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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Iranian Pay Respect to Late Shah

Iranian Pay Respect to Late Shah : July 26, 2007 - Borzou Dargahi

CAIRO, EGYPT -- Stylish in tiny black dresses and tailored suits, the mourners gathered at an upscale downtown hotel. They filled the air with expensive perfume and cologne, their handbags and sunglasses gilded with the logos of Coco Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana. On Wednesday, as they do every year, scores of Iranian monarchists were visiting the Egyptian capital to pay homage to the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and dreamily recall the long-lost Middle Eastern belle epoque he represented — to them. Before al-Qaida and the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, at a time when Sunnis and Shiites intermarried and no U.S. warplanes were scouring the region, the shah and his wife reigned over a land in which, for the well-to-do, local currencies traded as high as skirt lines and the future shined brightly. "It was the greatest era of my life," said Shahareh Shirvani, a Houston real estate agent who left Iran as a teenager but comes to the memorial each year. Most historians don't share the same view of the shah's reign. He inherited his post from his father but left the country after a democratic and nationalist groundswell in the early 1950s. A U.S.-funded coup restored him to his throne in 1953. He surrounded himself with American advisers and military hardware. Flush with oil money, he became Washington's enforcer in the Middle East. The SAVAK, his secret police, became notorious for torture and domestic espionage targeting the Islamic activists who ultimately took over the country. The shah's rule was extinguished in the flames of a 1979 revolution that set in motion Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and contributed to the start of several wars that changed the region forever. "There was stability and peace," said Farah Diba, the late shah's widow, who joins the procession annually, resting her head on her husband's tomb inside the 19th century Rifai mosque. "Unfortunately, I can say that after what happened 28 years ago in Iran, everything moved in the opposite direction." Those gathered here wistfully remember the days before the shah's fall. Before Islamic enforcers shut down Iran's nightclubs and forbid unmarried couples from canoodling in public, young Iranian men and women partied until dawn in Iranian cities. The procession of fans left the hotel and boarded buses. They headed first to the tomb of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who offered the ailing shah sanctuary when President Carter refused to allow him to remain in the United States. The shah died of cancer while in Egypt in June 1980. On Wednesday, Diba and Sadat's widow, Jehan Sadat, led the procession to the monument where Sadat is buried, and placed flowers at his grave. Then they boarded the buses again to make the trip across town to the shah's tomb, where Diba knelt before her late husband's final resting place. "We can lose a lot of things," she said later. "We can lose our country, our loved ones, our positions, our belongings, but we can never lose hope. One day, I am sure, this nightmare will be over."

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