Given the various crises currently being faced by the regime on a domestic and international level, it is inevitable that this will happen sooner, rather than later. That is why we’ll take a deep look at Rajavi and his leadership of the MEK in this short series.
Rajavi was born in Tabas, northeastern Iran, in 1947. He studied for his political law degree at Tehran University, where he met the people who would form the MEK.
Rajavi became a member of the group’s leadership a couple of years later, where he led many of the MEK’s discussions on history, philosophy, political theory, and religion, which culminated in the interpretation of Islam as inherently tolerant.
In 1971, he was arrested by the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, along with other leaders of the MEK and sentenced to death. In the coming years, all MEK leaders were executed, but Rajavi was spared because of an international campaign led by his brother from Switzerland and supported by the later French President François Mitterrand and Amnesty International.
Rajavi’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was freed in January 1979, just four days after the Shah left Iran and ten days before regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini returned.
Rajavi then spent his time organizing the MEK for the fight that lay ahead; for democracy and freedom for all Iranians. He gave weekly lectures at the Sharif University of Technology, which showed how different the MEK and the mullahs really were, and inspired tens of thousands of eager young Iranians to attend or listen to the recordings at home.
Eric Rouleau wrote in Le Monde: “One of the most important events not to be missed in Tehran is the course on comparative philosophy, taught every Friday afternoon by Mr. Massoud Rajavi. Some 10,000 people present their admission cards to listen for three hours to the lectures by the leader of the People’s Mojahedin on Sharif University’s lawn.”
Then came the 1980 presidential elections, where Rajavi stood as a candidate, before being blocked by Khomeini because he’d opposed Iran’s new constitution that sought to institutionalize theocratic government. Rajavi then ran in the election for Iran’s new parliament, receiving over 500,000 votes, but the mullahs manipulated the vote tally to deny him (or any MEK candidate) a seat.
However, this didn’t deter MEK supporters and support for Khomeini’s regime dropped.
In June 1981, more than 500,000 people attended a peaceful MEK rally in Tehran to protest Khomeini’s power grab and Khomeini, fearing losing control, ordered his guards to open fire. MEK members and supporters were summarily arrested, imprisoned, and executed.
The MEK then changed tack and voted to send Rajavi abroad who, before leaving Iran, set up an international campaign against the regime, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). This is something that we will talk about in the next piece in this series.