Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a short video of the late Iranian King Mohammad Reza Shah Pehlavi during his visit to Saudi Arabia around 40 years ago. The late Saudi leader, King Faisal, had received the Iranian monarch. The short video is a testimony to the depth of ties and mutual respect the two countries had toward one another. It is a historical fact that during the Shah’s rule, Iran and Iranians enjoyed great respect around the world. Prior to the revolution in 1979, Iran was considered a key global player with great ambitions to become a leading industrial nation and a vibrant economy on the world’s map. Iran’s economy was booming long before even the coining of the term “Asian Tigers.” Unfortunately, by forcing the Shah into exile, Iran simply chose to change the path. To many Iranians, clocks stopped ticking on Feb. 1, 1979 — the day Ayatollah Khomeini stepped out of the jet that had transported him all the way from France. Subsequently, Iran plunged into chaos and many top Iranian brains were killed, jailed or simply left Iran forever. Iran itself condemned to a state of global isolation. After the Shah’s departure, religious mullahs ruled Iran and the country’s name was changed to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ironically, people with a good grip on Iranian affairs say that the revolution did not gain mass popularity as the outside world had been led to believe. Even the American hostage crisis that lasted 444 days was not planned at all. At that time there was no social media. The three major US news networks had organized special day and night transmissions about Iran. Following the revolution, the mullahs promised more stability, social equality and eradication of poverty and corruption from the country. It, however, later turned out that Iranians had been better off under Shah’s rule. Sadly, since the day Iran emerged as an Islamic republic on the world’s map, instead of forging friendlier ties with all the Gulf states, it started threatening the security and stability of these countries. By doing so, Iran missed a golden opportunity to become one of the most prosperous countries of the world. At around that same time, the Gulf countries were witnessing a boom in their economies and Iran could have managed to present itself as a very attractive place for all sorts of investments. Undoubtedly, Iran has a very rich cultural history. During those days, the aviation industry of the world was also blooming thus boosting tourism industry. Many countries exploited the opportunity and gained economically by promoting their respective tourist sectors. Iran could have become a major tourist attraction due to its many archeological sites and with the help of a relatively advanced infrastructure and pleasant climatic conditions. At that time Tehran airport was more ready for expansion in transit capacity and could have become the connecting hub between the East and the West at a time when Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha airports were not even known by aviation experts. As a matter of fact, many former Saudi Aramco employees from all nationalities still talk about the Dhahran- Shiraz flights they used to take to spend part of their vacations. In addition to being rich in oil and gas reserves, Iran is famous for its Persian rugs, saffron, pistachio, caviar and many agricultural products that it could export. Instead of getting closer to its neighboring Gulf countries, Iran tried to play on the sectarian differences. Iran should have known better because Iran’s population is very diverse. It is composed of many ethnic groups such as Persians, Kurds, Lurs, Balochs and many others. So, it is not in Iran’s interest to play on minorities or groups of different religious sects. As we all know that Iranians born after the 1979 revolution never experienced life under the Shah and most likely are never allowed to talk about his son Reza Pahlavi. But Iran is seeing movements within that are using the new media to show life in Iran before and after 1979. Just like when Khomeini used the cassette tapes to talk to the Iranians 36 years ago to incite protests and riots. In the past, there was a law against the circulation of portraits of the Shah and his family. Writing is also prohibited about the Shah, his wife or his son. However, with the advent of the social media, it is impossible to hide the past glory of Iran under the Shah. Now, many Iranians are following reports about Reza, who was the crown prince when he left Iran in 1979. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. A Case of Missed Opportunities reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.