To support his claim that the MEK has substantial support in Iran, Safavi sent PJ Media a series of articles about a rally near Paris in June that the NCRI claimed brought out 100,000 supporters (the New York Times wrote 30,000) and included speeches by Maryam Rajavi, the “president-elect” of NCRI (pictured in this article’s thumbnail); former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton; and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Aznar.
“Can you tell me what other opposition group can bring this many people to an event?” he asked. Timmerman has questioned the reliability of the group’s numbers in the past and claims many attendees are paid to show up.
Dr. Raymond Tanter, president of the Iran Policy Committee and author of President Obama and Iran: Engagement, Isolation, Regime Change, agreed with Safavi, saying that the wealth of intelligence the MEK provides shows they have support.
“When scientists are willing to risk their lives to reveal nuclear and other secrets of the Iranian regime, it is a bellwether of the support for the PMOI and NCRI in Iran. And when the regime cracked down on the demonstrators on the Iranian street in 2009, most of the persons persecuted and hanged were supporters of these two organizations,” he told PJM.
Two Iranian opposition figures disagreed with Safavi and Tanter about MEK’s support in Iran.
“The MEK has no legitimacy among the Iranian people. Their ideology which is a concoction of Marxism and Islamism is considered dangerous. They have already determined their ‘elected president’ and ‘elected leader’ and hence I personally recommend that they acquire a remote piece of land where they can form their government,” Amir Abbas Fakhravar, the secretary-general of the Confederation of Iranian Students, told PJM.
Reza Kahlili, author of A Time to Betray, is a former member of the Revolutionary Guard who decided to spy for the CIA. He told PJM: “Even though the MEK has many supporters here in the U.S. and many more in Europe, their support in Iran is minimal and it would be a big mistake for the West to support MEK as a legitimate opposition to the Islamic regime.”
He also warned that directly supporting the MEK would backfire.
“This would be a turn off to the majority in Iran who are aspiring for their freedom and it will solidify support from those disenchanted in the Guards for the mullahs.”
In response, Safavi said: “The idea that somehow, the MEK has tens of thousands of supporters outside Iran but none in Iran defies logic. The Iranian exile community is a microcosm of the society in Iran. Virtually every one of those outside Iran who support the MEK have relatives and friends in Iran. The difference is, outside of Iran they can speak their mind without fear of persecution. In Iran, any expression of sympathy with the MEK would result in arrest and execution as a Mohareb (warring against God), according to Article 186 of the Islamic Punishment Act.”
Others take a more neutral stance, arguing that such disagreements can be settled after the fall of the regime.
Roozbeh Farahanipour, one of the leaders of the 1999 student uprising in Iran and executive director of the Marze Por Gohar Party, secretly entered Iran in July 2009 to take part in anti-regime demonstrations. He did not make a determination on the MEK’s level of support in Iran, but said that the issue could be settled in free elections after the regime falls. He also stated that he felt neither the MEK nor PJAK should be listed as terrorist groups by the U.S. government.
“If anyone should be listed as a terrorist group, it’s the Revolutionary Guards, the intelligence services, the Basiji, and the other parts of the regime,” Farahanipour told PJM.
The MEK’s legal battle with the State Department is not over, and neither is the debate about its qualifications as an Iranian opposition group. It is important for the U.S. to make an accurate assessment of who can be counted upon to be fruitful allies in fighting the Iranian regime, but first, the decision to help the Iranian people to pursue regime change must be made.