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Iranian Expat Celebrities get passionate over French Presidential Elections


Report From Paris by Darius KADIVAR


The "Peopolisation" of French Politics extends to French celebrities of Persian Decent.






The size of Sunday's election victory - a resounding win by 53% for Right Wing UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to 47% for Ségolene 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 a new generation of politicians and what the French Press calls "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 to support their favorite candidate. What may seem a very natural thing in Anglo-Saxon politics particularly in the US where even an actor Ronald Reagan was to raise to the high office, is on the contrary very new in France political behavior. Indeed the People Press has always avoided political figureheads in the past and rarely has the private lives of politicians been a subject of scrutiny. One can recall the level of discretion that surrounded the late François Mitterand's turbulent love affairs one of which was only revealed internationally during his funeral where his unknown daughter "Mazarine Pingeot" born out of bedlock appeared with her mother amongst other members of the legitimate family members and France's then first lady Danielle Mitterand.  However this year's political campaign was certainly unique with candidates particularly Mr. Sarkozy in rallying celebrities to support their campaign and at times backfiring for the same reason. The most talked about case was certainly that of France's Rock Star Johnny Halliday who after publicly supporting  Sarkozy chose exile to neighboring Switzerland so as to avoid paying heavy taxes. Other Stars such as actor Jean Reno ( The Professional, Godzilla) and comic sidekick Christian Clavier ( The Visitors, Les Bronzes), Singers Enrico Macias ( formally a staunch socialist ) and Faudel also publicly supported Sarkozy while Ségolene Royal (the first women candidate to run for the Presidential 2nd round election in French History) was joined by first generation ethnic celebrities like Jamel DeBouze or Tennis Champ Yannick Noah. In this rare passionate political atmosphere where issues such as immigration and unemployment have been of more concern to French electors than international politics, it should be noted that Iran was once again an issue of concern for both candidates particularly in regard to Islamic Republic's  Nuclear ambitions and Human Rights record that were debated on Television during the final presidential duel. If Royal, who has been criticized for her lack of experience in Foreign policy, when as far as denying  Iran's right to nuclear energy, Sarkozy seemed to be more on the issue claiming that he believed in strong sanctions and rejected a military attack on Iran as "irresponsible". He however expressed to strongly oppose Turkey's inclusion in the European Union which he considers as belonging to Asia Minor and not to an Old and Christian Continent like Europe. Amidst the "Peopolisation" it is interesting to note that Iranian expat celebrities in France have also joined their public voice in support of their favorite candidates. With a population of 62 000 approximately ( most of whom fled Iran during or after the Revolution ) they do represent an often educated and successful constituency albeit representing a minority population wise.


Top: General De Gaulle greets Iran's Royal Couple at Elysée Palace (1962). Then Prime Minister to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing Jacques Chirac and wife greeted by Iran's Prime Minister Hoveyda and family in Tehran (1976). Hoveyda Brothers and President Pompidou in early 1970's. ©



The most notable being playwright Yasmina Reza who is about to publish the official biography of the soon to be President Nicolas Sarkozy due in September who has followed him closely during his year long campaign. The author of the internationally acclaimed play ART shares with the currently elected president common Hungarian and Jewish Roots and like him is a first generation French citizen. Born in Paris to an Iranian Father and Hungarian (*) violonist mother, Reza claims that she was more fascinated by the former Interior Minister's personality than by his political Agenda. An Agenda that Sarkozy's rivals of the left and center right spearheaded by Ségolene Royal and François Bayrou consider as too radical particularly in regard to immigration issues that triggered violent riots throughout France in 2005. Given Sarkozy's proximity and approval of Reza's official account, he authorized biography of the now elected President will be particularly scrutinized when released this upcoming Fall.



Iran and France have a long History of cordial relations and
common interests despite regime change ©



Iran French relations have been for the most cordial despite regime changes over the past century. It has not been however without its share of diplomatic conflicts some of which have left deep scars between the two nations and as the latest presidential debate in France demonstrated an issue of political discord between the two final running candidates.


The first diplomatic controversy to have clouded French Iranian relations was that of the EURODIF joint venture and which is certainly indirectly responsible for Iran's nuclear ambitions today. In 1973 France, Belgium, Spain and Sweden formed the joint stock company EURODIF. Sweden withdrew from the project in 1974. In 1975 Sweden's 10 per cent share in EURODIF went to Iran as a result of an arrangement between France and Iran. In 1974, the 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 its payments and attempted to obtain a refund for the loan by pressuring France by handling terrorist groups. Finally 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 three assassin's of the Shah's last Prime Minister 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 of the assassination.  © 



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 France after the revolution to form a democratic opposition to the victorious theocracy in power in Tehran. The former decorated French Resistant who  initially was a political opponent to the Shah's regime wished a democratic replacement to the Islamist revolutionaries had accepted the post of Prime Minister as an ultimate hope of stopping the power hungry ayatollah Khomeiny. Abandoned by the 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 pressured by the French Socialist government of the Time. 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 which was to be concluded with a State Visit of President François Mitterand to Tehran but which was canceled due to this dramatic conclusion for the former Iranian Prime Minister.




French World light weight Champ Mahyar Monshipour has been equally
approached by Royal ( Photo Top Right) and Sarkozy but refuses any
political label. He is a Sports Consultant for the French City of Vienne where
he He published a touching autobiography
La Rage d'Etre Français.
Tennis Champ Mansour Bahrami enlisted on Sarkozy's UMP party.
He has also released his autobiography entitled
"Le Cour des Miracles".



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 status of the Armed Opposition Organization of the Peoples Mujahedin Khalge known as the MKO which is labled as a terrorist organization by the European Union as well as the current US administration. The Para Military organization founded by Massoud Rajavi and led by its self elected wife Maryam Rajavi combines both Marxist and Islamist ideologies and has made headlines for the spectacular fanatical actions of some of its members such as self immolation to protest against the arrests of its leaders and major members. It claims to have given up military actions against the Islamic Regime in Tehran and seeks respectability amongst European Deputies and Personalities of the French Show Biz and intellegensia such as Bernard Lavillier, controversial excommunicated Bishop Jacques Gaillot to name a few. It has however found amongst its most 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.




Often at Odds with her late husband, Danielle Mitterand former
First Lady has supported the cause of the People's Mujahedin
Khalg considered as a terrorist and sectarian organization

by the European Union as well as French Judiciary.



The days of this organization ( that has its head quarters in the Val D'Oise department in the outskirts of Paris) in France may well be counted with the election of Right Wing Nicolas Sarkozy who is known for his anti-communist stand as well as pro-American sympathies and his claims to combat terrorism and support Human Rights wherever they are threatened added to the fact that the MKO remains a highly unpopular amongst most Iranians for participating in the 8 year War against Iran with the help of Saddam Hussein (See Photo).



Unlike the politically tainted first generation Iranians who settled in France before and after the revolution,  the rising success of French Iranians in recent years  has fortunately given rise to a new generation of citizens who are also gaining a 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 at 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 tournaments. However, when the Champions Tour was set up for players aged over 35 in 1993, he had found his niche. Over time, the matches that 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 where giving the public a show was essential. 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 to the extent that he has now played within all of the major tennis venues throughout the world including the show courts at Wimbledon and the French Open. He is married to a French wife Fréderique and they have two children. Unlike his French pal and sidekick Yannick Noah who prefers Royal, he has chosen to support Nicolas Sarkozy. His autobiography, "Le Cour des Miracles". was published in 2006, accompanying a DVD entitled The Man Behind The Moustache chronicling his life and the highlights of his career. Bahrami's sports legacy has certainly paved the road for the young generation of French Tennis players of Persian Heritage like Aravane Rezai.



Mahyar Monshipour was born on March 21, 1975 in Bam. At age 11 his father sends him to France to avoid the Iran-Iraq war, and was taken care of by his aunt Mahnaz, who was married to Abolhassan Banisadr the former Iranian president. He grew up in Poitiers and married a French. He was naturalized French in 2001 and won the WBA title 6 times before being beaten by Thai WBA Somsak Sithchatchawal  on March 18, 2006. After the tragic earthquake of Bam in 2003 which took 30 000 lives he created the  l' association France-Bam Solidarity to help the surviving victims and their family.  Although approached by various political parties including Ségolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, he has always refused any label and prefers to focus his activities on social and sports issues for which he was named consultant at the general council of the Vienne Department. 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 glory on the Boxing Ring as French World Champ in the discipline.







Controversial and provocative Chahdortt Djavann is the author
of a
pamphlet Bas les Voiles and Comment Peut-on être Français?  ©PDV



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 renown photojournalist highly regarded, world-wide. 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, South California, Paris' Sorbonne, Beijing, Istanbul and many other distinguished institutions such as Unesco, National Geographic Society, Seattle, New York Documentary Museum, and more.


National Geographic television has produced several films portraying Reza and his photographic and humanitarian work. One has received an Emmy Academy Award in 2002.


In 1991, Reza and his brother Manoocher founded Webistan Photo Agency, which has been distributing their own archives but also those of several other photographers.


Having been a consultant to the United Nations in Afghanistan in 1990, being culturally close to this country and particularly being a journalist led Reza to found AINA. The NGO AINA, is based in Paris, Kaboul and Washington D.C., struggles for developing a civil society and cultural expression by empowering media and communication.


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 the President of France, Mr. Jacques Chirac. During the Presidential campaign however Reza wrote an Open Letter of Protest to the then candidate Nicolas Sarkozy during the election campaign in France 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 aka 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   aka 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 ? aka What does Allah think of Europe ? She has gathered notice in Literary circles and is published in both France and Germany.

Seen like the Iranian Equivalent of Italian Journalist Oriana Fallacci who wrote a powerful post-September 11 manifesto: The Rage and the Pride , Djavann's debateable opinions sometimes extreme in its rejection of muslim faith are not always shared in France where Islam is the second religion with an important north African community. Her views seem nevertheless to divide public opinion given her very harsh and often bold criticism's of Islam and her struggle for Muslim Women's rights.


The Past and the Future
(Bottom) Iran's Former Empress Farah (Diba) Pahlavi is a  Permanent
Foreign Member of the
French Académie des Beaux Arts since
1974.  (Top) President Jacques Chirac confers the Commander of
Legion of Honor to Nobel Peace Laureate Shirine Ebadi in 2006.
© Service photographique de la Présidence de la République


Although not French citizens both Shirin Ebadi and former Empress of Iran Farah Pahlavi are greatly admired by the French albeit for different reasons. Both of their Biographies were translated into the language of Moliere under the respective titles Iranienne et libre : Mon combat pour la justice ( aka Iran Awakening) and Farah Pahlavi Mémoires (aka 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 Jacques Chirac in 2006 and Shahbanou Farah is a permanent foreign member of the prestigious Académie des Beaux Arts ever since her nomination in 1974  by the Academicians also known as Immortals, since they are replaced only after death very much like the Persian Elite Regiment under the Aechemenid Kings from which their symbolic name is derived. If neither have expressed any opinion on the new elected President or on France's interior politics, their views on the situation 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 shape the thoughts and outlook of  French people on Iranians living in France. Persepolis is a widely acclaimed illustrated series by author Marjan Satrapi which first got noticed by French readers after winning at the Angouleme Festival of Comic Books a few years ago. The native of Iran who grew up a rebel against any form of conformatism and typecasting amidst the Islamic Revolution and later in private schools in Austria and France has become an icon of an entire generation that transcends nationalities ever since the publication of her comic books by a small French Publisher called l'Association.



Marjan Satrapi's Persepolis now a Major Motion Picture
prefers to mock the Political correctness of a so-called
Clash of Civilizations ©Persepolis, l'Association



Persepolis became an instant hit and was translated in several languages and is now about to be released as a Major Animated film by Sony Pictures and will be competing at the upcoming Cannes International Film Festival for the Palme d'Or. Exactly a decade after Iranian Film Maestro Abbas Kiarostami won the prestigious prize and introduced the world to the Iranian New Wave Cinema.


It is indeed a Happy Irony that for the First generation of Iranian expats living in France Art, literature and sports have gradually but surely replaced Political dilemma's and rivalries as means of proving that they are to be counted upon as Free minded and dedicated citizens of France.


Author's Notes:

(*) Article in Relation Iran-Hungary:


Interestingly Iranian and Hungarians seem to share old and enduring cultural ties as a recent ceremony event in Budapest suggests.


Articles in Relation to France-Iran:


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.

... Payvand News - 5/29/07 ...

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