Violence erupted in Tehran on Wednesday as a group of pro-regime militia attacked mourners at the funeral of a man killed in protests on Monday. The demonstrations, reportedly inspired by the mass revolt that overthrew the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia, were the first serious challenge to the Islamic regime since the opposition was brutally crushed in 2009.
Also the defeated presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who had spearheaded the 2009 street protests vowed to defy government moves to “hang them” for fermenting unrest.
Sane’e Zhale was killed in a “day of rage” protest on Monday, the regime said it would mobilise its supporters to crush future dissent.
Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince of Iran, said Iran’s youth were determined to get rid of an authoritarian government tainted by corruption and misrule in the hope of installing a democracy.
“Fundamental and necessary change is long overdue for our region and we have a whole generation of young Egyptian and Iranians not willing to take no for an answer,” the American-based campaigner for Iranian democracy told the Daily Telegraph. “Democratisation is now an imperative that cannot be denied. It is only a matter of time before the whole region can transform itself.
“But when people are facing a brutal regime it is much more difficult without the help of the free world. The movement could fall back and if people are abandoned it really will be a very ugly development.” Mass protests paralysed Iran in the wake of the June 2009 presidential elections but a vicious response from state-backed militias in which dozens were killed and thousands arrested crushed the opposition movement.
The Prince is now using his base in Washington to ensure that Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State and President Barack Obama do not “fluff” a second opportunity to align America with the freedom-seeking youths on Iran’s streets.
President Obama was widely accused of allowing his offer of constructive engagement to the Iranian regime override his judgement when the last round of protests welled up.
“The reason why the people couldn’t sustain last time is that they were so confused and let down by the Western position. One guy comes in and wants to open up a war front (President George W Bush) while the next guy talks of constructive engagement.” America has significant toughened its stance since and the Prince sees its frustration now translating into more concrete actions.
“The tone of Hillary Clinton is drastically different from before but it remains to be seen if the world is going to give us the cold shoulder or will it be capable of inspiring people to so that can stand up to regime. They need support that is not dissimilar to what was available to protest movements at the end of the 20th century, such as (Poland’s anti-Communist) Solidarity.
By doggedly pursuing nuclear enrichment in a way that gives rise to suspicion that it seeks a nuclear bomb, the country has become a pariah, subject to sanctions that cripple its economy.The continued existence of the Islamic government with its support of overseas terrorist groups such as Hizbollah and willingness to defy worldwide concerns over nuclear weapons will one day lead to a major armed confrontation in the Gulf. Its determination to retain power through brute force – he estimates that the regime is on track to hang 2000 people this year, one every eight hours – means that its domestic opposition needs support and assistance from well-meaning governments outside.
“If we want to avoid a major confrontation that may become inevitable there is only one option and that is to help people, they are your best allies,” he said. “The world cannot rely on pressure in the form of sanctions any more. They have hurt the system but not enough to tip the balance. A policy of empowerment of the people must be adopted.”
Although he supported Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi in 2009, he no longer believes that satisfactory change is available from within the Islamic system. Both men are former appointees of the cleric system and offered only an amended form of religious rule. “They have tried to liberalise within the system ad nauseam but to no avail. The regime is unreformable,” he said. “Mousavi and Karroubi might still be transitional figures but they cannot spearhead the transformation that is acceptable to the people. The young people of Iran are no longer content to take the lesser of two evils.
By coincidence President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt quit on February 11, 32 years to the day that the shah fled into exile in Cairo, then under the same kind of military-backed rule that finally cracked this month.
But the Prince does not see a contradiction in his wish to return to serve as a linchpin of a democratic system.
A monarchy, he said, can be a force for stability – as King Juan Carlos provided Spain after Franco’s downfall – but should not hold constitutional powers.“
The only alternative is a future Iran that is endowed with a parliamentary democratic system,” he said. “But it is up to the people to decide if the final form is to opt for a parliamentary monarchy. It is a matter of if it has merits and can play a role.”