Ashraf Pahlavi, Twin Sister and Ally of Last Iran Shah, Dies

Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister and staunch political ally of the last Shah of Iran, has died. She was 96.

Pahlavi died “peacefully in her home in Europe” on January 7, according to a statement e-mailed by an aide. Pahlavi had lived in exile in the U.S. and France since the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and installed a clerical regime.

During her brother’s reign, she played an important role in domestic politics and on the international arena. A secret CIA document revealed more than a decade ago showed Pahlavi had a pivotal role in persuading the Shah to back the U.S.-led coup in 1953 that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh.

By her own accounts, she was “inextricably tied” to her brother. The initial family comment on her passing came from the Shah’s son and nephew, Reza Pahlavi.

“I have many memories from her from childhood up until now,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “In particular when it comes to her worries of Iran losing its standing after the Islamic Revolution and the flicker of hope she always had in her heart for Iran to be free and proud.”

Women’s Rights

Pahlavi was an advocate for women’s rights and founded organizations to support women and children in Iran. She served as chairwoman of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 1965, and as Iran’s delegate to the UN High Commission for Human Rights.

Pahlavi headed the Iranian delegation at the UN General Assembly for more than a decade. She was considered a powerful spokesperson for her brother, often acting as his envoy, including in a mission to China that led to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In 1936, Pahlavi was one of the first prominent women in Iran to appear in public without the Islamic head cover, a move that drew criticism by some religious figures.

Black Panther

“I liked the idea of being female though I never accepted the structured roles that were imposed on women,” she is cited as saying in a documentary video sent by her aides. “The male role, with all its options and prerogatives, seemed infinitely more interesting."

Dubbed “the black panther” by the French media, a moniker she embraced, Pahlavi was described in a 1980 People Magazine profile as “a woman of sharp tongue and daunting mien.” She was the target of an assassination attempt in 1977, when gunmen sought to shoot her near her French Riviera home. Her son, Shahriar Shafiq, aged 34, was gunned down in Paris two years later.

Iran’s former royal family has been marred by a series of tragedies. The late Shah died of cancer in Egypt, shortly after the Islamic Revolution. Her niece, Leila, who suffered from depression, died of a drug overdose in a London hotel at age 31. Another nephew committed suicide aged 44 at his apartment in Boston five years ago.

Her autobiography, “Faces in a Mirror: Memoirs from Exile,” was published in 1980 after which she gradually retreated from the limelight.

Pahlavi is survived by one son, Prince Chahram, and five grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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