“I heard the voice of your revolution. As Shah of Iran and as an Iranian citizen, I cannot but approve of your revolution. Let us all work together to establish a real democracy in Iran. I make a commitment to be with you and your revolution against corruption and injustice in Iran.”

–Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, 1979.

 

This family portrait- which decidedly resembles the ones commissioned by the royal families of Europe in their prime – shows the last Shah of Iran and his family. Although not lacking in lavishness, this picture pales in comparison to the Shah’s opulent lifestyle. In 1967, Mohammad Reza decided to stage a coronation ceremony, a formal acknowledgment of his status as monarch. Four years later, another lavish affair — contemporary news reports put the price tag at $100 million — was staged to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian monarchy. The Iranian revolution that toppled his dynasty may have been about bring democracy to Iran, but for many it was also a rebellion against the Shah’s decadent and western mode of living.

The Islamic Republic that replaced the monarchy has gone the opposite way; Iran’s state affairs are marked with austerity and a western lifestyle is not only frowned upon, but actively repressed. If the solid gold telephones and tiger safaris were the extreme of one regime, the arrest of Instagram users for posting pictures without covering their head is another extreme.