Two days ago, I found it curious to learn of a large rally held in Paris by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI, also known as MEK or MKO) by reading the headlines on Ynet and on Ha’aretz. I usually follow Iranian opposition events via various other Iranian websites, where the rally was not mentioned. And while the Israeli press can be counted upon to have nearly daily entries in its hysterical campaign towards a military confrontation with Iran, it still seemed curious to find this rally by a relatively discredited Iranian opposition group featured so prominently on these Israeli websites. But then reading closely the matter was clarified somewhat (from Ha’aretz):
The rally by the PMOI, which Washington considers to be a terrorist organisation, was attended by former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and Jose Maria Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain.
Bolton and Aznar were there to represent a transatlantic coalition of neoconservative pro-Israeli interests who seem to wish to promote the PMOI as the legitimate opposition to Iran’s clerical regime. Bolton’s credentials need no rehearsal here, but let’s not forget that Aznar has recently signed on as a founding member of a European Friends of Israel, in the face of the disastrous repercussions of the Gaza Freedom floatilla raid. The reason for this is fairly clear: on the issues of Israel and on Iran’s nuclear program the Green Movement is dedicated to promoting an independent policy for the country. While it is likely they would take a very different tone and approach to both issues, the Green Movement will likely do little to satisfy the interests of the Israel Lobby and neoconservatives for a pro-Israeli and subservient Iran. With the PMOI as the only reasonably well-established alternative, these groups have thrown their lot in with them. If the confrontation with Iran becomes military in nature, it seems likely that the PMOI will be (again) touted by these interests as the “leadership in exile” for any regime-change scenario.
This is not entirely new. During the Bush years, the PMOI sought alliances with the neoconservatives in the US, with a number of bipartisan congressmen acting as intermediaries to call for their removal from the terrorist list, and to advocate for their recognition as a legitimate Iranian opposition group. They are now at it again, with a new move to give legitimacy to the group launched just days ago, with a number of congressmen signed on. In the past, highly-placed neoconservatives such as Richard Perle have attended PMOI-related events and spoke positively of the group. And the group has done much to complement the interests of these allies: they were instrumental in building up the case for Iran’s nuclear program, and have supplied intelligence they claim to have gathered from inside Iran to bolster the case for an arms program — it’s unclear how accurate or legitimate this intelligence may be, but there are certainly shades of the famous WMD intelligence relating to Iraq in all of this.
Among most prominent activists in the Iranian opposition, the PMOI is rarely remembered kindly, when they are bothered to be remembered at all. Already discredited among most Iranians for their alliance with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and despised by Kurds everywhere for willfully participating in Hussein’s genocidal campaigns against them, the Mojahedin have come to be seen by most Iranians as an embarrassing aberration in the political landscape. While the Islamic Republic has a virulent hostility towards the group, most secular left or reformist Iranians also will have nothing to do with the group and reject its inclusion in any coalitions to oppose the regime. In Europe and the US, during anti-regime demonstrations supporting the Green Movement, the appearance of PMOI flags or leaflets often led to standoffs and even fights among the demonstrators, with PMOI agents far outnumbered. They now stand all alone in the Iranian scene, with their only true supporters drawn from the Israel Lobby and the margins of US and European politics.
What is so strange is that there they had once acted as the vanguard of revolutionary activity and as a synthesis of leftist and Islamist idealism in the first years of the post-revolutionary period. However, in exile they have been transformed into a political irrelevancy, made worse by their adoption of cult-like policies to maintain discipline in their ranks. The group demands of the rank-and-file a troubling adoration of the figure of Maryam Rajavi, the nominal leader of the group, relying on systems of regular debriefing and self-criticism which are mandatory for all members. Furthermore the group exerts control of many aspects of members’ personal lives, including in matters of marriage, divorce and parenting. Given what they have become, any idea of their resurgence as a valid player in Iranian politics strikes me as one of the most terrifying possibilities for Iran’s future. Their placement on the US terrorism list was clearly a political gesture during Clinton’s administration, but many Iranians find them more troubling for reasons other than the terrorist acts they have carried out.
Rather than hear me describe these, I think it’s better to let the PMOI represent themselves — in videos they have produced. Also, here, and here and here (and you can find many more just by clicking on the related videos or googling the group’s other videos). It baffles the mind that the PMOI are so blind as to how out-of-touch their fascistic aesthetics are with the ideals of Iran’s democratic opposition and their supporters. Check out the videos linked above, produced by the PMOI to publicize "celebrations" and other group events held in their base in Iraq, and tell me if you don’t find a chill creeping down your spine… Echoes of Triumph of the Will, or the Dear Leader…
Bizarrely, the PMOI continues to enjoy support even among some on the US left. The Huffington Post, for example, offers a forum to two of the group’s more active US propagandists, Ali Safavi and Alireza Jafarzadeh. It seems likely that we’ll be hearing more about them once again as the talk of a military confrontation grows. It’s no surprise that the neocons and Israel’s most steadfast supporters are also now openly backing the PMOI.