WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The growing street protests over Iran’s disputed presidential election mark the biggest threat to its ruling clerics since they took power in 1979 with the U.S.-backed shah’s fall, the shah’s son said on Tuesday.
Reza Pahlavi, the former crown prince of Iran who now lives in the United States, said the protests almost have reached the level of a revolution that could usher in major reforms.
“It is clear that the genie is out of the bottle,” Pahlavi, 48, said in an interview with Reuters Television.
But he declined to predict whether the end result would be the toppling of the political leadership of Shi’ite Muslim clerics installed after his father lost power.
“Today, the people are, in reality, challenging the whole system,” added Pahlavi, who describes himself as an advocate for democracy and human rights in Iran.
He said he does not believe the protests are only over the disputed election, but reflect a widespread desire for reform and more freedoms three decades after the revolution.
Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate, Mirhossein Mousavi, have taken to the streets to dispute the outcome of last week’s election in which hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the runaway winner. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei favored Ahmadinejad.
“Today, especially the younger generation has had it. They are risking their lives in the streets of Iran to demonstrate to the regime that they are not going to take it any more. But (they are) also telling the whole world, ‘Hey, what are you going to do? Are you going to finally side with us, or are you continuing to focus only on the regime?’” he added.
‘A DUAL-TRACK APPROACH’
U.S. President Barack Obama came into office this year offering a fresh start in relations with Iran and a new dialogue. Relations remain blighted by differences over Iran’s nuclear program, Iraq, Israel and other issues.
“I am not saying to President Obama or other leaders of this world, ‘Don’t have a dialogue with the regime.’ All I am suggesting is that you should have today a dual-track approach — talk to the mullahs all you want, but talk to the Iranian people as well,” Pahlavi said.
His father, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled Iran in 1979 in the face of increasingly violent protests against his rule, with cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini then returning from exile to take power. The shah died in exile in Egypt in 1980.
The American-educated Pahlavi has lived in the United States since 1984 after previously living in Morocco and Egypt following the 1979 Iranian revolution.
The United States in 1953 restored his father to power in Iran as the CIA and British agents orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh.
Asked if he aspired to return to Iran as shah and restore the monarchy, Pahlavi said it would be premature to answer.
“The only thing that I’m concerned with — which is my agenda, my political agenda — is to end up with a secular parliamentary, democratic system,” Pahlavi said.
Such a system could take the form of a parliamentary monarchy such as in Sweden or Japan, he said. “I’m not fighting for any job right now. This is not about me,” Pahlavi added.