THE WEST SHOULD BETTER RECOGNIZE IRAN’S DEMOCRATIC RESISTANCE
One who follows current Middle Eastern events will probably be aware of the nationwide uprising that took place last December and January with citizens of more than 140 Iranian cities and towns condemning economic mismanagement and chanting anti-government slogans.
It is somewhat less likely that one realizes the true extent of the movement that that uprising spawned. The associated protests never really ended, but merely shifted to more local organizing. The chants of “death to the dictator” continue to the present day as, of course, do the reactionary death threats issued by the regime.
Those unaware of the current unrest or not fully recognizing the significance of the initial uprising, may not know much about the major driving forces behind that unrest.
Chief among these is the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK/PMOI), a pro-democracy opposition group that has been at the head of calls for regime change since the earliest days of the Islamic Republic.
When the nationwide uprising was at its peak, the Iranian regime’s supreme leader actually delivered a speech in which he specifically credited the MEK with planning and organizing the anti-government demonstrations.
Unfortunately, this was not enough to make the MEK a household name in the Western world, although it should be by now.
For the better part of 40 years, public recognition of this leading Iranian opposition group has been smothered under a blanket of propaganda, stemming not just from Iranian state TV but also from the lobbying efforts to Tehran’s representatives throughout the world. This propaganda has sought to portray the MEK as ineffectual, cultish, and lacking in popular support.
Yet, despite the regime’s efforts to simultaneously downplay and demonize the Iranian Opposition, the power and influence of the MEK has continued to grow, both inside Iran and throughout the world. It is the reality that Tehran could no longer conceal at the beginning of this year when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that the MEK had planned for months to bring the uprising to fruition.
The importance of that effort was further underscored about two months later when the President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, Maryam Rajavi, praised the initial protests and called for a “year full of uprisings.” The Iranian public immediately responded with resurgent demonstrations, and the regime has struggled to quell them ever since.
If Khamenei’s own tacit contradiction of his regime’s propaganda isn’t enough, the international community would do well to listen as growing numbers of prominent politicians and Middle East experts who actively oppose the mullah’s propaganda while promoting the MEK as the standard bearers for Iran’s democratic future.
Hundreds of these experts attend the annual rally organized outside Paris in the summer, under the banner of the MEK-led coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
That event and those attendees serve to underscore the natural alliance that exists between Iran’s pro-democratic Resistance movement and the Western governments that have been struggling for four decades to manage the threat posed by the Islamic Republic. And this year, the NCRI rally indirectly called attention to the fact that Tehran already views Western democracies and the MEK as practically one and the same.
Just before that gathering commenced on June 30, two Iranian operatives were arrested in possession of 500 grams of explosives, attempting to cross from Belgium into France. It was soon revealed that a leading Iranian diplomat in Europe, acting on orders from Tehran, had planned to have the explosives set off at the rally, potentially killing American and European dignitaries alongside hundreds of Iranian expatriates.
A similar plot had been thwarted three months earlier, in Albania, to which more than 2,000 MEK activists had been relocated from Iraq three years earlier.
Iran makes no distinction between the MEK and the Western governments that Iranian officials routinely refer to as enemies. It’s a remarkable fact, considering that those governments have never formally expressed support for the MEK. Many have barely acknowledged the organization’s existence.
Yet Tehran is so concerned by the dual pressures it faces from the FMEK’s domestic organizing and the international community’s economic and diplomatic pressure that the regime is willing to blow up both its own propaganda and its relations with Europe in a desperate bid to alleviate that pressure.
What is strange is that two entities could be targeted by a mutual enemy, and yet fail to regard themselves as co-combatants in a conflict for their mutual interests and, more so, that the news media seems not to grasp the folly of this.
If the United States and Europe do not begin to actively support the MEK and its affiliates inside the Islamic Republic, they run the risk of casting aside a de facto ally at a very crucial historical moment. Although many casual observers of Middle Eastern affairs may not realize it, the current domestic unrest in Iran points squarely at the possibility of a change of government, which would end critical threats against Western powers once and for all.
At one time, ignorance of the MEK might have been an excuse for not taking action to promote such an outcome. But with Iranian propaganda crumbling and the Resistance gaining traction inside the country, all such excuses and outdated and should be confined to the past.
While one hears on a daily basis about sanctions and potential military measures, there must surely be a preference for means that will transform rather than destroy.
It is, therefore, the time to promote the ambitions of the suffering grassroots community and that must depend largely on public awareness through better news media information. Surely, with its well defined objectives, the NCRI must no longer be a neglected seed-bed for such transformation?
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass is an independent Ulster Unionist member of the U.K. House of Lords and prominent member of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF), www.iran-freedom.org