This is an interview given by Her Majesty to some paper. I think is interesting to read it and I want to point out her sincerity talking about so difficult things.
February 11, 2005
February 11, 2005
Farah Diba Pahlavi, the deposed Empress of Iran, lives alone in a vast, dazzlingly tasteful apartment overlooking the River Seine. The floors are scattered with fine silk rugs, the tables with Persian antiquities, and handmade bon-bons are offered by a silent maid in a starched pinafore.
``Exile is very hard,'' says the empress, sinking into a soft armchair. She has had 25 years of it. The early ones spent as an international pariah, the later ones as a retreating echo of a tumultuous but long-passed time.
Now, says Farah, her huge brown eyes focused on the middle distance, she can finally scent the prospect of a homecoming. Iran, she believes, is changing fast. The Islamic radicals who drove out her late husband, the Shah, are on borrowed time.
Soon, says Farah, the demand for democracy, bubbling up in a restless young population that has known little but rule-by-Mullah will become irresistible. The backwash from Iraq's elections will roll unstoppably across the border. And then what she calls the ``black parenthesis'' in her ancient nation's otherwise distinguished history will end, and she will be free to return.
In his State of the Union address last week, US President George W Bush came close to saying America will back moves to topple Iran's regime, now apparently intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced a similar line on her visit to London: ``The Iranian people should have a chance to determine their own future.'' Would such a future include rolling out the welcome mat for the ex-empress?
Farah evidently likes to think so. In her memoir, An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah, she more or less says so. The book, which is just about to come out in paperback, adoringly portrays the Shah - a man of disturbing opinions whose reign was as corrupt and repressive as that of any Third World martinet - as one of the great statesmen of history, a ruler of saintly benevolence and unchallengeable wisdom, who brought prosperity, modernity and emancipation to his country.
The torture and murder routinely practised by Savak, the Shah's secret police, is dismissed with the literary equivalent of a wave of the hand, ``Some Savak agents no doubt went too far and it is said committed indefensible acts.''
There is a lot about ``how cruel history is'' and how ``unfair'' it has been, but surprisingly little introspection or analysis. Whatever the Iranians think of the mullahs, which, as Farah rightly says, isn't much, there appears little to suggest that they want the Pahlavis back. ``It would be a decision for the people, of course,'' she says in a low, throaty voice that owes its rasp to a lifetime's smoking. ``Nothing could happen without their agreement.''
Farah expresses high hopes of her eldest son, the 44-year-old, self-styled Reza II, who, from a base near Washington DC, runs a pro-democracy Iranian exile group.
``I believe,'' she says, ``that he can be a unifying factor, in the way that monarchies are.''
At 66, Farah remains eye-catchingly elegant, in a well-cut charcoal trouser suit and lethally pointed shoes. Her hair is pulled back in a sweeping coif, and the Nefertiti-like eye make-up that was once her trademark - in the days when she was portrayed by Andy Warhol - is more delicately applied.
She has never remarried, and when I ask her why not she looks faintly shocked and says, ``The memory of my husband is still so alive in me. I feel always so attached to him. Also, I feel that I am married to my destiny and my country, and so I have never felt the necessity or the wish.''
Every year, the empress visits her husband's tomb in the Al-Rifai mosque in northern Cairo. She remembers him ``as a civilised man. He was caring, he was a good husband and I never once heard him raise his voice or show anger.''
He was also, according to accounts written by less sympathetic hands, a great philanderer, with a distinctly old-fashioned line on the limits of women's abilities, whose quips included, ``In a man's life, women count only if they are beautiful, graceful and know how to stay feminine. Women have never produced a Michelangelo or a Bach or even a great cook.''
Farah was certainly beautiful, graceful and feminine - and scarcely out of her teens - when she caught the Shah's eye. Born into a well-connected Teheran family, she was studying architecture in Paris when she met the twice-married, but conspicuously heirless Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi at a reception. The Shah, 39, had divorced his first wife, Princess Fawzia, the sister of King Farouk of Egypt, after she produced only a daughter, and his second wife, Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari, when they failed to have any children.
Just 10 months after her wedding, in 1960, Farah gave birth to Reza. A honor guard fired a 21-gun salute as the birth was announced, and, recalls Farah, ``people were dancing in the streets.''
Before long, the streets were also hosting less propitious displays of public feeling. The powerful Islamic establishment took a dim view of what it considered to be the Shah's decadent, pro-Western posturing, and when he announced a program of agrarian reform that would strip thousands of imans of their traditional land titles, opposition took root in earnest.
The Shah, in the shape of his dreaded secret police, took a ruthless approach to dissent, and behind the glossy veneer of the ``new modern Iran'', an ugly, slow-burning stand-off developed.
In January 1979, with Iran paralysed by strikes and mass protests, the Shah and Farah fled into exile. No country expressed an eagerness to take them, and after short, fraught stays in the Bahamas, Mexico and Panama, among other places, they were finally allowed to settle in Egypt where the Shah died, 18 months later, of leukemia.
The mullahs took over in Teheran, and have kept a grip on power ever since. But now, argues Farah, that grip is slipping. The signs of change are everywhere, and no amount of bravado by the regime can conceal them.
``They are growing weaker,'' she says, ``because they do not have legitimacy. Every day I am at my desk. I am in touch with what is happening. The people send me e-mails, letters, faxes. Most of them are from younger people. They are desperate for change.''
What do the people say?
``That we are miserable, and we are waiting for you. We want to be free. We want to be out of the darkness. That is how I describe the Islamic Republic: the darkness,'' says Farah. ``Persia was a cradle of civilisation. We were known for our culture, our science, our philosophy, architecture, poetry, all these beautiful things, and now, in the 21st century, is this really the regime we want to have?''
In her book, Farah is eloquent on her early days in exile. Traveling with what she claims were only 15 suitcases (none of which, she would like it to be known, contained the Iranian crown jewels), the Pahlavis were shunted around the world as each country that received them was hit by a barrage of threats from Teheran. Despite rumors that the family had escaped with some US$100 million (HK$780 million), old friends no longer cared to see them, and those with whom the Shah had done good business in the past now excused themselves, and pointed out the need to protect their broader interests.
``People change when you are not in power,'' says Farah. ``It was a difficult time for us. I lived hour-to-hour, day-to-day. We never knew when we would have to move again. But I had to survive for my children. Now I look with pity on those who changed. What I say, and what I have learned in these 25 years, is that life is a struggle for all of us. You can lose your position, your possessions, your country, your loved ones, but you shouldn't lose your dignity or your courage.''
Her three eldest children now live in the United States. The youngest, Princess Leila, died in 2001, aged 31, after taking a drugs overdose in a London hotel suite. It later emerged she had battled with depression for years, although there was no evidence that the overdose was intentional, and, says, her mother: ``I will never believe that she killed herself.
``Leila was badly affected by the events of her childhood, and, particularly, the death of her father. We were separated as a family. She had to read terrible propaganda about us all, and although she was a very strong person, I think she suffered as a result. She loved to go out, and she loved to talk. She was a wonderful counselor for her friends, but she couldn't be to herself.''
Farah's greatest hope is to return home before she dies. ``I do not wish exile on anyone,'' she says. ``Especially when you see your country suffering without you.''
Not that life in Paris is unbearable. Although for years after the Shah's downfall she lived, Rushdie-style, under the threat of assassination, these days Farah can move more freely. She goes to restaurants, drinks coffee at the bistro au coin, and, even if, as she claims, the estimates of the money the Shah took out of Iran are grossly exaggerated, she appears to survive in enviable comfort.
What she misses ``are the things that are familiar to you. The things you can no longer see, cannot smell, cannot hear, cannot touch. I miss the people, the trees, the mountains.'' Iran, she says, is in desperate trouble, its masses disillusioned by the revolution and its brightest citizens fleeing abroad. ``The situation is heartbreaking,'' she says.
``Many young people are drug-addicted because they are so depressed, many young women are forced into prostitution because of poverty. There are mothers - I tell you things that are difficult for me to say - who sell their daughters to countries on the other side of the Persian Gulf for US$1,000 for their virginity. There are people begging on the streets - never did this happen before in Iran - people selling their organs to survive.''
The success of Farah's book, a bestseller in France and the United States, suggests there is a market in unashamedly one-sided, rose-tinted accounts of the achievements of the Shah's 36-year reign. But why, I ask her, if the Shah did so much good, were 500,000 people waiting at the airport in Teheran to welcome the Ayatollah Khomeini back from exile?
She admits, cautiously, that the pace of the Shah's changes may have been too fast for a country that ``at the start of the 20th century was still in the Middle Ages,'' that the Shah's style of strong rule may have been ill-suited to accommodating strongly differing views in society, and ``that perhaps we should have been more humble.''
Humility was never the Shah's forte. In 1971, in the ancient city of Persepolis, he threw what has been described as the biggest party in history to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian empire. The catering was provided by Maxim's, the court uniforms by Lanvin, the goblets by Baccarat. Elizabeth Arden created a new line of cosmetics christened Farah, and, except for the caviar, all the food and wine was flown in from Paris. It cost more than US$200 million.
Even today, Farah takes exception to the notion that the party was overblown. ``This was one celebration in 2,500 years,'' she huffs. ``A celebration of the nation's history. Our critics couldn't see that. They were putting out propaganda.
``We were not extravagant people. I always hear about our palaces. Well, go and see the palaces. There was only one, and a couple of villas. But always I hear about the way we lived, the food we ate, the servants we had.''
Her eyes narrow. ``I have been in real palaces in Europe where a couple of paintings on the wall would be worth more than all our palaces.''