Feature > Opinion > EXPAT CELEBRITIES PASSIONATE OVER FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS BY DARIUS KADIVAR
The “Peopolisation” of French Politics extends to French celebrities of Persian Heritage
Sunday's election victory- a resounding win by 53% for Right Wing UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to 47% for Ségolène Royal in a two-horse race, with a turnout of 85%- gives the new president real authority. By far the longest and toughest presidential campaign in decades, the French political arena seems to have also been paving the way to “La Peoplisation” of French political life with French celebrities ranking from rock and film stars to writers, philosophers and intellectuals taking a clear political stand. Indeed, this year’s political campaign was certainly unique with candidates rallying celebrities for support. The most talked about case was that of
The most notable is playwright ART shares with president common Hungarian and Jewish Roots and is a first generation French citizen. Born in Paris to an Iranian Father and Hungarian violinist mother, Reza claims that she was more fascinated by the former Interior Minister’s personality than by his political agenda.
The first diplomatic controversy to have clouded French-Iranian relations was that of the EURODIF joint venture which is indirectly responsible for Iran’s nuclear ambitions today. In 1973 Belgium, Sweden’s 10% share in EURODIF went to France and Iran. In 1974, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi lent 1 billion dollars (and another 180 million dollars in 1977) for the construction of the factory, to have the right to buy 10% of the production. After the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran's government suspended payments and attempted to obtain a refund for the loan. An agreement was reached in 1991: France refunded more than 1.6 billion dollars. Iran remains a shareholder of Eurodif via Sofidif, a Franco-Iranian consortium shareholder which owns 25 % of Eurodif.
The financial agreement was ironically settled amidst the tragic assassination of Iran’s last Prime Minister under the Shah, Shahpour Bakhtiar who took refuge in. The former decorated French Resistant wished a democratic replacement to the Islamist revolutionaries. Abandoned by Western allies he vainly tried to organize the opposition outside Iran including all political factions from monarchists to republicans but after several failed assassination attempts he had to reduce his political activism. He was assassinated in brutal circumstances along with his secretary Soroush Katibeh in his Parisian home despite close police protection. His assassination strangely coincided with the solving of differenced on the EURODIF consortium between Iran and France.
If the one of the three identified assassin’s was arrested in Geneva then expatriated to France, he was soon to be returned to Iranian authorities and led to another famed Presidential debate between Jacques Chirac and François Mitterand over an obscure diplomatic crisis regarding Wahid Gorgji an Iranian diplomat linked to a series of bloody assassination in Paris and who took refuge at the Iranian Embassy in Paris. This incident was also to have tragic collateral damages that have recently been the subject of a documentary film entitled La Fille du Juge a first account testimony by the daughter of the French Judge, Gilles Boulouque, who committed suicide during the hectic investigation due to political intimidation and pressures.
Another issue of controversy between Iran and France has been the Armed Opposition Organization of the Peoples Mujahedin Khalge known as the MKO which is labeled as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US. The Para Military organization founded by Massoud Rajavi and led by its self elected wife Maryam Rajavi combines Marxist and Islamist ideologies and has made headlines for the spectacular fanatical actions of its members such as self immolation to protest against the arrests of its leaders. It claims to have given up military actions against the Islamic Regime and seeks respectability amongst European deputies and personalities such as Bernard Lavillier, and controversial excommunicated Bishop Jacques Gaillot. It has however found amongst its staunchest ally the former First Lady Danielle Mitterand, who has often been at odds with her own husband the late French President François Mitterand who favored political ties with Iran whilst selling Arms to both Iran and Iraq during their 8 year war. The days of this organization in France may well be counted with Sarkozy who is anti-communist, with pro-American sympathies and claims to combat terrorism and support Human Rights.
Unlike the politically tainted first generation Iranians who settled in France, the rising success of French-Iranians in recent years has fortunately given rise to a new generation who are also gaining much deserved attention in the French Media for their personal accomplishments. French-born Pierre Omidyar founded ebay establishing himself as one of the major online tycoons and philanthropists. Not bad for a the former software engineer who simply loved buying and collecting Tintin items and who like many Iranians is a great fan of Hergé’s comic book hero. Two sportsmen in particular deserve attention in this regard and they are respectively Tennis Champ Mansour Bahrami and Box Champ Mahyar Monshipour both of whom have recently released their autobiographies in French.
Bahrami did not become a household name during his days on the main ATP tour but enough of his fellow players had seen his talent first hand to be impressed. He was perhaps the only player in history to be paid a guarantee just to enter the qualifying tournament for ATP. However, when the Champions Tour was set up for players aged over 35 in 1993, he found his niche. Over time, the matches he played with the likes of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, ensured that he achieved star status in his own right. Bahrami had always been an entertainer but his attitude fitted perfectly with the aims of the Champions Tour. He continues to travel for 40 weeks of the year playing exhibition tournaments in which his range of unusual and breathtaking shots are played. His specialty shots include the power shot through the legs, the lob through the legs and the drop shot which bounces back over the net due to excessive backspin. His sense of humor shines through all of his matches and the crowd are never sure of his latest move, be it serving whilst holding six balls, an under arm serve, catching the ball in his pocket or deliberately missing a smash.
Fame came to Bahrami over time and now he plays major tennis venues throughout the world including the show courts at Wimbledon and the French Open. He is married to a French wife Fréderique with two children. Unlike his French pal and sidekick Yannick Noah who prefers Royal, he has chosen to support Sarkozy. His autobiography, “Le Cour des Miracles”. was published in 2006, with a DVD entitled The Man Behind The Moustache chronicling his life and highlights of his career. Bahrami’s sports legacy has paved the road for the younger generation of tennis players like Aravane Rezai.
Mahyar Monshipour was born on March 21, 1975 in Bam. At age 11 his father sent him to France to avoid the Iran-Iraq war, and was taken care of by his aunt Mahnaz. He grew up in Poitiers and was naturalized French in 2001 and won the WBA title 6 times before being beaten by Thai WBA Somsak Sithchatchawal in 2006.
After the earthquake of Bam in 2003 which took 30,000 lives he created the l’ association France-Bam Solidarity to help the surviving victims. Although approached by various political parties, he has always refused labels and prefers to focus on social and sports issues. He published a touching autobiography La Rage d’Etre Français in which he explains the challenges and his thirst to become French and his path towards becoming the French World Champ.
Reza Deghati better known as Reza was born in Tabriz, Iran. He studied Architecture at University of Teheran. A French citizen, today Reza is a renowned photojournalist. Published by the most prestigious International magazines, he travels the globe from the Bosphorus to the Great Wall of China, from Lebanon to Afghanistan, from Rwanda to Sarajevo, and Central Asian steps to the greatness of the Arabian Empty Quarter. He has given many lectures at universities such as Stanford, George Washington, Sorbonne, Beijing, Istanbul and many other distinguished institutions. National Geographic has produced several films portraying Reza and his photographic and humanitarian work. One received an Emmy in 2002. In 1991, Reza and his brother Manoocher founded Webistan Photo Agency. In November 2005 Reza was honored with the title of 'Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite', the French award for distinguished services in a public or private capacity, by President Chirac. During the Presidential campaign however Reza wrote an Open Letter of Protest to Sarkozy ironically entitled Lettre Persane”de REZA PHOTOJOURNALISTE à Mr SARKOZY in reference to French Philosopher Montesquieu.
Chahdortt Djavann was born in Iran in 1967, but lives in Paris since 1993. Her first novel, Je viens d'ailleurs (I come from elsewhere) was published in 2002. In the fall of 2003 she published a political pamphlet that generated great controversy in France called Bas Les Voiles (Down with the Veil!) as well as a second novel entitled Auto portrait de l'autre followed by her essay Que Pense Allah of Europe?(what does Allah think of Europe?) She has gathered notice in literary circles and is published in both France and Germany. Seen like the Italian Journalist Oriana Fallacci, Djavann's debatable opinions sometimes extreme in its rejection of Muslim faith are not always shared in France. Her views seem nevertheless to divide public opinion.
Although not French citizens both Shirin Ebadi and former Empress of Iran Farah Pahlavi are greatly admired by the French. Both of their biographies were translated into the language of Moliere under the respective titles Iranienne et libre: Mon combat pour la justice (Iran Awakening) and Farah Pahlavi Mémoires (An enduring Love: My Life with the Shah). Interestingly Ebadi was pinned as Commander of the Legion of Honor (The highest decoration in France) by President Chirac in 2006 and Shahbanou Farah is a permanent foreign member of the prestigious Académie des Beaux Arts since her nomination in 1974. If neither has expressed any opinion on the newly elected President, their views in their home country remain of interest in diplomatic and journalistic circles.
Last but not least, it is most probably a comic book which has shaped the thoughts and outlook of French people on Iranians. Persepolis is an illustrated series by Marjan Satrapi which first got noticed after winning the Angouleme Festival of Comic Books. The native of Iran who grew up a rebel against any form of conformatism and typecasting amidst the Islamic Revolution and private schools in Austria and France has become an icon of an entire generation. Persepolis published by l’Association became an instant hit and was translated into several languages and is about to be released as a major animated film by Sony Pictures, competing at the Cannes Film Festival for the Palme d’Or.
It is indeed a happy irony that for the first generation of Iranians living in France art, literature and sports have gradually replaced political rivalries as means of proving that they are to be counted upon as free-minded and dedicated citizens of France.
Photo 1: French-Iranian Citizens Yasmina Reza, Mansour Bahrami, Mahyar Monshipour, Reza Deghati
Photo 2: Top: General De Gaulle greets Iran’s Royal Couple at Elysée Palace 1962. Prime Minister to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing Jacques Chirac and wife greeted by Prime Minister Hoveyda and family in Tehran 1976. Hoveyda Brothers and President Pompidou in early 1970’s. ©Iranian.com
Photo 3: Iran and France have a long History of cordial relations and common interests despite regime change ©iranian.com
Photo 4: The three assassins of Shapour Bakhtiar’s and his secretary in Paris in 1991 are still running. Roland Dumas former French minister of Foreign Affairs is said to have been preparing a State visit of President Mitterand to Tehran at the time. ©Iranian.com
Photo 5: French World light weight Champ Mahyar Monshipour. Mansour Bahrami enlisted on Sarkozy’s UMP party.
Photo 6: Danielle Mitterand supported the People’s Mujahedin Khalg considered a terrorist and sectarian organization by the EU & French Judiciary. ©Iranian.com
Photo 7: Controversial and provocative Chahdortt Djavann is the author of a pamphlet Bas les Voiles and Comment Peut-on être Français? ©PDV