‘Tale of the Mummy’ Confuses Iran

‘Tale of the Mummy’ Confuses Iran

Wednesday, 25 April, 2018 - 06:15
In this August 19, 1941 file photo, Reza Shah Pahlavi, hands second son, Ali Reza, commission as officer at graduation exercises at Iran's ‘West Point’ in Tehran. (AP)
London - Adil Al-Salmi
The recent discovery of a mummified corpse south of Tehran stirred the imagination of the Iranian people that it may be the remains of founder of the previous regime, Reza Shah Pahlavi. The timing of the discovery, which fell on eve of the anniversary of his crowning as monarch on April 24, 1925, raised even more speculation.

The story began when a worker posted three days ago a “selfie” with a mummy that was unearthed during construction work to expand a commercial zone near a historic mausoleum in the city of Ray in the Tehran province.

The image soon circulated on social media with claims that the mummy was that of Reza Shah Pahlavi. The speculation was fueled even further after photographs of Pahlavi before his burial were compared with the unearthed corpse. The hashtag “where is Reza Shah?”, “long live Reza Shah” and “they fear your corpse” soon cropped up on social media, while supporters of the current regime launched the mocking “the mummy Reza Shah” hashtag.

Official circles varied in confirming or denying the identity of the corpse. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards affiliated Fars and Tasnim news agencies denied the discovery, while the state affiliated IRNA and ISNA agencies raised doubts about it.

Hassan Khalilabadi, the head of Tehran City Council's cultural heritage and tourism committee, was quoted by IRNA on Monday as saying it is "possible" the mummy is the body of Reza Shah.

A spokesman for the shrine dismissed the idea of a mummy being found there, while authorities said they will need to conduct DNA tests to confirm whose body it is.

Reza Shah's grandson, the US-based exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, has tweeted that he believes the remains to be those of his grandfather even as Iran waits for forensic experts to determine whose body they found. He earlier warned Iran's current government "not to hide anything."

Iranian clerics demanded that the sanctity of the corpse be respected and that it be handed over to its family or that it be reburied according to Islamic rituals.

The discovery of the mummy reawakened the yearning for the rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi. The yearning for the old dynasty was also in the minds of anti-government protesters, who had taken to the streets in in over 80 cities in December to rally against the poor economy. Some of the demonstrators at the time had chanted slogans that praised the economic prosperity witnessed under the rule of the Shah, whom the current regime paints as a traitor.

Supporters of the Shah have formed the National Council of Iran which is head by his grandson, Reza Pahlavi. He has denied that he wanted to restore the monarchy in Iran, stressing that he instead hopes that the Iranians would be able to form their own democratic system.

Days ago, he sent several messages through social media to the Iranian people, saying that the current regime was close to collapse given the re-eruption of anti-government protests.

Reza Shah's rise gave birth to modern Iran, which was still called Persia until he ordered foreign diplomats to cease using the name. He came to power in 1925, ruling as an absolute autocrat who used taxes and the country's burgeoning oil revenues to rapidly modernize the nation.

His decisions echo today, particularly his 1936 decree banning women from wearing long, flowing black robes known as chadors. He ordered men to wear Western clothes and bring their wives to public functions with their hair uncovered.

Iran's strong trade ties with Germany, Reza Shah's push for neutrality in World War II and Western fears over its oil supplies falling to the Nazis ultimately sparked a Russian-British invasion of the country in 1941. Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at the insistence of the occupying British forces.

Reza Shah died in South Africa in 1944. His body was taken to Cairo, mummified and remained there for years before being brought to Iran. It was placed in a grand mausoleum in Ray near Tehran, which then-President Richard Nixon visited in 1972.

After 1979, however, Islamists viewed the mausoleum as an affront.

Iranian cleric Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, who ordered the executions of hundreds after the revolution, led a mob of supporters who used sledgehammers, jackhammers and other tools to demolish the mausoleum.

Khalkhali later would write in his memoirs that he believed the shah's family took Reza Shah's body when they fled the country. The shah's family, however, maintained the body remained in Iran. His son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was buried in Cairo after dying of cancer in 1980.

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