Leadership is the most pivotal position that preserves a cult. A fact that cannot be gainsaid is that cults are authoritarian in structure but the guru needs assistants who may help him in administering the members and making the most of them. So, together with his selected aids, the leader forms a hierarchical structure of leadership that is of great significance in handling the cult. For a better understanding of leadership structure in a cult Singer describes it in this form:
For a simple visual portrayal of a cult, imagine an inverted T. The leader is alone at the top, and the followers are all at the bottom. The leader is regarded as the supreme authority although he may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to his wishes and rules. There is no appeal outside of the leader’s system to greater systems of justice. 1
Singer’s described T can also be drawn as a triangle which forms a dynamical harmony which turns into a total disorder in case of angles disarray. The leadership at the top establishes a hierarchical cohesion with other appointed subordinates who in turn guarantee his authority. An investigation into the cult of Mojahedin’s fundamental leadership change, especially after the forced internal ideological revolution in 1985, signifies that Mojahedin’s long maintained democratic centralism, simply meaning obedience to the central leader, was abolished only to pave the path for Rajavi’s hegemony. Now appointing himself at the top, Rajavi needed to establish a different structure with devoted and trustful assistants to work as binding links between him and other ranks and to transcend his status analogous to that of a god.
The role of Maryam Rajavi, his wife, in this revolution was the same as a catalyst. Appointed second in rank to Rajavi, she was evolved as the archetype for other members to achieve her status of being unquestionably devoted to Rajavi’s ideological leadership. She was the catalyst between the unattainable at the top and lower ranks. Thus, Maryam being closely attached to Rajavi, recognition of him was only possible through attachment to her. She plays the role of a qualified subordinate for the purpose of seeing that other members adhere to her husband’s wishes and rules:
Maryam was held up as an example to the women in the organisation. It was claimed that women could free themselves from their oppression as women, only by following her example. But although the move was a pretext for freeing the energy of the women in the organisation, it had the very real value of being able to exploit the women members’ devotion, and keeping the men in a state of permanent confusion over their role. 2
In the same way that the personality of Maryam is made so tangible and immediate that it can act as a catalyst to help lower ranks transcend, her attachment to Rajavi and his ideological adulation increases her transcendental advancement. Expounding on the recognition of Maryam as a pivotal catalyst, Bijan Nyabati observes:
First, Maryam has to be turn into a value in Mojahedin’s mind whatever the cost might be; otherwise no other valuable alternative can possibly be substituted. 3
That is where Maryam’s unconventional divorce and remarriage is gauged an ideological value and an example of absolute devotion for others to follow. She is much described as a rebel against the tradition and the norms conventionally adhered to in Iranian culture:
Here, Maryam becomes an anti-traditionalist and family iconoclast! She aims at the foundations of the long-lasted social traditions and divorces her man. Again, she is the one who picks her man and weds herself to him. 4
It was a move that totally questioned traditionally and religiously adopted laws and rituals and hardly anybody could comprehend what the couple was weaving as a revolutionary ideology. Of course, in the same way that nobody could understand and grasp the devised revolution, they failed to gain the necessary competence to get close to leader’s ideological sanctum. Unlike them, Maryam due to her rebellious move gained the essential competence to allow her to hold the position of co-leader:
The third phase of Mojahedin’s internal ideological revolution exposed Massoud’s factual status, tangible only for Mojahedin’s heads, for the lower ranks. Hereon, Massoud is beyond the reach of Mojahedin. He is unachievable unless through a catalyst who is Maryam for certain. Massoud is inaccessible unless those in his quest are melted in Maryam. To understand it in the words, all the members one by one have to follow Maryam as an example. 5
But the real purpose of the phase was to strengthen Rajavi’s hegemonic leadership. He intended to make a sanctuary that no rival could penetrate it. As explained by Anne Singleton:
The real purpose of this phase was to guarantee that there would be no leadership challenge. Rajavi had now removed himself from the ordinary level of leader and elevated himself beyond the normal leader’s role to that of link with God. An unassailable position. 6
Accordingly, any leadership challenge could mean criticising God’s vicegerent which would be considered an unforgivable sin. Besides, any challenge could only be aimed at Maryam and, consequently, left his status untouched. He demanded members total devotion and his hallowed position had to be instilled into the members through chosen apostles who necessarily formed the base angle of the leadership triangle:
What Rajavi was asking everyone in the Mojahedin to do was to give him total obedience. He implied to them (through the mouths of Maryam and Fahimeh) that he had links with God and therefore knew things that ordinary members couldn’t be expected to understand. This meant that anyone who rejected him was blaspheming against God. The members were mostly willing to allow themselves to be indoctrinated with this new concept. 7
Maryam’s credibility could best be instituted by Rajavi himself. Through a variety of illustrated allegories, Rajavi in his internal meetings frequently referred to Maryam’s highly elevated status and her angel-like salvation power. In fact, he meant appreciation and recognition of his own transcendent and god-like position. Imparted in the memoirs of an ex-member quoting Rajavi we read:
In one of his meetings Rajavi said: actually you are in a grave. Is there anything worse than it? With a stone covering it. We send Maryam to push it away so you could see a shining light. It is the light coming from Massoud. See how you are distanced? She becomes light while you are sleeping in your graves with a stone over them. Who has made self-sacrifice to save you? Maryam, for sure. Then, if you intend to come out and reach me, you have to take advantage of Maryam’s aid. You cannot possibly reach the source of light but you have to be thankful of being extricated from your graves. You will come to understand little by little. 8
Hardly will you encounter people other than Massoud and Maryam with highly elevated position as leading cadre in the cult of Mojahedin. Other ranks get their legitimacy from the couple. While Rajavi is holding hegemonic control of the cult, his wife, Maryam, is granted the legitimacy of a catalyst to mobilize members’ devotion and heightens their vision of an urgent commitment to justify destructive cult-like activities that not only threatens the world peace but also jeopardizes the insiders’ life as human beings.
1. Thaler Singer, Margaret; Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, p. 9.
2. Iran-Interlink; Anne Singleton’s Saddam Private Army.
3. Niyabati, Bijan; A Different Look at the Ideological Revolution within MKO, Khavaran Publication.
6. Iran-Interlink; Anne Singleton’s Saddam Private Army.
8. . Soliloquies in solitude, a collection; interview with an ex-member of MKO.