In the war of words on Iran's domestic issues and controversial nuclear program, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) always is front and center to condemn the country. The MEK is known by many monikers: the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), but is best known by the multifaceted National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Through social media, the group spams most Iran-related hashtags with their propaganda, bankroll prominent U.S. officials to advocate on their behalf as the "democratic alternative" to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and even re-opened an office a block from the White House where they hired former Senator Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) as their legal representative.
None of these points would be problematic if it weren't for the fact that the European Union and United States formerly designated the Iraq-based MEK as a terrorist organization for its past activities. What makes this realization peculiar is the very people in Congress that cozy up to the group's leader, Maryam Rajavi, by calling for staunch sanctions--sometimes even war--on Iran due to its nuclear program and particularly human rights violations, seem to turn a blind eye to the activities of the totalitarian cult of Marxist-Islamist Iranian dissidents we know today as the MEK.
The amount of misinformation circulated by their public relations is disturbing and it's time to expose their true nature.
Not A Champion of Iranian Women
To this day, the followers of the Mojahedin-e Khalq and its apologists dismiss it is a cult and continue to refer to their group as a "deeply democratic organization whose guiding principle on all issues is referendum and discussion until a consensus is reached." Despite denials, its conduct tells otherwise as cited by a RAND report: deceptive recruitment, emotional isolation, extreme degrading peer pressure, forced labor, imprisonment, lack of exit options, sexual control, sleep deprivation, and physical abuse.
Maryam Rajavi's marriage to one of the original founders of the MEK symbolized the transformation from an organization to a "cult of personality." With the money provided by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein--they formed an alliance due to a deep disdain for the Iranian regime--to "construct self-sufficient camps" which included: medical clinics, prisons (also known as "reeducation centers"), schools, and training centers, in order for the population not to engage with outside society. Additionally, prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, members of the Mojahedin carried cyanide tablets around their neck to avoid capture. Self-immolation and suicide reportedly are a popular form of political protest amongst members.
With knowledge of this publically available, it is difficult to take them serious. But what is truly an affront to women is when Rajavi and her supporters claim they offer a better alternative to the current women's rights situation in in Iran.
In a recent op-ed for The Hill, Soona Samsami a representative of the NCRI expresses:
"Rajavi has outlined a Ten Point Plan for Future Iran, which says, 'We believe in complete gender equality in political, social and economic arenas. We are also committed to equal participation of women in political leadership. Any form of discrimination against women will be abolished. They will enjoy the right to freely choose their clothing.'"
Even though the group promotes leadership positions for women, in order to impose "military" regulations on its members, the MEK forces them not only to move into gender-segregated compounds, but also cut ties with family and friends--both inside and outside of the commune. They even require members to divorce their spouses and to live a life of celibacy. It is presumed that love for family and significant others would be replaced with love for the Rajavis.
Last but not least, when it came to attire for women, journalist Elizabeth Rubin notes:
"Everywhere I saw women dressed exactly alike, in khaki uniforms and mud-colored head scarves, driving back and forth in white pickup trucks, staring ahead in a daze as if they were working at a factory in Maoist China."
Iran's women rights record is problematic, but this is not and should never be considered the alternative, even momentarily.
Listen To Iranians
While Samsami says "Young women in Iran find true inspiration in the main opposition" that is Maryam Rajavi, the group has not won an audience with the Iranian people at home in Tehran.
Not only has the Mojahedin-e Khalq lost its support because of its alliance with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s--an insult to the Iranian people's nationalism--but also for its position against Iran's nuclear program, something the average Iranian sees as their legitimate right. Many Iranians convey the group is "worse than the mullahs" or along the lines of what some Iranian democracy activists claim that "if it had had the chance, [the MEK] could have become the Khmer Rouge of Iran."
With that in mind, there is no chance the MEK could win over the Iranian people if a potential regime change took place--something various legislators in the United States need to recognize.
It's time the MEK's blind proponents see them for what they really are: a sham.