By Georgie Anne Geyer-The Washington Times
,August 26, 1994
Auvers-sur-Oise, France-In my 30 years as a foreign correspondent I have interviewed many "unusual " leaders — but I do believe that I have finally found the most stunningly unusual one. Her name is Maryam Rajavi, she has been elected the "future president of Iran" by the growing Iranian Resistance, and she is driving the women-hating mullahs of Iran crazy!
In my 30 years as a foreign correspondent I have interviewed many "unusual " leaders — but I do believe that I have finally found the most stunningly unusual one. Her name is Maryam Rajavi, she has been elected the "future president of Iran" by the growing Iranian Resistance, and she is driving the women-hating mullahs of Iran crazy!
To find this impressive woman, one drives about an hour outside of Paris to this lovely, leafy, languid French town. Here, in a neat compound of small buildings heavily guarded by the French police, the Iranian "mujaheedin" or National Council of Resistance has long had its government-in-exile. What is new is that Mrs. Rajavi has suddenly become a prime and remarkably adept player at the highest levels of plans to overthrow Iran’s feudally theocratic regime.
" My first task is to give the Iranian people back their hope,," she said during our five-hour interview. ‘I want to give them hope that, with our solidarity, they can overcome the darkness, hopelessness and death that has enveloped our country."
As eloquent as she can be regarding freedom for Iranians -and particularly freedom for women — it soon becomes clear that this cultured 41-year-old woman is a figure to be watched. Since its founding in 1965, originally to overthrow the shah, the mujaheedin have been active, but always in the background of world news.
But this spring, from Washington to Sydney to Bonn, tens of thousands of exiled Iranians (20,000 in Bonn alone) demonstrated peacefully on behalf of the Resistance. And invariably, they were shouting, "Maryam, the shining sun, future president of Iran."
As far as she personally is concerned, Mrs. Rajavi did not really want to be elected president last October by the 235 members of the resistance council. "I would have preferred doing what I was doing," she told me, "without all the limitations that go with the presidency. " Since she was elected based on the strong feeling here that their time is rapidly coming it has been she who is overseeing all the organizing, suddenly very public and noteworthy, among the between 3 million and 4 million Iranian exiles abroad. It is also Maryam Rajavi who is rapidly becoming the Rorschach blot of hope into which the long-suffering modern and liberal Iranians can read all kinds of hopes.
Meeting Maryam Rajavi in the mujaheedin’s strange little world in Auvers, one soon senses a complicated human being. In the simple waiting room with its Persian rug, a classically beautiful woman comes forward, with perfect white teeth, an aquiline nose and unflinching gray eyes that never leave her interlocutor. There is an oddly tremulous quality about her, and with a contradictory feeling of solidity. This day, she was wearing a violet suit, with violet stockings and shoes and a violet scarf tied around her head, hiding her dark hair.
Indeed, it was when she began to wear the scarf over her head as a university student that her upper middle-class parents in Tehran realized something was happening inside her. "That was in itself an open sign that something had changed," she related at one point. ‘When I wanted to wear it for the first time, I had a lot of trouble with my family."
But that decision by a "progressive" student of metallurgy engineering, was and is, to her, a sign of a real inner freedom. She is not — repeat, not– under any circumstances wearing the chador, the ugly black robe that the Ayatollah Khomeini and the mullahs insist Iranian women wear. "That is a means to enslave women," she believes. Instead, the neat head scarf, which is part of a tradition known as the "hejab," "allows us to be active as human beings and not only as women."
If that decision was controversial, her decision in 1984 to marry Massoud Rajavi, the charismatic and respected top leader of the mujaheedin, tells even more about the degree to which women of different cultures and beliefs find fascinating pathways to independence and fulfillment.
For one thing, she was already married and the mother of a little girl. She had also been elected one of the very top leaders of the mujaheedin. But let her tell the story:
" Because of circumstances, it was necessary to marry Massoud. I had a difficult choice to make. I had to divorce my previous husband. I felt that for any woman to be seriously involved in political work, to work for the ideals of nation and of countrymen… in order to be at the highest level, any factor that would impede the movement was simply unacceptable. If my role as joint leader was not a formalistic one — but one to which I was to give all my energies — my commitment could not be conditional.
‘What I did was to set an example for all the members of the great family of the Resistance — to show them that they must go beyond their own personal lives."
Today, Maryam Rajavi and other mujaheedin leaders seek to convince others that the original anti-American or ‘Islamic Marxist" (or whatever else) cast of this complex movement are things of the past. They say they want a democratic, free-market Iran, with a political life close to that of the European Social Democrats. Massoud Rajavi, with whom she seems to have an excellent relationship, is in Iraq most of the time with the mujaheedin army there, which he commands.
Meanwhile, she is becoming the symbol of something new – the modest but active Islamic woman. "She emerges as the antithesis of the mullahs’ fundamentalism," adds Ali Safavi, a mujaheedin spokesman. "You cannot confront fundamentalism with an anti-Islamic culture; you confront it with a tolerant and modern Islam. Our society is a society bleeding, a society needing a symbol to offer compassion, mercy, tolerance and love. She has those attributes more than anyone, particularly because she is a woman and because the most heinous crimes of the regime were committed against women… In her case, nothing is a formality – she has proven herself in everything."
By Georgie Anne Geyer
The Washington Times, August 26, 1994