Iran celebrated the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Saturday, with mass rallies held in towns and cities across the country, including the capital Tehran, where participants converged at the iconic Azadi Square. According to state media, millions of Iranians nationwide took part in the state-sponsored commemoration.
Yet despite the positive nature of the annual event, a slew of predictable articles and opinions about the apparent imminent toppling of the "mullah regime" appeared, as they have done for the past four decades. Such notions have become more frequent and vocal since the protest movements rocked the country in response to the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody last year, re-energising calls for regime change, particularly among the Western-based, secular Iranian diaspora.
While Iran marked the revolution, which brought about the theocracy and ended over two-and-a-half thousand years of monarchic rule, several cities in the West hosted counter-rallies, with calls for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Notably, a large demonstration was held in Los Angeles, which is nicknamed "Tehrangeles" because of its large Iranian American community. Tens of thousands marched in protest against the Iranian government, culminating in a rally on the steps of City Hall where an address was made by exiled Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled the country in 1979, never to return.
The day before, other key opposition figures held a joint forum in Washington DC, in an effort to launch a unified campaign representing the disparate opposition movement. This includes monarchists, pro-democracy activists and members of the banned Mojahedin-e-Khalq group (MEK), which is no longer listed as a terrorist organisation by the US.
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Despite the fact that many Iranians, including those opposed to the theocratic government, are not necessarily monarchists due to the repressive rule of the Shah which sparked the revolution in the first place, Reza Pahlavi has often been portrayed as the unofficial leader of the pro-democratic Iranian opposition. One recent article by Australia's ABC News, however, has questioned whether the 62-year-old has what it takes to effectively lead the movement and "free the country".
"Pahlavi has consistently said he does not seek a role as a future leader of Iran, and whether Iran's people chose a republic or monarchy to replace the mullahs is their choice," commented the media outlet. "However, he does want the Iranian people to endorse him to help overthrow the Islamic Republic and lead the transition towards a secular democracy."
As it stands, and as with most cases where there are several diverse political and ethnic groups under one loose umbrella body, they are only united in so far as they are all opposed to the Islamic Republic, and they lack an overall coherent vision for the future of Iran. First, though, they would have to overthrow the government and then the system, which is protected by several ideologically-committed and driven layers.
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Pre-revolutionary Iran under Shah Pahlavi was a pro-Western state and also supportive of Israel, which at the time was surrounded by hostile Arab states. Crucially, Iran became Israel's main oil supplier and was also one of the biggest buyers of Israeli arms. This changed as the religious opposition became more vocal against Tehran's alignment with the Zionist state.
Over the years, the Shah's former "Crown Prince" Reza Pahlavi has been very open about his desire for a secular, democratic Iran to normalise ties with Israel again. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in October last year, Pahlavi claimed that, "Once this regime falls, its anti-Semitism and hatred for the state of Israel will also fall. Iran will seek economic, cultural and other ties with Israel as we will with all nations who seek relations with us based on goodwill and mutual interest." He insisted that a "free Iran" would never "seek nuclear weapons, as we would not need them."
#Iranian exile puppets in the #USA , led by the former Shah's son @PahlaviReza , want renewed relations with #ApartheidIsrael. One of many reason why the people of #Iran will never have them back. pic.twitter.com/Dly1fNLqRh
— tim anderson (@timand2037) February 11, 2023
Most recently, on Saturday Pahlavi told Saudi-sponsored Iran International of the importance of re-establishing ties with Tel Aviv, noting that Iran is in need of Israeli specialists in water and air pollution. This was welcomed by Israeli propagandist Emily Schrader who tweeted: "After the fall of the Islamic regime, Israel and Iran will return to a deep and loyal friendship."
Presupposing the Islamic Republic were to be replaced with another non-independent, Western-aligned state in the Middle East, such a development would be met with the approval of many in the region who oppose Iran on political, sectarian or ethnic grounds, particularly Saudi Arabia. However, this would be disastrous for the resistance against Zionism, notably among the Palestinian factions who have been receiving support from Tehran for decades, as well as by Lebanon's Hezbollah, given the persistent threat of the Zionist state on Lebanon's southern border.
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The increasingly volatile situation in the occupied-West Bank has prompted local resistance factions there to take a more proactive stance, while supplying arms and training to the occupied Palestinian territories has long been an Iranian objective, having successfully done so with the Gaza Strip. It was through armed resistance that Southern Lebanon was liberated and has served as an inspiration for those still living under Israeli occupation.
According to the 2023 Global Fire Power index, Iran is ranked as the third most powerful military in the Middle East North Africa region, ahead of Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Turkiye topping the list followed by Egypt. It is worth noting that Ankara and Cairo have long-established diplomatic relations with Israel and there is growing speculation that Riyadh may follow in the wake of fellow Gulf states the UAE and Bahrain. Thus, from a strategic perspective, were Iran to ever transition into Pahlavi's idealised democracy with its resumed relations with Israel, it would mark the end of any significant state-support to Palestinian national liberation and the region's bulwark against Zionism and, by extension, Western imperialism.
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Pahlavi appeared on Italian broadcaster Channel 5 in January and outlined three main foreign policy objectives for a post-Islamic Republic Iran: distancing itself from Russia; making peace with Israel; and abandoning its nuclear programme, which is widely presumed to be to enhance Iran's deterrence capabilities. On the face of it, such a strategy is destined to set the country back, after decades of hard-won independence and sovereignty, which followed an even longer period of humiliation and subjugation by imperial powers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Tehran's own "Pivot to the East" policy is indicative of its recognition of the multipolar order and re-alignment in the global balance of power. It has also learnt from the fate of nations who gave up their deterrence programmes, irrespective of whether they embraced or resisted the West.
Finally, if a post-Islamic Republic of Iran normalised relations with Israel, it would empower and enable the apartheid state's settler-colonisation of occupied Palestine, which has proven to be a source of instability for the wider region. Unfortunately for the Pahlavi supporters and other oppositionists, though, the Islamic Republic isn't showing any signs of terminal decline, despite the sanctions and social unrest. Nevertheless, we can expect to see many more hopeful headlines in years to come anticipating the "Beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.