By: Firouzeh Afsharnia

Last night in Dar es Salaam — the electricity is out again. If I have to pick just one advantage to having a power outage, it is that the megaphone at the corner mosque is also out and the tone deaf mullah who has been wailing the praises of Allah in some unidentifiable key all month long and at all hours of day and night, can not interrupt the program on the TV which comes back on as the generator kicks in.

The 66th U.N. Generally Assembly is in session as the political congeniality pageant of 193 Heads of State make their ways up the podium taking turns to out brilliant each other. Some do it through substance, some through controversy, a few even via comic relief. On that third note, those of us who remember Mr. Ghaddafi’s incoherent ramblings last year, muttering and throwing his notes about up there, surely miss him. That just means Ahmadinejad had to perform for two this year which he obliged by delivering an abundance of largely recycled material from previous reruns, taking the snoozing half empty hall from the beginnings of humanity through slavery, colonialism and the Arab Spring; blaming the U.S. for everything since the time of hunter gatherers to today’s debt crisis, finally culminating with the brilliant conclusion that 9/11 was an inside job. Did no one tell this man that the people of the country hosting him just marked the 10th anniversary of this event with a thousand tears a few miles down the road? He did make some valid points however, among which was a show of support for Statehood for the Palestinian delegation, whose members were probably cringing by the time he was done. Do us a favor – don’t help!

To be fair, last year has been so saturated with disasters, both divine and man-made, that it is tempting to dish out blame, especially in light of the ongoing global economic crisis and the Middle East unrest – both of which beg to implicate the U.S. and the West. But it isn’t until Mr. Ouattara, the newly elected president of Cote D’Ivoire, takes the stand that one is reminded that away from the focus of the media, Africa is having one of its most challenging years with 27 countries going through some form of elections in 2011. Liberia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, DRC….the list goes on. If you think of U.S. politics as Reality TV, starring fluff-brained Tea Party activists, penis texting politicians and shameless special interest lobbyists; African politics can play more like a Hollywood action blockbuster — the slightest election mishap risking a spiral into mass murder, serial rape and humanitarian disasters.

Mr. Ouattara himself succeeded the presidency only after a military intervention by the U.N. and French special forces; the Kenyans have three senior officials on trial at the Hague as we speak, as for the Congo — Elections are still two months away and one of the aspiring opposition candidates is already sitting at the International Criminal Court – has been for the past two years – for crimes against humanity.

So forget Ahmadi. He is a has-been. The only reason he is still in the news is because he looks funny and his name occupies the same sentence as the words “nuclear” and “Islamic”. The real powers are the infinitely less colorful Ayatollah and his extended Mafia network. But they are nowhere as entertaining I agree.

I wonder instead how Africa will emerge after its series of elections this year. The power shortages are not an anomaly in Tanzania and East Africa. Climate change, rising cost of living, and endemic corruption are systematically eroding livelihoods, and the election season is presenting infinite chances to divert badly needed state resources to campaigning and politics instead.

As my plane descends into Kinshasa, I see the capital city of 8 million largely swallowed in darkness except for a few clusters of light here and there – an incredible sight given it lies along a river capable of supplying electricity to the whole continent.

President Kabila is out of the country giving his own speech at the General Assembly, touting his accomplishments and hoping repeated broadcast of his appearance in the mother of all institutions would boost him in the polls back home. There have already been violent clashes with the opposition and campaigning has barely begun. Meanwhile, the logistical preparations of the election is seriously behind schedule and if it lapses the current government loses legitimacy in a matter of days potentially opening a free for all.

It may be premature to hope for an African Spring for fear that the cultural weather patterns may not yet allow for it. But if you find yourself overwhelmed with the mess in the Northern Hemisphere, tune South this Autumn and keep your fingers crossed that Africa will survive the growing pains and at the very least it will emerge no worse off than it did a year ago. Considering the present odds, that would be an accomplishment in itself.                    ***

to improve human rights  in Iran

By: Dokhi Fassihian

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

On March 25, 2011 the UN voted to single out Iran as a nation deserving of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to monitor its suspected abuses.1 The appointment of the rapporteur is expected in June. He or she will be appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (Council) to monitor the human rights situation in Iran, and report back to the international body.

Almost two years after the Iranian government initiated a brutal crackdown against its people following the mass protests after the contested presidential elections of 2009, the Human Rights Council established the new post of an independent human rights expert to investigate and report on violations taking place inside the country. The initiative, led by the United States and Sweden, came after many months of intense advocacy by the human rights community, as well as Iranian advocacy organizations, which worked to overcome political challenges to finally achieve international action on Iran.

The UN mechanism is designed to exert international pressure on the Iranian government to improve its human rights record. While the mandate’s impact is not easily predictable in the short-tem, such enhanced international attention could lead to improvement in prison conditions, or the emergence of a national debate about the costs of continuing current abuses.2 By getting its own special rapporteur, Iran has joined a handful of governments deemed so highly abusive by the international community that the UN has decided to monitor their treatment of their citizens. Sudan, Burma, North Korea, and Somalia also have rapporteurs, which report to the UN on the abysmal human rights situations in those countries. Unlike the rapid move to set up UN investigations into the recent crises in Libya, Cote D’Ivoire, and Syria, the crisis which erupted in Iran in 2009 caught the world by surprise and found it paralyzed to respond.  A combination of factors, including negotiations over Iran’s controversial nuclear program and the state of the international human rights debate, caused a delayed reaction by the world.

In 2009, international attention was focused squarely on solving the nuclear dispute with Iran, which had ratcheted up dangerously during the Bush years.  With the United States already embroiled in two expensive wars, Obama began his presidency by de-escalation with Tehran. In a historic address in March 2009, Obama called for an end to three decades of enmity between the two nations and a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute. But what came after had simply not been predicted. Obama’s outreach fueled an already energetic Iranian electorate which campaigned vigorously  for the June presidential elections. But the decision by the incumbent to engineer fraudulent results unleashed months of street protests and developed into a major human rights crisis for which the world was unprepared.

On the international front, the human rights community was reeling from its most serious setback in years. The Bush Administration had boycotted the Human Rights Council since its creation in 2006, leaving the body prey for authoritarian regimes such as China, Cuba, and Egypt, which rallied other states to block action against abusive governments and erode human rights standards. Just weeks before the events in Iran, a May 2009 special session of the Human Rights Council had convened to address the massive human rights catastrophe unfolding in Sri Lanka. The session, a diplomatic effort of the European Union, was hijacked by allies of the Sri Lankan government, and instead of establishing an investigation into violations of international law, a competing resolution had been adopted praising the government’s policies, which in effect, had amounted to the indiscriminate killing of thousands of civilians in a rush to end the civil war.  Fearing a similar disaster with Iran, the world hit the pause button.

Among his first acts in office, Obama decided to join the Human Rights Council. He also signed an executive order banning torture and announced his intention to close Guantanamo Bay. Then, his administration began the grueling diplomatic work of repairing relations with allies and with the United Nations. The first human rights priority of the Obama Administration was not Iran, but protecting issues already on the international human rights agenda such as the threat to the human rights mandate on the Sudan, and combating an organized assault on freedom of expression by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Next, it worked to address emerging crises in smaller countries such as the coup in Honduras, the massacre in Guinea, and the violence in Kyrgyzstan.

The Iranian crisis eventually retreated from our television screens, but the repression continued beyond the world’s watchful eyes. Activism among the Iranian Diaspora was decentralized and largely driven through social media, without a clear policy focus.  In the initial weeks and months of the crackdown, “Green” movement supporters and sympathizers advised the United States government to keep its distance from the movement for fear of harming its legitimacy. However, as early as the summer of 2009, international human rights groups and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi were calling on the UN Secretary General to dispatch a special envoy to lran. The international community failed to respond adequately to the waves of state-sponsored violence and ongoing repression that gripped the country throughout 2009 and 2010.

By the end of 2009, human rights groups estimated that up to six thousand Iranians had been detained, hundreds tortured and raped, and dozens put on show trials and sentenced to lengthy prison terms and death. Few crises of such scale in recent years had been neglected by the world. Countries traditionally in the lead on human rights resisted calls to support concrete action on Iran despite the deepening crisis, and calls by Iranian organizations to include human rights on the P5+1 agenda were also unheeded.3  Significantly, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) passed the recurring annual resolution on the human rights situation in Iran that December, with significant improvement in the vote. But the resolution included no investigation, no reporting mechanism, and no diplomatic envoy.4

The Iranian people made a few more attempts at street protests in 2010 to demonstrate that they wanted human rights to become an international priority. The Iranian government responded with a terror campaign of killings, detentions, and executions. While the Obama Administration condemned the abuses, its political muscle was focused on building global pressure on Iran to convince it to give up its nuclear ambitions. Without strong institutions and a democratic opposition advancing the human rights agenda through concrete policy prescriptions at the international level, there was little hope that the democracy and human rights movement could successfully compete with the nuclear agenda. By June 2010, there was still no international action on the human rights situation in Iran despite a consensus that Iran represented the world’s worst human rights crisis in the course of that year.5  The United States, frustrated at the lack of progress on the nuclear front, pushed for a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions, but resisted growing pressure from rights groups to table a resolution at the Human Rights Council meeting that same month. Instead – with the help of Norway – the United States worked to build support for a cross-regional statement expressing solidarity with the Iranian people.

For the remainder of 2010, international and Iranian organizations intensified pressure on the Obama Administration to support the establishment of a UN reporting mechanism. Another resolution adopted by the 65th session of the UNGA was adopted by the highest margin of support in eight years and placed the issue on the agenda of the Council’s session in March.6  Significantly, by the end of the year, several Iran-focused nongovernmental organizations were pressing for the same policy — working separately but in tandem at the national, international, and grassroots levels:7 the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the National Iranian American Council, and United4Iran each called for the establishment of a U.N. human rights monitoring mechanism for the country. Efforts were made to elevate the voice of Iran’s embattled human rights defenders and opposition supporters. These strategies, along with Congressional pressure, bolstered by another failed round of nuclear talks in January, led to a decision by the Obama administration to move forward with a serious human rights initiative in March.

Enlisting the diplomatic commitment and leadership of the United States was indispensable to ultimately achieving the resolution, which was adopted by a Human Rights Council vote of 22 states in favor, 7 against, and 14 abstentions. The resolution, establishing the Council’s first country-specific rapporteur, was a seminal moment. Since its creation, and in the absence of the United States on the body, the Council had only eliminated country-specific rapporteurs it inherited from the UN Commission on Human Rights which it replaced. Building cross-regional support with the help of Sweden and other members of the European Union, and winning the support of other major regional players such as Brazil, Mexico, and South Korea –- were key in passing the historic resolution. More than just a major achievement for the Iranian human rights cause, the birth of a new country mandate was a critical step forward for the international human rights system.

The strong vote in favor of the resolution revealed a regime in disarray, with few friends on the global stage and fractured from within. Expectedly, but in a somewhat delayed reaction, Iranian officials blasted the United States, and the Human Rights Council for acting in a “selective” and “politicized” manner – common refrains of abusive regimes seeking to avoid scrutiny. Yet, more recently, the Head of Iran’s Human Rights Council, Mohammad Larijani, has stated that Iran is ready to cooperate with the special rapporteur, and in the same breath, expressed Iran’s concerns about the “professionalism” of UN experts – a common line of attack on independent  experts by abusive states. His comments provide us with a preview of the tactics Iranian officials may use to discredit the work of the yet to-be-appointed expert to justify their refusal to allow the rapporteur to visit.

In another move, Larijani recently announced plans to work with other states to develop an “Islamic Human Rights Charter,” providing a glimpse of how the Iranian government is preparing to resist pressure to change its laws and practices. In 1990, members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), including Iran, adopted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam presenting the Islamic perspective on human rights. The Declaration – citing Shari’a as its sole source – is widely criticized for being at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2007, OIC ministers announced plans to work on an Islamic Charter and even develop a permanent body to promote the “human rights” provisions of the Cairo Declaration. Iran’s re-introduction of this idea now signals a self-serving move to use “religion” as a shield.

Realistically, no one expects the Iranian government to cooperate immediately with the rapporteur. Such a mechanism is usually reserved for governments that have demonstrated a persistent record of non-cooperation with the international human rights system and hostility toward universal human rights standards.8  It is designed as an uncomfortable pressure point to force a behavioral change. The mechanism may not work quickly, and much of its effectiveness depends on the political will of Iranian authorities. But in the final analysis, Iran’s cooperation should be measured by how genuine its cooperation is with the international human right body – specifically, whether regular, unhindered visits by the rapporteur are allowed, if the government accepts the rapporteur’s independent findings, and most importantly, if it implements the rapporteur’s recommendations in a measurable way.

The Iranian human rights community should make the most of the new rapporteur by engaging with him or her, staying abreast of international negotiations surrounding the reporting and follow-up to the rapporteur’s recommendations, and defending the independence of the rapporteur against attacks by the Iranian government and its allies.  The Iranian human rights community should also reject any attempt by the Iranian government to prescribe a different set of standards for the Iranian people than the rights which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and companion international treaties. These critical tasks will require direct engagement by Iranian human rights advocates with governments around the world, including traditional leaders on human rights such as the United States and the European Union, but also emerging powers such as Brazil, South Africa, and India. Civil society organizations supporting the Iranian human rights community should work collaboratively in areas of common cause to increase policy impact. Iranian human rights defenders and democratic opposition groups must overcome two destructive narratives perpetuated by the Iranian regime that serve as strategic impediments to advancing their agenda: the “anti neo-imperialist” paradigm aimed at the United States and the “cultural relativist” narrative about Iranian society that rejects universal rights.

In the end, the new UN mechanism represents hard-won leverage by the international community to press for change. The mandate of the rapporteur will be subject to renewal every year, through an intergovernmental process of negotiations and voting in Geneva. The process of annual reporting provides opportunities for formal recommendations to be made to Iran on reforms it should implement, and stronger accountability mechanisms for violators if the human rights situation does not improve.  While the Human Rights Council is not able to compel Iran to uphold its international obligations, it can work in combination with bi-lateral and grass-roots efforts to persuade Iranian authorities to reform. The pressure exerted by the mechanism – and the prospect for an international investigation into possible violations of international law – provide incentives for Iran to consider the benefits of ending abuses.

Governments which supported the creation of the mandate should demand, as part of their regular bilateral relations with Iran, significant and tangible improvements to the human rights situation.  Before agreeing to discontinue the mandate, improvements should include the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the removal of restrictions on civil society and the media, and measurable progress on the rights of women and minorities. In addition, as a condition for discontinuing the mandate in the future, Iran should agree to host a national office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Tehran to provide assistance to Iranian authorities to implement legal reforms and ensure accountability for violations. Such an Office should continue to be in Iran until the government advances genuine democratic reforms and establishes a permanent National Human Rights Commission in line with the Paris Principles.


Dokhi Fassihian is the executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project in Washington, DC (www.demcoalition.org) and serves on the boards of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), United4Iran, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.            **


1. Countries that voted in favor of the resolution were Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Maldives, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Zambia. Countries that voted against the resolution were Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Mauritania, Pakistan, and Russian Federation. Countries abstaining or absent from the vote were Angola, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Uganda, and Uruguay.
2.  From 1984-2002, the UN Commission on Human Rights mandated a special representative on human rights for Iran. Toward the end of that period, the country saw modest improvement under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. The mandate was discontinued by a slim margin in 2002.
3.  In September 2009, the National Iranian American Council and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran each called for human rights to play an important role in diplomatic talks at the P5+1 meeting in October.
4.  The 64th UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran by a vote of 74 in favor, 49 against and 59 abstentions, reflecting the highest margin of support in four years. http://www.demcoalition.org/pdf/pdf/DCP%202009%20UNGA%20Final%20-%20April%2029%202010.pdf
5.  Between July 2009-June 2010, Iran ranked as the highest country of concern by states and NGOs at the UN Human Rights Council, Democracy Coalition Project Human Rights Council Report Card 2009-2010, pg 11. http://www.demcoalition.org/pdf/pdf/DCP%202009-2010%20HRC%20Report.pdf
6.  The 65th UNGA adopts a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran by a vote of 78 in favor, 45 against, and 59 abstentions, reflecting the highest margin of support in eight years. http://www.demcoalition.org/pdf/pdf/DCP%2065th%20Session%20UNGA%20Scorecard.pdf
7.  The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the National Iranian American Council, and United4Iran each called for the establishment of a UN human rights monitoring mechanism for Iran.
8.  Although Iran has officially issued a standing invitation to all UN special procedures, it has not actually granted any requests to visit since 2005. Iranian officials regularly cite Iran’s “religion” and “culture” as prescribing a different set of values than those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.



By: Karim Sajadpour

Forward for Rahavard: I never met Alireza Pahlavi personally, and do not come from a family of monarchists, but I was overcome with sadness when I heard the news that he had taken his own life. For days I could not think of anything or anyone else. There were so many questions I wish I could have asked him. Didn’t he want to remain alive to witness Iran’s struggle for democracy?  Didn’t he want to remain alive to help in that struggle?   I had not planned on writing anything about Alireza’s death, but I felt compelled to do so only after reading several obituaries that seemed devoid of any empathy or understanding of the lingering trauma felt by so many Iranians, both within Iran and abroad, even three decades after the revolution. More than just the story of one individual’s sorrow, for me Alireza’s demise was a symbol for the collective sorrow of an ancient people.    

Many exiled Iranians have come to embrace the philosophy of Iranian-American author Roya Hakkakian, who wrote that “countries are highly overrated….it is human beings and your humanity that roots you more than geography itself.”  For Alireza, the weight of his depression rendered such sentiments insufficient. He wished to be reunited with the Caspian Sea. In his death we mourn an era, while waiting anxiously for another to dawn.  

1973: The Shah of Iran (1919 - 1980) with his third wife Farah Diba and their children, Prince Reza, Prince Ali Reza and the two younger children, Princess Farahnaz and Princess Leila. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Iranians, it was once said, are afflicted by a unique strain of melancholy: Those who live in Iran dream of leaving, while those who were exiled dream of going back.

When 44-year-old Alireza Pahlavi, the youngest son of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, took his life on Tuesday January 4, 2011, it was undeniably attributable in part to a demoralizing malady, chronic depression, which he may have inherited from his father. But it was also an undeniable aftershock of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, whose reverberations are still being felt today.

A country like Iran that has repeatedly been subjected to public heartbreak over the last few decades — most notably the loss of over 200,000 native sons in the ruinous eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — naturally confronts the self-inflicted death of a child of privilege with mixed feelings. As is often the case, however, Alireza Pahlavi’s great privileges were coupled with equally profound misfortune. Until he was 12, he had experienced a fairy-tale childhood as a scion of one of the world’s richest and most powerful monarchs. By 13, he had abruptly fled his homeland and experienced the painful and public humiliation of his family’s legacy, as well as the death of his father from cancer.

Later, he would lose the person closest to him when his younger sister Leila, age 31, killed herself in a London hotel room in 2001. For those, like myself, who were born outside Iran or left at a very young age, the term “exiles” was never an appropriate fit. We were second-generation immigrants, and we took it for granted that we would adopt new cultures and languages. We had few if any memories of or claims over what had been lost, only romanticized stories from elders about the verdant Caspian Sea region (shomal), the majestic Alborz Mountains, and the luscious Persian lamb whose fat was miraculously concentrated in the tail — the original “junk in the trunk.”

Alireza’s generation of uprooted Iranians — young adolescents at the time of the revolution — were often affected more profoundly than those who were too young to remember, or old enough to cope. Three decades later, many still struggle to find their bearings. They negotiate what Brazilians would refer to as saudade, a deep longing for something that is unattainable. Their lack of rootedness has often prevented them from forging stable emotional relationships and fulfilling their professional potential. I sometimes wondered why Alireza, a serious student who had cut short his Ph.D. studies at Harvard in ancient Iranian studies, remained silent all these years. Although the Pahlavi family’s experience as exiles was no doubt softened by significant (though significantly exaggerated) wealth, it was made more difficult by the scorn of many of their exiled compatriots who held them partially if not entirely accountable for their collective plight.

Consumed with his own demons, Alireza perhaps concluded that he had been dealt a hand that he could not win. If he remained on the sidelines he would be excoriated by some for not speaking out. And if he became active and outspoken, others would excoriate him for having Ahmed Chalabi-like aspirations, as they have his older brother Reza. So he chose to remain in his Boston home, surrounded by his books, with the shades always pulled down.

As a student of history, Alireza was perhaps puzzled by the discipline’s relationship to his father. While Hafez al-Assad, the ruthless Syrian dictator who massacred some 20,000 civilians in the city of Hama in 1982, is most commonly remembered as a “shrewd tactician,” it has become impossible to maintain intellectual credibility while writing about the Pahlavi era without referring to the Shah as a “blood-soaked,” “imperialist puppet.” (It is one of the brutal realities of power and statecraft that today Assad’s son Bashar, president of Syria, is feted by visiting U.S. politicians and analysts extolling his shrewdness and moderation, while Alireza’s obituary writers render him the forgotten son of a two-bit dictator.)

Meanwhile, longtime inhabitants of the Islamic Republic have developed a more nuanced take on their recent past. Of course, Iranians acknowledge that the rampant corruption and political repression that was endemic in Pahlavi’s Iran sowed the seeds of its own demise. Still, a former senior Islamic Republic Foreign Ministry official, an ambassador in Asia and Europe, once confided to me over dinner in Paris that as “naive” young revolutionaries, he and his friends had grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to govern Iran and satisfy its fickle population. “We didn’t appreciate at the time,” I was surprised to hear him say, “the enormous challenges the Shah had to deal with.”

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent revolutionary activist and one of the key strategists of the reform movement, recently said that before the revolution, Iranians enjoyed all types of freedoms save for political freedom, which the revolution was supposed to rectify. After the revolution, not only did they not attain political freedom, but they lost other freedoms in the process.

There is no doubt that in its 32 years, the Islamic Republic has made significant forward progress, most notably in rural development and female education (in part because after the revolution traditional families were more apt to send their children to newly gender-segregated schools).
But those statistics are rendered meaningless by an observation evident to those who have spent long periods in today’s Islamic Republic: Iran’s younger generations are desperate to leave their homeland. Even if they manage to leave, however, Iran — or perhaps the myth of an idealized Iran that never actually existed — rarely leaves them.

Any culture that, like Iran, manages to sustain itself over several millennia, emerging whole from countless invasions, engenders powerful attachments among its claimants. In a 2001 poll conducted by the World Values Survey, Iranians ranked No. 1 in the world when it came to nationalism, with 92 percent of Iranians claiming they are “very proud” of their nationality (for point of comparison, 72 percent of Americans and less than 50 percent of the British and French felt “very proud”). It is precisely this national pride and sense of civilization inheritance that renders Iran’s current reality so distressing to many people. Two-thousand, five hundred years ago there was a grand Persian Empire led by a magnanimous ruler, Cyrus the Great, who was thought to have authored the world’s first bill of human rights. Today there is a theocracy that makes headlines when its rulers sentence women to be stoned to death for adultery or question the veracity of the Holocaust.

Some amateur observers of Iran have confused Alireza Pahlavi’s death as a loss lamented only by “a handful of monarchists living a gilded lifestyle in Los Angeles,” as the cliché goes. The reality is a bit more complex. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, spent several years in prison in the 1970s for revolting against the Shah and experienced such horrific torture that he has difficulty walking without pain today. He told me that he has been so overcome with sadness after the death of Alireza Pahlavi that he cannot sleep. Others who were staunch supporters of deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, including my own father, feel the same. But why?

Perhaps his death represents nostalgia for a time in which Iran’s name wasn’t synonymous with terrorism and religious intolerance, a time in which Iranians could get visas to visit foreign countries and would not be fingerprinted upon entering them, a time when Iranian scholars were peppered with questions about Omar Khayyam and Ferdowsi, rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and enriched uranium.   When historians look back at Iran a century from now, they may well conclude that the 1979 Islamic revolution and its aftermath were a painful but necessary step in the country’s political maturation. Whereas elsewhere in the Middle East radical political Islam is still romanticized, Iranians have learned the hard way the perils of joining mosque and state.

This is of little consolation to those Iranians who live in the here and now, and long to be reconnected with the homeland they once knew. They have no aspirations to be gilded monarchists or imperialist lackeys or agents of the CIA. They are merely expressing their natural longing to reconnect once again with the ancient culture of the land in which they were born. With his suicide, Alireza Pahlavi offered a sobering reminder that those hopes are, for the moment, a distant dream.  His final wish was that his ashes be scattered in the Caspian Sea.


Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment (carnegieendowment.org). He joined Carnegie after four years as the chief Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group based in Washington and Tehran, where he conducted dozens of interviews with senior Iranian officials, and hundreds with Iranian intellectuals, clerics, dissidents, para militaries, businessmen, students, activists, and youth, among others.

He is a regular contributor to BBC TV and radio, CNN, National Public Radio, PBS News Hour, and Al-Jazeera, and has appeared on the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Fox News Sunday, and the Colbert Report, among others. He contributes regularly to publications such as the Economist, Washington Post, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and Foreign Policy.

Frequently called upon to brief U.S., EU, and Asian officials about Middle Eastern affairs, he regularly testifies before Congress, has lectured at Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford Universities, and has been the recipient of numerous academic awards, including a Fulbright scholarship.

In 2007 Sadjadpour was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos.  


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