As the oldest son of the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi’s youth in Tehran’s sumptuous palace — and his prospects for the throne — ended at age 17, when the 1979 Islamic revolution drove his family into exile. Between meetings with French politicians last week, Pahlavi, now 45, sat down with Time’s Vivienne Walt in his mother’s Paris residence to describe the best way to oust the Tehran regime — and return him home.
How can the opposition defeat the regime? A campaign of civil disobedience is the only way to force the regime to retreat — national strikes, demonstrations, a refusal to cooperate. What [Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali] Khamenei fears most is not economic sanctions or military strikes. It’s people on the streets.
But just a year ago, many voted for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? When you have a Robin Hood message, you can fool people. But at some point they get it. Don’t forget the West was mesmerized by this smiling [defeated reformist [an error occurred while processing this directive]President Mohammed] Khatami talking about dialogue, while there were journalists and students in prison and newspapers were shut down.
What’s your role in this opposition? To be above the fray. Often I’ve witnessed cases where [opposition] people were not talking to each other, and they would come to me and I would somehow get them to talk. My modern role today is a national function.
What do you want the U.S. and Europe to do? If there was a first item on the shopping list, it would be communication to bypass the regime’s blocking of weblogs and so on. This could change the whole dynamic of what can evolve inside Iran. Communication has been very restricted. That explains why many movements like the labor strike, student protests and acts of civil disobedience have been limited and sectarian. If you can communicate with people, they can organize on a much more mass scale.
Do the U.S. and its allies have any good military options? I cannot foresee any military action which could be feasible. The thought of foreign tanks rolling into Tehran is beyond imagination. No Iranian could tolerate an invasion. It would be an attack on our homeland. Even limited air strikes: if you want to alienate people, strike the first blow.
How wide is the disaffection in the military inside Iran? A lot of people are stuck in the system and would love to find an exit. Of course the regime has goons, an army who are practically thugs who may go and hit people. But can they face millions on the streets? That, no.
What about the latest incentives offered to Iran by the U.S. and Europe to halt its nuclear program? The focus has been so much on the nuclear issue that they have lost track of the big picture. If by some miracle, you can resolve the nuclear issue and you have quid pro quos of security guarantees for the Islamic regime, what does that mean? Giving the regime carte blanche? What about conventional terrorism?
You were very young when you were exiled. Yes, I was 17½. Exile for me has been physical, rather than mental. My mind has always been there. It’s the most powerful driving force within me — that image of being there, of not being disconnected.
Do you think you’ll ever make it home? For me it is a certainty. It is not a dream.
What’s the chance of restoring the monarchy? It is for Iranians to decide. As long as the next regime is based on democracy and human rights, the form does not matter. I have absolute conviction that a parliamentary monarchy is just as equipped as, if not better than, a republican system. But 95% of a future constitution would be the same, with all the checks and balances and principles built into the system. The tiny difference is whether you call the head of state Your Majesty or Mr. President.