(Inter Press Service)
While mass demonstrations in Iran are dwindling—with the opposition appearing largely paralyzed by the authorities’ crackdown—the crisis is causing the reemergence of Iranian exiles who have long advocated regime change in Iran, sometimes by force.
Western media’s promotion of these exiles—many of whom are not well regarded by ordinary Iranians—is damaging to the goals of demonstrators, say observers familiar with Iranian reformist politics.
Attention to pro-regime change Iranian exiles “has brought about enormous hardships on the ground," said Asieh Mir, an Iranian scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace who works on democracy issues and participated in the reformist governments of the early 2000s.
Mir says that Iranian state-run news has been carrying Western news outlets’ interviews with anti-regime exiles. "This kind of media coverage and inviting the opposition is harming the movement," he told the Inter Press Service.
Guided by harsh statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei and presumptive President-elect Mahmoud Amhadinejad, Iranian authorities have repeatedly asserted that foreign meddlers are supporting the anti-government protests.
Mir Hossein Moussavi, the opposition leader who lost the recent disputed election, has vociferously denied that he seeks the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
On the contrary, Moussavi, a player in the early republic and the revolution, says that the crowds of Iranians are rallying for a return "to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution."
The unifying goal of the rallies and demonstrations, which brought together varying segments of Iranian society, was to annul the election results and hold a free and fair poll—a far cry from bringing down Iran’s unique mix of Islamic theocracy and republicanism.
Not all Iranian exile groups are vocal about their desire for regime change, but these groups stand out in that they claim to represent the masses who have been filling the streets of Iran. However, most exile groups and figures lack legitimacy in Iraq.
Among the leaders of these disparate groups of anti-regime exiles are Reza Pahlavi, the suburban Washington-based son of the last Shah, and Maryam Rajavi, leader of the controversial French-based Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK).
These two individuals’ views have been amplified by their appearances in mainstream U.S. and Western media—a fact the Iranian government has seized upon to discredit Iran’s demonstrators.
State-run media in Iran is replaying clips of interviews and speeches by Rajavi and Pahlavi in an attempt to tie demonstrators to the anti-regime figures and cast their aspirations as an attempt to subvert and destabilize Iran.
The government has accused protesters and foreign governments of colluding to foment a "color revolution," like the allegedly U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed popular uprisings that reshaped Eastern Europe and which U.S. hawks have long advocated for Iran.
But Washington is unlikely to back up MEK and Pahlavi. In an interview in the June 27 edition of the New York Times Magazine, Pahlavi denied any support from the U.S. government: "I don’t rely on any sources other than my own compatriots," he said, calling charges he has ties with the CIA and groups trying to destabilize Iran "absolutely and unequivocally false."
But Pahlavi, a symbol of the dictatorial Shah whose secret police was known for brutal repression, holds more sway with the monarchist exile communities than with citizens in Iran.
Pahlavi dismissed Moussavi as a "prescreen[ed]" candidate who could therefore "not be a true representative of the nation."
In the sometimes combative Times interview, Pahlavi claimed he maintains ties to "all sorts of groups that are committed to a secular, democratic alternative to the current regime."
Asked about his father’s rule, Pahlavi said he left "this judgment to history"—something most Iranians, who tend to have long political memories, have already done, as evidenced by the continuing widespread resentment of the 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected government and re-installed the autocratic Shah.
In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Pahlavi urged the United States and the international community to intervene and help demonstrators.
"I have seldom seen nonviolent movements for change succeed without international assistance," he said. "Let's not have the regime in Iran define what is interference and what is not."
Maryam Rajavi and her cultish Islamist-Marxist MEK group have gotten less mainstream media attention in the U.S.—most likely because since 1997 the U.S. government has considered MEK a terrorist organization.
In addition, MEK is not a viable force in Iran because it sided with Iraq in the bloody and traumatic Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
In spite of this reputation, several commentators, most prominently U.S. neoconservatives, have published endorsements of the MEK in smaller and foreign publications.
A longtime proponent of U.S. covert support for the MEK, Raymond Tanter, wrote an opinion piece for the Jerusalem Post encouraging the United States and Israel to give broad support to MEK and its umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Tanter is president of the pro-regime change Iran Policy Committee and a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a hawkish member of the so-called Israel lobby in the United States.
Fellow neoconservative Daniel Pipes, who has admitted he favored the election of hardliner Ahmadinejad, also wrote a piece for the Jerusalem Post promoting a regime change plan that "takes advantage" of the MEK, calling for their prompt removal from U.S. list of terror groups. (Pipes also noted that he attended a June 20 NCRI summit outside Paris.)
Projecting MEK views onto dissent within the Islamic Republic, Pipes claimed that during her speech, Rajavi called for regime change: "Like the street protesters, she also called for the demise of the Khomeinist regime."
Iranian state media has been publishing clips and pictures of Rajavi wearing a green headscarf in an attempt to tie her to the protests—the same color associated with Moussavi’s campaign and worn by many of the protestors. Green also happens to be the color of Islam.
This faction of exile views, however, seems not to have penetrated the Barack Obama administration. In the June 28 New York Times, David Sanger quoted a U.S. official who grasped some of the nuances of the positions of opposition within Iran.
"The students in Tiananmen wanted real democracy, the Poles wanted regime change, but the Iranians might be looking for something in between," the unnamed official told Sanger, noting that further radicalization, if it occurs, will likely be sparked by actions of the regime itself.
Ali Gharib writes for the Inter Press Service and PRA’s Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org).