A group of prominent exiled Iranian opposition figures pleaded Friday for unity and an end to infighting to help the nationwide protests of recent months to replace Iran’s Islamic theocracy with a secular democracy.
The eight figures, who included Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, said they were working on a charter for a transition to a new pluralistic system that would be followed by free elections.
Their call was made at a conference in the United States a day before the Islamic republic marks 44 years since the February 11, 1979 Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted the imperial rule of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Iran’s theocratic leadership is facing its greatest challenge from nearly five months of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested for allegedly violating the strict dress code for women.
But the emigre opposition has long been notorious for infighting between its various factions, some pro-monarchist, others left-wing or based among Iran’s ethnic minority groups.
“It’s not a time for infighting. The overthrow of the regime is not possible without unity and empathy,” said Ebadi.
“Let’s leave differences for the election. We will move hand-in-hand to a better future,” she said in a video message to the conference at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the US.
Pahlavi, who has long campaigned for a secular democracy in Iran rather than any restoration of the monarchy, said: “The time has come to consolidate our positions, put aside differences.
“The time has come to put aside slogans, roll up our sleeves and begin our work,” he said.
– ‘The next wave will come’ –
Actor Golshifteh Farahani, who said she was also speaking on behalf of pro-protest footballer Ali Karimi, said the participants shared a common goal to “overthrow and transition from the Islamic republic”, starting with a transitional council and then elections.
“When election day comes we won’t all want the same things. But we will celebrate our differences.”
US-based dissident Masih Alinejad said that the group was working on a charter or proposals for a transition that would be ready at the end of the month.
“We must agree on minimal principles,” she said, adding: “The world must prepare itself for a day without the Islamic republic.”
The conference was also addressed by Hamed Esmaeilion, who represents families bereaved by Iran’s shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in 2020, actor Nazanin Boniadi and Abdullah Mohtadi, secretary general of the Kurdish Komala Party.
Most analysts agree that the protests have lost momentum in recent months in the face of a crackdown that has seen hundreds killed, thousands arrested and four protest-related executions.
But the participants insisted that the regime remained under threat.
“The next wave will come and it will be heavier,” Esmaeilion said.
“We can organize and plan so, when the next wave comes, all of us are ready and we can transition away from the Islamic republic.”