Iran has been wracked by riots for the past few weeks. Some of the rioters seem to be yearning for the reign of the Shah of Iran. These naive protesters are too young to remember what the Shah’s tenure was actually like. There is little doubt that the Islamic Republic has circumscribed personal and civic freedoms in Iran. Despite the despotic nature of the Shah’s regime, it was secular and not viewed as a pariah among nations. Seizing on the opportunity created by the riots, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the Shah, has called on the police and security forces to join the demonstrators. “The death of a number of the bravest men and women of our homeland and detention of many more during national protests make people more resolved in continuing the path they have taken,” he said, adding, “I ask the military and police forces to separate their lot from the suppressing despots and join the people, right away.” The Shahbano, Farah Pahlavi, issued a statement: “Do suffering people, who demand a better life in a rich country, deserve to be treated in such a way by those who are running the state?” Against this yearning for a return to the days of the Shah, it is helpful to recall the reasons why his majesty fell from grace. He had ruled Iran with an iron hand from 1941 to 1979. The SAVAK, which was as much a secret police as it was an intelligence agency, kept a watchful eye on everyone — supporters and opponents alike. Dissenters disappeared, many were tortured and some were killed. SAVAK also kept an eye on Iranian students in the US, the UK and France. Then one day the unthinkable happened. The king of kings, the man who sat on the peacock throne and imagined himself to be the successor of Emperors Cyrus and Darius, a man who flipped through the pages of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine as if it was a Sears catalogue and ordered every conceivable weapon system that he desired, was replaced by a turbaned man in black robes with a long beard who had spent years in exile and who barely spoke English. It is helpful to recall the reasons for the Shah’s fall from grace. He had ruled Iran with an iron hand from 1941 to 1979. The SAVAK, which was as much a secret police as it was an intelligence agency, kept a watchful eye on everyone — supporters and opponents alike. Dissenters disappeared, many were tortured and some were killed The end had begun in October 1971 when the Shah decided to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in the ancient city of Persepolis, the site of Cyrus’ tomb. Heads of state came from everywhere, including General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan of Pakistan. They took residence in a tent city that was constructed in the desert. For security reasons, his own subjects were not allowed to attend the festivities. They had to watch it on television. It is estimated that the event cost more than a billion dollars. As just one example of the extravagance, helicopters ferried car-sized blocks of ice across the desert every day to top up the ice buckets for the white wine. Peacocks cooked at Maxim’s in Paris were flown in for the guests. Orson Welles, hired to narrate the official documentary, intoned: “This was not just the party of the year, it was the celebration of 25 centuries.” Watching the party from exile in Paris, the Ayatollah Khomeini condemned the “shameful” party because it had nothing to do with the Muslim people of Iran and said that those attending it were “traitors” and “vultures.” He encouraged Iranians to rise up against their ruler. They answered his call eight years later. The Shah fled the country. He was literally running from country to country as an unwelcome guest before he died months later. He continued to think of himself as the king of Iran and appeared on numerous talk shows, dressed immaculately. In Panama, he told David Frost, the British talk show host, that he had no knowledge of the horrible actions of the SAVAK and said that he had never authorised torture and non-judicial executions. He had that ability to lie through his teeth, ignoring the advice that he had inherited from Darius the Great. Speaking to future kings of Persia, he had said: “If you think of what you must do to save your country, annihilate the liars.” The ultimate expose of the Shah’s crimes can be found in the book ‘Witness,’ by Mansur Rafizadeh, who headed the SAVAK’s notorious intelligence apparatus in the US. The book is partly an autobiography and partly a political history. It lists in gory details the palace intrigues that characterised the Pahlavi dynasty. Opponents were picked up, tortured and executed on the slightest pretence. Among the Shah’s lieutenants, loyalty was the most prized virtue. Those who lost their lives on the Shah’s orders included two SAVAK heads. Rafizadeh’s job was to keep an eye on the Iranian students in the US, to host royal visitors, to keep tabs on journalists, and to stay in touch with the CIA. During the waning days of the monarchy, he was asked to visit the Shah in Tehran. A special visitor was invited for secret negotiations in the White Palace to resolve the domestic crisis. The visitor turned out to be an ayatollah. After a royal feast, he was invited to tour the royal zoo. He became enamoured with the lions and on a hint from the Shah, two palace guards threw him into the cage. He was torn up by the beasts. Rafizadeh said that even he found that very hard to take. With the mission accomplished, a smiling Shah strolled back to the palace. Years passed. The Shah was overthrown, lived in exile, died, and ended up being buried in Cairo because Khomeini refused to accept his remains. The author went to Cairo to pay his last respects. He hired a taxi and the driver was surprised when informed of the destination. He said no one goes there. They passed a grand, pyramid-shaped tomb which the author thought was the Shah’s but was told it was Sadat’s. The Shah’s muddy grave was in a hut in the back of a mosque in the old part of town. He asked the attendant to open the door to the hut and light a candle. A sheet of flowers lay on the grave which pleased Rafizadeh but it turned out to be made of plastic. To add insult to injury, it had come from the Shahbano. Rafizadeh asked the attendant to clean the place and to offer a prayer on his behalf, which the latter did once a reasonable payment had been made. As he left the Shah’s grave, images flashed in front of him. Among them, the 2500th anniversary celebrations and then the sight of the ayatollah being fed to the lions. And then the dark and dusty grave which now housed the remains of the Light of the Aryans. He recalled that of the 350 kings in Persian history, 85 were killed by relatives and 128 by their own subjects. Writing in 1987, Rafizadeh predicted: “Khomeini, man and memory, cannot escape the Persian fate.” Those who are rioting on the streets of Iran are determined to prove him right. The writer is the author of Musharraf’s Pakistan, Bush’s America and the Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, January 9th 2018.