By: Jubin Katiraie
For many associated with the Iranian lobby and appeasers of the clerical regime in Tehran, the best way to prop up the regime is to discredit any alternative options presented to the international community. In addition, the lobby and appeasers continue to stress that regime change will lead to war. As an example, they point to the struggles of the Iraq government since the removal of Saddam by the U.S. and its allies.
However, history teaches us that any regime’s existence is limited when it begins with a violent upheaval. The current Iranian regime was born out of a revolution to end the rule of the Shah, but that revolution’s goal was to create a secular, pluralistic, and democratic Iran. However, the mullahs hijacked the revolution, creating a theocracy and suppressing any alternative political voices, including the MEK/PMOI.
Instead, to consolidate their power, the Iranian regime has relied on the typical tools of oppression, including the creation of a paramilitary and judiciary system that touches every section of Iranian society. The regime, using its lobby and appeasers, have been quick in attacking any publication or personalities that dare to speak up about the quest of the Iranian people to achieve their original dream of a democratic Iran.
Anyone who dares to talk about “regime change” is targeted for repressive measures. The MEK/PMOI have been high on the regime’s list, since the MEK/PMOI are the most dedicated and organized opposition with extensive routes and support at home, with the ability to materialize regime change.
The people’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) has been the subject of propaganda campaigns by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) at home and by regime lobbies and appeasers throughout the international community. This campaign is focused on discrediting the MEK/PMOI, by saying there is no democratic alternative to the Iranian regime and that regime change will result in war and increased instability within the region.
But why is the MEK/PMOI being targeted so directly? The MEK/PMOI is the oldest, largest, and most popular resistance movement within Iran. They form the core of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is a coalition of opposition groups from all sectors of Iran. The PMOI/MEK was founded in September 1965 by three Iranian engineers who wanted to replace the Shah’s dictatorship with a democracy.
It is this continued support of democracy that has kept the MEK/PMOI so popular among Iranians. The MEK/PMOI believes that Islam is inherently tolerant and democratic, and fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization. This vision is the cure to the current spread of extremism, which can be traced back to Iran and its mullahs. Yet, during the time of upheaval after the revolution, the MEK/PMOI leaders witnessed Ayatollah Khomeini’s hijacking of the revolution to create his theocracy.
Khomeini’s response to the efforts of the MEK/PMOI to stop the rise of this theocracy was brutal repression throughout the 1980s, including the massacre of some 30,000 political prisoners who were primarily members or supporters of the MEK/PMOI. Despite the escalation of attacks by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) throughout the years, the MEK/PMOI has never stopped promoting a pro-democracy vision of Iran. These actions demonstrated that the regime would only hold power by using brutality and repression to keep the Iranian people under their control.
Despite this, the MEK/PMOI has continued to receive support and demonstrations held throughout Iran show that the Iranian people are not cowed by the regime, but still believe in a free Iran.
In the recent 2017 election, hundreds of video clips and photos of banners and placards hanging from pathways and auto routes on billboards, were published on Telegram and YouTube channels, showcasing the vast magnitude of the activities of those who support the MEK/PMOI. The slogan, “My vote is regime change”, echoed throughout the country.
The regime’s election was therefore quickly ended in the first round to avoid further opportunities for protest. Yet, internally, the regime is suffering from deep divisions about how to ensure its survival, as the domestic unrest continues to grow.
Dr. Rafizadeh, a leading Iranian-American political scientist, president of the International American Council on the Middle East, and best-selling author in an opinion piece in Huffington post publishing 8 video clips of MEK activities inside Iran, wrote: “The activists of the network of the Iranian opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its group the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), inside Iran have been engaged in an extensive campaign nationwide, calling on Iranians to boycott the elections. Finally, from my perspective, it is critical to point out that Iranian leaders fear the soft power of oppositional groups more than the military and hard power of foreign governments. That is why Iranian leaders and media outlets normally react forcefully and anxiously to activities by the opposition such as the recent critical move, where Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently met with Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Tirana, Albania. Iran’s oppositional groups can be a very powerful tool to counterbalance the Islamic Republic.”
This support has not gone unnoticed by the regime, whose leadership has continued to try to clamp down on the MEK/PMOI by blocking access to the internet and monitoring social media posts and clips. They have also tried to block the MEK/PMOI Telegram website and associated channels, only to be rejected each time.
In addition to using blunt force on people, the regime invests heavily in the massive propaganda effort it mobilizes through state-controlled media and via its lobbies and paid agents abroad, in order to discourage more support for the MEK, which is the main drive for regime change in Iran. The extent of the anti MEK propaganda has increased particularly after the July 1, 2017 gathering in Paris, which had a clear message, “Regime change in Iran is within reach.” Some 100,000 Iranian diaspora and supporters of MEK gave energy to it.
This is why it serves the regime’s purposes to continually dangle the threat of war over the heads of its people. It also helps the Iran lobby’s PR efforts to cast Iran like some poor, defenseless nation under threat by the big bad U.S. and its allies, such as Saudi Arabia or the Iranian resistance movement, the MEK/PMOI.
Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council and staunch advocate for the Iranian regime, appeared on Bloomberg to beat the war drum again, as well as attacking the Trump administration for not living up to the Iran nuclear deal, even though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the renewal of the compliance certification for another 90 days.
But the Trump administration also is asserting that Iranian regime’s development of ballistic missiles; support of terrorism and militancy; complicity in atrocities by the government of Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad; cyberattacks on the U.S.; and other actions “severely undermine the intent” of the nuclear accord and support additional sanctions as a response to these actions.
The real threat to the Iranian regime though lies not within sanctions, but in the simple acts of defiance that the Iranian people undertake themselves such as the hanging of banners on Tehran’s overpasses bearing the image of MEK/PMOI leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi; an act punishable by death if the perpetrators were caught.
The regime is also threatened by every protest over low wages or unsafe working conditions. In many ways large and small, the process of regime change can happen slowly, methodically, and inexorably.
Mrs. Rajavi, in a recent speech at the annual gathering of the Iranian resistance movement and supporters of MEK/PMOI, opined that the movement did not require outside assistance from governments, such as the U.S., to succeed. It only needed the recognition by such governments to be empowered to bring about peaceful regime change and give birth to a democratic Iran.
More about the People’s Mojahdin Organization of Iran (PMOI/ MEK)
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (Also known as MEK, or Mujahedin-e-Khalq / Mujahedeen-e-Khalq), was founded on September 6, 1965, by Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeed Mohsen, and Ali-Asghar Badizadgan. All engineers, they had earlier been members of the Freedom Movement (also known as the Liberation Movement), created by Medhi Bazargan in May 1961.1
The MEK’s quest culminated in a true interpretation of Islam, which is inherently tolerant and democratic, and fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization. It took six years for the MEK to formulate its view of Islam and develop a strategy to replace Iran’s dictatorial monarchy with a democratic government.
MEK’s interpretation of Islam
The theocratic mullah regime in Iran believe interpreting Islam is their exclusive domain. The MEK reject this view and the cleric’s reactionary vision of Islam. The MEK’s comprehensive interpretation of Islam proved to be more persuasive and appealing to the Iranian youth.
MEK’s founders and new members studied the various schools of thought, the Iranian history and those of other countries, enabling them to analyze other philosophies and ideologies with considerable knowledge and to present their own ideology, based on Islam, as the answer to Iran’s problems.
MEK’s leadership’s arrest during the 70s.
The Shah’s notorious secret police, SAVAK, arrested all MEK leaders and most of its member’s in1971. On May 1972, the founders of the MEK, Mohammad Hanifnejad , Saeed Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan, along with two members of the MEK leadership, Mahmoud Askarizadeh and Rasoul Meshkinfam, were put before death squads and were executed after long months of imprisonment and torture. They were the true vanguards, who stood against the dictatorial regime of Shah. However, they are also recognized for their opposition to what is today known as Islamic fundamentalism.
The death sentence of Massoud Rajavi, a member of MEK’s central committee, was commuted to life imprisonment as a result of an international campaign by his Geneva based brother, Dr. Kazem Rajavi (assassinated in April 1990 in Geneva by mullahs’ agents) and the personal intervention of the French President Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand. He was the only survivor of the MEK original leadership.
Massoud Rajavi’s critical role in characterizing religious extremism
From 1975 to 1979, while incarcerated in different prisons, Massoud Rajavi led the MEK’s struggle while constantly under torture for his leading position.
Massoud Rajavi stressed the need to continue the struggle against the shah’s dictatorship. At the same time, he characterized religious fanaticism as the primary internal threat to the popular opposition, and warned against the emergence and growth of religious fanaticism and autocracy. He also played a crucial role when some splinter used the vacuum in the MEK leadership who were all executed or imprisoned at the time, to claim a change of ideology and policy. Massoud Rajavi as the MEK leader condemn these individual’s misuse of MEK’s name while continuing to stress the struggle against dictatorship. His efforts while still in prison forced these individuals to no longer operating under the name of MEK and adopting a different name for their group. These positions remained the MEK’s manifesto until the overthrow of the shah’s regime.
Release of Political Prisoners on the last days of the Shah
A month before the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Shah was forced to flee Iran, never to return. All democratic opposition leaders had by then either been executed by the Shah’s SAVAK or imprisoned, and could exert little influence on the trend of events. Khomeini and his network of mullahs across the country, who had by and large been spared the wrath of SAVAK, were the only force that remained unharmed and could take advantage of the political vacuum. In France, Khomeini received maximum exposure to the world media. With the aid of his clerical followers, he hijacked a revolution that began with calls for democracy and freedom and diverted it towards his fundamentalist goals. Through an exceptional combination of historical events, Shiite clerics assumed power in Iran.
Khomeini’s gradual crackdown on MEK in fear of their popular support
In internal discourses, Rajavi the remaining leader of the MEK, argued that Khomeini represented the reactionary sector of society and preached religious fascism. Later, in the early days after the 1979 revolution, the mullahs, specifically Rafsanjani, pointed to these statements in inciting the hezbollahi club-wielders to attack the MEK.
Following the revolution, the MEK became Iran’s largest organized political party. It had hundreds of thousands of members who operated from MEK offices all over the country. MEK publication, ‘Mojahed’ was circulated in 500,000 copies.
Khomeini set up an Assembly of Experts comprised of sixty of his closest mullahs and loyalists to ratify the principle of velayat-e faqih (absolute supremacy of clerical rule) as a pillar of the Constitution. The MEK launched a nationwide campaign in opposition to this move, which enjoyed enormous popular support. Subsequently, the MEK refused to approve the new constitution based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, while stressing its observance of the law of the country to deny the mullahs any excuse for further suppression of MEK supporters who were regularly targeted by the regime’s official and unofficial thugs.
Khomeini sanctioned the occupation of the United States embassy in 1979 in order to create an anti-American frenzy, which facilitated the holding of a referendum to approve his Constitution, which the MEK rejected.
MEK’s endeavors to participate in the political process avoiding an unwanted conflict with government repressive forces
The MEK actively participated in the political process, fielding candidates for the parliamentary and presidential elections. The MEK also entered avidly into the national debate on the structure of the new Islamic regime, though was unsuccessful in seeking an elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.
The MEK similarly made an attempt at political participation when [then] Massoud Rajavi ran for the presidency in January 1980. MEK’s leader was forced to withdraw when Khomeini ruled that only candidates who had supported the constitution in the December referendum – which the MEK had boycotted- were eligible. Rajavi’s withdrawal statement emphasized the MEK’s efforts to conform to election regulations and reiterated the MEK’s intention to advance its political aims within the new legal system”. (Unclassified report on the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran(PMOI/ MEK) by the Department of State to the United States House of Representatives, December 1984.)
However, the MEK soon found itself in a direct struggle against the forces of the regime’s Supreme leader. The MEK’s differences with Khomeini dated back to the 1970s, and stem from its opposition to what is known today as Islamic extremism. Angry at the position taken by the MEK against his regime and worried about the MEK’s growing popularity, Khomeini ordered a brutal crackdown against the MEK and its supporters. Between 1979 and 1981, some 70 MEK members and sympathizers were killed and several thousand more were imprisoned by the Iranian regime.
June 20, 1981- Khomeini’s order to open fire on peaceful demonstration of half-a-million supporters of MEK
The turning point came on 20th June 1981, when the MEK called a demonstration to protest at the regime’s crackdown, and to call for political freedom which half-a-million supporters participated at. Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guards to open fire on the swelling crowd, fearing that without absolute repression the democratic opposition (MEK) would force him to engage in serious reforms – an anathema as far as he was concerned; he ordered the mass and summary executions of those arrested.
Since then, MEK activists have been the prime victims of human rights violations in Iran. Over 120,000 of its members and supporters have been executed by the Iranian regime, 30,000 of which, were executed in a few months in the summer of 1988, on a direct fatwa by Khomeini, which stated any prisoners who remain loyal to the MEK must be executed.
Having been denied its fundamental rights and having come under extensive attack at the time that millions of its members, supporters and sympathizers had no protection against the brutal onslaught of the Iranian regime, the MEK had no choice but to resist against the mullahs’ reign of terror.
“Towards the end of 1981, many of the members of the MEK and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France. But in 1986, after negotiations between the French and the Iranian authorities, the French government effectively treated them as undesirable aliens, and the leadership of the MEK with several thousand followers relocated to Iraq.” (Judgment of the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission, November 30, 2007.)
The MEK today is the oldest and largest anti-fundamentalist Muslim group in the Middle East. It has been active for more than a half century, battling two dictatorships and a wide range of issues. The MEK supports:
• Universal suffrage as the sole criterion for legitimacy
• Pluralistic system of governance
• Respect for individual freedoms
• Ban on the death penalty
• Separation of religion and state
• Full gender equality
• Equal participation of women in political leadership. MEK is actually led by its central committee consist of 1000 women.
• Modern judicial system that emphasizes the principle of innocence, a right to a defense, and due process
• Free markets
• Relations with all countries in the world
• Commitment to a non-nuclear Iran
The MEK remains a strong and cohesive organization, with a broad reach both worldwide and deep within Iran. MEK is the leading voice for democracy in Iran, supported by its interpretation of Islam that discredits the fundamentalist mullahs’ regime.