On July 9th, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), exiled in Paris, held its yearly rally under the call for a “Free Iran”. This year, the rally attracted over 100,000 supporters including high ranking diplomats from all over the world and was viewed as a huge success with global media coverage especially in the Arab world. The “Free Iran” movement calls for the removal of the mullah’s regime in Tehran in favor for a true democracy based on equality in gender, race and religion and is the biggest opposition group in the world.
A huge success for the NCRI is obviously a huge drawback for the regime in Tehran which went on the war-path to find ways to delegitimize the rally, its organizers and its supporters. As usual, since President Hassan Rouhani launched his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative 3 years ago, the obvious point of attack was…terrorism.
Yes, as always, whenever Tehran gets stuck between a rock and a hard place, it is bound to blame terrorism, or more precisely, the Western support of terrorism. From Tehran’s perspective, the NCRI, or more precisely, its former military wing the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the MEK/MKO, which had at one time been designated as a terrorist organization, didn’t merit the support of the world. The fact that the MEK was delisted from being a terrorist organization by all the countries in the world apart from Iran didn’t make a difference just as the fact that all Western countries view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization doesn’t bother Tehran from openly supporting and using Hezbollah in its wars outside of Iran.
So according to Tehran, the NCRI is a “terrorist” organization and anyone supporting it is inciting “terror”. The problem is, no one outside of the regime in Tehran is buying this narrative.
The MEK Listed and then de-listed
The NCRI embodies a number of smaller organizations but at its core, it is the political wing of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the MEK/MKO. The MEK was established in 1965 as a left-wing group opposing the Shah. Their happiness in seeing the Shah overthrown was quickly exchanged to disappointment on understanding the dictatorial theocratic implications of the Islamic Revolution under Ruhollah Khomeini and the MEK soon found itself being persecuted by Iranian authorities and the Hezbollah – hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested.
By 1981, most of the MEK supporters fled Iran either to Iraq or to France. During the war between Iran and Iraq, the MEK sided with Iraq, a move which further angered Tehran and led to the mass executions (1,400 – 3,000) of MEK supporters. Following the invasion of Iraq, the remaining MEK’s were herded into “Camp Liberty” in Baghdad and it has become a favorite target for Iranian attacks and bombardments.
For a while, the MEK continued to carry out high-profile assassinations in Iran and during this time, the MEK was designated by the US as a terrorist organizations in 1997 and then later by the EU in 2002. But the MEK had denounced the use of violence back in 2001 and by 2009, the EU scratched the MEK of its terror list and the US followed suite in 2012. To date, the MEK is a terrorist only in the eyes of the regime in Tehran.
Tehran’s hypocritical finger-wagging
Following the rally, Tehran began finger-wagging everyone who seems to have supported the event, including its host, France, and some of the countries which were represented at the rally by high-profile diplomats, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Ambassadors were called in for a “reprimanding” and everyone just nodded their heads and went on their way.
Simultaneously, Tehran hit the major media outlets, complaining that the hosting of a “terrorist event” in Paris went counter to the need to fight terrorism on all fronts. Tehran’s anti-terror rhetoric is so strange that it would not be believed by any one with common sense but for the fact that Iran was openly fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq and ISIS, at least in its infancy was supported by the US and its allies. ISIS, being the “black & white” magnet that it is, made it easier for Tehran to position itself as a champion against terrorism despite the fact that it still actively supports, financially, politically and militarily, terrorist organizations around the globe.
Special attention was placed by Tehran in the media regarding the presence of a former Saudi official at the rally, another “proof”, from an Iranian perspective, that Saudi Arabia is the leading cause of terror in the region. Tehran’s hypocrisy surrounding the redefinition of a terrorist organization is no laughing matter and judging on the importance the West gives Iran in peace talks in Syria and in Yemen, it has been resoundingly successful. But just because something is a success doesn’t make it true.
Terrorism in the past vs. the future
The MEK was quite rightly designated as a terrorist organization for all its terroristic activities in the past. But since its renouncement of violence in 2001 and certainly since it was delisted in 2009/2012, there are no ties between the NCRI and terroristic activities anywhere in the world. The NCRI is today, what Khomeini was in the 70’s: an opposition to the government of Iran working in exile because opposition to the regime is tantamount to torture, imprisonment or death – just ask the supporters of the failed 2009 Green Movement, which was brutally crushed while its leaders are under house arrest to this day.
It’s a critical link between opposing factions in Iran which are stifled and persecuted and the West. Despite the NCRI’s optimism, its chances of toppling the regime are albeit slim but without it, there would not be any real opposition to the regime
The West has nothing to fear from the NCRI since it is neither terroristic nor extremist but Tehran has much to worry about the NCRI since it is the alternative voice of Iranians, those who want to live a less revolutionary and a more secular life. As such, it should be supported by any and all who view the regime in Tehran as a dangerous model based on trampling on human rights and constant meddling in the affairs of neighbors, all in the name of maintaining and exporting the revolution.