The U.S. State Department is preparing to announce its final decision on whether to remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The decision is expected by the end of this month.
The United States added the MEK’s name to the list of its foreign terrorist organizations in 1997, but last year the MEK appealed the decision before a U.S court, which has yet to rule on the matter. Former President Bill Clinton was in office when the MEK was originally listed as a terrorist organization, and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is deciding whether to delist the organization.
The European Union and other European countries have already removed the MEK from their terrorist lists — a decision that has angered the Islamic Republic. There is a great level of animosity between the Islamic Republic and the MEK. Both sides will not be satisfied with anything less than the complete destruction of the other.
The MEK was founded in 1965 by Muslim youth who supported the Nehzat-e Azadi-e Iran, or Freedom Movement of Iran Party. These young individuals grew despondent of the non-violent policies of the liberal-Muslims of the Nehzat-e Azadi-e Iran, who formed the first government after the 1979 Revolution. The MEK, having been influenced by revolutionary movements in Latin America, established a secret organization, which aimed at using urban guerrilla warfare against the monarchy government of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Since then, the MEK has been through many ups and downs and now, on the eve of its 50th anniversary, has mobilized all its efforts to be removed from the United State’s list of terrorist organizations. The MEK says it renounced violence in 2001, after claiming responsibility for 350 attacks in 2000 and 2001, according to a RAND Corporation tabulation. However, a 2004 FBI report found that the group was “currently actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism.”
The MEK, from its initial days until some time after the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, appeared to be the biggest opponent of Western countries, particularly the United Staes and Israel. The group firmly supported the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran by the Muslim Students Followers of Imam’s Line. *The MEK even went as far as accusing the leaders of the Islamic Republic of compromising with the world’s imperialist powers.
However, the social-political developments in the years following the Islamic Revolution resulted in the total elimination of MEK from the Iranian political scene. This reality pushed the leaders of the organization to begin an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic and seek refuge in Iraq in order to cooperate with Saddam Hussein during the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war from 1980–1988. The MEK continued to fight with the Islamic regime, whose leaders, the MEK believed, hijacked the 1979 Revolution. The MEK viewed themselves as the true revolutionaries against Pahlavi rule.
The group’s departure from Iran put an end to its ability to be in direct contact with the public. This exodus, coupled with the Islamic Republic’s prolific and effective propaganda machine, completed the picture of MEK’s betrayal and turned it into a pariah within Iranian society.
One can still find small threads of support and influence for the MEK in Iranian society. However, the majority of its support is from the family members that in the past had organizational ties to the group.
We should keep in mind that today’s leaders of the MEK are not the original founders. Many members of the organization and cadres of the Mujahedin, who joined before 1979, accuse the current leadership of betraying the ideas of the founders. This accusation, which is taking place internally, is different from the accusations made by the Islamic government about the organization.
Without a doubt, the influence of the MEK outside of Iran and among American and European politicians is much greater than inside the country. The influential lobbies of this organization and its supporters were finally able to delist MEK from the European Union’s terrorist list. Now, they hope to do the same in America.
In recent years, the MEK’s members, its supporters, and the organization, have been able to openly and without many obstacles continue their advocacy and political activities in the West. The fact that their name is on the terrorist list has not proven to be a serious impediment for their activities.
Recently, the MEK improved the quality and quantity of its satellite TV stations, which are being used to connect in a more effective way with protesters and dissidents inside Iran. They broadcast their programs without any problem and with the physical and political support of European and American politicians. The American and British media recently have reported that the MEK pays politicians tens of thousands of dollars to speak at public events the organization holds.
The MEK’s leaders are hoping to be delisted in order to enter a new phase of activities against the Islamic Republic. Delisting the group would provide the opportunity for the organization to carry out legal financial and political activities and would increase its credibility within the international community. In the long term, this could greatly help the organization neutralize the heavy propaganda from the Iranian government, which has prevented Iranians from gravitating toward the MEK.
Furthermore, the issue of delisting will force the MEK to make its activities, whether political or financial, more transparent and legal. It is not clear to what extent such a change could influence an organization whose foundation and identity have been based on secrecy and underground activities. […]
These days, the social networks on the internet are full of comments from young users, who believe in a fundamental change in the ruling government in Iran. However, the same users clearly oppose the removal of MEK’s name from America’s terrorist list. Obviously, the United States will provoke anger and cynicism of this powerful demographic, if it delists MEK.
It does not appear that the majority of the Iranian opposition groups, including the Green Movement, loyalists to the former monarchy, and reformists differ much from the Islamic Republic in their view of the MEK. This shows that while the MEK has been able to build a great deal of political influence in the West, they have failed to do so outside Iran.
Currently, MEK has dedicated the main bulk of its activities abroad to spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic and its political activities aim to destroy the regime in Iran.
The removal of MEK’s name from the terrorist list by the United States will certainly be a new phase in the tumultuous history between the MEK, Iran, and the United States.
Inside Iran – By Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah