NEWPORT BEACH — Reza Pahlavi II, the former crown prince and son of the late shah of Iran, envisions a day when the Iranian people's votes will be the driving force of their government.
It is a dream he shared with about 300 people, mostly Iranian-Americans, at the Fairmont Newport Beach Hotel, when he spoke Tuesday night about democracy, human rights and political developments in Iran as the guest of the World Affairs Council of Orange County.
"Change can only happen from within Iran," he told the Daily Pilot before his speech. "You already have the best instrument for change: It's the people of Iran."
Seeming passionate about the country he has been banned from since his father's U.S.-backed autocratic regime was overthrown during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Pahlavi, 49, said change will not take place unless Iranians stand together as one and enlist the young adults who are willing to spill their blood for the freedom of their nation.
"Iran will not hesitate to kill as many Nedas as it can to preserve its power," he said in reference to Neda Soltani, whose death from a gunshot wound during the 2009 Iranian election protests was filmed and shown around the world.
But pressure from within, and support from the outside, can eventually break down the theocracy that has been ruled by Shia clerics for three decades, he said.
Pahlavi doesn't believe outside militaries should intervene in Iran but he wants the world to support those who are willing to risk their lives on the inside.
"Our issue is not just to put an end to this regime, but to ensure that the alternative government would end up being democratic," he said, adding that for Iran to progress it must do so with a secular government that separates church and state.
Using South Africa as an example, Pahlavi said Apartheid in that country ended when the whole world joined together to support its oppressed population.
But he warned that
sanctions should not be looked at as a means to an end.
"I've always maintained that sanctions, although an instrument to an end … cannot be an end itself," he said. "It can be effective in the long run, but punitive measures end up frustrating and affecting society itself."
The United Nations recently passed economic sanctions to punish Iran for its refusal to back off its nuclear program.
Iran's nuclear program began during the rule of Pahlavi's father. And unlike the rest of the world's reaction to Iran's nuclear ambitions, the program then received wide support from the United States and Europe.
"What the world is missing outside of Iran is, one should go back to the regime's court and say, 'Who lost that right?' You did as a result of your behavior," said Pahlavi, who now lives in the United States with his wife and three children. "The Iranian people know that. So should the rest of the world."
Parvin Hassas of Lake Forest was one of the guests who came to hear Pahlavi speak.
"I love him, I love him, I love him," she said. "Every night, I pray that he goes back to Iran again."
She said she would like him to return as king.
"Iran has to be royal," she said. "There's 2,500 years of royal history in Iran."
Tara Steiner wasn't about to give Pahlavi the benefit of the doubt.
Steiner said she attended out of curiosity, "to see what he has to talk about."
"Is he going to be selfish like his father or does he think about the Iranians? If his father was really good, we wouldn't have had a revolution."
In fact, it was the people of Iran who overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran, which gave way to the Islamic Republic of Iran.