HOUSE OF COMMONS, WESTMINSTER
15.00-16.00 Wednesday 22 February 2023
The nationwide uprising in Iran is now heading into its sixth month, with more than 750 people killed, including many women and children, and over 30,000 arrested. Against this background of a new universal revolt to end the dictatorship of the mullahs, it seemed to me the right time to publish my new book - ‘DICTATORSHIP AND REVOLUTION: Iran – A Contemporary History’. The book charts the political history of Iran from the start of the twentieth century, illuminating the defining curse that for generations has thwarted the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations, namely the corrupt and brutal alliance, tacit or explicit, of Iran’s monarchists and clerics.
The overthrow of the Shah in the 1979 revolution was hailed by the Iranian people as a deliverance from cruel oppression. The monarchy's relationship with the clergy, who hi-jacked the revolution to seize power, was a complex one. The Shah had initially shown fidelity to religious customs and leaned on the clergy during the first two decades of his rule. It was a symbiotic relationship. The monarchy derived its ‘divine’ claim to legitimacy from the clergy, and the clergy derived its social power and wealth from the monarchy's acquiescence. The two institutions were a major impediment to the formation of a developed civic society based on democratic values and human rights. The clergy, with some exceptions, tried to stay in the Shah's favour and maintained pervasive relations with SAVAK, the Shah’s hated secret police, who brutally murdered and tortured political activists and intellectuals, including authors, academics, artists, and poets. But following widespread demonstrations against his oppressive rule, the Shah fled in January 1979, never to return.
In 1980, after his father's death, Reza Pahlavi, proclaimed himself Reza Shah II, and said he wanted Iran to have a constitutional monarchy. Despite claiming that he would like the Iranian people to have the freedom to choose if they wished to restore him as King, he nevertheless proclaimed himself Shah or King while living in Egypt. But, in spite of abundant financial resources, he has never been able to assemble supporters of the monarchy in exile or form a cohesive opposition group or organization during the past four decades. His failure to emerge as a credible opposition figure has underlined the fact that the monarchy is a spent force that belongs to the past and has nothing to offer for the future of Iran.
Indeed, the self-proclaimed ‘Crown Prince’ has inflamed hostility in Iran by stating his would-be support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the theocratic regime’s reviled equivalent of the Gestapo. During a talk show with Iran International TV in 2018, he said: “I am in bilateral contacts with the (regime’s) military, the IRGC and the Basij. We are communicating. They are signaling their readiness and expressing willingness to align with the people.”
It is the warmongering IRGC and their paramilitary Basij, who have shot, arrested, tortured, raped and brutalized opponents of the regime at home and abroad for four decades. They are blacklisted as a foreign terrorist organization in America, and Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament, and a huge majority of EU lawmakers, recently called for their blacklisting in Europe (598-9). For Reza Pahlavi, who has remained largely invisible in opposition circles for the past 44 years, to suggest a role for the IRGC in a future Iran, is an outrageous indication of the total illegitimacy of the monarchy.
Keen to spread confusion through the ranks of the protesters, millions of whom have called for the overthrow of the theocratic regime, the mullahs have seized on deceptively promoting the return of the monarchy as a way of alarming the people and creating difficulties for the legitimate and main opposition movement the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and their burgeoning Resistance Units, who have guided and coordinated the uprising from the outset. In a previous uprising in 2017, attempts by the mullahs to infiltrate street protests with agents who chanted their support for the restoration of the Shah, rapidly backfired and were exposed as publicity stunts aimed at distorting the demands of the demonstrators.
During the current protests, the mullahs have begun to use a different tactic, trying to link the opposition to the monarchy, to discourage people from joining the protests. But in defiance of this new trick, protesters can routinely be heard yelling “Down with the Oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader (Khamenei)” and “No to the Shah! No to the mullahs”. Reza Pahlavi does not represent the Iranian diaspora. The thousands of Iranians who have been demonstrating in North America and Europe, including the 100,000 who rallied in Berlin in October 2022 and the 10,000 in Paris this month, have made it abundantly clear that they are not looking to the past, but to the future and to a democratically elected republic.
On the anniversary of the 1979 anti-monarchy, anti-Shah revolution, parliamentary groups in the UK, France and Italy issued statements supporting the current uprising in Iran. On 9thFebruary I was invited to address a conference on the Iran uprising in the Norwegian Parliament, attended by representatives of all of the main political parties. On Friday I will address a large group in Stockholm. International support for the Iranian people is expanding exponentially. In fact, earlier this month a resolution backing the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran was passed by 165 congressmen from both main parties in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.
It was therefore a great surprise and disappointment for me when I saw that Reza Pahlavi had been invited Last weekend to the Munich Security Conference, as an assumed representative of the Iranian opposition. This was a huge mistake and another example of how we can so often get it wrong on Iran. Munich is developing a bit of a reputation for historic mistakes. Indeed, Reza Pahlavi organized a small group of protesters to meet outside the Munich Security Conference on Sunday and astonishingly, there, amongst the one or two placards being brandished by the monarchists, was a large photo of the infamous Parviz Sabeti, former head of SAVAK. Sabeti fled from Iran together with the deposed Shah during the 1979 revolution and now lives in America. Chillingly, the Farsi slogan on his placard proclaimed: “Nightmare of future terrorists.” Promoting the return of Sabeti is like endorsing the return of Heinrich Himmler. Needless to say, the mullahs have enjoyed exploiting this massive blunder.
As the theocratic regime attempts to crush all opposition during the current nationwide insurrection, I have focused in my book on the moral and geopolitical perils resulting from Western political circles who have remained steadfastly detached from the reality of Iran. It should not require intellectual gymnastics to see that Iran’s leaders have forfeited any pretence of a mandate to govern, when security forces are battering and firing upon young women and even schoolgirls demanding relief from tyranny in over 300 cities. My hope is that by exposing years of complacency and appeasement by the EU, UK, US and the UN, my book will send a clear message to western governments that the time has come to recognize the Iranian people’s struggle for regime change and to offer them unequivocal support. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past by discounting the real democratic opposition, the MEK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Threats, lies, warmongering, deploying terror gangs abroad and crushing dissent at home, are the hallmarks of this oppressive regime that massacred over 33,000 political prisoners, mostly supporters of the MEK, in 1988 alone. The courageous protesters and their Resistance Units, led from the start by extraordinary women, who risk their lives daily by demanding the overthrow of the mullahs, deserve the unequivocal backing of the West. The EU and UK must now follow America’s lead by blacklisting the IRGC and indicting Khamenei, Raisi, Rouhani, Zarif and the other tyrants, for human rights abuse and crimes against humanity. The time for weakness and appeasement is over. We should recall our ambassadors from Tehran and expel their diplomatic staff and agents from our territories. Only the overthrow of this tyrannical regime will avert a nuclear disaster and restore peace, justice and democracy to the Iranian people and the wider Middle East.