- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

In a cramped office above the garage of Reza Pahlavi's suburban home, the walls are studded with crayon sunrises and autographed Dallas Cowboys photos ("Yo, Reza!"). The old stereos and cameras he enjoys taking apart line the shelves.
The exiled son of the deposed shah of Iran sits by a desk where bank statements and family photos jostle for space, waiting until his call goes through and a surprised voice pipes out of the speaker phone from Iran.
"Your Majesty?"
From headquarters above a driveway basketball hoop in a wooded Maryland suburb of Washington, he is phoning Iranians one by one and asking them to sign on to nonviolent insurrection.
"There is no need to die," he tells one enthusiastic supporter. "Just slow down in the workplace; don't do all that you're told. Let the regime feel the footprints of a million ghosts."
"I kiss your hand," the countryman tells the former crown prince before signing off.
Mr. Pahlavi is making headway among Iranians rattled by hardship and stifled by theocracy.
His appeals on satellite television and radio have struck a chord, Iran-watchers say, both with older Iranians nostalgic for a more elegant time and restive youth drawn to a name that sends Iran's ruling clerics into apoplectic rage.
Three-fifths of Iranians are 25 years old or younger, so most know little of the Pahlavis and are more likely to look to popular leaders inside the country. Still, Mr. Pahlavi, 41, is seizing the moment and campaigning from afar for the return of the monarchy.
His call for street protests coincide with President Bush's recent, unsolicited support for such action, and Bush advisers have echoed Mr. Pahlavi's dismissal of reform attempts by President Mohammed Khatami as inept and insincere.
Mr. Pahlavi says he is in touch with U.S. officials, although no one in the Bush administration will confirm that. He is also making inroads among wealthy Iranian expatriates needed to finance his cause.
Widespread political protest in Iran is just now hitting its stride.
"The people of Iran now know how to say 'Death to the regime,'" he said. "They still don't know how to complete, 'Long live '"
In 1979, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini directed the overthrow of Mr. Pahlavi's father, who fled from country to country on an ignominious journey that landed him briefly in the United States for cancer treatment and finally in Egypt, where he died the next year.
His son, then 20, had just completed fighter pilot training in Texas, where he learned to love the Dallas Cowboys. The world mostly knew him from official photos as the gangly, dark-eyed boy fixing an adoring gaze on his father.
The family dropped out of view. In 1987, Mr. Pahlavi learned that a trusted adviser had left him almost penniless. Other family members had preserved their millions. His wife, Yasmine, is a child-welfare lawyer.
All the more striking, then, has been Mr. Pahlavi's emergence as a voice speaking about Iran's future. In February 2001, authorities broke up a royalist demonstration in a Tehran park; in November, Iranians celebrating World Cup soccer qualifying victories in Tehran shouted his name in the streets.
The difference has been technology. Satellite dishes, once too big to hide from Iranian authorities, are smaller and harder to spot. Expatriate Iranians buy transistor radios rigged with jewelry-box-size receivers for about $30 and smuggle them to family and friends.
Mr. Pahlavi says he is preparing cassettes and pamphlets for distribution in remote areas. The Ayatollah Khomeini, the late supreme leader, sowed his own revolution with cassettes.
"There are too many scattered signs, indications, people chanting monarchist slogans, to dismiss," said Patrick Clawson, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iran's economic troubles have led some to recall that despite the shah's authoritarian excesses, oil earnings were more evenly distributed then. Books waxing nostalgic for the 1926-1979 Pahlavi dynasty have flourished among Tehran publishers, who operate with little government constraint, Mr. Clawson said.
Gary Sick, a United States-Iran scholar at Columbia University, says informants tell him that Mr. Pahlavi has gained significant recognition but has no organizational following.
"There's nothing more effective than holding up the Pahlavi name if you want to get under skin of the regime," Mr. Sick said. "That is quite different from having a political impact."
Mr. Pahlavi calibrates his message, emphasizing the clerics' greatest weakness: modernity. He is clean-shaven and elegant in his television appearances, where he wears the accouterment most hated by clerics but increasingly fashionable among the young: a necktie, often red, green and gold, like the flag of his father's era.
He acknowledges the limitations of organizing insurrection from abroad. The people he calls have e-mailed or faxed him their phone numbers; such communication is limited to the wealthy and a few others with access to government offices.
He cannot tell his followers to get together, because any caller could be a spy for Iran. "How do you organize without compromising them?" he asked.
He is careful at home, too. He spends his days driving from suburb to suburb to confuse Iranian agents he believes have been sent to kill him. "The regime is sending terrorists to take me out; we know that," he said.
It is not an outlandish proposition. Shahpour Bakhtiar, a former prime minister and a leader of the exiled opposition, was stabbed to death in his heavily guarded Paris home in 1991, one of eight dissidents in France believed killed by Iranian hit squads. An American who has admitted to having killed an opponent of Iran's clerical regime in suburban Washington in 1980 says the Iranian government paid him $4,000 for the hit.
Despite such ruthlessness, Mr. Pahlavi believes the regime is vulnerable to nonviolent resistance, pointing to the defection in recent years of prominent clerics.
He argues that constitutional monarchy is the best means to unite his country but wants a referendum so Iranians can decide for themselves. "It's not about the past. It's not about me. It's not about the monarchy," Mr. Pahlavi said. "It's about the people."
Sometimes he seems worried he will slip too far into the American life. "I love football," he said. An aide glares at him, and he corrects himself: "But I love soccer more."
Soccer is an Iranian passion.


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