Maryam Rajavi: “The Iranian regime is at an impasse, it has preserved itself solely through suppression”
El Espanol interview with NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi
The leader of the main Iranian opposition movement talks about the latest developments regarding the Ayatollahs’ regime: “96% of the population is against the regime.”
February 8, 2020 – By Gari Duran
Maryam Rajavi has led the main opposition movement against the Iranian regime for over two decades. We interviewed her after developments that have taken place in recent months in the country, the consequences of which affect not only the stability of the regime, but also the region as a whole, given that any event that occurs in the complicated Middle East region affects all countries in the region.
Born in 1953 into a middle-class family, her older sister, Narges, was killed in 1975 by SAVAK (the Shah’s secret police). In 1982, while Khomeini was in power, her other sister, Massoumeh, who was pregnant at the time, was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), then brutally tortured for months, and hanged in the end.
She started supporting the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in 1970 through her older brother, Mahmoud, while she was still in high school. She became a member of the organization in 1977.
After the overthrow of the Shah, she declared her candidacy in the first parliamentary elections and despite Khomeini’s attempts to ensure that no PMOI candidates win seats, she received 250,000 votes in Tehran alone.
In 1985, Maryam Rajavi became the co-leader of the PMOI. Four years later, she was appointed secretary general of the PMOI. In 1993, she was elected as the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
In your opinion, what is the Iranian regime’s current status?
The mullahs’ regime is on the brink of being overthrown, and it is unable to get out of this situation. The main factor for this circumstance is the social disenchantment, and a deep and widespread discontent. The regime has no solution for addressing this, and additionally, this discontent is volatile and explosive.
since 2018, there have been five rounds of uprisings against the regime across Iran, as well as thousands of protest movements launched by workers, students, nurses, farmers, defrauded investors, retirees, residents of poor suburbs, millions of young people, unemployed university graduates or those without unstable jobs.
Regime authorities admit that 96% of Iranian society is opposed to the regime. Support for the religious dictatorship is shaky even among the remaining few percent of regime sympathizers.
Economic growth is currently at negative 5%. The inflation rate is over 50%. The official currency has lost 3 to 4 times of its value over the past two years. The majority of the Iranian banking system is either bankrupt or insolvent.
Coupled with environmental disasters, unemployment, and the regime’s inability to export oil (its main source of income) due to international sanctions, this situation makes disenchantment and discontent even more explosive by the day.
So, the regime finds itself at a dead end. Whatever path it takes, it undermines its own existence. For example, the regime has an urgent need to increase its revenues. Last November, it raised fuel prices to replenish its coffers. But this decision triggered a huge uprising, which left behind irreversible political and economic damages. The regime banks solely on suppression to survive.
Has the policy of appeasement with the Iranian regime following the agreement signed with Obama and other European leaders produced positive results? Do you think there has been an improvement in human rights in Iran after the signing of the agreement?
First of all, I must remember that appeasement with the regime has in practice always acted as an obstacle to democratic change in Iran. It’s been like this for thirty years.
Gripped by the illusion of finding a moderate faction within this regime, Western governments have doled out all possible concessions to the mullahs. An example includes undermining the opposition and calling it terrorist at the behest of the regime.
Additionally, during the years when most of our resistance members resided in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, the American government, in circumstances of a conflict, was committed to protecting them. However, it transferred this responsibility to the pro-Iranian regime government of Al Maliki. This led to repeated attacks on Ashraf by Iranian regime forces, causing many deaths among the residents.
The Obama administration was also central in the P5+1 countries’ efforts to sign the 2015 nuclear deal with the Iranian regime. He made a lot of concessions but got no security in return.
In our platform for tomorrow’s Iran, we have announced that we seek a non-nuclear Iran. The regime’s nuclear program only benefits its own survival.
In 2002, the Iranian Resistance exposed the regime’s largest clandestine nuclear sites. It made more than a hundred revelations about the details of the nuclear program, and eventually forced Western governments to respond.
Unfortunately, after the 2015 nuclear agreement, in addition to rewarding lucrative economic agreements to the Iranian regime, the West turned a blind eye and opted for silence regarding the belligerency and the military and terrorist meddling of the mullahs in Syria and in Yemen.
“If western countries had adopted a firm policy, the Iranian regime would have had no choice but to abandon the nuclear race.”
What did the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani mean for opponents of the regime? What role did he play in Iraqi politics in recent years?
In the current power structure of the regime, he was practically the No. 2 official. He was the head of terrorism and warmongering in the region. He was directly responsible for the expansion of the war in Syria, as well as the war in Yemen and also the hidden occupation of Iraq that was initiated in 2003.
He was also behind the largest attacks against members of the Iranian Resistance in Iraq, in particular the Ashraf massacre of September 2013.
Qassem Soleimani has no substitute in the regime and with his death, the strategy of exporting terrorism and war, which is one of the pillars of the regime’s survival, received an irreversible blow.
The mullahs attempted to hold a theatrical funeral (with the compulsory participation of soldiers, prisoners and families of the IRGC) to deceive others into thinking that he was popular. But in the January 2020 uprisings in many cities, young people tore apart his posters or set them on fire. Khamenei was forced to defend himself, claiming that those who set fire to the posters of this criminal represented only an insignificant part of the population.
How have the latest demonstrations against the Iranian regime evolved since their start in December 2017? What role do women play in the protests? And what about the main opposition movement that you lead?
After the uprisings that started in December 2017 and continued in January 2018, we witnessed a great leap forward in the Iranian protest movement.
They started with concrete demands (work and economy) but concluded with calling for an end to the dictatorship in Iran.
From a political standpoint, these uprisings accentuated three lines of fundamental demarcation that cannot be reversed. The first is the Iranian people’s unwavering determination to overthrow Ali Khamenei and his regime. The second is the rejection of all factions of the theocracy, including Hassan Rohani, who plays the “moderate” card while being involved in all political and social suppressive measures.
The third irreversible development was the rejection of the remains of the monarchist dictatorship.
Soleimani was responsible for terrorism and war in the region. His death dealt the regime an irreversible blow
Women have played an important role in all of these uprisings. Numerous accounts, photos and videos confirm their leading role in the demonstrations. The IRGC and the VAVAK (the sinister Ministry of Intelligence of the Iranian regime) have also repeatedly recognized the extensive and active presence of women in the revolts.
Long before the outbreak of these events in 2018, our movement had adopted the strategy of resistance units and insurgent cities.
The fact is that repression and the climate of terror have not stopped the growing number of young people from joining the ranks of resistance units.
The overthrow of the regime cannot happen spontaneously and without an organized movement.
What price have Iranians who opposed the regime paid in the past nearly 40 years?
From the earliest days of theocracy, we opposed the compulsory veil for women, as well as the principle of the absolute clerical rule (velayat-e faqih) that was introduced into the Constitution to give absolute power to Khomeini.
From 1978 to 1980, our movement tried to wage a peaceful political struggle against the new despotism that was taking hold.
But the regime’s suppression intensified by the day until Khomeini, the founder of the theocracy, ordered the mass killing of opponents, starting by shooting young girls as young as 15 or 16 who had refused to give even their names to the executioners.
During the summer of 1981, tens of thousands of members and sympathizers of our resistance were arrested. It was the beginning of the reign of terror, mass executions and medieval tortures. Some days, one hundred, two hundred, or up to four hundred resistance members were shot every 24 hours. Freed detainees later revealed that they counted the number of coup de grace shots each night in order to document the number of people executed.
The most shocking event in the history of the regime’s suppression was the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, which began in the summer of 1988, based on a 230-word fatwa [religious decree] issued by Khomeini. Most of the victims of this genocide, which continued for several months in secret, were members or sympathizers of the PMOI who were serving their prison terms. Many of those who had been released previously were arrested again and immediately executed.
Khomeini had just signed a ceasefire with Iraq. By annihilating political prisoners who were a source of motivation and opposition for society, he wanted to prevent the overthrow of his regime after his defeat in the war.
The victims were buried in mass graves. Since 1988, the regime has not provided any details on the locations of the victims’ burial sites, their numbers or their identities.
In a climate of absolute terror, our resistance movement has managed to collect the names of thousands of people who have lost their lives during this episode. Last year, at a conference in the European Parliament, I presented for the first time a book containing the names of 5,000 PMOI supporters massacred in 1988.
Unfortunately, Western governments have remained silent in the face of this massacre.
Even the UN did not react to the enormous massacre of political prisoners in Iran, even though such a political massacre is unprecedented since the end of the Second World War.
We continue to insist, however, that the UN Security Council should refer the dossier of this massacre to the International Court of Justice in order to bring the perpetrators, including Khamenei, the current regime supreme leader, to justice.
The current head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, and the current justice minister, Alireza Avaei, were both members of death commissions in 1988 and are among the most important perpetrators of the massacre. The “justice” of religious fascism has, therefore, been entrusted to the most notorious executioners in the country.
Overall, more than 120,000 political opponents have been executed throughout the theocratic regime’s time in power.
As a leader of the main opposition movement, what is your alternative to the theocratic regime of Khamenei and Rouhani? What sets your movement apart from other opposition movements in Libya, Iraq or Syria that have resulted in wars or bankrupt states?
Let me answer the second part of your question first. Our movement has deep roots in Iranian society. For 55 years, this movement has waged a relentless struggle against two dictatorships. During all these years, it has relied on the Iranian people and a broad social base. Women play a key role in our resistance movement, which itself guarantees the Iran of tomorrow.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has a solid infrastructure and is rich in experience. It has specific and concrete plans for the future. A wide range of Iranian elites cooperate with the NCRI, both inside Iran and abroad. This movement, which brings together a wide variety of tendencies in Iranian society, is the best guarantor of popular sovereignty after the downfall of the mullahs’ regime.
Regarding the first part of your question, “freedom, independence, republic” was the main motto of the 1979 revolution. The demonstrators chanted for an Islamic republic, but not the Islam advocated by the mullahs.
Even the IRGC and the regime’s sinister Ministry of Intelligence recognize the extensive and active presence of women in the revolts
The long and painful repression of the Shah’s dictatorship had decimated the opposition. PMOI leaders remained in prison until the final days before the overthrow of the Shah’s regime. Khomeini took advantage of this vacuum in order to usurp the leadership of the Revolution, and he established a theocratic regime that had nothing to do with the demands of the Iranian people.
This dictatorship follows a three-pronged strategy to stay in power: ruthless suppression of society, export of terrorism and fundamentalism to other countries in the region, and the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our resistance movement has managed to build a political alternative that stands up to the regime in these three areas. It offers a perspective for the future that is based on freedom, democracy and equality.
In 1981, we founded the NCRI, a coalition of parties, groups and personalities of different political convictions united on the basis of the desire to overthrow the regime and to offer a progressive plan adopted for the Iran of tomorrow. We seek a republic based on the separation of religion and state, political pluralism, gender equality, human rights, the abolition of the death penalty, autonomy for oppressed ethnic groups in the context of Iran’s territorial integrity, equal economic opportunities, environmental protection, a non-nuclear Iran, and solidarity and peaceful coexistence with neighboring countries.
The NCRI and its members have not just come up with plans for the future. They have forged political traditions of democracy and tolerance in practice and during the difficult decisions made throughout this struggle. They have proven that they are the alternative to the regime. The main component of this coalition, the PMOI, has a well-organized network inside Iran and has shaken the regime’s foundations repeatedly by inspiring and organizing battles, uprisings and political movements. It is the presence of such a democratic alternative that guarantees that Iran will not fall victim to the same fate as the countries you mentioned.
The Iranian regime tried to plot against those who attended the annual meeting of the Iranian opposition in Villepinte in June 2018, but it was not the first time that they tried to attack you and your movement on European soil. Can you explain this further?
Whenever there is an uprising in Iran, the mullahs’ only perceived solution is to attack the resistance movement. They rightly understand that it is the only movement capable of orienting uprisings towards the regime’s overthrow. It is the presence of this resistance movement that causes the uprisings to morph into a threat of overthrow for the regime.
After the January 2018 uprising, the top security officials of the regime made explicit threats, including Ali Shamkhani, the head of the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, and the head of the IRGC’s intelligence organization.
Since then, the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence, backed by the terrorist Qods Force, and the Foreign Ministry and its embassies, orchestrated extensive plots.
The first major attack was planned to take place during the Nowrouz (Iranian New Year) celebrations by the Iranian Resistance in Tirana, Albania. The plot was thwarted by Albanian security services. A second major attack was planned to take place during the annual rally of the Iranian Resistance in the Paris suburb of Villepinte. Hundreds of personalities from more than 50 countries, including European, American and Middle Eastern nations, were present at this rally.
The regime activated one of its sleeper cells in Europe for this operation. The explosive device was delivered to this cell by a regime diplomat stationed in Vienna. However, the Belgian police detected the terrorists and arrested them in time. German police arrested the diplomat on his return from his mission to hand over the explosives to the terrorists. He is still behind bars in Belgium. The Iranian Resistance revealed details of the operation, as well as the identity of the regime’s top leaders who ordered it.
These two cases were not the only terrorist acts conducted by the regime against the Iranian Resistance over the past two years. Two regime agents have notably been arrested in the United States.
And, in October 2019, Albanian police revealed new information about the scope and scale of the regime’s terrorist plans in this country led by a cell tied to the Qods Force. Albania recently expelled two other regime diplomats in relation to this development.
German and Dutch intelligence services have published reports on the conspiracies plotted by the regime’s embassies against the Iranian Resistance.
At the same time, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Foreign Ministry, the IRGC and a dozen other intelligence, terrorist, and political organs of the regime are involved in an wide-ranging campaign of demonization and spreading false propaganda against the Iranian Resistance.
Through this dirty campaign, the mullahs want to prevent international solidarity with the struggle of the Iranian people for the overthrow of the regime.
This dictatorship follows a three-pronged strategy to stay in power: ruthless suppression, export of terrorism, and pursuit of nuclear weapons.
After decades of silence, do you think that public opinion is finally aware of the situation of human rights violations in Iran? Do you think there is now more support for Iranian dissent among the public? And on the part of Western governments? What should be the measures taken by international organizations concerning the Iranian regime?
The scale of the crimes, massacres, oppression of women and suppression of freedoms in Iran and their continuation over many years is such that it cannot be hidden from the eyes of the world. For example, the United Nations General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations have so far denounced human rights violations in Iran 65 times in various resolutions and declarations. Thanks to the efforts of the Iranian Resistance, various parliaments around the world have condemned the repression conducted by this regime.
The Iranian Resistance is working to bring awareness of these crimes to public attention. For example, it has published the lists of names of victims of executions, it has documented dozens of kinds of torture regularly conducted in regime prisons, it has revealed the locations of mass graves of victims of executions, and it has released video clips showing stoning of women by the IRGC and the mullahs.
The problem is that despite all this, governments, and most importantly the UN Security Council, have ignored the dire human rights situation in Iran in the name of their economic and diplomatic interests.
We call on the governments of Europe and the United States to make their relations with the mullahs’ regime contingent on putting an end to the arrest of protesters and the release of thousands of those detained during and after the uprising in November 2019.
Do you think it would be possible to bring calm to the region if the Iranian regime changes?
Export of terrorism and Islamist fundamentalism is a major part of the regime’s strategy to stay in power. Khamenei and IRGC commanders have repeatedly stressed that if they do not wage war in Syria, Iraq or Yemen, they would be forced to fight in Tehran and other cities in Iran in order to preserve their regime.
To pursue this policy, the mullahs devote a significant part of the national wealth to such military operations.
The presence of the IRGC in various war zones since 2011 is putting tremendous strain on the Iranian economy.
Even as the country suffers from bankruptcy and a deep economic recession, the regime continues to spend astronomical sums of money to pursue this policy. The regime’s criminal meddling in the affairs of the countries of the region is widely hated within Iranian society.
As far as it relates to the regime’s need to preserve its power, the regime will continue its belligerence, terrorism and violations of the sovereignty of the countries of the region until the day it is overthrown. That is why it is necessary that western and Middle Eastern governments adopt a policy of firmness in the face of this interference, and that they expel the regime from countries of the region.
Indeed, from Beirut to Baghdad to Tehran, the ground is shaking under the mullahs’ feet.