Reza Pahlavi's Speech at Harvard Business School
I am especially pleased to be joining you today, on the 8th of March, an international day devoted to honoring women. The tradition of commemorating this day, which began early in the twentieth century and is marked all over the world, gained global currency when the United Nations Charter signed in San Francisco in 1945 became the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. The very fact that today in my country, the Islamic Republic does not allow women to legally commemorate this day speaks volumes about the repressive and backward nature of the mullahs’ regime. here is the text of the speech
I would like therefore today to use this opportunity to salute the oppressed women of Iran, who for the past 26 years have been abused, humiliated and treated in the most inhuman manner by a barbaric and criminal regime.
One cannot but feel the immense weight of moral indignation at the plight of Iranian women who are putting up a heroic fight to gain back their plundered rights and freedoms. They have been plucked from the arms of human civilization and thrown back to the dark ages of repression and persecution.
I feel privileged to be here today and reveal to you the real face of what is transpiring in my country today. There can be no better place for arguing for the causes of liberty and human rights than at Harvard. The creation of this university upon the heels of the arrival of the original settlers in America was envisioned to provide the intellectual bulwark necessary for the fulfillment and defense of the rights of men. Harvard was established to ensure the advance of knowledge and to train an intellectual chivalry for the protection of the young Republic against tyranny and religious obscurantism.
Accordingly, I feel that I have come to the right place today to gather moral support against the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in my homeland. I have come to the right place to find an audience sensitive to the plight of a nation struggling in the throes of theocratic dictatorship. Iran whose political heritage like the political ancestry of the United States of America is rooted in the rights of all men and was amongst the first nations on earth to guarantee the freedom of all people, religions and languages, today is plagued by the dark forces of bigotry and oppression. Iran whose ancient rulers are honored like saints by the Bible for protecting Jews and religious minorities from persecution, in the advanced democratic age of the twenty-first century has been taken over by a regime that stands at the top of the international list of human rights violators.
As an Iranian who has been given the opportunity to address you, I would like to draw your attention to the urgency of human rights situation as well as economic and political bankruptcy that is drawing my country closer to the edge of the precipice. Furthermore I would like to underscore the relentless danger posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran to international peace and democratic principles the world over.
To you as the scholars at Harvard and the future political and financial leaders of the greatest superpower in the world, I wish to convey my strong conviction that it is a grave mistake to think that religious tyranny in Iran is an internal problem and therefore the world has to forego its moral obligations and continue to do business with the rulers of the Islamic Republic. If we lose sight of the verity contained in those words of Dr. Martin Luther King when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” we shall be sadly reminded of its truth when it is too late. We will sadly be reminded of the exorbitant price that could have been avoided by a wise analysis of the nature of clerical government and adoption of preventive measures.
No, the mullah’s repression is not an internal Iranian problem. Today the world has learned from tragic experience that the threat posed by international terrorism to justice and peace cannot be evaded even in the most tranquil and out of the way holiday resort like Bali or a prominent location such as the World Trade Center, enfolded by the most sophisticated protective system in the most powerful country on Earth.
The deadly virus of Middle Eastern terrorism received a great boost in the triumph of the anti-Western fanatical revolutionaries in Iran. The events that followed the 1979 triumph of Khomeini’s religious obscurantism had a ripple effect in the whole Islamic world. The poisoned propaganda of the rabble rousing mullahs appealed to that intolerant segment of the population in the Islamic world who preferred to get high on blind hatred of imagined enemies rather than work hard at the arduous task of development of their countries.
It is important to keep in mind that throughout history, and in particular during the second half of twentieth century, the events in Iran have had a vast impact on the rest of the region and the world. The nationalization of oil by Iran in the early 50’s led to the formation of OPEC and changed the Middle East for the better. On the contrary, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, the Persian Gulf region has been the theatre of three major wars, while Islamic terrorism has continued to spread.
Traditionally, what happens in Iran sets the tone for other countries in the Middle East. It is in this vein that the course of events in Iran and their implications for the region must be contemplated with utmost care and scrutiny.
In spite of its current apparent political turmoil and chaotic diplomacy, I maintain that under proper conditions, the deterioration of the situation in Iran can be reversed. Iran is the only country in the region where a constitutional government was established a century ago. With a rich history and mature polity, if given a chance, Iran has the potential to reverse the situation both at home and in the Middle East region.
Three years ago in the concluding chapter of my book, Winds of Change: the Future of Democracy in Iran, I recalled, “Iran is now entering one of the most dynamic phases of its internal development. Winds of change are blowing through the cities and villages of my homeland. We all feel it. More than ever before, we are ready to assert our overwhelming desire to establish a lasting democratic government for the first time in our history.”
Three years later events have reinforced my conviction and have proven that Iran is on the verge of a major political, social and strategic shift. At the time I wrote that book, the outcome of events in Afghanistan and Iraq were far from being determined. The Taliban regime was firmly in control of one country and Saddam was solidly in place in another. Today, we live in a new era of a rapidly changing Middle East. Just a few days ago, Walid Jumblatt, a leading Arab nationalist in Lebanon, has compared the impact of the success of the recent elections in Iraq to the falling of the Berlin Wall.
Indeed, a new day has dawned in the Middle East. I firmly believe that the failure of Islamic theocracy in Iran has greatly contributed to the setting of the stage for the triumph of democracy and freedom in the region.
At this crucial juncture, therefore, it would be a fundamental error to “cut a deal” with Iran’s ruling clerics, thereby prolonging their unpopular tenure. Pragmatically speaking, it seems obvious that the business of the world’s free economy is to do business. Nevertheless, let us consider for a moment the exorbitant cost of establishing business ties with a leading member of the so-called axis of evil and strengthening the hand of a major sponsor of international terrorism. Let us simultaneously consider for a moment the huge peace dividend gained by investing in democratic resources of Iranian people and supporting their just struggle to join the free and democratic world.
There are several ways to demonstrate the massive failure of the Islamic regime in Iran. But nowhere has this failure been more obvious and pervasive than in the realm of economics and the performance of the national economy.
An “analytical declaration” signed by 565 prominent Iranian intellectuals, professionals, university professors and student leaders, issued in Tehran on March 1, 2005, reminds us of the most shocking fact that after 26 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue, today the $1,677 per capita income of Iranians is 30% less than what it was in 1978 – the year preceding the revolution.
In contrast, according to a resource-based analysis of economic performance, Iran has the potential of being the world's 20th strongest economy. Its rich reserves of hydrocarbons and other natural resources, coupled with its geo-strategic position, make it a unique economy.
The Islamic revolution of 1979 and its consequences have shared many similarities with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia. Both have been ideological, brutal and economically counterproductive. Political, social and economic devastation followed by destructive wars are among other common features of these two human disasters of the twentieth century. In spite of immeasurable human cost, neither of the two succeeded in achieving their stated goals.
Among ensuing chronic problems rooted in the totalitarian nature of such revolutionary regimes, one glaring area of utter failure commonly stands out: the national economy. For the Soviets, this failure was manifested in a dysfunctional agricultural sector. For over seventy years the failure of the Soviet agriculture and the system’s progressive inability to feed its own people was blamed on the weather, not the devastating forced-collectivization of the countryside. For the Islamic regime in Iran, the failures are blamed on American imperialism and the Zionist conspiracy!
Iran’s major and endemic economic failure can be attributed to the theocratic nature of its regime, its Marxist-Islamist constitution and its pervasive corrupt power structure. Flagrant violation of property rights of the private sector by the religious authorities and subsequent constitutional provisions ensuring entrenchment and dominance of the public sector has lead to continued misallocation of resources and economic hardship for the population.
Most of today’s economic and social ills can easily be traced to the government’s domination of the national economy. Specifically, Articles 43 and 44 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic were copied from those of former Communist states of Russia and Eastern Europe. In accordance with these articles, the government confiscated practically all aspects of the national economy and placed it under central planning. Since then, the state continues to dominate at least 80% percent of the economy. Today, in spite of significant annual oil income, totaling more than 500 billion dollars in 26 years, there are more than ten million of my compatriots living under the regime’s own poverty line.
Recently, a group of prominent economists in Iran bravely ignored the risks involved in criticizing the regime, and alarmed the public by issuing an open letter in which they catalogued a detailed list of our country’s economic ills. They pointed out that, in spite of enormous oil revenues, the government has never succeeded to balance its budget over this entire post-revolution period. This continued budgetary deficit has contributed to runaway inflation and a low rate of national capital formation. Government subsidies amount to more than 15 billion dollars a year in the energy sector alone. Inflation in Iran, measured by the consumer price index in urban areas, has been in double figures since the revolution and peaked at approximately 50% in 1995. Currently it is more than 15% by official figures and much higher by independent estimates. The government’s inability to control this continuous rise in prices has resulted in an astonishing fall in purchasing power of the national currency.
In terms of comparative purchasing power, the value of our national currency – the Rial – has been reduced to less than 1% of its value in 1978. The best illustration of that can be manifested in the foreign exchange rate of the country. Before the disastrous revolution of 1979, it was 76 Rials to one US dollar. Today it is nearly 9000 Rials to one dollar.
Widespread and chronic unemployment is another manifestation of the regime’s economic record. While Iran had a labor shortage before the revolution and hosted millions of ‘guest-workers’ from abroad, today unofficial sources put unemployment at over 20%; the official government-acknowledged rate is 16%. There is very little credibility for government statistics among the Iranian people.
It is essential to note that unemployment among the youth is as high as 30%. As far as women are concerned, there are so many obstacles raised against their full social participation that many have given up looking for work, have thus left the labor market and are therefore not officially counted among the unemployed. One estimate places the potential rate of unemployment among women as high as 50%. Widespread and officially sanctioned discrimination against women has led to severe economic deprivation causing serious social problems, amongst them an astonishingly high rate of suicide, addiction, crime and prostitution.
In light of Iran’s demography where more than 70% of the population is less than 30 years old, every year more than 800,000 young people enter the labor market. However, a sever shortage of newly created jobs makes it impossible to absorb such annually accumulating numbers. Based on the most recent census, the total population aged 10 years old and over in Iran numbers approximately 45 million, of which the economically active part is approximately 16 million. About one-half of Iran's population at the time of the last census was less than 20 years of age, a fact that is expected to result in increased pressure on the national unemployment problem in the future.
The antidote to the current economic impasse is for Iran to move from an inward oriented economic structure to a more liberalized and open market structure that needs and wants to interact with the rest of the world. It is obvious, however, that the present regime is neither capable nor willing to embrace such an undertaking. This inability is further intensified by the challenges in Iran's domestic political picture as well as tensions caused by regional confrontations and crises. Therefore, the desired process of restructuring does not seem possible without a fundamental shift in the country’s international orientation as well as a total restructuring of the domestic arena. In this context, it should be understood that the political process of democratization and its related phenomena are sine qua non for any improvement in the economic arena.
The nature of the world economy has changed. The revolutionary changes in the field of Information-Communication Technology have opened new horizons for all nations. The advent of global economy has made it possible for countries like China and India to jump start their economies and make more progress in ten years than others have made in a century. Yet, under the clerical regime’s tenure, Iran has in fact regressed and has further fallen behind from a fast paced global economy.
Iran’s highly motivated population, particularly the youth, will overcome these years of deprivation and stagnation upon successfully putting an end to the rule of theocrats.
Recent events in Lebanon and what is being referred to, as the ‘Cedar Revolution,’ is a clear example of the Winds of Change sweeping throughout the Middle East. It shows that democracy is eventually reaching the Islamic world and people of that region are learning to employ people’s power to achieve their political aspirations. People of Iran and Lebanon share many common characteristics. Both countries are culturally sophisticated and have a highly educated population.
It is only a matter of time before uniting Iranians find their moment in history to overcome their repressive clerical regime and regain their freedom and self-determination. It is in this light that I once again appeal on their behalf to the international community with this simple message:
We expect moral support from and solidarity with free societies and democratic governments, and we want their assurance that they will not compromise Iranian’s human rights and political freedom by cutting deals with our oppressors in the name of commerce and economic interests.
Iranians are the free world’s best allies, but victims of a vicious and archaic regime which is the only obstacle keeping our people from joining the rest of the progressive and modernizing world.
Free world societies have in turn been victims of terrorism and religious extremism and hatred. Yet in over a quarter of a century, foreign governments have only spoken to our jailers, but almost never to the prisoners.
Isn’t it time for the victims to talk to each other? If any meaningful engagement is to be considered, it ought to be in the form of an investment in democratization by empowering and engaging the democratic opposition forces as well as our civil society, struggling against the Islamic regime.
At this very critical juncture in the history of the Middle East, the best insurance against our current cycle of violence, terrorism and nuclear threats, will be the replacement of an inherently undemocratic and intolerant system of theocracy with a pluralistic, progressive and all-inclusive democratic system, guarantying popular sovereignty and self-determination for all Iranians.
In closing, let me emphasize the crucial, yet limited window of opportunity which could enable a most legitimate process of change happening by the Iranian people’s own hands. Parallel to Iranian democrats fighting for non-violent regime change, the regime is gearing up for a final show down against its own citizens and the free world.
Who will get to the finish line first? Will it be the opposition, today armed with a pragmatic solution in the form of a referendum project which calls for the election of a constituent assembly charged with the drafting of a new secular constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thus putting an end to theocracy in favor of democracy, or, will it be the ruling clerics ultimately armed with nuclear arsenal, thus blackmailing the rest of the free world?
To avoid the unpleasant, yet ultimate option of military confrontation, it is vitally important to maximize the chances of success for the process my compatriots and I are engaged in as we speak. I therefore hope that the international community will recognize the state of urgency that could significantly shape our near future: for the better, by standing with the people of Iran; for worse by ignoring the true intentions and inherent nature of the Islamic regime in Tehran. The choice ought to be simple and clear. I hope I made it clearer for this distinguished audience today.