Well-funded exile regime-change outfits are hardly paragons of virtue

Well-funded exile regime-change outfits are hardly paragons of virtue

Well-funded exile regime-change outfitsKourosh Ziabari, Asia Times, November 24 2021:… Aside from its perfidious alliance with Saddam Hussein during the internecine Iran-Iraq War in 1980s, when it opened fire on its fellow citizens in multiple operations, MEK has worked in cahoots with some of the most reactionary politicians in the United States and far-right parties in Europe, and accepted funding from Saudi Arabia, to advocate for augmented sanctions on Iran. Well-funded exile regime-change outfits are hardly paragons of virtue  

Massoud KhodabandehMujahedin Khalq Benefactors From Iraqi Saddam To Saudi MBS

Let’s face it: Iranian opposition is not a democratic voice

While the Iranian regime certainly warrants criticism, well-funded exile regime-change outfits are hardly paragons of virtue

There is no shortage of critical commentary, analysis and coverage of the undemocratic practices of the Iranian government and its defiance of its international obligations. In newspapers and on cable television and online platforms, a fusillade of alarming updates is fired every day at Iran’s nuclear program, its imprisonment of journalists, political activists and dual nationals, and its regional escapades.

To be sure, governance structures are flawed, social fissures are deepening rapidly, promises of adherence to human rights are mere window-dressing and, because of inveterate mismanagement, the national economy is collapsing, as are the livelihoods of millions of Iranians.

Well-funded exile regime-change outfits

Well-funded exile regime-change outfits

Against this backdrop, it might appear that “negative” accounts of Iran are cropping up in TV news bulletins and newspaper front pages more frequently, and commentators are predisposed to be more scrupulous when contemplating the oil-rich nation’s developments.

Yet the truth is that Iran is not getting so much unfavorable attention because it is an unmatched cesspool of authoritarianism, militancy, poverty and human-rights abuses. Publicity around Iran is in part swayed by a constellation of influential, well-off opposition groups in exile, which despite a clear lack of uniformity and congruity, aspire to overthrow the Islamic Republic and replace it with a democracy.

Indeed, introducing democracy to Iran would be a lofty ideal to contribute to and fight for. Any sane mind would agree that a pluralistic government that caters to the needs of every citizen and refrains from intruding into people’s lives would be an epiphany for a nation that has lived through a checkered history of foreign intervention and domestic repression for some 200 years.

But are these kaleidoscopic opposition groups the “saviors” that will cultivate democracy in Iran and put national interest above anything else when they rule the roost, including ideological dogmas, ethnic divisions and partisan interests? The answer is a clear, if not resounding, “no.”

Amid the numerous opposition factions operating in the form of think-tanks, advocacy organizations, political action networks, armed groups and separatist parties, some cliques tend to be household names.

MEK

The most notable is Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which has touted “democratic regime change” as its key principle. Until 2012, MEK was on the US State Department’s blacklist of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The decision of then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton to de-list it was a bombshell, incensing Iranians of all stripes, including those who didn’t sympathize with the government in Tehran.

Aside from its perfidious alliance with Saddam Hussein during the internecine Iran-Iraq War in 1980s, when it opened fire on its fellow citizens in multiple operations, MEK has worked in cahoots with some of the most reactionary politicians in the United States and far-right parties in Europe, and accepted funding from Saudi Arabia, to advocate for augmented sanctions on Iran.

It is indeed the entitlement of every advocacy or lobbying organization to peddle the narratives it finds favorable and attuned to its collective mindset, and invest in influencing public opinion to further its agenda.

A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy

The caveat concerning MEK’s worldview and methods, however, is that, although the organization is no longer officially recognized as a terrorist entity by the US government, it is so cryptic in its workings and so unethical in its conduct that the majority of Iranians reckon it to be a shadowy cult, leaving it with little to zero credibility among the populace it professes to be fighting for.

How much funding MEK receives remains a mystery, like the fate of its erstwhile leader Massoud Rajavi, who went missing in Iraq in 2003, and the organization refuses to let anyone get wind of his whereabouts or possible death. But what can be inferred from scattered pieces of information available is that the outfit rakes in substantial outlays, and spends them freewheelingly.

The dissident group, for example, donated €971,890 (around US$1 million) to Spain’s far-right party Vox between December 2013 and April 2014 to coax its leaders to pressure the Iranian government and gainsay it in its public pronouncements.

The thrust to persuade then-US president Barack Obama’s administration to unban MEK was actually a multimillion-dollar campaign, including paychecks of US$1.5 million to three leading Washington lobby firms, DLA Piper, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and DiGenova & Toensing.

Even so, what is more menacing about MEK is that despite its frequent invocation of the idea of democracy and its espousal of civil liberties, its affiliates and activists have long resorted to undemocratic tactics, propaganda techniques and coercion to silence their critics and proselytize their doctrine.

Investigative journalists have documented how MEK has been financing troll farms across Europe to manipulate the discourse on Iran on social media, unleash vitriol on journalists and academics who push for a more nuanced understanding of Iran affairs, and implant misinformation in the global media’s coverage of the Middle East.

In one instance in April, Facebook shuttered 300 MEK-associated accounts believed to have been run from a troll farm in Albania.

There is no evidence negating that the MEK leadership and members do not tolerate criticism toward their policies and actions, and this is in some measure an upshot of the MEK’s cult-like nature demanding unconditional homage to the institutional diktat.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

To cite a personal experience, I was the subject of a whopping smear campaign back in 2017 when I published an article in The Huffington Post deploring the French government for providing a safe haven to the MEK and condoning its recourse to violence in the past.

As soon as the story went viral, hundreds of Twitter accounts began slandering me – posting identically worded tweets – as an apologist of the Islamic Republic, and some of them went so far as to claim that I was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps!

But I was not the last journalist to be earmarked for MEK mudslinging. Describing the group’s critics as being on the payroll of the Islamic Republic is a convenient way of undermining their impartiality and professional credentials, which unfortunately works to fool uncritical, credulous laymen.

Pahlavi monarchists

The other major coalition of dissidents includes the monarchists, scattered across Europe and North America, who sing the praises of the dethroned Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and wish the country to be once again ruled by the Pahlavi clan, epitomized by the late Shah’s vaunted son Reza Pahlavi now residing in Washington, DC.

The monarchists are not as notorious as MEK, enjoy a wider popular base, represent a louder voice and often get access to leading US think-tanks and media organizations. They are also doing well in terms of raising funds for their regime-change advocacy, and their chieftain, Reza Pahlavi, is a more palatable personality than MEK figureheads.

Yet, slowly, it is dawning on more people that the future of Iran in the hands of Reza Pahlavi and his devotees would not necessarily be that of a free and democratic nation. At least the media corporations and public personalities championing the revival of monarchy are unwittingly imparting such an impression.

Rajavi-Saudi Cooperate over Elections in Iran – Iran Interlink Weekly Digest – Jun 11, 2021

Manoto TV and Iran International, two popular London-based outlets broadcasting for the Persian-speaking audiences with marked monarchial leanings, are finding their standing dented as a result of overt bias against the Iranian government, now extending into prejudice against the entirety of Iran as a geopolitical reality, altering their function as media organizations into opposition mouthpieces.

Cloying sketches of the Islamic Republic’s “atrocities” and “barbarity” have yielded coverage that is neither professional nor standard, but merely indoctrinating.

Instead, extravagant ovations for the Pahlavi family, together with occasional publicity for separatist groups wishing to split the country into pieces, and even giving airtime to notorious members of violent groups who have carried out terror operations in Iran, have worked in tandem to make these networks platforms for anti-regime agitprop rather than objective reporting.

High-profile correspondents and anchors work with these stations, which means they have been successful in recruiting seasoned staff. But even they do not engage in candid debate about the policies and performance of their media organizations, and when they do, reception of criticism is rare, and in many cases, troll armies identifying with them bombard the proponents of alternative views on social media with threats and insults.

Mirroring their foes

The problem with the Iranian opposition groups is not that they are outspoken in their opprobrium of the government or see no better alternative than regime change. Also, it is not a hindrance that virtually all opposition factions are based outside the country and make prescriptions for a strangled population to jump through hoops to confront the government, while themselves enjoying the freedom and safety of Western states.

The main issue is that in creating a discourse and momentum to counter the Islamic Republic, the opposition is almost replicating the negative policies and practices of the very regime it wants deposed.

Trying to warn against the perils of ideological governance and political Islam, the opposition is indulging in bad-mouthing the entire community of Muslims and denigrating a faith 1.5 billion people practice worldwide.

Painting Muslims as backward and retrograde, including Iranian adherents who don’t necessarily toe the government line in determining their lifestyle, has become the new normal exuded by the diaspora dissidents and their media strongholds.

Bickering on social media and trading expletives with their detractors instead of encouraging civil and respectful debate, refusing to admit to and correct errors and rebuffing well-reasoned, cogent criticism are the hallmarks of the online behavior of the majority of the opposition celebrities.

They constantly raise the specter of revenge for the Islamic Republic authorities and their partisans. This doesn’t really smack of a democratic vision.

Their moral decline is mirrored in the fact that they underwrite any option that generates the outcome they seek to realize – regime change – be it foreign intervention, multiplied economic sanctions, instigation of street violence or the geographical disintegration of the country.

Of course, there are eminent individuals in the ranks of opposition, but they are exceptions to a cast-iron rule. As it stands, the opposition has failed to signal that it is a democratic voice, and if its members claim they will bless the future of Iran with universal values, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. The alternative to a bad situation is not a parlous one.

Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian journalist and reporter. He is the recipient of a Chevening Award from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He is also an American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS) Fellow. He was a finalist in the category of Local Reporter of the Year in the 2020 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism.

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Well-funded exile regime-change outfits are hardly paragons of virtue

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Also read:
https://iran-interlink.org/wordpress/nobody-can-be-comfortable-with-regime-change-involving-mek/

Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEK

Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEKMassoud Khodabandeh, Lobe Log, August 23 2019:… So, when Giuliani says we should be “comfortable” with this group, right-minded people the world over can honestly and unequivocally answer, “No, we are not comfortable ignoring this harsh reality just because the MEK amplifies an anti-Iran message to the world, and no, we don’t believe the MEK have any kind of future in Iran”. Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEK 

MSNBC_Massoud_KhodabandehThe MEK’s man inside the White House (Maryam Rajavi cult, Mojahedin Khalq)

Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEK

By: Massoud and Anne Khodabandeh (Middle East Strategy Conslultants)

Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEKLeaked photo of MEK’s Albanian headquarters

In 2017, John Bolton promised the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK)—wrongly, it turned out—that they would be celebrating in Tehran before the Iranian Revolution’s 40th anniversary in February 2019. This July, at the MEK’s five-day conference in Albania, keynote speaker Rudy Giuliani still insisted the MEK is a “government in exile” and claimed the MEK is “a group that should make us comfortable having regime change”.

For context, promoting a group which is universally despised by Iranians inside and outside the country as traitors already stretches credulity. There is no evidence that Iranians are calling for severe sanctions against themselves. Nor are they calling for regime change. The MEK’s only audience in this respect are a warmongering cabal of Americans, Saudis, Israelis, and British, who like to hear what they want to hear. The rest of the world just isn’t that comfortable with this bizarre, terrorist cult.

Lately, even Europe has distanced itself from lending succour to the group. The MEK no longer has free access to the European Parliament where its activists would harass the MEPs and their staff. This year the MEK was barred from holding its annual Villepinte rally in France and was also banned from rallying by Germany. As a result of this, MEK leader Maryam Rajavi has decamped from Paris to Albania and the MEK announced that Albania is the group’s new headquarters.

The move from Iraq to Albania ought to have allowed unprecedented access to Western journalists keen to investigate the honey pot around which the anti-Iran cabal buzz with excitement. They were soon disappointed, as the MEK built a de facto extra-territorial enclave in Manëz and posted armed guards to keep out unwanted attention. But although the group were physically hidden from view, they were very exposed through their cyber activities.

Although it had been known for some time that the MEK operates a click farm from Albania, it was Murteza Hussain in The Intercept who revealed how the MEK uses fake social media accounts to curate a false narrative about Iran to influence US policy. The Heshmat Alavi scandal focused media attention on what is really happening inside the MEK behind the slickly marketed brand image that Giuliani so admires. This endeavour to scrutinise the MEK has been aided by a series of photographs which were leaked from inside the MEK’s camp in Albania and published in Iran. The photos are very revealing, but in ways that the MEK probably didn’t intend or realise when they were taken. Since the MEK so zealously hides its inner world from public scrutiny, these photos offer us an unguarded glimpse into the operational and organisational life of the cult.

The fact that the photos were taken at all is significant. At first glance they could be showing a session for seniors at the local library or community centre. But we see the women are wearing military uniforms and the men are all wearing similar shirts. Some are wearing ties. This is something the MEK don’t ever do unless in a public facing role. This indicates the images have been deliberately staged for a particular external audience. Certainly they were not meant for internal consumption, but neither is this for the wider public or else they would be on the MEK’s own websites. Based on information about the MEK already in the public domain, we can assume these photos were commissioned by Maryam Rajavi as a marketing ploy to ‘sell’ the MEK brand to financiers and backers.

Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEKLeaked photos showing MEK members at work

There is clearly a deliberate effort to show that the MEK are “professional” workers in this computer room. Everyone is posed looking intently at a screen. Nobody is “off duty” in the pictures; yawning, stretching, drinking coffee, the normal activities of any workers. There is no evidence of relaxed, friendly chat between co-workers, everyone looks very serious. There are no cups of coffee or snacks on the desks. No pictures of family, husbands, wives, children, pets even. No plants or flowers. In spite of the rows of desks being squashed together closely, everyone looks very isolated.

There might be nothing wrong with that. After all, employers want to see their workers busy. But organisational photographs are also about marketing a brand, which includes marketing the core values of an entity. A group which claims, as the MEK does, that it is funded by public donations to struggle for democracy and human rights would surely want to create an image in the mind of the public about transparency, effectiveness, and positivity. By way of contrast, see how Human Rights Watch advertises its work culture. Even a quick Google image search on ‘call center worker’ reveals pictures of relaxed and smiling workers rather than people who look like battery hens. This is not the image any normal company or government office would use to promote their workplace.

In the MEK’s advertising photos the workers are gender segregated. Men sit in one room, women in another. The women all wear hijab. There is no pluralism here. The use of garden chairs and workers using glasses unsuited to screen work reveals that this management doesn’t care at all about the safety, comfort or wellbeing of the workers. They are using a mixture of outdated monitors and laptops. The cables are frayed and tangled.

There is no indication that the workers are happy at their workstations or enjoying their work. Why would they be with the picture of their leader bearing down on them, as in all dictatorships, lest they forget why they are there and who is in charge? (The picture of a solitary Maryam Rajavi is a clear acknowledgement that her husband Massoud Rajavi is dead.)

The MEK’s cultic system means that decisions are imposed from the top down. This means that those decisions are only as intelligent as the leadership. What Rajavi doesn’t understand is that these photos show beyond any words that the MEK doesn’t share our values. The leader is selling unthinking, unquestioning, obedient slaves, people who won’t act or speak unless ordered to do so. And that would only be ordered if it were productive for the MEK, regardless of the needs or desires of the worker.

What these images portray are conditions of modern slavery. These are elderly people who are unable to escape this cult and are coerced into performing work for which they receive no recompense. They exist on cruelly basic accommodation and sustenance, whereby even asking for new underwear puts the petitioner under question about their loyalty to the leader and the cause. They cannot leave because in Albania they have nowhere to go, no identity documents or work permits, no money, and they do not speak the local language. And also because the Trump administration wants the MEK to be there.

So, when Giuliani says we should be “comfortable” with this group, right-minded people the world over can honestly and unequivocally answer, “No, we are not comfortable ignoring this harsh reality just because the MEK amplifies an anti-Iran message to the world, and no, we don’t believe the MEK have any kind of future in Iran”.

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Nobody Can Be “Comfortable” With Regime Change Involving MEK

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The Many Faces of the MEK, Explained By Its Former Top Spy Massoud KhodabandehThe Many Faces of the MEK, Explained By Its Former Top Spy Massoud Khodabandeh

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Also read:
https://iran-interlink.org/wordpress/bolton-vs-zarif-on-mek-iran/

Bolton Vs. Zarif On MEK

Bolton Zarif MEK IranMassoud Khodabandeh, Lobe Log, May 03 2019:… Hillary Clinton did not take money from the MEK while it was listed as a terrorist entity. And taking the group off the U.S. terrorist list, though controversial at the time due to the MEK’s own well-funded pressure campaign, was not wrong, as it enabled the UNHCR to relocate the members to the safety of a third country. Her plan to correct the mistakes of the Bush administration was a vital step toward making the Middle East and the rest of the world, including the United States, a safer place. Meanwhile, John Bolton continued to take money to promote the MEK’s warmongering agenda against American interests. Bolton’s False Flag Op Involving MEK

مسعود خدابنده آن سینگلتون پارلمان اروپا 2018Secret MEK troll factory in Albania uses modern slaves (aka Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, NCRI ,Rajavi cult)

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Bolton Vs. Zarif On MEK  

By: Massoud Khodabandeh (Middle East Strategy Conslultants)

Bolton Zarif MEK Iran Bolton’s False Flag Op Involving MEKHillary Cinton and John Bolton

When Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to the airwaves during his visit to the UN in New York, particularly for an interview with Fox News, a frisson of surprised anticipation swept the American political polity. How was it possible that Iran, the pariah nation, not only had the audacity to enter the lion’s den, but from there to lecture the lion on its dirty behavior!

Of course, this is a spat that Iran cannot easily win. What mattered most was that Zarif did not go for the throat of the lion but instead those who are pulling its chain. In short, he accused a “B team”  of actively working to wage war on his country. And he singled out National Security Advisor John Bolton for supporting the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group that believes in fomenting violent regime change in Iran.

A goaded Bolton went on Fox News to reply. But instead of answering Zarif’s accusations, Bolton merely blamed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for taking the MEK off the U.S. terrorism list in 2012. This was fantastic hubris. Bolton himself supported the MEK all the time it was on the list, attending rallies and taking speakers’ fees worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Bolton’s accusations against Clinton do not hold water. He, along with then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, started the war with Iraq partly on the pretext that Saddam Hussein supported terrorist groups, including the MEK, as an instrument of his foreign policy. Bolton was also on board with Rumsfeld when the United States unilaterally granted Protected Persons status to the MEK even while it was recognized a terrorist entity—in direct violation of international law.

With the election of President Obama in 2009, newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was left to clear up the mess Bolton and the cabal of neoconservatives created in Iraq. One of those problems was continued U.S. support for the MEK (which the United States designated a terrorist entity in 1997). With the help of a new tough negotiator in the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Clinton set about finding a peaceful resolution to the standoff between the sovereign Iraqi government and the unwanted and parasitic MEK.

Clinton searched for third countries to absorb the MEK. But the MEK, enjoying the backing of anti-Iran regime change pundits in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States (including Bolton), dug in its heels and refused to be disbanded. In the end, only the dependent NATO ally Albania agreed to take the group’s members. Clinton authorized $10 million for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to transfer the MEK to Albania. She paid another $10 million for the establishment of a de-radicalization institute in Tirana to first deal with the MEK as preparation for handling returning Islamic State families. Another $10 million languishes in the account of the U.S. embassy in Tirana, money to rehabilitate the MEK members into normal society that Bolton and his cabal blocked.

All this was written into an agreement between the governments of Iraq, the United States, and Albania along with the UNHCR and the MEK. At that time this author was working as a consultant to the Iraqi government on security issues, including the safe containment and deportation of the MEK. I was relieved when the Obama administration found a safe and above all a peaceful solution to the threat posed by the MEK to the security of Iraq. I was pleased to find in this agreement specific steps toward humanizing individual MEK members and restoring them to normal life and their families.

As someone familiar with the MEK, John Bolton must then and is certainly now fully cognizant of the beneficial elements of this agreement. Yet, almost as soon as President Trump was elected, the de-radicalization project was put on hold, allowing the MEK over the next year to regroup and reactivate its anti-Iran activities. With the support of Bolton, former Senator John McCain, Rudi Giuliani, and a whole cast of minor cheerleading warmongers, the MEK has constructed a purpose-built closed training camp in Albania in which the members are kept as modern slaves to serve the MEK’s propaganda and terrorist agenda.

For all her faults, Hillary Clinton did not take money from the MEK while it was listed as a terrorist entity. And taking the group off the U.S. terrorist list, though controversial at the time due to the MEK’s own well-funded pressure campaign, was not wrong, as it enabled the UNHCR to relocate the members to the safety of a third country. Her plan to correct the mistakes of the Bush administration was a vital step toward making the Middle East and the rest of the world, including the United States, a safer place. Meanwhile, John Bolton continued to take money to promote the MEK’s warmongering agenda against American interests.

Before 2016, Iran did not have a diplomatic presence in Albania. Its embassy there dealt primarily with economic and cultural relations. But in 2018, the Albanian government of Edi Rama expelled two newly arrived Iranian diplomats at the behest of the Trump administration. John Bolton boasted about the achievement. Due to overt US support for the MEK, Iran drew its front line not in the Middle East but on the edge of the EU.

Now, with the Iranian foreign minister boldly speaking to the media inside the United States, Bolton has been reduced to deflecting rather than rebutting his accusations. Bolton’s master plan for a war against Iran has not only backfired but prompted Tehran to redraw its front line once again, this time in Washington, DC itself.

Massoud Khodabandeh is the director of Middle East Strategy Consultants and has worked long-term with the authorities in Iraq to bring about a peaceful solution to the impasse at Camp Liberty and help rescue other victims of the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult. Among other publications, he co-authored the book “The Life of Camp Ashraf: Victims of Many Masters” with his wife Anne Singleton. They also published an academic paper on the MEK’s use of the Internet.

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Bolton’s False Flag Op Involving MEK

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Bolton Zarif MEK Iran 1

Bolton Zarif MEK Iran 2

Bolton Zarif MEK Iran 3

Bolton Zarif MEK Iran 4

Bolton’s False Flag Op Involving MEK

Also read:
https://iran-interlink.org/wordpress/are-the-mek-and-regime-change-finally-running-out-of-road/

Are The MEK And Regime Change Finally Running Out Of Road?

Are The MEK And Regime Change Finally Running Out Of RoadAnne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Lobe log, March 09 2019:… Hommerich reported that inside the camp in Albania, MEK militants were still practicing the deadly techniques for combat taught them by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard—“cutting throats with a knife,” “breaking hands,” “removing eyes with fingers,” and “tearing the mouth open.” In 2017, the Trump administration reversed a 2013 plan by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to establish a De-Radicalisation Institute to disband and rehabilitate the MEK, allowing the dangerous cult to regroup behind closed doors in a de facto extra-territorial enclave and continue its violent practices.

Are The MEK And Regime Change Finally Running Out Of RoadIt’s a mistake to treat the MEK as a normal opposition group

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Are The MEK And Regime Change Finally Running Out Of Road?

by Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh

The “regime change in Iran” bandwagon—driven by warmongers, fueled by false prophesy, and hurtling pell-mell down the road to Iran—contains various characters, some new and some old.

The bandwagon itself is an ideological construct created 40 years ago in response to the Iranian Revolution. It has taken on various incarnations over the years, but its central purpose has always been to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran and replace it with a compliant pro-American government. What that is hardly matters of course, as was the case with Iraq in 2003.

The drivers of this bandwagon are paid large sums to pursue this agenda at any cost. Others are mere passengers, hoping for a role after the vehicle reaches the destination. Among these passengers is the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), formerly a terrorist group and currently “democratic opposition.” The MEK has been a passenger for all 40 years of the journey, hanging on by paying the drivers. These drivers are public persons such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Trump lawyer Rudi Giuliani, along with a host of other “influential” persons who steer the bandwagon inexorably toward conflict.

But just as the bandwagon appears to be gathering speed and momentum—enough to scare the Trump administration’s opponents—the MEK appears to be running out of road. And that could signal a halt to the whole enterprise.

The first sign of this came in a piece by Eli Clifton, which discussed the provenance of a large payment ($165,000) received by John Bolton in relation to a tweet to “defend a non-governmental anti-Iran pressure group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI)…”. Clifton’s own tweet was met by a couple of feeble MEK slave troll posts on his thread spouting the usual “no appeasement” and “terrorist Iran” themes. This indicates that the MEK has been outbid by a new bandwagon passenger UANI, since the MEK only managed $40,000 for one of Bolton’s speeches. Also, the MEK trolls are running out of steam back in their closed camp in Albania.

Even while Bolton and the Trump administration, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pushing for a war with Iran, they are beginning to realize that the MEK is not the stick needed to strike fear into the enemy. Indeed, a look at the recent behaviour of the MEK in Albania reveals a failing group beset by internal crisis.

After a series of critical investigative articles by reporters from Al JazeeraThe Guardian, The IndependentChannel 4 NewsNBC, and others, the recent report in Der Spiegel by Luisa Hommerich was apparently the last straw. The MEK issued a Farsi language statement (written and published in Europe) threatening to assassinate her—for just doing her job.

Hommerich reported that inside the camp in Albania, MEK militants were still practicing the deadly techniques for combat taught them by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard—“cutting throats with a knife,” “breaking hands,” “removing eyes with fingers,” and “tearing the mouth open.” In 2017, the Trump administration reversed a 2013 plan by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to establish a De-Radicalisation Institute to disband and rehabilitate the MEK, allowing the dangerous cult to regroup behind closed doors in a de facto extra-territorial enclave and continue its violent practices.

In spite of this boost, the MEK, beset by exposures and defections, is trying to prevent the total collapse of the group. Around a thousand members have left the group since it relocated to Albania. The front line over which the MEK peers at its enemy, the Islamic Republic, is no longer Iraq but is now represented by a group of 40 former members protesting in Tirana. The MEK claim that these are all “agents of the Iranian regime” who want to kill the remaining cult members. So, instead of orchestrating regime change in Iran, the MEK can’t even deal with 40 destitute former members.

The MEK is engaged in a form of modern slavery by not paying thousands of activists for 30 years or more. Members who leave the group are left destitute because they have nothing but the clothes on their back even after decades of loyal service. The MEK claims that members offer their services as “volunteers.” But the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human Rights states in its opening sentence that human rights are inalienable—that is, they cannot be disowned by anyone for any reason. MEK leader Maryam Rajavi is responsible for such decisions and treatment.

Not only are the defectors that Hommerich profiles impoverished because they have not had financial recompense for their years of devotion, they are also deliberately left stateless. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees brought the MEK to Albania from Iraq on “humanitarian grounds.” But on arrival they were not granted UN refugee status, nor have they been issued Albanian identity documents that would allow them to work or travel. Lack of residency rights also means that they cannot register for a bank account. They have no identity papers whatsoever, except the flimsy piece of paper used to fly them through international airspace from Baghdad to Tirana.

In her pursuit of fame and glory, Maryam Rajavi treats her members as, essentially, cannon fodder. In the idealized future she paints for the members, they will one day march on Tehran, the vanguard of a spontaneous uprising of the Iranian people against their Islamic oppressors, the mullahs. Why would they need money or identity papers?

In the meantime, it suits Rajavi to have her “followers” incarcerated in a closed camp unable to live independent lives, subject to the whims and demands of the struggle that she purports to lead. But that struggle has almost evaporated. Sure, the MEK is still performing propaganda tasks for various Saudis, Israelis, and Americans to advance the anti-Iran push. But even that is becoming more and more irrelevant as the MEK itself begins to fail.

Massoud Khodabandeh is the director of Middle East Strategy Consultants and has worked long-term with the authorities in Iraq to bring about a peaceful solution to the impasse at Camp Liberty and help rescue other victims of the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult. Among other publications, he co-authored the book “The Life of Camp Ashraf: Victims of Many Masters” with his wife Anne Singleton. They also published an academic paper on the MEK’s use of the Internet. Anne Khodabandeh is a UK expert in anti-terrorist activities and a long-standing activist in the field of deradicalization of extremists. She has written several articles and books on this subject, along with her husband, who is of Iranian origin. 

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