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Saturday, July 23, 2016
- Last week’s decision by the U.S. State Department to remove the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from its terrorism list has, as anticipated, led to charges by the Iranian government that the administration of President Barack Obama is hypocritical and using double standards.
While the U.S. government has deemed the MEK’s official disavowal of violence as sufficient for removal from its terrorist list, Tehran insists the MEK has never stopped its terrorist acts inside Iranian territory.
That view is very much echoed by the general public as well.
Although MEK was part of coalition that spearheaded the downfall of the monarchy in 1979, many people continue to blame the violence and radicalism of the early years of the revolution on MEK’s decision to engage in armed resistance against the revolutionary regime.
But for the Iranian public, the group’s unsavoury, if not sinister reputation was sealed with its cooperation with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88).
MEK leader Massoud Rajavi’s flight from Iran to Iraq and the organisation’s military operations against Iran in the latter part of the war have created deep antipathy among the Iranian population, leading even many of those who supported the organisation in the early days of the revolution to hide or deny their previous links.
Fifty-year old Azar, who spent four years in prison in the 1980s for her support of the MEK, says that even her family shunned her after her release from prison despite her efforts to completely disassociate herself from the group.
“I was not taken to family gatherings because another family member was killed in a Mojahedin attack, and even my parents were worried that I had not given up on my ideas,” she told IPS.
The distaste for the Mojahedin is reinforced today by the widespread belief, confirmed by reports in the Western press, that it has been an instrument of the Israeli government in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. In the view of Ali, who is a merchant, “they have sold themselves and are ready to even sell their mothers to gain power.”
Government-owned media contribute to this negative image by never mentioning the name of the organisation and simply identifying its membership as monafeqin, which means hypocrites. But even without government propaganda, the iconic photo of Rajavi shaking hands with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War is sufficiently effective in sustaining MEK’s highly negative image.
Given this negative image and lack of support inside Iran, MEK’s removal from the terrorist list has puzzled many Iranians. Reza, a leftist activist in the 1980s who enlisted in the ranks of the Green Movement after the contested 2009 presidential election, thinks that the move by the United Stated is intended to further pressure Iran but worries about the impact it will have on the opposition movement.
“The reason people protested against Ahmadinejad’s election was because they were worried about their country,” he told IPS. “But if protests pave the way for a more dangerous path for the country and society involving the Mojahedin, then we prefer the current conditions.”
In addition, questions are raised for some Iranians who have always seen the United States as a progressive and democratic country. The news that many U.S. politicians have become advocates of the organisation after receiving large sums of money from MEK has shocked them. This is particularly so since most Iranians are aware of the MEK’s cult-like and undemocratic internal organisation.
“When in the U.S. you can buy a senator with money,” Maryam said during a recent debate among university students here, “then the claimed support for democracy and freedom is as much of a lie as Ahmadinejad’s utterances, and can always be changed with money.”
To this, Alireza, an economics student, added wryly, “If money is the issue, then perhaps members of the U.S. Congress can publicly announce their price to us, and we Iranians are ready to collect money and give it to them so that they would lift the economic sanctions they have imposed on us.”
A university professor, however, took a more serious tone, suggesting MEK’s removal from the list has led many activists and intellectuals to wonder why the United States, a country which prides itself on its support for democracy and human rights, has taken a step that so clearly weakens the democratic movement in Iran. To him, the removal has given the Islamic Republic “a useful enemy”.
As a mutual threat, MEK’s removal, he said, “facilitates the bringing together of a society and government that have in recent years moved apart.”
This sentiment was expressed in a different way by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in his press conference this week said that the MEK removal from the terrorist list “is a cause for our happiness”.
He said, “If we had to tell the world that the United States is the main supporter of terrorism and uses double standards in dealing with the issue, we would have to spend 500 million dollars – but now they have themselves done it for free.”