- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

PERSONALITY: The beauty and serenity that once made Her Imperial Majesty Farah Pahlavi, Shahbanou (Empress) of Iran a magazine cover favorite has hardly changed in the 25 years since she and her husband, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, were swept from power by an Islamic revolution that changed their ancient land and, as it turned out, the world as well.

THE SCENE: Wearing a tailored pantsuit with gold button earrings of Persian motif, her golden brown hair perfectly coifed, the elegant Shahbanou, 65, gracefully descends onto a settee to discuss her recently published autobiography, “An Enduring Love: My Life With the Shah,” in the ultramodern living room of her substantial — though hardly palatial — home in Potomac, where she moved two years ago to be closer to her eldest son, Prince Reza Pahlavi, his wife, Yasmine, and their three daughters.

Q: What kind of a man was the Shah?

A: He loved his country and his people and wanted to bring progress and development to Iran, which he did. He was civilized, kind, just and patient and never showed any temper. He was a good father to his children, although unfortunately he didn’t have as much time to spend with them as he would have liked. He was also a loving husband, and I am so grateful that he allowed me, as a woman, and as his wife, to [participate] in so many activities in that period. As time passes, I have even more admiration for him.

Q: It must have been very difficult to go from your student life in Paris to the royal court, where you were the center of attention.

A: Like any woman entering a new family, I had to be very careful … I’m not a person who likes intrigue. I put myself above it. It was more important to try to make a harmonious life for my husband, and I had his love and support. I was lucky.

Q: There were intrigues and betrayals of a different sort after you left Iran.

A: During difficult periods … those who have been close to you can change — that happens when you lose your power. But I couldn’t let myself be dragged down where they wanted to drag me.

Q: You write that your wanderings from place to place were “awful, humiliating and soul-destroying” until you finally found haven in Egypt.

A: We will always remain grateful to President [Anwar] Sadat and the Egyptian people. They showed in the way they received us at such a difficult time that even in politics, moral values count. … Other [world leaders] remained close, even though they couldn’t do anything for us politically.

Q: You left with only 15 suitcases, which, I take it, did not contain the crown jewels.

A: In 1991, during the Gulf War, a man appeared on a serious TV program in America and said that I had sold the crown of the shah to Mrs. Saddam Hussein. So, for 10 years the Islamic Republic remained quiet and didn’t say anything about it? … the crown belongs to the national treasures of Iran. Later, I gave my answer and I was so happy because it was only a few days after [former United Nations Secretary General Javier] Perez de Cuellar was in Tehran. They had taken him to the National Treasury, where he was photographed in front of the crown. The picture was on the front page of the New York Times.

Q: The Shah was accused of sending vast sums out of the country before he left.

A: Untrue. He was not that kind of a man. He was not interested in money.

Q: Obviously you had some resources outside of Iran.

A: Of course. … we had some means to go on living.

Q: You obviously resent being compared to Marcos, Mobutu, etc.?

A: Or anyone with a big fortune.

Q: The Shah was criticized for permitting high levels of corruption, even within his own family.

A: He was always very careful. If he heard about something, he tried to stop it, and I have many examples of this. But there was so much propaganda against the monarchy. Even [in cases where] there was no corruption, people believed it to be true.

Q: Most people don’t understand that the Muslim clergy in Iran owned huge amounts of property and were among the chief opponents of the Shah’s land-reform efforts.

A: They were very unhappy about that and also his programs for women’s emancipation and education.

Q: The Shah’s father lifted the veil for women in 1936, but your husband went much further than that.

A: His father changed the [justice system] from being directed by religious people to the Napoleonic code. After 1963, women had the right to vote and get elected to various positions, local councils, etc., all over the country. … They could get divorced, and a family court would decide the custody of the children. Many laws were changed in their favor.

Q: High-profile Iranian women suffered terrible fates after you left. You write how ashamed for your country you were when the female minister of education was “put in a sack” before she was shot, “so that when her body fell it would not arouse her torturers.”

A: Many women were executed in terrible ways. Others were brutally repressed. If they walked in the street with a boy who was not a brother or a husband, they were flogged.

Q: How many people were killed after the Khomeini regime took over?

A: A conservative estimate is 70,000, but I am sure it is many more. Over 50 people living outside Iran have been assassinated, including my husband’s nephew.

Q: You were put on a “death list” along with many others. Do you still have to be very careful?

A: Of course we are careful, especially my son, Reza. But it is part of our life; we live with it.

Q: The Shah was opposed by an unholy alliance of the red and the black: the fundamentalist clergy with the communists.

A: The Marxists thought the Shah would leave and they would take power, but Khomeini used them and then put them all in jail. The Tudeh (Communist) Party was outlawed.

Q: The Shah’s critics said he focused too much on his communist opponents and not enough on the fundamentalists.

A: As the old Roman saying goes, “When the war is won, everybody has participated. When it is lost, only one is responsible.” It is true that most of our worries were about the communists, because the Soviets were [on our border]. They had many spies in Iran. …

We had many civil liberties and freedoms: what to wear; where to live, work and travel; what to study; and my husband was hoping to slowly open up the society politically as well. Iran was still in the Middle Ages at the beginning of the 20th century. He knew it couldn’t become a democracy overnight. …

Q: Most of the current population wasn’t alive when you left Iran 25 years ago.

A: Sixty percent of the population is now below the age of 30. They have become very politicized. … They want freedom, democracy and a secular government. Now they have news from outside because the revolution in communications has really changed civil society. It has become complex and diversified and can no longer be kept in a mold of a theocracy. The system has lost its legitimacy, and [its leaders] have no message to deliver anymore.

Q: How do you keep involved?

A: I speak about our country whenever I can. Many young people e-mail me and leave their telephone number and I call them. We arrange a code name. Sometimes I have to tell them not to use my name or title, but they say they don’t care…. I try to give them courage, but I end up getting more courage [from them] because I know how much they are suffering.

Q: Do you ever think about returning?

A: My aim and my dream is for the Iranian people to be free. If one day I can see my country again, it would be a great day in my life.

Q: And your son, Reza?

A: One day, hopefully, the Iranian people will be free to choose by referendum the system of government they want. Whatever they choose — whether it is a constitutional monarchy or another sort of democratic government — he is ready to serve his country anyway he can.

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