What will it take to overthrow the Iranian regime and replace it with a democracy? Prominent Iranian opposition leaders and activists discussed that question at the international security conference in Munich last weekend.
For six months now, Iranians have taken to the streets at the risk of their lives to demonstrate against the government. The protests are violently suppressed, thousands of people have been arrested. Although differences of opinion still divide the opposition, there is increasing willingness to put it aside for now.
Opportunities for conversations
The fact that opposition leaders were even present in Munich is already special. Government leaders and senior military personnel are usually invited to the conference. They discuss on different stages and there is room for silent diplomacy in the corridors and behind closed doors.
But unlike before, Iranian government leaders have not received an invitation this time. This is related to drone deliveries to Russia and the suppression of domestic protests. This offered part of the Iranian opposition an excellent opportunity to enlist the support of the many Western political leaders, ministers and diplomats at the conference.
‘Revolutionary Guard on the terror list’
“I want the attention of leaders of democratic countries,” Masih Alinejad told NOS. She is one of the activists who oppose the Iranian regime. Like many other prominent opposition leaders, she has fled abroad, although she is not certain of her life there either: in New York, where she lives, she escaped an assassination attempt.
She wants Western countries to list the elite Revolutionary Guard unit as terrorism and to isolate the Iranian government. “Stop negotiating. It won’t work.”
Crown Prince in exile
The Iranian crown prince in exile, Reza Pahlavi is also present. His father, the last shah of Iran to rule the country with a heavy hand, lost power in the Iranian Revolution 44 years ago and fled the country, after which the Islamic Republic was proclaimed. Now it is the crown prince who sees from abroad how the protests against the Islamic regime are increasing.
“There is a revolution going on. Never in the past forty years has there been so much unity among Iranians at home and abroad in support of our compatriots,” the crown prince told NOS.
It is an indirect reference to the different groups within the opposition, who often have different views on who should run the country. Ethnic groups such as Kurds, Arabs and Baloch. But also monarchists who want Pahlavi back as king and supporters of the people’s mujahideen who are not waiting for him. Both groups held small demonstrations in the square next to the conference last weekend.
“I’ve always encouraged everyone to show unity, whatever your political affiliation,” says Pahlavi. “To send a message to the world that as Iranians we may differ but have a common goal.”
Elections as a goal
“Dictators could survive in Iran because they managed to disperse the opposition,” says Alinejad. But like the Crown Prince, she is hopeful that they can now join forces. “This is the first time in our history that the opposition inside and outside Iran is uniting,” she said.
The crown prince himself now thinks he has considerable support, but says he is not directly aiming for a monarchy. He also says he first wants the regime to be overthrown and then take the lead until the Iranian people themselves can vote for what the people want: whether it is a monarchy or a republic.
The opposition leaders, who largely live outside Iran, say they are in close contact with the opposition in the country. Overthrowing the regime will happen from within, says Reza Pahlavi. “But they need outside support. That’s what the international community can contribute.”
Like Alinejad, he is asking for support from the West to increase pressure on the Iranian government and support the people. For example, by strengthening free internet access, or with a fund from which Iranians who want to stop working in protest are paid.
The crown prince and Alinejad say they are working with other members of the opposition on a joint manifesto on human rights and democracy. The differences of opinion must now make way for that.
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