What we are not seeing in Iran
The wind of change blows in Iran. A lot of people feel it. A few people try to ignore it, not daring to face the consequences. But generally, it seems to be a proven fact that change is on its way. There are however important factors which are being ignored in the process…
In its bid to survive, the ruling regime seems to be eking out every last drop out of its legitimacy and is on the verge of an internal conflict of power among its warring factions. Public support is shrinking to new depths. Political unrest calling for regime change is now an everyday phenomenon.
The regime’s intervention in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere have bled the regime financially. Demonstrators in Iran are calling for their money invested in banks related to the Pasdaran Army (Revolutionary Guards Corps), but the institutions are bankrupt because of the continuous funding of extraterritorial military projects.
Politically, different political clans within the regime are at each other’s throats on specific issues such as the defunct nuclear deal with the West and the rejected FATF agreements on monetary transactions, among others.
The regime’s popularity, limited to a very thin social circle consisting of families of those under arms and the feared paramilitary Bassij (popular mobilization) force, is at its lowest point. Some two hundred towns across the country have experienced unrest against oppressive measures undertaken by the regime.
The international situation has never been so bad. Donald Trump seems convinced to go to the very end with the rejection of the nuclear deal, while European and other support seems unable to balance the American rejection.
This is not the first time the regime has faced grave difficulty. In 2009, Iran came close to social chaos following presidential elections leading to a second presidential term for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But at that time, the stakes were only political and limited to Tehran, the capital. The opposition movement was led by dissident elements from the power’s inner circle. Also, on an international level, a reluctant Barak Obama was far from today’s Donald Trump who supports the popular movement in Iran.
The current unrest has lasted ten months. It stems from an unprecedented political and economic situation with no way out and with too many victims. Demonstrators do not hesitate to call for regime change, and a large number of towns now engaged in political unrest marks a significant break from 2009. Oppressive forces have to control vast territory and numerous cities, above all, they cannot afford to give an inch in Tehran.
Additionally, an important internal element is playing a role in the regime’s latest existential crisis. Organized groups are coordinating political unrest in cities across Iran. Social media is allowing for the grassroots mobilization of the Iranian opposition.
In February, the regime’s president Hassan Rohani called Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to ask for his support in muzzling the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, or the MEK. Rohani claimed the MEK was engaging in planning and organizing activities in France. MEK’s umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, NCRI, is based in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. In any case, the French did not bother to answer Rohani’s call.
Later in June, a mass assassination plan was defused in Belgium. The attack targeted a huge meeting organized by the NCRI in Villepinte, north of Paris. An Iranian diplomat based in Vienna was arrested with three other individuals found with 500 grams of a powerful explosive and detonation mechanism. The four will go on trial in Belgium on premeditated murder charges.
In the meantime, Iranian leaders including the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have not hesitated to point to MEK as the main instigator of the domestic unrest in Iran. The MEK’s leadership is the making the real difference between the current opposition movement in Iran and its previous ones.
Founded in 1965, MEK spent a dozen years fighting the Shah’s regime. MEK’s historical leader, Massoud Rajavi spent eight years in the Shah’s prisons before being liberated by the people’s uprising a few days before the Shah left Iran, for good.
Ideologically, the MEK is known for its modern, tolerant interpretation of Islam, its patriotism, and its social program calling for social justice and respect for Iran’s history and culture. The founding members were executed by the Shah in early 1970s. Their struggle for freedom and their tolerant Islam earned them much respect, even among religious circles close to the actual ruling clique.
Many of Iran’s current officials sympathized with the MEK at the time when the organization was bravely fighting the Shah. Clerics currently ruling the country kept a low profile under the Shah to avoid persecution by the feared SAVAK, the Shah’s oppressive secret police. Meanwhile, MEK members were being tortured and executed in the SAVAK’s prisons.
After their rise to power, the mullahs had a single serious opponent; the MEK. The organization underwent the most severe oppression in Iran’s modern history. More than a hundred thousand of its members and sympathizers were eliminated.
In 1988, following the Iran-Iraq war, some thirty thousand members were massacred while serving time in the regime’s prisons. But the organization managed to keep many of its cadres out of the regime’s reach. It formed a National Liberation Army during the Iran-Iraq war in Iraq and finally evacuated its members in a spectacular operation in 2016 when more than 3,000 members were relocated to Albania.
Thus, in the regime’s worst days currently unfolding, its sole political opponent is very much present on the political scene. At the MEK’s last great gathering in Villepinte in France, the one targeted by the regime’s terror operation, more than a hundred thousand members of the Iranian diaspora gathered, as well as political figures including Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and many other internationally known political figures.
The most important issue the MEK champions is a total regime change in the country. The never fading presence of MEK has had an important political effect on the regime. It has made any halfway or reformist bid to modify or moderate the same regime utterly meaningless.
Most revolutions have changed course, towards more moderate rules, with objectives diverging from those held at the beginning of their campaign. When faced with an absence of opposition, even well-meaning revolutionary groups can evolve into a brutal regime once in power.
The Iranian revolution was no exception. However, in the case of the clerical regime, brutal repression was not able to eliminate the real opposition. This has had a by-effect: there can be no transmutation towards a more moderate version of the same regime while a total opposition is still alive.
In other classical cases, a compromise can be found, some sort of provisional or long-lasting solution emerging from the national social demands. But this Iran is no classical case. In fact, no compromise is possible between the opposition and the regime in power in Iran. Regime change is an integral part of the founding declaration of the National Council of Resistance, the political umbrella for MEK’s struggle against the regime.
This is one of the essential elements that a great number of people interested in the Iranian problem ignore: the ever-growing role and effect of the MEK on the course of events in Iran. The continuous denial and suppression of any opposition movement in Iran are triggering a domestic backlash.
A smear campaign aiming to discredit the opposition movement by the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence, along with vast lobbying efforts by preachers forms part of this systematic denial effort. But the whole house of cards began to tremble when the most important authorities in the country, beginning with the supreme leader, pointed to the MEK as the main factor behind this year’s civil unrest in the country. In his speech on January 9, Ali Khamenei stated:
“The incidents were organized and carried out by the MEK (although he used a different pejorative term). They had prepared for this months ago, and their media outlets had called for it.”
Prior to this defining moment, the regime’s leadership had publicly ignored the MEK’s presence in Iran. Khamenei’s speech indicated that the regime has thus changed its policy. It can no longer afford to ignore the danger the MEK represents. It is now clearly identifying the real danger the MEK represents in order to direct its repressive forces against the group.
The change is not limited to words. For years, the Iranian regime has shown self-restraint when it comes to the assassination of opponents abroad. The regime had initiated more than 400 assassination attempts against opposition members outside its borders until the late 1990s. Then, Iranian rulers were condemned in absentia, by European courts for having ordered opponents to be killed on European territory.
With the failed explosion attempt at Villepinte in France, the sleeping dragon seems to have been awakened. At least two other such attempts have been discovered since the failed Paris attack, and there remains little doubt that the tacit agreement not to take such action in the West has breathed its last breath.
The changing stance of the mullahs towards the MEK is an important indicator of the threat the regime now faces. For years, a line of appeasement has prevailed among international governments. However, this approach has proved fruitless.
Another approach is necessary, one which endorses total regime change as the solution. Those wishfully thinking that a moderate force will emerge within the regime and amend its behavior and policy are ignoring the real influential factors on the ground, particularly the MEK and the traction it is gaining both inside and outside Iran.
The MEK and the Iranian regime’s disinformation
The Iranian public has been protesting in ever greater numbers and in an expanding list of localities since December 2017. Iran’s people are making it clear that they seek a regime change. This is key to understanding the developments in the domestic situation in Iran.
MEK has enjoyed unrivaled success in undermining the regime’s actions and strategies by sustaining complex anti-government campaigns such as exposing the regime’s nuclear sites and terror networks in the Middle East and across the world. It is now exposing the corruption and repression carried out by the theocratic regime in Iran. Therefore, it is easy to understand why the mullahs are so desperate to demonize the MEK, especially at a time when they are rapidly losing their international appeasers and their string of terror plots to physically damage the MEK have been unsuccessful.
Three full pages in the Guardian, a British newspaper, is part of the Iranian regime’s desperate attempt to hit its strongest opposition group. Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, once said: “Tell a lie that’s big enough, and repeat it often enough, and the whole world will believe it.” But we say there is a limit to this. You cannot fool and trick the whole world forever just by repeating a very big lie in paid international media outlets.
The Guardian article “Terrorist, cultists – or champions of Iranian democracy?” written by Arron Reza Merat, a known anti MEK element of the Mullahs’ Intelligence Ministry who has infiltrated the Guardian, is an attempt to depict a violent, wild and power-thirsty picture of the MEK in a bid to evaporate Western sympathies to the Iranian opposition.
But it is too little too late. Today, MEK is not an unknown name that can be adequately vilified in a Goebbels-style article by Reza Merat. Its history is already known to many Iranians who wholeheartedly support it, and it is widely renowned by many prominent international politicians who have offered it unfettered support for over 15 years.
The 1950s and 1960s were marked by severe repression against dissidents in Iran. After conducting a coup in 1953 against Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s popular Prime Minister who nationalized the country’s oil industry, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s monarch, forced all opposition groups and movements into silence and submission.
However, on September 6, 1965, three Iranian intellectuals, Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeid Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan, founded a new opposition movement that later became the MEK. They were inspired by the authentic interpretation of Islam that rejects all forms of fundamentalism, which had previously been the dominant interpretation of the religion in Iran.
Since its founding, the MEK has been opposed to the atheist/Muslim conflict that the fundamentalist mullahs promote. Hanifnejad and the other founders of the MEK stressed that the real conflict was not between faiths but between the tyrants (the Shah regime) and the oppressed (the people of Iran, regardless of their faith and ethnicity).
In the first five years, the MEK’s founders concentrated on recruiting new members and creating a network of elite cadres that could lead the movement through the hard times that would come. They engaged in thorough studies of all doctrines to gather everything that could help in their struggle because they viewed the struggle for freedom as a science to be studied and acquired in order to succeed where their predecessors had failed. After thorough examination and studies, Hanifnejad and his comrades eventually chose democratic Islam as the ideology that could best serve the aspirations of the Iranian people.
Thus, the MEK founders embarked on a long journey to establish freedom and democracy in their country and they paid a heavy price to defend the rights of their people. Their conduct has set an example of persistence and loyalty that is still admired by Iranians to this day.
The MEK’s founders also recruited people who were willing to dedicate every hour to help advance the organization’s goals. They concluded that the fight for freedom and democracy can’t be a part-time job. The first people to join the movement were young intellectuals and university students. Among them was Massoud Rajavi, a young student who later became pivotal in shaping the organization’s future.
In August 1971, while the Iranian monarchy was preparing for its much-advertised festivities to celebrate its longtime rule, more than 80 percent of MEK’s members, including all of its leaders were arrested. This was a hard strike against the nascent organization, but it also led to the widespread recognition and popularity of the MEK among the Iranian people.
Stories of the MEK’s resistance in the Shah’s prisons and courts circulated among Iranians by word of mouth. Soon the organization had managed to build a solid and widespread support base in Iranian society, with supporters from all walks of life.
The ruling mullahs of today, who themselves did nothing efficient against the Shah, are well aware of the history of popular support for the MEK in Iranian hearts and homes. But they disgracefully pretend the opposite is true in their demonization campaigns.
On May 25, 1972, the Shah’s regime executed the MEK’s founders and of all its leading members. Only Massoud Rajavi was spared. He was saved from imminent death thanks to an international campaign by his brother, Kazem Rajavi who was a renowned jurist and politician in Switzerland. Kazem managed to get Massoud’s death sentence revoked by rallying several international organizations and politicians in support of Massoud. Among those politicians was Francois Mitterrand, the leader of the French Socialist Party and the future President of France.
A failed coup within the ranks of the MEK
In September 1975, the MEK was still recovering from the execution of most of its leadership cadre. During this period, a separatist Maoist group tried to change the ideology of the MEK and hijack its name and emblem. They went as far as intimidating, oppressing and even killing the MEK members who remained loyal to the organization’s original mindset and ideology. This group was responsible for killing several Americans in Iran in those years, something which is mistakenly being attributed to the MEK members in the mullahs’ demonization campaign against the MEK, also repeatedly used by the Iran lobbies.
Thanks to the efforts of Massoud Rajavi, the organization was brought back from the brink. In the fall of 1976, while Massoud was in the Shah’s prison, he issued a 12-point declaration, in which he reasserted the true foundations of the MEK’s ideology and its principles. The declaration became the basis upon which all MEK members resist the world’s most brutal regime and number one executioner.
Since Khomeini’s rise to power, the MEK has constantly warned of the new regime’s human rights abuses, including the repression of women, minorities and all opposition forces. As the main defender of freedoms, the MEK quickly built up an expanding base of support across the Iranian population, especially among young people and intellectuals. In less than two years, MEK became the largest political movement in Iran.
However, during these two years, Khomeini’s regime carried out a brutal and merciless crackdown that spared neither women, nor students, nor minorities. In the same period, Khomeini’s henchmen murdered 70 members and supporters of the MEK at peaceful rallies, meetings, and protests. The regime’s conduct in this period was deliberately deleted from all its state-published and affiliated media reports, including the Guardian article.
On June 20, 1981, the MEK tested Iran’s democratic environment a final time by launching a peaceful demonstration to remind the Khomeini regime of its responsibilities to respect the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people. In Tehran, more than 500,000 attended. In response, Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), his personal army, to open fire on the unarmed and peaceful protesters.
The following day, the Iranian regime launched a ruthless crackdown against all opposition forces, especially the supporters and members of the MEK. The regime’s forces pursued and executed many of the Mojahedin’s members in the streets, and thousands were dragged into the regime’s prisons, where they were subjected to inhumane methods of torture and were later executed. Women, children, the elderly—no one was spared.
Following the ban of all opposition forces, the Khomeini regime executed and murdered some 120,000 people, most of whom were affiliated with the MEK. In Khomeini’s prisons, his guards and executioners resorted to the vilest and most brutal torture methods. Khomeini’s fatwas gave his torturers free rein to do anything they wanted to torment the MEK members and sympathizers, including rape, severing body organs, gouging eyes, and other deplorable and vile acts.
According to eyewitness accounts, the regime’s guards extracted blood from the MEK members before executing them, so they could use it for the medical needs of their own guards and soldiers. Pregnant women were tortured and executed. Young girls were raped before their execution. The imprisoned MEK members suffered a truly evil fate at the hands of the regime.
Under these circumstances, on July 21, 1981, a month after the beginning of Khomeini’s reign of terror, Massoud Rajavi founded the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iran’s opposition forces that aspired to replace the violent brand of religious fascism promoted by Khomeini with a democratic, pluralist and secular state. A week later, on July 29, the leaders of the MEK left Iran with help from the brave and freedom-loving officers of the Iranian Air Force. Rajavi took refuge in France, from where he continued to lead the struggle for freedom against the Iranian regime.
The regime has massaged the narrative of the Iran-Iraq war to hide its war-mongering activities. In 1980, when the Iraqi army occupied parts of Iran, the MEK was quick to take up arms and defend their homeland.
But as soon as the Iraqi army released its hold on Iranian land and retreated back behind international borders, the continuation of the war was no longer justified and the MEK was also quick to call for peace between the two countries. Meanwhile, Khomeini insisted on continuing the war until and pushed for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. The Iran-Iraq war went on to cause the avoidable deaths of millions on both sides, while peace was totally achievable.
The war provided Khomeini with the perfect pretext to suppress the demands of the people. He used the excuse of being at war as a pretext to crack down on all the regime’s political opponents, accusing them of weakening the government and colluding with foreign enemies.
On September 10, 1982, Massoud Rajavi met with the then Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz at the NCRI’s Paris headquarters and signed a peace agreement with the Iraqi government on behalf of the MEK and the Iranian people. The move proved that peace was achievable and that the Iranian regime was prolonging the Iran-Iraq war against the wishes of the Iranian public.
The MEK’s peace effort gained international recognition and support and was endorsed by 5,000 politicians from 57 countries worldwide.
The rise of women in leadership roles in MEK
In the six years that followed the 1979 revolution, female members of the MEK were active in their resistance against the religious and misogynous rule of Khomeini.
Eventually, on March 10, 1985, women found their true place in the leadership ranks of the MEK when Maryam Azdanlou (Rajavi) became the co-leader of the MEK. The event marked a turning point in the history of the MEK in its struggle against the Khomeini’s fundamentalist ideology, which had been particularly harsh towards Iranian women.
It was the MEK’s conviction that if women were the primary victims of the Iranian regime, then they should be given a privileged status in the MEK’s ranks which stands opposed to the mullahs’ rule in every way. This illustrated the MEK’s genuine commitment to equality between women and men.
MEK relocated to Iraq
On June 7, 1986, under pressure from the French government, which was deeply engaged in dealings with the Iranian regime, Massoud Rajavi left France for Iraq. There he founded the National Liberation Army (NLA) on June 20, 1987. The NLA became a major force in opposition to the Iranian regime.
The Iraqi government in Baghdad agreed it would not interfere in the politics and operations of the MEK and its NLA. The MEK predicated its presence in Iraq would preserve its independence.
On July 25, 1988, the NLA launched its largest operation, called “Eternal Light,” in which it targeted the entirety of the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime suffered 55,000 casualties, and on its part, the NLA lost 1,304 of its officers and soldiers, heroes who laid down their lives for the freedom of their country. MEK members who returned alive were more determined than ever to bring freedom to their homeland, Iran. There was no sign of defeat and failure in the minds of those who survived.
Middle East analysts and observers attributed Khomenei’s acceptance of the ceasefire with Iraq in 1988 to the efforts of the NLA.
The massacre of MEK members and supporters in Iran’s prisons
In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime began a mass purge of its prisons from political prisoners, executing anyone who refused to repent for their opposition to the rule of Khomeini.
In the span of a few months, the regime’s executioners sent more than 30,000 prisoners to the gallows. This was a genocide, a crime against humanity without precedent, which became known as the “1988 massacre.”
Contrary to what has been said by regime mouthpieces in the demonization campaigns against the MEK, it was later revealed in summer 2016 in an audio tape of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the heir-apparent to Khomeini, that the regime leadership extensively planned the massacre. Plans for the 1988 massacre began months earlier, as Khomeini became worried of the future of his regime and his tenuous hold on power and it was not the result of the MEK’s largest operation.
The 1990s and 2000s: The policy of appeasement
During the 1990s, western states engaged in a new drive of rapprochement towards the Iranian regime, hoping they could preserve their economic interests and avoid the obvious threats emanating from Tehran. Naturally, it was the Iranian people and the MEK that paid the price of this failed policy.
In 1997, the US administration, under the presidency of Bill Clinton, inserted the MEK into its list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) as a goodwill gesture to Mohammad Khatami, the newly appointed president of the Iranian regime, who presented himself as a “moderate” and “reformist.”
European states followed suit and classified the MEK as a terrorist organization in an effort spearheaded by Jack Straw, then-foreign minister of the United Kingdom. Straw was known for his endorsement a policy of appeasement towards the Iranian regime, an attitude that made him the object of much criticism from the Iranian people inside Iran and abroad. Canada and Australia also soon followed the UK’s lead.
The adoption of a policy of appeasement triggered a wave pressure against the MEK and the Iranian resistance, resulting in the suffering and deaths of many innocent people. The bombing of MEK camps in Iraq during the 2003 US-Iraq conflict, the coup-d’état of July 17, 2003, against NCRI headquarters in France, and the numerous raids and rocket attacks against MEK camps in Iraq were just some of the results of that policy of appeasement.
Having been through many trials and ordeals during their decades-long history, the MEK was not intimidated by the show of power of the Iranian regime and its foreign cohorts. MEK’s victory in getting the organization removed from terror lists or, better put, the victory of justice and truth was the end result of the MEK’s engagement in a legal battle that lasted more than 15 years.
In 2009, the European Union removed the MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. In the years that followed, the US judiciary declared that the MEK had been wrongly designated as a terrorist group, and in 2012, the US State Department removed the label. Canada and Australia also removed the MEK from their lists shortly after the US.
Camp Ashraf and MEK’s relocation to Albania
Camp Ashraf, situated 77 kilometers north of Baghdad, was home to thousands of MEK members for 25 years. Prior to the 2003 US-led war in Iraq, the MEK publicly declared its neutrality and played no part in the ensuing conflict. However, exploiting the post-invasion atmosphere in Iraq, the Iranian regime did its utmost to destroy and demonize the MEK.
Three massacres at Camp Ashraf, five missile attacks on Camp Liberty, two cases of abduction of residents, and the imposition of an eight-year siege, which left 177 residents dead, constituted parts of this inhumane, albeit futile, plan.
The regime’s enormous efforts to create rifts among the ranks of the also MEK failed. Foreigners were astounded at the high morale in Camp Ashraf. Such a level of liveliness under such difficult conditions came from the depth of the residents’ profound belief in freedom.
During all those years, Ashraf residents enjoyed excellent relations with the communities and people of surrounding towns and villages in Diyala province of Iraq.
Ashraf also invested heavily in infrastructure projects in the region. A water purification plant provided water to tens of thousands of people in surrounding towns. Local Iraqi residents were welcome at Ashraf medical clinics. A new electricity grid and roads benefited the entire region.
Some 5.2 million Iraqis signed a petition in June 2006 warning of the Iranian regime’s dangers in Iraq and describing the MEK as the main bulwark against the regime’s interventions. More than 3 million Iraqi Shiites signed a declaration in June 2008 calling for the eviction of the regime and its agents from Iraq and the removal of restrictions imposed on MEK members residing in Ashraf City.
The Iranian regime launched a campaign to have the MEK dismantled but it ultimately due to the skill and competence of Camp Ashraf’s leaders, of which the large majority were women.
This explains why female members of the MEK were extensively targeted by the Iranian regime’s propaganda machine, including in the recent Guardian article. The mullahs attack the MEK’s women using fake stories featuring a host of female defectors. All the fake stories about women being abused in the MEK and being held against their will are nothing but the mullahs’ lies and propaganda without a shred of truth.
In 2016, while the Iranian regime and its Iraqi proxies were trying to exterminate the MEK in Iraq, an international effort led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the NCRI, succeeded in relocating all members of the organization to Albania. The event was a major achievement for the MEK, whose members could now intensify their efforts in leading the struggle for freedom in Iran. It was a major defeat for the Iranian regime, whose existence depended on destroying its main opposition.
The Iranian regime now finds itself in a dangerous position. It has started losing its international supporters while the networks of MEK supporters and activists continue to expand inside Iran. The MEK’s resistance units play a major role in keeping the flame of resistance alit and preventing the regime from suffocating the voice of protesters.
As a result, the protests continue in every city and corner of Iran, and protesters are calling for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, a goal that the MEK has been striving for since 1981. As the mullahs’ regime inches towards its inevitable collapse, the MEK, which has been through countless trials and tribulations, thrives and aims to fulfill the dreams of the Iranian people.
Tags: 1981 demonstration, 1988 Massacre, Channel 4 propaganda, Disinformation by MOIS, Disinformation Campaign, Iran Diplomat Terrorist, Iran Regime Change, June 20, Maryam Rajavi, MEK, Mujahedin-e Khalq, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), NCRI, PMOI