Himdad Mustafa/MEMRI: The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The Multinational Iran/حمداد مصطفى: الملكيون الإيرانيون لا يمثلون إيران المتعددة الجنسيات/Matthew Levitt/The Washington Institute: The EU Can and Should Designate the IRGC as a Terrorist Group/ماثيو ليفيت: بإمكان الإتحاد الأوروبي وينبغي عليه تصنيف الحرس الثوري الإيراني كمجموعة إرهابية


حمداد مصطفى/موقع ممري: الملكيون الإيرانيون لا يمثلون إيران المتعددة الجنسيات
The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The ‘Multinational Iran’
Himdad Mustafa/MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452/January 31/2023

ماثيو ليفيت/معهد واشنطن: بإمكان الإتحاد الأوروبي وينبغي عليه تصنيف الحرس الثوري الإيراني كمجموعة إرهابية
The EU Can, and Should, Designate the IRGC as a Terrorist Group
Matthew Levitt/The Washington Institute/January 31/2023
Legitimate policy debates aside, and contrary to recent statements by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Europe has more than enough legal authority and evidence to designate the organization.
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure calling for the European Union to designate the IRGC, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a terrorist organization on Jan. 18. The vote was 598 to 9, with 31 absentees. Just the previous day, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos and publicly backed the idea of an EU designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization. But when EU foreign ministers met in Brussels just a few days later to discuss the issue, they opted to add more individual names to the bloc’s list of people sanctioned for human rights abuses rather than to list the IRGC as a terrorist group.
The reason, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, is that such a designation first requires a decision by a European court. “It is something that cannot be decided without a Court. A Court decision [is needed] first. You cannot say: ‘I consider you a terrorist because I do not like you.’ It has to be [done] when a Court of one [of the EU] Member States issues a legal statement, a concrete condemnation. And then we work at the European level, but it has to be first a Court decision.”
This, however, is not the case. There is no shortage of evidence—all admissible under the rules underpinning the EU terrorist designation process—to support designating the IRGC as a terrorist group.
The EU’s Designation Process Explained
The EU’s legal basis for designating a terrorist group is Common Position 931, or CP 931, created in 2001 as a means of implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, which requires member states to implement measures to “prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts.” Under Resolution 1373, states are called upon to criminalize terror financing, freeze the funds or other assets of those who commit or facilitate terrorist acts “without delay,” and prevent those engaged in such activities from using one state’s territory to “finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts against other states or their citizens.”
Under CP 931, any person, group, or entity involved in terrorist acts can be designated “when a decision has been taken by a competent authority in respect of the person, group or entity concerned.” Such a “decision,” the EU’s fact sheet on CP 931 explains, could be the instigation of an investigation or prosecution for either a terrorist act or even just an attempt to carry out or facilitate such an act “based on serious and credible evidence or clues.” The fact sheet adds that designations can also be based on “condemnation for such deeds,” even without a conviction. The “EU Terrorist List” policy document on the European Council’s website notes that a terrorist designation must be based on “precise information indicating that a decision has been made by a judicial or equivalent competent authority” concerning the initiation of an investigation, the prosecution of a terrorist for an attempt to carry out or facilitate such an act, or the conviction for any of those actions.
In other words, an EU designation can be based on a court conviction or even a condemnation by a court, but a court decision is not a necessary condition for designation. CP 931 states that a judicial authority or “an equivalent competent authority” can issue such a decision. Moreover, even just the initiation of an investigation could suffice to support a designation, and these would be carried out by police or other investigative authorities, prosecutors, national designating authorities, or others.
Moreover, contrary to Borrell’s statement, CP 931 specifically notes that a proposed terrorist listing can be made on the basis of third-party information, not just EU member state information: “Persons groups and entities can be added to the list on the basis of proposals submitted by member states based on a decision by a competent authority of a member state or a third country.” In fact, when listings are made on the basis of information from a non-EU member state, it is specifically the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy—that is, Josep Borrell—who is supposed to initiate the designation proposal, according to CP 931 guidelines.
As several European officials have recently noted, the European Court of Justice specifically clarified that investigations or convictions from outside the EU can also be used to justify adding a group to the EU’s terror list. On this basis, investigations and prosecutions—and in some cases designations by other countries or multilateral bodies—could qualify as well. The U.S. Justice Department has conducted such investigations that could help build the basis for EU designation, as I discuss below.
At the end of the day, while a proposal to designate an entity is made to the European Council, the final decision is up to the 27 EU member states, which must vote unanimously in favor of adopting a designation. (Unanimity is the voting rule with the European Council on all foreign policy matters, whereas other matters, like trade policy, require only a qualified majority.) In practice, the European Council is reluctant to initiate any processes requiring unanimous agreement if it is not certain that all member states are willing to discuss it. In other words, the absence of a debate over something like designating the IRGC as a terrorist group is itself a symptom of the lack of unity among member states on the issue.
Evidentiary Basis for Designating the IRGC
In addition to there being no structural impediments to designating the IRGC as a terrorist group, there is significant evidentiary basis for such a designation under the common position. CP 931 defines “terrorist acts” and offers a list of examples, such as “attacks upon a person’s life which may cause death,” kidnapping or hostage taking, the “manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport, support or use” of weapons or explosives, and participating in the activities of a terrorist group. To be considered terrorist acts, they must be carried out with the aim of “seriously intimidating a population” or “unduly compelling a government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act.” A terrorist act could even be one aimed at “seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures” of a country or an international organization.
By any measure, the IRGC is actively engaged in exactly these types of activities, both in Europe and beyond. According to a data set maintained by this author of Iranian foreign operations (including assassination, abduction, and surveillance plots), over just the past five years Iran has instigated at least 33 plots in Europe. These include plots in EU member states like Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Other plots elsewhere in Europe occurred in Albania, Sweden, and the U.K. In each of these cases, investigations have been opened, and in many cases judicial authorities are engaged in active prosecutions targeting IRGC and other Iranian operatives. Consider, for example, the assassination plot targeting Bernard-Henri Levy in France; the plot targeting an Iranian dissident rally in Paris in 2018; plots surveilling and targeting Iranian dissidents in Albania, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, and the U.K.; and attacks on German synagogues in North Rhine-Westphalia. According to a recent report issued by Austria’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, Iranian intelligence services—including the IRGC’s intelligence organization and its Quds Force—have spread in the country.
Beyond Europe, the latest evidence of Iranian terrorist plotting abroad came out last Friday, when senior U.S. officials gathered for a press conference to reveal the indictment and arrest of three criminals charged with the attempted murder-for-hire of an American-Iranian journalist in New York. The three were part of an organized criminal organization based in Eastern Europe with ties to Iran. The leader of the group, who was based in Iran, was enlisted by Iranian agents in 2022 to assassinate the victim in the United States. Speaking at the press conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray underscored that this was an Iranian terrorist plot: “The conduct charged shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil.”
In August, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted IRGC personnel behind assassination plots targeting former senior U.S. government officials in the United States, among others. In 2019, two Iranian operatives pleaded guilty to charges stemming from their surveillance activities targeting Iranian dissidents and Jewish targets in the United States. More recently, the IRGC agreed to pay an assassin $300,000 to kill John Bolton and offered $1 million for the assassination of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to the FBI affidavit underpinning the Department of Justice criminal complaint against IRGC officer Shahram Poursafi. Poursafi is wanted by the FBI and is accused of the precise crimes the EU considers terrorist acts, including murder-for-hire and attempting to provide support for terrorist acts. In other cases, U.S. officials indicted four Iranian operatives on kidnapping charges after they plotted to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an American citizen of Iranian descent, from New York and forcibly remove her to Iran, via Venezuela, “where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York put it. According to U.S. authorities, the Iranian official behind this plot directs a broader network of Iranian operatives actively targeting victims in other countries, including Canada, the U.K., and the United Arab Emirates. Several months later, police arrested a man with a loaded assault rifle near Alinejad’s home. Moments earlier, he stood on her front porch taking photos or video with his phone, footage of which was captured on her door camera. This man, along with two others, are the defendants charged with murder-for-hire last Friday.
Both in the U.K. and Canada, law enforcement officials have reached out to members of the Iranian expatriate community warning them that Iranian agents may try to target them. Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents have warned Canadian citizens of Iranian descent that “Iran had developed a list of people living abroad whom it deemed a threat to the regime” and encouraged them to take precautions. The British government filed an Interpol notice stating that IRGC operatives were involved in planning “lethal operations against Iranian dissidents in the UK in 2020.” According to the head of Britain’s MI5 security service, there were at least 10 Iranian kidnap or assassination plots targeting British or U.K.-based persons from January to November 2022. In other words, there is no shortage of European and other credible investigations, prosecutions, and even convictions related to IRGC terrorism around the world and in Europe.
Not all national administrative designations, however, would qualify as a “judicial or equivalent competent authority” based on recent legal precedent. A Nov. 30, 2022, judgment issued by the Court of First Instance of the European Court of Justice in PKK v. Council of the EU ruled that U.S. administrative designation decisions are not admissible because they do not sufficiently guarantee the applicant’s rights of defense. This means that the EU could not rely on the 2019 U.S. designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group. However, the ruling did allow for the use of actions taken by administrative (as opposed to judicial) authorities when they are “vested in national law” with restrictive powers such as designations, noting the applicability of the U.K. home secretary as a “competent authority.” It remains an open question whether the EU could rely on Canada’s 2012 designation of the IRGC’s Quds Force, its 2022 announcement listing the IRGC as inadmissible to Canada for engaging in terrorism and human rights abuses, or the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini decisions to list the IRGC as a terrorist group.
The EU should be able to rely on its own designation decisions targeting the IRGC for terrorism-related activities, such as the 2020 measure targeting Iran for its activities in Syria. That measure included Iran’s Quds Force, which the EU defined as “a specialist arm of the IRGC.” That designation noted that the IRGC’s Quds Force helps the Syrian regime terrorize its own people. The EU has a long record of designating IRGC officials, in part to prevent terrorist financing. A 2012 EU measure specifically highlighted the IRGC Quds Force as being “responsible for operations outside Iran” and as Tehran’s principal tool “for special operations and support to terrorist groups.”
Benefits of Designating the IRGC
An EU designation would make it a criminal offense to belong to the IRGC, support the group, attend its meetings, or display its logo in public. Beyond criminalizing such activities, an EU designation would subject the IRGC to “enhanced measures relating to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters” and make any funds the group maintains in Europe subject to an asset freeze. In addition, no funds or economic resources could be made available to any part of the group, directly or indirectly. The resolution adopted by the European Parliament also called for an expansion of travel sanctions to target all Iranian leadership.
Designating the IRGC would do more than just serve as a messaging campaign. Iran engages in activities the EU defines as “terrorist acts”—even at times of sensitive negotiations and even when it may be exposed as the culprit—because Iranian officials believe they can do so at little to no cost. As evidenced by its continuous pursuit of violent activity, Iran assesses the potential benefits of such actions to be high, whereas the costs of getting caught are low. If the EU were to seriously hold Iran to account for the acts of terrorism it has been carrying out over recent years and months, both in Europe and beyond, Iranian leaders would be forced to reconsider their cost-benefit analysis and the utility of such aggressive and malign policies as plotting to murder and abduct people on the streets of Europe.
The IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organization only on the basis of the terrorist activities it carries out and the material support it provides to its terrorist proxies. Iran’s grave human rights abuses and provision of drones used by Russia to target Ukraine are better addressed using sanctions authorities specific to human rights or other applicable violations.
And there are serious issues to debate when it comes to such a designation. As the EU debates designating the IRGC, a parallel discussion has been taking place in the U.K., which, while no longer an EU member state, plans to proscribe the IRGC on terrorism grounds after debate in the U.K. Parliament also demonstrated broad, cross-party support for proscribing the IRGC. In the U.K., other policy issues came up for debate, such as whether such an action would undermine existing U.K. sanctions authorities. The U.K. government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation posted a legal note cautioning against proscribing the IRGC for technical legal rather than policy reasons. In the end, it appears the U.K. government will nonetheless designate the IRGC.
Some may not want to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization for fear of Iranian retaliatory sanctions or in the interest of keeping open prospects for renewed negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal. Those are legitimate policy debates. But as a matter of legal standards, the EU has more than enough authority and admissible evidence to designate the IRGC.
EU foreign policy chief Borrell is not wrong when he says that the EU cannot designate the IRGC just on the basis of not liking the organization. But he is patently wrong when he asserts that a designation cannot take place until a court in an EU member state issues a judicial ruling against the group. There is ample evidence admissible within the CP 931 framework of the IRGC engaging in what the EU defines as “terrorist acts,” both in Europe and around the world.
*Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute. This article was originally published on the Lawfare website.

حمداد مصطفى/موقع ممري : الملكيون الإيرانيون لا يمثلون ‘إيران المتعددة الجنسيات’
The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The ‘Multinational Iran’
Himdad Mustafa/MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452/January 31/2023
Most of the opposition figures and groups want a new democratic republic to replace the authoritarian Islamic Republic. However, it recently made the news that a Persian-led group nostalgic for Iranian monarchy is endorsing exiled Reza Pahlavi, son of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, to “lead a transition” when the Islamic Republic falls. It was also reported that an online campaign was launched to give power of attorney to Reza Pahlavi, who has not yet apologized for the violation of human rights under the cruel Pahlavi dictatorship (1925-1979).
This move was highly criticized, especially by Iran’s minorities. In fact, many Iranians do not think that Reza Pahlavi, the son of a dictator, is the right person to lead a “transition.” He was only 18 years old when he left Iran in 1979 and lived most of his life in the United States. He therefore has no experience ruling a country. Nevertheless, Iranian monarchists seem to insist that Reza Pahlavi is Iran’s sole representative and that monarchy is the only political system that should replace the Islamic Republic. This attitude makes many people believe that the “transitional period” is just a euphemism for “forever period,” just as Ruhollah Khomeini was supposed to be a “temporary” Supreme leader.
The Essence Of “Iranianness”
Qajar Iran, which preceded the Pahlavi dynasty, was made up of loosely connected mamalek (i.e., kingdoms) with a great degree of political-economic independence from the central government in Tehran. This was evident in the the Qajar Empire’s official name: Mamâlek-e Mahruse-ye Irân (“the Guarded Domains of Iran”). The central power was not able to exercise its authority over the ethnic kingdoms until the 1921 Persian coup d’état by Reza Shah Pahlavi who, in order to homogenize a heterogeneous empire, undertook a forcible Persianization of ethno-nations through ethnocide, linguicide, and violent wars and deportations.
A 1925 editorial published in the pro-Pahlavi Ayandeh (“Future”) newspaper explained that national unity could only be attained “by extending the Persian language throughout the provinces; eliminating regional costumes; destroying local and feudal authorities; and removing the traditional differences between Kurds, Lurs, Qashqayis, Arabs, Turks, Turkomans, and other communities that reside within Iran.” The newspapers also added that “we will continue to live in danger as long as we have no schools to teach Persian and Iranian history to the masses… and no Persian equivalents to replace the many non-Persian names in Iran. Unless we achieve national unity, nothing will remain of Iran.”[1]
Iranian scholar Majid Sharifi stressed that “state elites represented Persian language, history, and culture as the essence of Iranianness.” Hence, “the rich tapestry of other languages and dialects was represented as inferior, incomplete, backward, and alien.”[2]
The Islamic Republic that replaced the Pahlavi dynasty continued the Persianization policy and “internal colonialization.” It sought to create a notion of Iranian identity that fused together both Islamiyat (“Muslimness”) and Iranyat (“Iranianness”). The Islamic Republic could therefore be defined as a “religious Persian monarchy” that promoted Islamiyat, contrary to its predecessor Pahlavi regime which was a “secular Persian monarchy.” While the state ideology of the Pahlavis was centered on “Persianism,” the Islamic Republic has adopted “Shi’ite-Persianism.” [3]
Generally, the Pahlavists and Persian nationalists tend to portray the Islamic Republic as “anti-Iranian” or “anti-Persian,” portraying its leaders as “non-Iranian” or “non-Persian.” Rumors were even spread alleging that Khomeini was Indian. This is done to hide the fact that the Islamic Republic is also pursuing Persianization and to rally “Iranians” around Persian opposition groups and figures, such as Reza Pahlavi.
The ideology of Iranyat is inherently exclusionist, as it demands the assimilation of differences in religion, language, and ethnicity into a unitary notion centered on Persianness. Consequently, ethno-nations are considered a threat that undermines the project to unify the country under one Persian nationalist identity.
For example, in 2019, Reza Pahlavi downplayed the right of minorities to study in their mother tongue, stating that he does not see the “logic” of it, as he does not find it possible for a country’s national education system to be taught in different languages other than in the official Persian language.[4] However, as it has been pointed out by several democratic figures, the education and teaching of the mother tongue along with an official and administrative language can be embedded in the structure and education system of the country as happens already in many Western countries.
Neither The Shah Nor The Mullahs
In early January 2023, for the first time, Reza Pahlavi called on Iranians to give him the power of attorney to represent Iranians.[5] Pro-Pahlavi Persian activists in the West have launched massive online campaigns and hashtags to present Reza Pahlavi as the favored representative of all Iranians from all walks of life.
Between February 17-27, 2022, The Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran (GAMAAN) carried out a survey, titled “Iranians’ Attitudes toward Political Systems.” As reported on the GAMAAN website, the final sample used in the report consisted of 16,850 Iranians living inside Iran, of whom 74.2% speak Persian at home (which may imply that they are ethnically Persian). When asked about their preferred type of government, 34% chose a “secular republic,” 22% the “Islamic republic,” 19% a “constitutional monarchy,” 3% an “absolute monarchy,” and over 21% declared that they are “not sufficiently informed to answer this question.”
However, 53% of those who chose “absolute monarchy” believe that the function of the head of state is not for life, and only 27% of the proponents of “constitutional monarchy” are in favor of “giving life tenure to the head of state.” Finally, 95% of those who chose a “secular republic” are “against life tenure” for the head of state.
Iranian scholar Aidin Torkameh wrote: “If we turn our attention from the mainstream media and focus on what is happening on the ground it appears that the actual presence of the Pahlavists is not significant.” “Their huge propaganda machine has failed to fully reach the masses, and many segments of the masses are actively rejecting it. It is worth noting that even this existing level of support for the old Pahlavi regime should not be taken as the result of an entirely organic process. Most of the pro-Pahlavi protesters are passive defenders of the Pahlavis because alternative views have been eliminated. Their worldview has been largely shaped by, and is limited to, the nation-state-centric (Iranist/Farsist) viewpoint that has developed over the past century,” Torkameh said, adding that “in an open political environment where progressive groups can operate freely, Pahlavi’s supporters are likely to become even less influential.”[6]
This is also reflected in anti-regime protests, as one of the main slogans is “Marg Ba Setamgar, Che Shah Bashe Che Rahbar [Death to the Dictator, Be it Shah or Ayatollah].” This slogan refers to a 120-year-old historical struggle of all the multi-national Iranian groups for freedom against dictatorial regimes that were brought about after the 1905-1911 Constitutional Revolution.
It is worth noting that key figures of the Iranian opposition – such as the president and spokesman of The Association of Victims’ Families of Flight PS752, Hamed Esmaeilion, actress Nazanin Boniadi, and activist Masih Alinejad, as well as political figures and other groups that represent Iran’s minorities – have not endorsed Reza Shah.
London-based broadcaster Manoto TV (known for its “distinctive pro-Pahlavi bent”[7]) recently claimed that Seyyed Nasreddin Heydari, a leader of the Yarsani Kurdish community, has endorsed Reza Pahlavi. However, this news was later refuted, as the source of the endorsement came from a fake Twitter account. Kurdish journalist Kaveh Kermashani commented: “A media that, despite the existence of possibilities, without the least knowledge and research, turns the writing of a fake account into the desired news of its advertising machine, is not only unprofessional but also unethical.”[8]
Labor rights activist group Haft-Tappeh Factory Workers from Khuzistan described the pro-monarchist coalition as a “one-sided, anti-majority, power-seeking group,” and added: “They are irrelevant to our real struggle. The practical leaders of our struggle are ourselves and our imprisoned friends.”[9]
Iran’s Minorities Reject The Monarchy And Its Ideology
The majority of Iranian minoritized ethno-nations have remained very much attached to their ethnic identity, prioritizing their ethnonational identities over Persian-centered “Iranianness.”
Since 1905, the incompatibility of the minority-majority positions has led to heightened tensions that have regularly exploded in deadly and protracted ethnic conflicts. In recent years, Iran has witnessed the rise of ethnonational sentiment that has become a greater challenge for the Islamic Republic and the “pan-Iranists” in the diaspora, as many members of ethnic minority groups such as the Kurds, Balochs, and Ahwazi Arabs increasingly mobilize and push for greater cultural and political rights.
As opposition groups in the diaspora are trying to form alliances to encounter the Iranian regime, suppressed minorities have found themselves marginalized once again as none of the Persian-led opposition groups have publicly addressed minorities’ demands.
Kurdish people in Iran assert that they will not allow another monarchist authoritarian regime to exercise its control over Kurdistan, as they say that there is no difference between the Pahlavi regime and the Islamic Republic. On Twitter, a Kurdish activist, known by the name of Fariba, wrote: “It is time for Kurdish political parties to form a united coalition with Lurs, [Azeri] Turks, Baloch, Gilakis, Turkmen, Arab activists, parties and the leftist forces [i.e., non-monarchist forces] and with all [the forces] that are not represent by Reza Pahlavi.”[10] The user then called on the president and spokesman of The Association of Victims’ Families of Flight PS752, Hamed Esmaeilion, who has expressed his support for Kurdistan, to lead this coalition, saying: “You can be the center of gravity of this coalition, you are both sympathetic and known and reliable among all these peoples, you are a symbol of sympathy and unity for overthrowing the Islamic Republic.”[11]
Ahwazi activist Wael Saffah further wrote: “First of all, the majority of people in Iran [belong to] non-Persian nations, [and] reject centralism totally. Second, none [of Iran’s non-Persian nations] accept any more dictator[ial] systems like [the] monarchy. The problem is [that] the Pahlavi family continues living in their dreams supported by fake media.”[12] In response to the online campaign to give power of attorney to Reza Pahlavi, Saffah wrote: “The supporters of the monarchy and the centrists once again voted to confiscate the rights of the marginalized nations and went along with tyranny in order to create a future for themselves by concentrating our power and accumulating our looted wealth in the center. This hypocrisy puts the future of the country on a dangerous path.”[13]
Washington-based Ahwazi journalist and activist Rahim Hamid tweeted: “The ethnic non-Persian political and human rights groups are completely marginalized, their voices are censored, and even they are subjected to online bullying and threats and even physical assaults by Shah Pahlavi supporters when attending rallies in London and Washington D.C.” He then added: “The voices and true demands of the current protests in Iran are censored and misrepresented on a large scale by Persian media and Shah Pahlavi supporters. The major demands are the decentralization of Iran’s future rule and the end of the ethnic oppression of non-Persian nations… The current protests’ demands in Iran are not merely on individual civil liberties but the major issue is the cause of marginalized peoples in Kurdistan, Ahwaz, Balochistan, and South Azerbaijan [that] endure brutal ethnic oppression and fight for their national ethnic rights.”[14]
Hamid also stressed: “Fanatic fans of the son of the former despotic Shah Pahlavi… use social media in spontaneous clicktivism, prompting the restoration of Shah’s dark times to Iran. This group expresses their nostalgia towards the Persian nationalist authoritarian rule. They have a clicktivist cyber army that launches online petitions and hashtags in supporting the son of the former dictator Shah. Their campaigns are backed by Persians TV channels. This group of Persian nationalists is rejecting the national and ethnic rights of Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Balochis, and Azerbaijani Turks.”[15]
On January 20, 2023, during the Friday protests against the Islamic Republic, Balochi protesters showed also their disdain for Reza Pahlavi, showing posters, stating: “Reza Pahlavi is not our representative. Understand we have our own parties,” “Iran is a country of 70 nations. A coalition of parties. One person [referring to Reza Pahlavi] is not an attorney for the whole country. Any coalition of any kind, if it is going to happen, must be formed with all parties,” and “No to Mullah and No to the Shah; No to Pahlavi and No to Rajavi [leader of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK)]; IRGC Terrorists; Freedom.”
A placard held by Baloch protesters reads: “Reza Pahlavi is not our representative. Understand we have our own parties.” (Source: Twitter)
A placard reads: “Iran is a country of 70 nations. A coalition of parties. One person [referring to Reza Pahlavi] is not an attorney for the whole country. Any coalition of any kind, if it is going to happen, must be formed with all parties.” (Source: Twitter)
It is also worth noting that, since the beginning of 2023, the hashtag #KurdistanRepublic has trended on Twitter.
Pro-Monarchists Attack Hamed Esmaeilion On Social Media
Hamed Esmaeilion, who was born in the Kurdish city of Kermanshah, is an Iranian-Canadian social activist, author, and dentist. On January 8, 2020, Esmaeilion’s wife, Parisa, and their only child, nine-year-old Reera, were killed when Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with two surface-to-air missiles, shortly after it took off from Tehran’s international airport. The missiles killed all 176 passengers and crew aboard.
Esmaeilion and a group of families of victims of Flight PS752 established The Association of Victims’ Families of Flight PS752. “The missions of our Association are to unite the grieving families, keep the memories of the passengers alive, and most importantly seek justice. We are determined to uncover the truth and find out why a commercial flight was shot down by IRGC’s missiles. We will staunchly seek justice until the culprits, perpetrators and commanders of this atrocious crime are identified and brought to justice before an impartial and independent court,” wrote the association, headed by Esmaeilion.[16]
See MEMRI TV clip No. 10070, Iranian-Canadian Activist Hamed Esmaeilion At Ceremony Commemorating Ukrainian Flight Downed By The IRGC: We Live For A Day Without The Islamic Republic And Without The Criminals Who Ruin Beautiful Iran, January 8, 2023.
In December 2022, in an article in the Washington Post, Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian described Esmaeilion as “a moral leader” for Iranian protesters in the diaspora: “Now Esmaeilion has become a leading voice outside Iran in the anti-regime movement — an essential bridge between Iranians in the diaspora who want to promote a freer future for their homeland and the millions inside Iran who live under an abusive system that has long operated with impunity.”[17]
It is actually worth mentioning that Esmaeilion was the main figure behind the organization of the October rally in Berlin against the Islamic Republic that gathered 80,000 participants, which was “the largest gathering in history of Iranians” opposing the Islamic Republic.[18] Addressing the Berlin rally, Esmaeilion said: “We have a dream that will be realized with the fall of Khamenei’s empire of fear and crime. In this dream, the wind will blow through women’s hair, and no one will attack schoolgirls.”[19]
However, since Esmaeilion did not state that he gives the power of attorney to Reza Pahlavi (as football legend Ali Karimi did), many pro-monarchists have tried to tear his image. Accusations leveled against him have included among others being “a lover of the IRGC,”[20] despite the fact that he has repeatedly condemned the Iranian agency and called on Western governments to designate it as a terrorist organization in its entirety.[21]
After writing a tweet in Kurdish to condolence the father of Hooman Abdullahi from Kermanshah, who was killed by the regime, Esmaeilion was accused by many pro-monarchists of “promoting separatism,” and of “causing sedition” among Iranians.[22]
“Dear father of Hooman Abdullahi, my brother, as you said, we have no weapons other than our tongue. We will overthrow the murderers and bring them to justice. Thank you for remembering me. We will keep the memory of Hooman and all those who were killed in our homeland alive. Long live Kurdistan, long live Iran.” (Source: Twitter)
An Iranian woman tweeting under the name of @JinaFreeIran wrote: “Dr. Esmaeilion… is one of the most respected and courageous figures of this revolution… He has many supporters inside and outside Iran, including Kurds who started this revolution. We, who support him, are constantly being attacked by Pahlavi fans on tweeter.”[23] She then added: “[The 2022] Iranian revolution is to bring peace and democracy to Iran, but Pahlavi’s fans have already shown that all they care [about] is to push their agenda…”[24]
An Iranian Bahai user, Syed Jamal Shervin Ashrafi, also stated: “It seems that Prince Reza Pahlavi’s fans are looking at Hamed Esmaeilion as [his] a competitor… for this reason they are trying to destroy his image… This kind of behavior shows the true face of [the] Prince’s fans.”[25]
In a 2017 interview with the Israeli channel i24, Reza Pahlavi said: “The most important component of this [regime] change would be the tacit cooperation of the existing military and paramilitary forces [i.e. the Basij] in this scenario of change… Today, the Iranian people…demand some kind of intervention from the international community rushing to their support… As you can realize, it is very difficult to overcome extremely repressive regimes by simply relying on peaceful disobedience, it has to be at some point an element of protection for the people. Now, this element of protection can only come from the military and paramilitary forces. I am not saying that all of them will come in, but a great majority of them will join with the people if they know they can survive beyond this regime… they’ll have a place in the future and in fact become the protective shield should the remainder of the regime try to pursue a policy of genocide like Bashar Assad did against his own citizenry and at the same time not be in no man’s land.”[26]
In a 2019, interview with VOA, Reza Pahlavi also stated: “Are all Sepah [i.e. IRGC] terrorists? No. And this is the reason, I tell Iranians who are in uniform, whether in the military, Sepah, Basij: Dear Sir, the time has come to back away from these forces and join the Iranian people. You guys are not terrorists, you guys are people in Iran, who have stood face-to-face with the Iraqi army and fought in a war.[27] You sacrificed your lives. You have given martyrs, both in the military and in the Sepah. You guys are part of the Iranian people.”[28]
Most recently, in a 2023 interview with the German TV Channel, Deutsche Welle, Reza Pahlavi’s stances were slightly modified. In the past, he used to say that the military, the Basij, and the “current Sepah” would be the ones to preserve peace, once the ruling system would be replaced. Instead in a recent interview, Reza Pahlavi stated that the IRGC was the problem, but not the Iranian military: “As a matter of fact, I think most Iranians know that the Iranian military [has] never been against the people. In fact, from the very beginning, when the IRGC was created it was a mechanism of guarantee [for] the regime’s survival because the regime did not trust the military. The IRGC was not created to support the country The IRGC became a mechanism with a mandate to export an ideological revolution. It is not the military that opposes the people. It is the IRGC that is a major problem.”[29] Reza Pahlavi also tweeted: “Our request is clear: put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the terrorist list,” using the hashtag #IRGCterrorists.[30]
Online users consider many of Reza Pahlavi’s positions to be contradictory. Some people even coined the sarcastic term “QasemShahrists” to refer to ultranationalists. The term relates to the Sassanian concept of “Eranshahr,” meaning the land and empire of Iran, and to the fact that the ultranationalists/monarchists call themselves Eranshahrists. Claiming that the ultranationalists/monarchists are just another version of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani in terms of extremism, Pahlavi’s critics refer to them as QasemShahrists instead of Eranshahrists. However, a QasemShahrists is a term also used to define ultranationalists/monarchists as people with contradicting positions that are ready to use all means to reach power.
Commenting on the attitude of “QasemShahrists” toward minorities, and in particular towards Ahwazis, Iranian activist Ali Ebrahimzadeh wrote: “Now #QasemShahrists say we do not have a minority at all! Someone wrote a while ago that we do not have Arabs in Iran at all! [And that] They are Arabic-speaking Iranians!”
“I see that people have forgotten what kind of a person a QasemShahrist is. Friends, a QasemShahrist is more or less such a person:” (Source: Twitter)
Many Iranian users have also criticized a recent video broadcast by London-based Manoto TV, known for its pro-Pahlavi stances, in which a female reporter stated: “I thank the men, we, myself and many like me, are ready to hold a (democratic) referendum together with Reza Pahlavi and the people of the revolution and of the Revolutionary Guards. And I say to the members of the Revolutionary Guards, we were never dependent on the West and never will be.”[31]
The monarchists form a minority group in Iranian politics. Furthermore, as a Persian-centrist political group, they do not represent the country’s ethno-nations that comprise almost half of Iran’s population. In view of the pro-monarchists’ approach to minorities’ demands, a new Iran ruled by the monarchy is unlikely to undergo major changes in terms of minorities’ rights and democratic rule of law. Hence, it is important to heed lessons from the past to avoid repeating the same mistakes that led to the creation of the current situation in Iran.
It is important for the international community to pursue a “periphery strategy,” i.e., supporting the ethnic minorities found in Iran’s border regions. This will achieve two goals. First, ethnic minorities would finally enjoy the freedom and human rights they have been deprived of since the early 20th century. Second, this would ensure that any new regime in Iran would not be able to continue regional expansionism in the Middle East.[32]
Iran’s minorities – which are largely sidelined by the Persian opposition – aim to establish independent ethno-states or at least a decentralized entity, based on democratic confederalism, which could work as a temporary, transitional, intergovernmental project in a post-Ayatollah Iran until the establishment of new ethno-states in the Kurdistan, Balochistan, Khuzestan, and Caspian regions.[33]
It is worth noting that pro-monarchy media outlets do not provide a realistic picture of the demands of the “multinational Iran.” Furthermore, many of these media continue to whitewash the crimes committed by the repressive Pahlavi dynasty – among others including the building of the notorious Evin prison in 1972 – and their widespread corruption that led to the Iranian revolution in 1979.
* Himdad Mustafa is a Kurdish scholar and expert on Kurdish and Iranian affairs.
[1] Majid Sharifi, Imagining Iran: The Tragedy of Subaltern Nationalism. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2013, pp.79-80.
[2] Majid Sharifi, Imagining Iran: The Tragedy of Subaltern Nationalism, Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2013, pp.80-1.
[3] Near East/South Asia Report, Issue 2765, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1983, page 96.
[4] Azadi-b.com/arshiw/?p=74886, August 3, 2019.
[5] Iranintl.com/en/202301227710, January 22, 2023.
[6] Links.org.au/rhythm-revolution-iran-name-zhina-mahsa-amini, November 3, 2022.
[7] Politico.com, December 14, 2018.
[8] Twitter.com/KavehKermashani/status/1615735194215907329, January 18, 2023.
[9] Instagram.com/p/Cm610r-Ncis/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D, January 2, 2023.
[10] Twitter.com/fariba312/status/1616025505676857344, January 19, 2023.
[11] Twitter.com/fariba312/status/1616041911961391109, January 19, 2023.
[12] Twitter.com/Waelsaffah/status/1560383171002351616, August 19, 2022.
[13] Twitter.com/Waelsaffah/status/1615902238215639040?cxt=HHwWgMDQycah6-wsAAAA, January 19, 2023.
[14] Twitter.com/samireza42/status/1616285457607696387, January 20, 2023.
[15] Twitter.com/samireza42/status/1616282098805116930, January 20, 2023.
[16] Ps752justice.com/about/
[17] Washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/12/28/iran-protests-leader-hamed-esmaeilion/, December 28, 2022.
[18] Lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2022/10/24/tens-of-thousands-of-iranians-march-in-berlin-against-the-regime_6001581_4.html, October 24, 2022.
[19] Iranintl.com/en/202210222845, October 22, 2022.
[20] Twitter.com/amirancan/status/1614733940425728007, January 15, 2023.
[21] Twitter.com/esmaeilion/status/1615739420795174914?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet, January 18, 2023.
[22] Twitter.com/esmaeilion/status/1615044304061300736, January 16, 2023.
[23] Twitter.com/JinaFreeIran/status/1609267617222508545, December 31, 2022.
[24] Twitter.com/JinaFreeIran/status/1609268806068862976, December 31, 2022.
[25] Twitter.com/Shervin_Ashrafi/status/1613816668420988929, January 13, 2023.
[26] Youtube.com/watch?v=jkU5G1LqPY4, May 25, 2017.
[27] As reported in Reza Pahlavi’s website: “As an accomplished jet fighter pilot, Reza Pahlavi volunteered to serve his country’s military as a fighter pilot during the Iran-Iraq War, but was declined by the clerical regime.” En.rezapahlavi.org/aboutrezapahlavi/
[28] Youtube.com/watch?v=Epv_erSjK7U,April 9, 2019.
[29] Twitter.com/PahlaviReza/status/1614406319481708544, January 15, 2023.
[30] Twitter.com/PahlaviReza/status/1614698938468282369?cxt=HHwWgsDR6aSIyOgsAAAA, January 15, 2023.
[31] Twitter.com/ManotoNews/status/1618286826942517249, January 25, 2023.
[32] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 428, The Islamic Republic Of Iran Will Collapse Only If Its Ethnic Minorities Are Supported, November 11, 2022.
[33] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 426, A Roadmap Towards Confederalism For The Future Of Iran, November 3, 2022.