OPINION: Centenary of Shah and Twin Sister Ashraf Reminds Iran of Its Past

By Elahe Boghrat

October 26 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of royal twins the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and his sister Princess Ashraf.

There is a wealth of information about their lives from many sources except in Iran, where the Islamic Republic has tried to brainwash younger generations about the recent history by diminishing the significant role the royal siblings and Pahlavi dynasty played in ushering a new era of progress and prosperity in the country.

The regime’s relentless efforts to rewrite history and disseminate a false narrative about the country’s past have failed to dissuade those who have been born in the last four decades from finding the truth about the Pahlavi era.

Iranian people’s firsthand experience with the Islamic Republic differs vastly from the version of history the regime has been peddling in the last 40 years.

Iranians have not fallen victim to the Islamic Republic’s relentless propaganda machine, given its message has never corresponded to the harsh social, political, and economic realities people deal with daily.

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shah_ashraf.jpg” panorama=”off” credit=”The late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and his sister Princess Ashraf. SOURCE: KAYHAN LONDON” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

People can see right through the regime’s carefully constructed lies, despite its attempts in the past 40 years to indoctrinate the entire nation.

Why did no one get nostalgic about the Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925) during Pahlavi rule (1925-1979)? Why will no one miss the Islamic Republic regime even if the conditions continue to get worse after it relinquishes power? Why is that? Why do people still get nostalgic about the Pahlavi era and dream of its return?

The answer is obvious.

The Pahlavi era is relevant today because no other governing system has so far been able to guarantee the Iranian people the freedom, security, and prosperity they enjoyed before the Islamic Revolution.

Iranians who are in their 50s and older remember October 26 as a national day. Cities would put up lights and banners in their streets. Large sports stadiums hosted massive national day celebrations.

Although the Shah and his twin sister Princess Ashraf shared the same birthday, the country celebrated only the Shah’s on October 26.

Princess Ashraf loved her brother and his wife, Empress Farah. Stories about palace intrigues and discord between the twins have all been fabricated by people whose sole purpose has been to hurt the Pahlavi family and tarnish their legacy.

In recent years, several intellectuals and clerics, closely linked to the Islamic Republic regime, have acknowledged some achievements of Reza Shah (1878-1944), the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty.

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shah_rezashah_ashraf.jpg” panorama=”off” credit=”Shah and his twin sister Princess Ashraf with their father, Reza Shah. SOURCE: KAYHAN LONDON” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Everybody recognizes that, after the Constitutional Revolution of Iran (1905-1911), Reza Shah played a critical role in modernizing the country’s administrative machinery and military.

It is noteworthy that while Reza Shah was rebuilding Iran, fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism were threatening civilization in the West and in the East.

Among Reza Shah’s notable achievements was passing a law known as Kashf-e Hijab on January 8, 1936, which banned Islamic veils, including the headscarf and chador. The law was a positive step towards recognizing women’s rights and paving the way for women to excel in society and the workplace.

The late Shah took the helm from his father during World War II. He followed in his father’s footsteps in modernizing the country by investing in infrastructure projects, education system, and health services.

In 1963 the Shah unveiled the “White Revolution,” also known as “The Shah and People’s Revolution,” which entailed land reform, building roads, expanding the rail network, and giving women the right to vote.

The Shah and his father’s efforts to modernize the country and reform the laws encountered fierce opposition from two distinct reactionary groups.

The “Reactionary Black” who were anti-modernist and anti-Western religious extremist groups, opposed any social progress and advocated a theocratic rule. If they could, they would never allow women to leave their homes.

However, half a century of Pahlavi’s efforts at modernizing the country, and advancement in information and communication technology have prevented this group from oppressing women.

The “Reactionary Red” (far left group) knew that “The Shah and People’s Revolution” was already achieving many of the articles in their manifesto, including but not limited to land reform and workers’ profit sharing.

Farmers, workers, women, and religious minorities whose rights were guaranteed under the Shah’s progressive programs gradually abandoned the far left, which had always claimed to champion their cause.

Both groups fell out of favor with people given the success of Shah’s comprehensive, multifaceted, and workable White Revolution.

The Shah’s coherent development projects put the country on the path of realizing his vision of a “great civilization.”

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi did not believe that Iran had reached its destination yet, but even after his overthrow, he urged Iranians to never abandon their vision of a greater future for their country.

All governments before the Islamic Revolution worked towards developing the country’s social, political, economic, and educational institutions.

Iranian women’s groups and people such as Princess Ashraf and Empress Farah played significant roles in safeguarding the country’s artistic and cultural heritage, which have fortunately survived the regime’s deliberate onslaught in the past 40 years.

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/shah-farah.jpg” panorama=”off” credit=”Shah and and Empress Farah. SOURCE: KAYHAN LONDON” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

The fault does not lie with the Shah and his progressive programs, but with those who resisted his efforts.

The religious extremists, who envisioned themselves as the country’s self-appointed principal political and moral authority, felt threatened by the Shah’s progressive plans.

In a highly polarized world where the West symbolized freedom and progress, the far left found itself in the same camp as the “Regressive Left” and the anti-democratic groups.

While espousing anti-Western sentiments, none of these groups claimed to advocate democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights. They were only thinking about their own freedom and rights when they were accusing the Shah of human rights violations.

History has shown that religious hardliners and far-left groups have been oppressive and brutal anytime they have seized power. It is, therefore, not surprising that these two groups should prefer the Islamic Republic over Pahlavi rule.

The regressive left and religious extremists criticized the Shah and his father for modernizing Iran and elevating women’s position in society.

Religious zealots, whose aim was to perpetuate an oppressive patriarchal culture, also viciously lambasted Princess Ashraf, who advocated women’s rights.

One can only imagine what would happen if the religious extremists and regressive left were to join forces and seize power.

The Islamic Republic’s concerted efforts, in the past 40 years, to revise and rewrite Iranian history have failed.

During the recent civil unrest in the country, protesters were chanting “Reza Shah God Bless Your Soul,” “A Country Without Shah Is in Disarray,” “Come Back to Iran.”

On the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Shah and Princess Ashraf, Iranian people have shown that they use any opportunity to reject and defy the Islamic Republic regime.

Perhaps fate has played a hand in enabling a brother and sister of royal birth to leave an indelible mark on the country’s history and culture that no amount of propaganda, indoctrination, and brainwashing could erase from the Iranian collective consciousness.

Once again, achieving a “Great Civilization” has become the goal and the dream of Iranian people.

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]







  1. I assume that the author of the article refers to social and religious freedoms when referring to the ‘freedoms’ provided by the Pahlavi monarchy. Because in political terms, freedom was quite restricted. Whether this was necessary or not can be debated. While I agree with much of what the author points out, I think the author perhaps paints a little too rosy picture of that era. There were problems, and there was much the Shah could and should have done differently. But overall, it was an era marked by remarkable progress and prosperity – particularly if one considers that they transformed Iran from having been a tremendously backward, impoverished and illiterate society, riddled with disease, superstition, extremely high mortality and infant mortality, inequality and lack almost any kind of infrastructure, into the modern and vibrant country it was in 1978. And that they managed to do so within a few decades only, and with very limited financial means! And under very difficult and trying conditions, with the second world war, invasion and occupation, the cold war, the powerful resistance of the clergy and the superpowers vying for control and influence!

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