On October 31, Prince Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s former Crown Prince will celebrate his 60th birthday with 41 years of his life spent in forced exile and away from his country.
The question of succession to the throne was from the very first days of the late Shah’s monarchy, one of the most important topics of debate for the Constitutional Assembly as well as a point of concern for himself.
The late Shah’s first two marriages broke as a result of the absence of a male successor to his throne. Iran’s Constitution maintained that the successor to the Crown had to be a male with no blood relation to the previous Qajar dynasty.
Shahnaz Pahlavi, the Shah’s only child from Princess Fozieh, the Egyptian princess, was a female thus unable to succeed the throne, and the Shah’s only blood brother, Ali Reza, had been killed in a plane crash. Queen Soraya, the Shah’s second wife was divorced as a result of the Constitution’s explicit standing on the question of succession for monarchy:
Article 36: The Royal Monarchy is entrusted by the people in His Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi and his male successors for generations to come.
The Shah’s step brothers either had mothers or spouses related to the Qajar dynasty or non-Iranian wives who had not been naturalized at the time of the birth of their offsprings.
Article 37: The Crown Prince is the Shah’s eldest son whose mother is of Iranian decent. In the absence of a male successor, the Crown Prince will be appointed in accordance to a proposal from the Shah and the approval of the Parliament provided that he is not related to the Qajar dynasty. It is, however, stipulated that whenever a male child is born to the Shah, he will have the right to the throne.
The successor to the throne was born out of the Shah’s third marriage to Empress Farah Diba, but Prince Reza Pahlavi had only the chance of celebrating his 19th birthday in Iran. Despite his several marriages, the dream of the late Shah for a male successor did not guarantee the continuation of the Pahlavi dynasty. The young age of the Crown Prince in the midst of the Islamic Revolution along with the Shah’s illness had a lasting impact on the future of the Pahlavi dynasty.
Two decades ago, in the Spring of 1999 when I was commissioned by the “Woman” magazine to interview Prince Reza in Washington D.C., his entourage referred to him as “the young Shah”. Today, he is a middle-aged man of 60, and yet the question asked of his father some 62 years ago still prevails: Who is going to succeed the Iranian throne? Reza’s younger brother, Ali Reza committed suicide in 2010 and is only survived by a young daughter, Iriana Leila. Prince Reza’s marriage to Yasamin Bani-Etemad has produced three girls: Noor Zahra, Iman laiia, and Farah Mitra.
In the absence of a male grandchild to the late Shah, eyes are inevitably set on Prince Reza’s eldest daughter, Noor.
It is not far-fetched to say that it is women who are the true heirs to the Pahlavi rule. In a broader spectrum and the grand scale of things, a future with gender equality in all aspects of life would give hard-working and determined Iranian women opportunities the process of which started by the previous regime but left unfinished by the Islamic Revolution and the emergence of Shiite fundamentalism. That said, even in the period before the revolution, the share of the Pahlavi’s women in bringing change and improve their status was limited and meager.
The Shah’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf (real name Zahra) did a great deal to improve the standing of Iranian women in the society. Although revolutionary forces have made a lot of effort to distort her image, history and historical documents are a better judge of her achievements.
Apart from her political efforts for consolidating monarchy and strengthening of the Crown (her role in 1953 coup d’etat), Ashraf Pahlavi established the Foundation for Social Services and made extensive efforts to eradicate illiteracy in the country. She was the first woman from a Muslim country who headed a delegation to the UN’s Human Rights Commission in 1963. In 1966 she took the presidency of Iran’s political delegation in the UN’s General Assembly. Princess Ashraf founded “The Women’s Organization of Iran” with the aim of creating centers for family well-being, training for aid workers, and research into women’s issues. Reference to the number and functions of governmental and international entities in which she played an active role, and her efforts to raise the status of Iranian women and their gender equality is out of the scope of this article.
But in the same society where her father gave women social freedoms and the possibility to remove the ‘hijab’, Ashraf did not benefit from the same opportunities her brothers had for education in the West and the choice of her spouse. Her unconventional demeanor in the patriarchal Iran was interpreted as breaking the norm and contrary to social traditions. As a result, her social services to Iranian women have been left untold and unheard to-date.
Iran’s Constitution written more than a hundred years before, only recognized a male offspring as the legitimate successor to the throne. But political developments in Iran and the emergence of the Islamic Revolution showed that should Princess Shahnaz been recognized as the Shah’s successor, it could have potentially prevented the future course of events as we know them, and conceivably saved the Shah’s marriage to Queen Soraya.
Such an idea seemed impossible and impractical at the time. Even in constitutions of modern western societies, such a notion is relatively new the example of which is the reform made in 1980 in Sweden’s Constitution to allow Carl Philip to abdicate his position as Crown Prince in favor of his elder sister, Victoria, who became heir to the throne.
Today, at 60, Prince Reza’s legacy for Iranians is the children who have been raised in healthy and normal family surroundings.
This is the first time in the past centuries where Iran’s political future can be seen with a female in its horizon. The last women who stood at the helm of the Iranian Empire were the Sassanian’s queens Pourandokht and Azarmidokht in circa 630 AD.
In spite of the past forty years of women’s oppression in the Islamic Republic, the Iranian society now looks at women in a different light.
Trust in women’s abilities and the change in their perceived image in the society is owed - to a great extent - to the legacy of another woman from the Pahlavi dynasty. She is Farah Diba, the same woman who 60 years ago gave birth to Reza Pahlavi. It is conceivable that progress towards women’s rights and gender equality in the future of Iran is shaped in the heart of such milestones.