranks of the Communist Party, who in contrast to Gorbachev, did not stop short at calling for a fully democratic secular market-oriented republic in Russia. Fortunately you yourself have not been involved in the past monarchy and I hope sincere ones who have been part of that system, can come clean like Yalstin and work for a secular republic in Iran.
Wishing for a future forward-looking and a democratic and secular Republic of Iran,
Sam Ghandchi, Publisher
August 14, 2001
* The above article was first posted on Jebhe BB on Aug 14, 2001