The panel was moderated by Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield, former Assistant Secretary of State for Military Affairs. He was joined by Kenneth Blackwell, former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva; Linda Chavez, Founder and Chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and former White House Public Relations Liaison; Ramesh Sepehrrad, scholar practitioner from George Mason University in the US; Robert Torricelli, Member of the US Senate from 1997 to 2003, who also served 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives; and Mohammed Alsulami, head of AGCIS and expert on Iran.
The first speaker on the panel, who focuses her research on Iranian affairs, political governance, human rights, gender equality and U.S. policy, Ramesh Sepehrrad, said that she once led a study of opposition groups seeking the core argument. She found that the core issues for the opposition groups are the role of the Supreme Leader, the role of women and gender equality, and democratic views of democracy. These specific issues make the MEK and NCRI stand out. She said that this is not just in relation to rhetoric, but in particular with regards to action taken. She said that these opposition groups engage with the people of Iran on a day to day basis.
She noted that the NCRI is popular inside Iran, although this cannot be easily verified by doing a poll or a survey, as Iranian regime reacts violently when faced with dissent. People who support the opposition are punished when discovered. However, the popularity of the NCRI can be gauged when participation at major events is analyzed. Supporters of the NCRI/MEK are present at the right place, at the right time, are are posing questions at the the source. Supporters of the NCRI/MEK risk everything to stand up to the regime, yet young and old people, women, and students question the regime.
Sepehrrad continued by saying that there have been renewed calls for justice for the 1988 massacre when over 30,000 political prisoners were executed over a just few months. With the support of Western governments calling for justice, more people in the country will stand up against the regime, knowing it has international support. She called this the perfect opportunity for the West to take effective action against the regime, and believes that this is a weakness that must be used as an opening. The regime’s infighting and the factional disputes are making the people stronger, and provides another opening.
The history between the PMOI/MEK and the US was something that Linda Chavez discussed. This history began badly. The United States put the PMOI/MEK on the terrorist list, and it was not taken seriously for many years because of this designation. Later, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed the PMOI/MEK from the terrorist list, leaving them in a position to be heard again.
Chavez emphasized that the NCRI/MEK currently has a very strong following in Iran, but needs a stronger following in the West. Although they enjoy a large bipartisan following in Washington, she says there is still room for improvement. She believes that there is a good possibility that MEK’s voice will be heard with President Trump in office.
Blackwell spoke about humanitarian and strategic interests in Iran. He said that both interests should be addressed at the same time, but that it was likely the United States would go for strategic interests first. Regarding the strategic side, he said that the NCRI/MEK has exposed “extremely strategic” information at “extremely important” times. Blackwell said that he wants to ensure that we support and nurture the forces of freedom that advance human rights. “We have to look for forces of good. Let a thousand blossoms bloom.” He believes that the corrupt and repressive regime can be toppled.
In respect to human rights he emphasized that struggles are not a spectator sport. “You can’t sit on the side-lines. You have to engage and do what you can, where you are.” Blackwell believes that major changes can be triggered and said that the regime’s illegitimacy is so multi-faceted that its reign has a short life expectancy.
That Iran is a country that is very rich in natural resources, Mohammed Alsulami pointed out, and yet 50 percent of retired people live under the poverty line, 75 percent of teachers also live under the poverty line and 40 percent of the population as a whole live under the poverty line. Employment is at a terrible low, and there is a big problem with addiction in the country, with reports of children as young as 12 suffering from addiction.
He stated that claims of Rouhani being a reformist are untrue, because the rate of executions has risen. The large amount of funds that were released after the nuclear deal were spent outside Iran on fueling wars and terrorism.
According to Alsulami, the problems started in 1979 after the revolution. “Death to Saudi Arabia” and “Death to America” were slogans that were not heard before the revolution. Iran had a good relationship with its regional neighbours before the revolution. Sunnis and Shias used to live together peacefully.
Robert Torricelli paid tribute to the Iranian people, who have dealt with, and lived through, extraordinary tragedies. He said that military conflict is not a solution because it probably wouldn’t work. He believes that the regime cannot heal itself and evolve because there is no evidence to the contrary. If it continues on the same path, the regime will implode from within because it is in an unstable situation.
He said that the MEK serves the aspirations of the Iranian people. The MEK have the resources to bring great change to Iran. He is adamant that it is the only organization that can do so because it is viable and is set on complete political change. He pointed out that its members have made the ultimate sacrifice, they have given their lives to fight against the regime and to bring freedom to the people. It fights against the regime each and every day and can help the people of Iran take the future into their own hands.
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. They were all engineers, and had previously been members of the Freedom Movement (also known as the Liberation Movement), created by Medhi Bazargan in May 1961. These MEK founders sought a true interpretation of Islam, which is inherently tolerant and democratic, and fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization. It took them six years to formulate this view of Islam and develop a strategy to replace Iran’s dictatorial monarchy with a democratic government.
Today the MEK 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 strong and cohesive, it reaches around the world and within Iran. It is the leading voice for democracy in Iran.