This month, Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian President elect, will assume office. This provides an opportunity to restart the stalled dialogue between Tehran and Washington. For its part, the Biden administration should stop listening to the advice of a fanatical and delusional cult, which has steadily gained access to, and high-level supporters on, Capitol Hill.
The Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), People’s Mujahedin of Iran, began as an anti-monarchist, semi-socialist and Islamist group fighting to overthrow the US-backed Shah of Iran. Participants in the 1979-80 Iranian Revolution, they have gradually metamorphosed – deteriorated – into a dictatorial exile cult, dependent on imperialist support. Serving as a cat’s paw of the US, they have gained a devoted band of neoconservative supporters, and plush offices – and have incited the US into a belligerent and bellicose stand against Tehran.
Once regarded as a terrorist group, the MEK was delisted from that classification in 2012, by an American administration intent on cultivating exiled Iranian forces able and willing to confront the regime in Tehran. Bravely fighting the US-supported monarchy in the 1960s and 70s, they played a strong part in the overthrow of the Shah and the defeat of his US-trained secret police.
After the success of the anti-American 1979-80 revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini and associated mullahs turned again the MEK. The latter fought back with bombings, street-battles and guerrilla warfare, but their days were numbered. Most of the MEK militants were killed, or fled to neighbouring Iraq. Here, with the official support of the Ba’athist regime, they became willing footsoldiers of the Iraqi army in its long war against revolutionary Iran.
In the 1980s, setting up at Camp Ashraf, the MEK lost its support inside Iran, viewed as an accomplice to a foreign regime. Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein, was an ally of the US and the western powers. Only after the Iraqi regime became an officially demonised enemy of the US in 1991, did the MEK gain listing as a proscribed terrorist organisation.
Headed by Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, the MEK began its descent into a dictatorial, obsessive cult. Former members have spoken of the strongly controlled lifestyle, enforced gender segregation and celibacy, and the indoctrination of MEK members. Abandoning its origins in the struggles of pre-Revolutionary Iran, MEK militants had only one purpose in life – to sacrifice their lives to overthrow the Islamic republic.
In 2003, with the American invasion of Iraq, the MEK transferred their base of operations to Albania – a client state of the US in the Balkans. There, the MEK soldiers live in their compound, shut off from the outside world. Massoud Rajavi, disappearing in 2003, is rumoured to be dead. Maryam Rajavi has since become the public face of the totalitarian cult, and has deliberately cultivated links with the most hawkish ultrarightist politicians in Washington.
However, it would be shortsighted to focus exclusively on the US Republicans who support the MEK, such as former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton, and previously mayor of New York and Trumpist advocate Rudy Giuliani. Democrat politician Howard Dean, former Congressman and civil rights activist the late John Lewis, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former CIA chief Porter Goss, and former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, have all spoken at MEK events, lent their voices to the group, and successfully lobbied to have them delisted from the proscribed terrorist groups label.
Republican and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich compared Rajavi to George Washington in one of his many occasions championing the cause of the MEK. Lauded as a ‘government in exile’, the latter has gained the support of strongly pro-Zionist voices, such as Alan Dershowitz, and the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The Israeli spy agency, the Mossad, has used MEK operatives to carry out terrorist acts of sabotage inside Iran, in line with ‘regime change’ policy in Washington.
Delusional and terroristic cults, like the Rajavi MEK, are fostered by powerful American politicians to create an illusion of legitimacy. This cult, agitating for outright war with Iran, is not a credible source on which to rely for policy decisions. The US administration, already a belligerent protagonist with regard to Iran, has contributed financially and materially to what was considered by US authorities until 2012 as a terrorist organisation. Removing the MEK from the terrorism listing does not retroactively legalise the activities criminalised by the original legislation.
It has been a long way to respectability on Capitol Hill for the MEK.
Last year, when the US House of Representatives voted to condemn QAnon and its harmful conspiracist ideology, Democratic Congressman and chair of the House Rules Committee Jim McGovern, called it a sick cult. In that spirit, it is high time to condemn the MEK as an equally destructive and delusional cult, and its influence on American foreign policy towards Iran must be cancelled.