Reza Pahlavi, 53, will be the figurehead for the Institute for an Open Society in the Middle East, the group’s organizers say. Pahlavi hasn’t lived in Iran since 1978 — the year before his father, Shah Mohammad Pahlavi, was deposed by the current theocracy. If Iran restored its constitutional democracy, Pahlavi, the shah’s eldest child, would be first in line to the throne. That prospect is unlikely. Tuesday, he urged more than 100 attendees to understand that the majority of Iranians want what Americans hold dear: freedom, liberty, and peace. The rank-and-file Iranians need support, he said, although he did not specify what kind.
“The regime changed, not the people,” Pahlavi said, reminding the 100 gathered for Tuesday’s event that his father was the first leader in the region to recognize Israel’s statehood. “Give the voice back to the people who have been silenced by terror, brutality, and oppression.”
Pahlavi, a graduate of the University of Southern California, has lived mostly in Egypt, France, and the United States. The jet fighter pilot, who completed U.S. Air Force Training in Lubbock, Texas, has spent most of his adult life meeting with legislators around the world in advocating for his country. He said the majority of the Iranian people want a secular democracy, not the regime of fundamentalist clerics in place now. But they are held back by fear, he said.
“This ship is sinking,” he said. “We have to tip the scales of power to put it back in people’s hands.”
A crush of people mobbed Pahlavi after the speech, some of them holding out copies of his 2002 book, “Winds of Change: The Future of Democracy in Iran,” for him to sign.
“Any time a person brings in a world perspective like this, it’s very advantageous,” said Armand Grossman, a senior executive vice president at Penn-Florida, a local development company. “He’s talking about the point of ignition in the world.” Tuesday’s event, organized by the Gold Coast chapter of the Tiger Bay Club, was the most well attended of any the club has held so far, said Barry Epstein, the club’s president. It was the second time this year that Pahlavi has visited Boca Raton. He was also here six weeks ago to visit the Boca Raton Synagogue. Organizers for the Institute for an Open Society in the Middle East said Pahlavi’s appearances are just one part of their campaign to bring about needed change.
They are endowing academic chairs of Middle Eastern studies in universities, meeting with politicians, and opening a TV studio in Los Angeles to beam programs into Iran, said Sherrie Raz, one of the institute’s officers.
Next, they plan to open a TV studio for the same purpose in Boca Raton.
“We have to rise up and show the government we are for human rights and democracy,” she said.