An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah – A Memoir is a personal account of the life of Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi, wife of the last emperor of Iran. Born in 1938 to a middle class Iranian family, queen-to-be Farah met Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah of Iran for the first time in Iranian Embassy in 1959 on his official visit to France. At that time, she was a student at Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture in Paris. The king, 40, was just divorced from his second wife Princess Soraya because of her inability to produce an heir and was looking for a girl to marry. Ardeshir Zahedi, who was the king’s son-in-law and was in charge of Iranian students abroad, introduced Farah to his wife Princess Shahnaz — king’s first daughter from his first marriage. She then introduced Farah to her father. After their brief meetings, the two was married on 21 December 1959 when she was only 21 years old.
“Why did you choose me?” I once asked the king.
He gave the slightest hint of a smile.
“Do you remember the afternoon, at one of our first meetings, when we’d been playing quoits? There were a lot of us quite a crowd. Most of the quoits fell on the ground instead of the target, and you were kind enough to run and pick them up for everyone. You had already charmed me, but on that day I loved the way you were so natural.”
In 1963, the Shah introduced social and economic reforms known as White Revolution. The first 6 elements of White Revolution was put to a national referendum. One of them, woman’s suffrage, was widely criticised by the Iranian clerics, particularly the popular Ruhollah Khomeini who is the founder of Islamic Revolution.
What could one reply to men who denied women intelligence and the right to express an opinion on the life of the country? That we women were worth no more that goats? That we were no longer living in the Middle Ages? What was the use? The king was banking on the irresistible momentum of intelligence against backwardness and obscurantism.
As a response to the White Revolution and the improvement of woman’s status, the king crowned the Empress on 26 October 1967. Empress Farah was the only woman to be crowned in the history of Iran. She was given a title Shahbanou, the Queen of Queens, and was the first Empress to have received this title. She states in the book that the king made her feel that “he was crowning all the women of Iran.”
One of the reasons I was interested in reading this book was because of my curiosity of Her Majesty’s opinion with regards to Ruhollah Khomeini. Honestly, I’m no fan of Khomeini, nor of his Islamic Revolution — even before I read this book. He had been criticising the monarchs about their lack of freedom of expression, but he too never granted his people to have this privilege. Numerous people who were the members of overthrown monarchy, military, and those who opposed his revolution were ordered to be punished and killed by him. What kind of freedom of expression was that??? Moreover, he promised the Iranian people that he would improve their economic and spiritual situations. But none of these promises was fulfilled. According to Wikipedia, the poverty in Iran increased by nearly 45% during the first 6 years of the revolution. My dad once said, “the best thing about Iran is that the people there believe 100% of what their Islamic leaders/clerics said to them. So it is very easy to influence these people.”
Khomeini was arrested by the government in 1963 due to his role in the riots and unrest in Mashhad and Qom. He risked the death penalty, but his life was saved by General Hassan Pakravan who was the head of SAVAK. Instead of ordering him to be executed, General Pakravan — with the king’s approval — asked him to be exiled to Turkey. After the Iranian Revolution, General Pakravan was one of the first people ordered by Khomeini to be killed! Hmm.. I guess, Khomeini did not know how to say “thank you”, did he?
I enjoy reading her memoir, particularly about her role as the first lady to improve the Iranian education, health, culture, and sport. She travelled extensively to many towns and villages in Iran to help her people. Her meetings with them are described as one of “the best memories of my life as queen.” She also expresses her gratitude for the kindness she and her husband received from few kings and heads of state during their hard times, including former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and his wife Jehan Sadat. My heart was touched when I read about her first one year of exile in Egypt, Morocco, Bahamas, Mexico, and Panama. All countries, except Egypt, refused to receive them. When she and her husband were in Panama, it was reported that the Panamanian and US governments were going to arrest her husband and bring him to the newly built Iranian Republic in an exchange with the American hostages. But before they could do that, her family decided to move back to Egypt, where her sick husband would be treated. The last Shah of Iran passed away at the age of 60 on 27 July 1980 in Cairo.
The funeral took place on 29 July 1980, two days after the king’s death. His body lay in Abdin Place as they played the imperial anthem. Hearing it made us all extremely emotional for it was the first time we had heard it since our departure from Iran. The cortege accompanying the body left Abdin Palace in oppressive heat for the El Rifai Mosque, which would be my husband’s provisional resting place. In Muslim countries women traditionally do not walk behind the coffin, but I insisted on being present. President Sadat told his protocol officers, “We will do as Farah wishes.”
Of all the kings, heads of state, and foreign dignitaries who had known my husband over the thirty years of his reign, none came to Cairo to pay their last respects — none, that is, with the exception of Richard Nixon and Constantine of Greece.
This book is not the best autobiography I’ve ever read. It captures the ‘almost perfect’ Pahlavi family from her point of view. It tells you how deep her love was to the king, how passionate the Shah was to modernise the country and how great his love was for his children, particularly to Princess Farahnaz. But what about SAVAK, the secret police force that allegedly imprisoned, tortured, and assassinated those who were against the Shah? While the Shahbanou mentions several times about the equality between Iranian men and women that were entirely supported by her husband, she seems to ignore his remarks about the role of women during an interview with Oriana Fallaci. But overall, this book is a great source for those of you who have interests in Iran.
Today, Empress Farah Pahlavi lives in exile for more than 20 years in the United States and France. She has 3 granddaughters, Princess Noor, Princess Iman, and Princess Farah who are the daughters of her son, the former Crown Prince of Iran, Reza Cyrus Pahlavi and his wife Yasmine Pahlavi.
WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO IRAN?
Everything we undertook has been sacrificed and wasted. In the realm of education and health, where we enlisted tens of thousands of Iranians to work for the common good, all that effort has come to a standstill.
The ruling clerics have ruined the vibrant economy. Giant state-run institutions have monopolized industry, commerce, and trade to the detriment of the privately run enterprises. Oil, the precious wealth of the country, is now in the hands of a few privileged members of the regime who have amassed fortunes at the expense of the population that has become poorer and poorer. Today a small minority controls most of the country’s wealth. Millions of Iranians have fallen below the absolute poverty line. Runaway inflation has forced men and women to seek second, and in some cases third, jobs. Rural areas are left behind in favour of the towns, and the green wooded suburbs of cities are crumbling from neglect. Thousands of villages have been deserted. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, while in the tree years preceding the Islamic revolution, about one million additional workers from Asia and elsewhere were hired every year.