In recent rallies and conferences, including in Paris, Berlin, London, Belgium, Oslo, Rome, Washington, DC and Toronto, Iranian expatriates and associated organizations have called on the European Union and its 27 members to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, better known by its acronym the IRGC, as a terrorist organization, viewing it as the first step towards supporting the push for Iranian democracy.
The Iranian Diaspora has also documented the criminal legacy of the late Shah’s regime, opposing a reputation management campaign by his son, Reza Pahlavi, whose attempts to make a name for himself have been met with an intense backlash from Iranians seeking a democratic alternative to the existing theocratic system and the former monarchy. Reza’s attempts to muster a semblance of legitimacy by bringing along a few individuals, including a couple of celebrities, have gained little traction, if any.
Scottish former Member of the European Parliament, Struan Stevenson, has reached the same conclusion in his book “Dictatorship and Revolution: Iran – A Contemporary History,” stating that both the monarchy and the theocratic dictatorship deny universal human rights, consider the people to be immature and in need of guardians, and derive their legitimacy from sources other than the ballot box and democratic rule of law.
Both have committed gross violations of human rights such as arbitrary detentions, summary trials, cruel and inhuman punishment, torture, and political executions. Each of the two have effectively instituted one-party rule, denied pluralism, suppressed many segments of society, denied freedom of speech or association, prohibited a free press, and disenfranchised citizens.
This sentiment has reportedly been expressed in chants that have grown very familiar all across the Islamic Republic since the start of its current uprising in mid-September when massive protests broke out over the death in custody of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini. Those protests quickly evolved into calls to overthrow the clerical regime.
The protesters’ slogans “death to the dictator” and “death to (all) oppressors, whether the Shah or the Leader” reflect a rejection of both the current and former regimes and a push for a secular, democratic, and representative republic that respects human rights and the rights of women and minorities.
Reza Pahlavi has attempted to portray his family’s legacy as having greater respect for women’s rights. However, his father’s sexist remarks about women paint a different picture: “In a man’s life, women count only if they’re beautiful and graceful and know how to stay feminine,” the Shah said in a 1973 interview with journalist Oriana Fallaci.
Stevenson’s book argues that the two regimes were responsible for two different flavors of women’s repression. The Shah’s regime “systematically decimated Iranian intellectuals and free thinkers and restricted the development of the free market through his cronies among landowners and rich beholden families.”
In 1975, the year he ordered the dissolution of all political parties apart from his own, there were estimated to be between 25,000 and 100,000 political prisoners in Iran, with the country securing the world’s highest rate of death penalties, a record it maintains to this day under the mullahs.
Despite the younger Pahlavi’s claims, Iranians are right to cast doubt on his credibility, especially since he has refused to address his family’s dark legacy, much less disavow it in public comments at events such as the Munich Security Conference. The EU and Western democracies must stand with the Iranian people and their democratic opposition in their quest for a secular, democratic, and non-nuclear republic. As Iranian expatriate organizations and activists have pointed out, designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization would be a crucial first step in supporting this cause.
The current protests in Iran, which reject both the current and former regimes and demand human rights and democracy, represent the greatest challenge to the clerical regime since the 1979 revolution, according to many Iran observers and international media outlets. In this light, it is imperative that the international community not only recognize the people’s struggle but also actively support it. Doing so can help usher in a new era of progress and prosperity for the Iranian people, which is not only morally right but also in the interest of regional stability and international security.