Massoud Rajavi was born in the small town of Tabas in 1947. He earned his political science degree from Tehran University. Rajavi joined the PMOI in 1967 and became involved early in his career in discussions on religion, history and revolutionary theory, influencing the PMOI’s modern interpretation of Islam. He later became a member of the Central Committee.
In 1971, all the founders and Central Committee of the PMOI, including Rajavi, were arrested and sentenced to death by SAVAK, the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service established by Iran's Mohammad Reza Shah. Rajavi’s brother, Dr. Kazen Rajavi, organized an international campaign that included the assistance of France’s top officials. Rajavi’s death sentence was changed to life imprisonment and he spent the next seven years in jail before he was set free on January 21, 1979, as a result of the uprising against the Shah’s dictatorship. After Khomeini seized power, Massoud Rajavi defended the rights of the people of Iranian Kurdistan in a speech that stressed the need to eliminate dual oppression. Rajavi refused to call the anti-monarchic revolution an “Islamic revolution” and instead called for a democratic revolution, demanding safeguards for democratic freedoms.
In January 1980, Rajavi’s candidacy for the Iranian presidential election was vetoed by Khomeini. According to the French daily, Le Monde:
“According to varying estimates, had Imam Khomeini not vetoed his candidacy in the presidential election last January, Mr. Rajavi, would have won several million votes. He was, moreover, assured of the support of the religious and ethnic minorities - whose rights to equality and autonomy he defended - and a good part of the female vote, who seek emancipation, and the young, who totally reject the ‘reactionary clergy’...”
The Le Monde article went on to say: “The Mojahedin have not ceased denouncing, documenting and issuing calls about “the irregularities, pressures, fraud and violence” surrounding the first round of elections... Observers appointed by the Mojahedin who protested the election fraud were expelled from the premises, beaten, and sometimes arrested...”
Khomeini’s reasoning was that Rajavi had opposed the national referendum on Iran's new constitution, which established a theocratic government. Rajavi ran for a seat in Iran’s new Majlis (parliament), but lost the race after a discrepancy in the vote tally and election process.
On July 29, 1981, a month after peaceful demonstrations by half a million PMOI supporters in Tehran were turned to a bloodbath on the direct orders of Khomeini, Rajavi announced the formation of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the democratic alternative to the religious, terrorist dictatorship. The umbrella group which included representatives of many of the opposition groups from different parties with varying views has been the most long lasting coalition of the opposition so far.
When the summary arrests, imprisonment and executions of PMOI members began to accelerate, he was forced to leave Iran. Mr. Rajavi travelled to Paris on board an Iranian aircraft from a military base in the heart of Tehran. The historic flight was organized by PMOI supporters within the Iranian Armed Forces.
Mr. Rajavi made the difficult decision to initiate a peace campaign during the Iran-Iraq war. A decision which was overwhelmingly supported by the Iranian population who were tired of the war and had lost many of their loved ones to it.
In 1986 the French government, which was involved negotiations with the Iranian regime over the fate of French hostages in Lebanon, increased its pressure on Mr Rajavi, and as a result he was forced to travel to Iraq in June 1986. Following this, the then Iraqi government gave formal assurances they would recognize the PMOI’s political, financial and military independence.
Massoud Rajavi managed the affairs of the NCRI and was instrumental in its expansion and resilience. He devoted most of his time to nurturing the organization and supporting efforts to topple the Khomeini regime. 219 members of the United States Congress signed a statement in support of the National Council of Resistance. The statement made on July 8, 1992, said:
“...the time has come for the free world to form a common front against fundamentalism with those fighting for peace and democracy against the Iranian regime. In announcing a specific program and determining responsible policies vis-a-vis recent international developments, the National Council of Resistance, led by Mr. Massoud Rajavi, has demonstrated that it is determined and able to contribute to peace and stability in this sensitive region....”
Since the formation of the NCRI, Massoud Rajavi has concentrated his efforts on the Council. His management of NCRI’s affairs has earned him the trust of the NCR’s members. The NCRI elected Maryam Rajavi, wife of Massoud Rajavi, as the future President of Iran in August of 1993.