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Amb. Bloomfield Discusses the Shah Era and the Rise of the MEK on “The Untold Story” Podcast

1979 revolution

In a recent episode of “The Untold Story” podcast, Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., who has served in various high-level positions across five U.S. administrations, provided a deep dive into Iran’s turbulent history under the Shah and the origins of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK/PMOI). The host initiated the conversation by asking Bloomfield to shed light on life in Iran under the Shah’s dictatorship and the notorious secret police, SAVAK.

Amb. Bloomfield painted a vivid picture of the era, explaining, “It’s very hard to put yourself back then. In that period, a number of countries were ruled by people heavily controlled by European power.” He noted that the students and intellectuals in Iran saw their society as advanced and resented living under a corrupt and weak regime. “The students were looking at Iran as an extremely advanced society, saying, why are we living under a corrupt, weak regime?” Bloomfield elaborated.

“The Shah controlled these things and was spending money lavishly,” he said, referencing the extravagant 2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire. Bloomfield pointed out that inequality and suppression led to growing discontent among students and intellectuals, fueling the formation of groups like the MEK.

Amb. Bloomfield also discussed the role of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, which was notorious for its brutal methods. He explained how the MEK, initially a group of idealistic intellectuals, was caught in the crossfire. “They were trying to shop around and say, where can we find some explosives so we can do one of these demonstrations? And they talked to someone who was working for the regime. And that’s how they got caught. And up to 200 of them or so were executed without ever having done anything,” he recounted.

Discussing the MEK’s ideological evolution, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs highlighted Massoud Rajavi‘s stance that true legitimacy comes from democratic principles. “Islam is freedom. Islam is fully consistent with freedom,” Rajavi would say, advocating for a democratic system where legitimacy is earned through the ballot box. This vision was further updated by Maryam Rajavi, emphasizing gender equality and the rights of women, which have been severely suppressed under the current regime.

Amb. Bloomfield also addressed the current regime’s fear of the ongoing revolution within Iran, which he argues is fundamentally about the suppression of women rather than the hijab. He criticized the so-called moderates within the regime, like Hassan Rouhani, for their roles in enforcing oppressive measures. “Hassan Rouhani’s first job after [Ruhollah] Khomeini came to Iran was to go into the department of the army and force women to wear the hijab. So, he’s not exactly the right person to talk about a more moderate Iran,” Amb. Bloomfield noted.

In his concluding remarks, Bloomfield stressed that while the current regime’s actions may differ in scale, their fundamental oppressive nature remains consistent. “Raisi executed more people than Rouhani, but Rouhani was executing more people per capita than anyone in the world,” he stated, underscoring the persistent human rights abuses that have plagued Iran’s political landscape for decades.