As someone whose political career began with the fall of the Shah, I can’t help but shake my head at the recent claims of political relevance by Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Pahlavi regime was ruthless, corrupt, and repressive, and its legacy still haunts the Iranian people to this day.
It’s not just that the Shah’s son has no real experience or qualifications to lead a movement for change in Iran. And to make matters worse, the Shah’s son is on record as saying that as far as change in Iran is concerned, he is counting on elements from the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and paramilitary Basij, the very forces that form the backbone of the regime and have brutalized the Iranian people every time they have risen up. How can he claim to be a force for change when he is supporting the very people who are keeping the status quo in place?
Recently, Reza Pahlavi and a couple of his supporters were invited to the Munich Security Conference, where they were given a platform to speak about the future of Iran. This was a huge mistake, and it served only to bolster the regime’s propaganda machine. One of his cohorts, Masih Alinejad used the opportunity to lament about the enduring and widespread support the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its parent organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) have enjoyed among lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Ironically, at the same venue in 2018, then Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, echoed the same frustration!
There is no doubt that Reza Pahlavi and his ilk are seeking to pluck the fruit of others’ labor, making claims to political relevance that they have not earned. It’s like someone inheriting a company and claiming to be a successful entrepreneur.
The truth is, the organized opposition to the Iranian regime, led by NCRI, has been fighting for democracy, human rights, and a free Iran for decades. They have built a movement that spans generations and have never lost sight of their principles.
And they have been successful. They have changed political attitudes in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Europe, and the Middle East. They have never let people forget the crimes of the regime, including the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988, most of whom were members of the MEK.
The winds of history are also blowing in their favor. Authoritarians around the world are losing power, and even Russia and China are experiencing demographic collapse. The recent victories of Ukraine over Russia show that even the most powerful of regimes can be defeated.
The NCRI has been successful in changing the narrative around the Iranian opposition. For years, the Iranian regime had tried to paint the opposition as a terrorist organization, but the NCRI has effectively pushed back against this propaganda. It built relationships with governments and officials around the world, who now recognize the NCRI as a legitimate voice of the Iranian people.
This recognition has been hard-won. The NCRI has faced persecution, assassination attempts, demonization campaigns, and terrorist attacks at the hands of the regime. But it has remained steadfast in its commitment to its principles, and its efforts are paying off.
The recent protests in Iran are a testament to the NCRI’s success. The Iranian people are tired of the corruption, repression, and brutality of the regime. They are demanding change, and have rejected any form of dictatorship, whether the ruling theocracy or monarchy
In contrast, the son of the deposed dictator lacks the experience, vision, and leadership necessary to lead a movement for change in Iran. His claims to political relevance are based on nothing more than his family name and a nostalgia for a bygone era.
It’s time for the international community to stand with the NCRI and the Iranian people in their fight for democracy and freedom. This means supporting the NCRI’s call for the blacklisting of the IRGC and for holding regime officials accountable for their crimes against humanity.
The struggle for a free Iran is not over, but the NCRI and its President-elect Maryam Rajavi have shown that they have the courage, the vision, and the support to bring about real change. They have earned their place in the political landscape of Iran, through decades of hard work, sacrifice, and principled leadership. They deserve our support and our recognition.
R. Bruce McColm is President of the Institute for Democratic Strategies and former Executive Director of Freedom House