On February 19 in Munich, a rally was held by the remnants of the deposed former dictator of Iran, Mohammadreza Pahlavi, the Shah. Masih Alinejad, a former Iranian state media reporter and fierce advocate of the so-called reformist movement, addressed the rally claiming that they are seeking a secular and democratic society in Iran.
Besides carrying a portrait of Raza Pahlavi, the crowd also had a picture of Parviz Sabeti, the former head of the Internal Security Division of the SAVAK, Shah’s secret police. The SAVAK is notorious for its brutality and, in particular, its use of torture against dissidents and intellectuals who opposed the former monarchial dictatorship.
Atop the poster of Sabeti was written, “Nightmare of future terrorists,” referencing Sabeti’s statement in 1978 that SAVAK should not be dissolved; otherwise, there would be havoc in the country.
The group thereby made clear that it views anyone who rejects Monarchy in Iran as a terrorist and thereby undermines calls for a “secular and democratic” system that Reza Pahlavi and his associates, such as Masih Alinejad, are zealously claiming to hold dear.
The supporters of Pahlavi had been mobilizing crowds throughout Europe and implying that several thousand—if not tens of thousands—people would attend the rally. Those familiar with the complexity of Iran’s political sphere understand that this is a muscle-flexing attempt to exaggerate Reza Pahlavi’s political weight and intimidate the Iranian diaspora who disagree with him. However, despite the wide range of media coverage of Persian language networks, only a few hundred showed up in front of the Munich Security Conference, which was attended and addressed by Reza Pahlavi personally as well as Masih Alinejad.
Furthermore, last week, at a rally that later was branded by many Iranians on social media as a scam rally, Sabeti appeared in a rally in Los Angeles, which was addressed by Reza Pahlavi. People who associate themselves with the so-called monarchial movement had claimed that 80,000— 180,000 by some accounts— had gathered in Los Angeles City Hall. These figures were amplified by some particular Persian-speaking media outlets, referencing an article in the Los Angeles Times to back up their claims of turnout that contradicted the local police’s account of three to four thousand. LAT later revised its article and headline, stating that thousands had actually shown up.
Following the media spectacle, several Iranians who had participated in the rally posted footage on social media stating that they regretted having taken part in a rally that was supposed to express support for the Iranian people but was rather hijacked by the monarchists and used as a stage to promote particular slogans and showcase posters of Reza Pahlavi and his heir.
Nevertheless, the clerical regime in Tehran is taking full advantage of these developments, claiming that foreign powers, dignitaries, and parliamentarians who support the uprising in Iran are advocating for a return to Shah’s dictatorship and the revival of the SAVAK. After Pahlavi’s followers showcased Parviz Sabeti, Iran’s state media exploited the incident to discourage people from joining the protests.
Following the uprising that sparked after the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, the regime redoubled its efforts to portray the opposition abroad as fractured and disorganized.
The Iranian regime’s response to these developments is unsurprising. They have long used fear-mongering and accusations of foreign interference to discredit any opposition to their rule.
As the world watches and waits to see what will happen in Iran, it is important to remember that the people of Iran themselves will ultimately determine their country’s future. The incident in Munich may seem small and unimportant, but it is a reminder that the road to freedom is uneven. For years, the murderous regime tried to shield itself against dissent by promoting the mirage of reforms and moderation.
These people try to call on the nation to stay away from radical approaches and claim to seek a colorful model of unity, root for collaboration with the IRGC and Basij while embracing hordes of “former Iranians officials” fresh out of the gates of airports. But to their dismay, the Iranian people have demonstrated they are following a different roadmap through their bravery and determination in their fight for democracy and human rights.
However, the Iranian people have shown time and again that they will not be deterred. Despite the regime’s attempts to sow fear and division, the protests have become more intense, and the demand for change remains strong.