In Iran, the People’s Mujahedin continue to fight back against the regime [1/2]


The recent public protests against the high cost of living and the return of Islamist totalitarianism has caused a political quake in Iran. For the first time since the mass post-election protests of 2009, the country is experiencing a large-scale popular uprising, not only asking the question ‘where is my vote?’ but also demanding for the end of a religious dictatorship now nearly 40 years in the running.

On the 2nd of January, the Iranian president Hassan Rohani went as far as contacting the French president Emmanuel Macron, asking him to crack down on the activities of an Iranian ‘terrorist group’ based in France. According to the regime, this ‘terrorist group’ had a ‘dangerous part to play’ in the recent protests in Iran. This was a clear reference to the People’s Mujahedin (MEK), the regime’s main opposing force, who fight for an end to despotism.

Ali Khamenei denounces external influences

Since the start of the uprising on the 28th of December 2017, the state media has been constantly criticising this ‘driving force’ of determined militants, threatening the control of the regime’s ‘Supreme Leader’. On the 9th of January, Ali Khamenei made a statement, expressing his determination to defeat the organisation, which he accused of being linked to foreign powers: ‘money has been coming in from rich governments in the Persian gulf and going to this criminal group of Monafeghins (pejorative term used for the MEK). They have called people to protest under the slogan ‘No to the Cost of Living’ which pleases everyone.’

Thousands of protesters are currently imprisoned in Iran. On the 5th of January, Amnesty International released a statement criticising the ill-treatment of these prisoners. The media reported the ‘suspicious death’ of a young protester kept in an Iranian jail, while many families are without any news of the whereabouts of their children. In 2009 several protesters were reported to have been killed by gunfire and tortured by the Pasdaran (‘guardians of the revolution’), the repressive army of the regime.

The recent repression has been just as brutal. Around 40 protesters have been killed and thousands have been arrested, many of which MEK sympathisers or relatives of MEK members. Human rights activists are currently living in fear of a repetition of the ‘false trials’ and death sentences of 2009. During that year, MEK supporters were the only protesters who received death sentences and were executed.

Who are these opponents of the regime ?

Founded in 1963 by young Iranian university students, the MEK was a response to the terror brought to the country by the Shah monarchy. The group considered itself as an organisation of resistance fighting for the instauration of an independent and democratic regime. The movement is inspired by a progressive interpretation of Islam, combining popularly held values with ideas of progress and social justice. The People’s Mujahedin has since gained in popularity among young people and intellectuals. After the Shah regime was overthrown in 1979, the MEK began to operate as a political party on a national scale. The tales of their resistance in the Shah’s prisons and their call to the Iranian youth inspired many young supporters, notably among women, across the whole of Iran. Their newspaper, Modjahed, has become the most read newspaper in the country, with over 500,000 copies printed daily. Thousands of people have attended the organisation’s meetings, and the MEK quickly became considered as the main opposition to the regime. This is mainly down to the fact that the organisation refuses, on principal, to recognise the ‘Supreme Leader’, a title brought in by the fundamentalists in the 1979 Constitution, on the grounds that it violates popular sovereignty.

The enlightened and courageous attitude of the MEK’s young leaders earned the admiration of all Iranian democrats, and the group gained a strong following in Iranian society. However, the fundamentalist forces soon began to fear the size of the democratic movement. This led to the horrifying repression of 1981, which saw up to hundreds of MEK sympathisers being shot every day. This carnage reached its height in 1988, when the regime chose to assassinate around 30,000 political prisoners. This crime against humanity was condemned by NGOs such as Amnesty International, and citizens are still fighting for the locations of mass graves to be revealed, and for an international trial to be held to judge those who remain at the head of the regime.

Ayatollah Montazeri, the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, spoke out against this and was subsequently removed from office. Emphasising just how deeply the movement is rooted in Iranian society, he personally wrote to the ‘Supreme Leader’, writing ‘The People’s Mujahedin are not just individuals; they are an ideology and a worldview. Killing will only spread their propaganda.’ This is effectively what has happened. Deeply embedded in society, the movement has continued to develop, constantly reinventing itself. It is also worth noting the movement’s ability to overcome the regime’s plots and conspiracies that have been unfolding on an international scale, alongside the total complacence of Western governments.

Banner photo : Protesters in Brussels supporting the Iranian uprising, 3 January 2018 (THIERRY ROGE / BELGA / AFP)

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