By Alejo Vidal-Quadras
In 2018, one of the biggest gatherings of the opposition was the target of a terrorist plot by agents of the Iranian regime, four of whom are now serving prison terms in Belgium. It is generally understood that if the plot had not been thwarted by European law enforcement, it would have resulted in hundreds if not thousands of deaths, including any number of the European and American lawmakers and scholars who had been in attendance as longtime supporters of the NCRI’s vision for a free, democratic Iranian republic.
By involving so clear a risk of international backlash, the 2018 terror plot did much to highlight the extent of the Iranian regime’s fixation on destroying the NCRI and its main constituent group. Court proceedings against the terrorist mastermind and high-ranking Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi established that operatives had been instructed to detonate an explosive device as close as possible to the stage where Maryam Rajavi would be delivering the event’s keynote address.
Mrs. Rajavi has been designated by the NCRI to serve as transitional president in the wake of the mullahs’ overthrow and thus to implement her ten-point plan for the country’s future, involving its first free and fair elections. As the international community comes to grips with the likelihood of a new revolution in Iran, they should also understand that this is what it is leading to. The planned transition is also the very thing that Tehran fears since it is so recognizably a unifying cause for the Iranian people.
Regime authorities have been trying very hard to delegitimize the current uprising, mostly by insisting that it is the product of foreign infiltration into domestic affairs. Of course, none of them have made any serious effort to explain how the CIA or MI6 could have manipulated Iranians into protesting by the hundreds of thousands, across more than 200 cities, for more than 60 consecutive days. In any event, the regime’s narrative is thoroughly debunked not just by the scale of the unrest but also by the uniformity of its slogans and their connection to years of prior organized spearheaded by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Widespread chanting of “death to the dictator” dates back at least to the end of 2017 when another anti-government uprising began sweeping through more than 100 localities on the back of public expressions of economic discontent. That nationwide protest became the basis for what Mrs. Rajavi termed a “year full of uprisings” and ultimately became the first in a series of several equally large-scale protests leading straight to the emerging revolution.
When the 2017 uprising stretched through much of January 2018, even the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged in a speech that the MEK had “planned for months” to facilitate simultaneous protests and to popularize the message of regime change. This statement contradicted years of propaganda that had sought to dismiss the MEK as a mere cult with little genuine support inside Iran. It was no doubt because of the resulting awareness of serious threats to the mullahs’ hold on power that the regime set out to strike a decisive blow against the Iranian Resistance at its gathering in France later that year.
Since failing in that endeavor, the regime has only been able to watch as transparent support for the MEK and NCRI continued to grow, both at home and abroad. The 2018 uprising was an early testament to the effectiveness of a network of “Resistance Units” that the MEK had begun establishing throughout the country four years earlier. Since then, these direct-action collectives have continued growing in number while also expanding to include hacktivism and highly visible public broadcasts alongside the destruction of regime billboards and statues.
There were 1,000 members of the Resistance Units who submitted video statements to the coalition’s summer gathering in 2021. One year later, in the run-up to the current uprising, this number multiplied fivefold. The proliferation of this network certainly helps to explain why this uprising is the most widespread in the underlying series and why it has proven uniquely resistant to the regime’s efforts to destroy it.
More than 500 protesters have been killed since September 16, when the morality police beat Mahsa Amini to death for supposedly wearing her hijab too loosely. This is a troubling figure but also a far cry from the 1,500 who were killed within days of an earlier uprising breaking out in November 2019.
The difference has nothing to do with restraint on the part of the authorities, as should be evident from the Iranian Parliament trying to approve the pursuit of capital punishment for protesters. The comparatively low death toll is better explained by the countless videos that have emerged over the past two months showing protesters and bystanders shielding one another from attack and fighting back, typically with only rocks, against heavily armed security forces.
November 18 – Bukan, northwest #Iran
More than 50 IRGC members stormed Gholipour Hospital and confiscated the corpse of Shahriar Mohammadi, killed by the regime's security forces, and secretly buried him at 11 pm.#IranRevolution2022#شهریار_محمدی pic.twitter.com/0hxYBaRgjY
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) November 19, 2022
Such resilience would not be possible without the underlying organization, and the MEK’s Resistance Units are the main providers of that organization. It should be equally clear, therefore, that when this uprising is confirmed to be a new revolution, it will lead directly to an organized push for democracy.
Many Western policymakers have already affirmed their support for that outcome. But despite the mullahs’ increasingly fragile position at the seat of power in Tehran, those NCRI supporters are still struggling to prevail upon Western leadership with their arguments for what European policy toward Iran can and should look like.
As Western powers await Iran’s new revolution, all negotiations with the outgoing regime should cease, and open dialogue should begin with the NCRI and its constituents, on the understanding that they represent the true will of the Iranian people.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)