Co-authored by Anne Khodabandeh
The Middle East is in turmoil. Deaths and destruction are a daily occurrence throughout the region. Families flee their homes in fear, forced into an uncertain future. No end is in sight. Yet into this calamitous scenario a slick, sophisticated terrorist recruiter's advert has popped up which ISIS itself could learn from.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) website carries a glamorous advertising campaign for a Grand Gathering. Surrounded by glitzy pictures of flag-waving youth, the central focus of this gathering is 'Our pledge: regime change'.
Well, we all know what that means. Don't we? Apparently not. Because this advertising doesn't reflect the destruction wrought in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. Here is no promise of jihad and the caliphate. It looks very much like a carnival. Which is exactly what it is - a show. So, what is meant by the promise of regime change?
The first port of call is to understand that the NCRI is just another name for the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) which was also known as the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA).
Back in 1994, MEK leader Massoud Rajavi tasked his wife Maryam to leave Iraq for America in order to regain political recognition of the Mojahedin Khalq as 'the' Iranian opposition which had been lost when he refused to abandon Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf war.
Refused entry to the USA as the leader of a terrorist entity Maryam instead took up residence in France as a refugee. But instead of meeting politicians to talk about how the MEK could overthrow the Iranian regime, she discovered she could simply create the illusion of support by paying both audience and speakers. She discovered a talent for dressing up, holding fancy dinner parties and talking about her cult ideology.
To create the appearance of a willing audience for her views, she recruited a rag-tag following of Iranian economic refugees who would happily turn up when paid for their services. She paid for feminists from North America, Europe and Scandinavia to visit Auvers-sur-Oise and attend dinner parties. She posed in her hijab to speak about her version of feminism to these western women; carefully spelling it out for them that they would never really understand what feminism is until they understood her husband Massoud Rajavi.
When Massoud recalled her to Iraq in 1997 she had spent a third of the total MEK budget and had no political support to show for it. She had lost around half the loyal MEK members who had defected whilst in Europe. With morale at an all-time low, Maryam was forced to retreat to Iraq with what remained of her personnel and leave the western bases in the hands of largely uneducated paid 'supporters'.
When allied forces next invaded Iraq in 2003 Maryam Rajavi again fled to France. This time, as luck would have it, western politics was focused on curtailing Iran's nuclear programme which it insisted was aimed at creating a nuclear weapon. The MEK's services as propaganda experts were just what was needed, ensuring the MEK's ostensible survival as an opposition group.
But in reality the MEK was already in terminal decline. Its fighting forces, disarmed in 2003, are currently being transferred from Iraq to Albania by the UNHCR to begin a process of de-radicalisation and reintegration back into normal society. Nobody expects veterans with an average age of sixty to wage the terrorism of thirty years ago. Disarmament also allowed American experts to investigate years of complaints about human rights and cultic abuses inside the MEK. As long as the MEK was being used to muddy the waters of the nuclear negotiations, such details could be glossed over. But since last year when agreement was reached, the MEK's murky past can no longer be dismissed.
The main reason, of course, is that the new theme for challenging Iran in the international community is based on the country's dismal human rights record. But Maryam Rajavi has her own well documented human rights abuse dossier to answer for. The MEK, under whatever name it is used, is simply the wrong tool to use to demonise Iran.
Beyond this, the MEK is not the popular opposition its own advertising claims it to be. The group is almost universally despised among Iranians both inside the country and in the diaspora. Not only did the MEK fight alongside Saddam Hussein's army during the devastating eight-year Iran-Iraq war, but the MEK's anti-Iran role in the nuclear negotiations hit a nerve with most ordinary Iranians who regarded support for their country's right to nuclear technology as an issue of nationalism rather than politics.
Maryam Rajavi cannot get support from Iranians unless it is paid for. Nor can Maryam Rajavi deign to share a platform with any other Iranian opposition personality. So this year Maryam Rajavi will again do what she does best; pay audience and speakers alike to give the illusion of support.
So, back to the recent advertising campaign. Any publicity campaign will be successful if it is newsworthy. Maryam, however, simply churns out the same scenario ad infinitum. Starting with describing a terrible situation in Iran - based on news items that can be gleaned from any serious reporting outlet - she then proposes a ten-point plan for Iran, approved this year by Italian parliamentarians. And then she promises regime change.
Clearly this message is not aimed at Iranians. The clamour for regime change in Iran does not emanate from inside the country in spite of its many social, civic and political problems. Who then is Maryam Rajavi's constituency? From whom is she hoping to garner support?
Many constituencies outside Iran wish fervently for its destruction. It is enlightening that Maryam Rajavi's websites are home to a bizarre mixture of anti-Shia, anti-Iran, anti-Syria, items which reflect very closely the views of neocons, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Maryam Rajavi is not promising regime change, she is advertising her services as a propaganda queen.