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International Community Should Side With Iranian People and Their Organized Resistance

International Community Should Side With Iranian People and Their Organized Resistance
Free Iran Grand Gathering in Paris, July 2017

The United States has now been pursuing a strategy of maximum pressure on Iran’s regime for more than two years. When first outlining it in 2018, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed a dozen areas of policy in which Iran’s regime would be expected to fundamentally change its behavior. But persons with a deep understanding of Iranian affairs recognize that such fundamental change cannot take place, much less persist over the long term, as long as the current regime remains in power. 

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Of course, no one understands Iranian affairs quite like the people who from Iran. And large numbers of Iranian citizens and expatriates have been urging the public endorsement of regime change for many years. Since 2004, an international community of Iranian activists has been gathering each summer as part of an effort to make policymakers and news outlets aware of the genuine potential for the mullahs to be overthrown by the Iranian people. That message is arguably more important now than at any time over the previous 15 years, partly because the increasing international isolation of the mullahs’ regime, and most importantly for the indicators of a looming revolution have grown markedly stronger. 

The 2020 summit is much more significant than its predecessors because over the past 12 months, seismic shifts have occurred in and around Iran. Prominent among these shifts was a change in the Iranian regime’s approach to dealing with “resistance units” inside Iran. 

For many years, high-ranking figures like the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei maintained public talking points that portrayed such pro-democracy operatives as rare, unpopular, and of little consequence to their theocratic system. Meanwhile, the regime desperately tried for years to portray its main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), as a mere cult or a tiny group that could not possibly offer a viable alternative to the existing regime. But these talking points began to noticeably recede in 2018, after the year began with a series of protests, during which the MEK played a leading role,  that spanned the entire nation and gave rise to provocative, anti-government slogans like “death to the dictator.” 

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Those same talking points have nearly vanished over the past several months, as Khamenei and others have actually made a habit of warning their supporters about the potential for the MEK’s resistance units to spark additional uprisings. In a speech in April, for instance, the supreme leader told members of the Basij militia to be on guard against university protests. While he insisted that early interference could help to obscure the message of such demonstrations, he also acknowledged that left to their own devices, progressive students would most likely adopt the platform of the MEK, which Khamenei described as rejecting the foundations of the so-called  Islamic revolution” or rather the regime’s foundations.  

This and similar warnings were strongly influenced by the fact that the movement for regime change did not end with the nationwide uprising in January 2018. Although the protests were largely suppressed following dozens of deaths at the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the rest of the year ultimately came to be known as a “year full of uprisings” within opposition circles. The NCRI’s Iran Freedom rally in June 2018 naturally highlighted this progress for the pro-democracy movement. And inspired by the previous protests and the MEK’s Resistance Units role resulted in Iranians, of every stripe, going back into the streets for another nationwide uprising in November 2019. 

The latter uprising was brutally oppressed by the reigme’s security forces and the IRGC. The MEK  reported that the death toll had surpassed 1,500. And this number could still grow by including individuals who are sentenced to death or allowed to die from Covid-19 or other illnesses within the harsh conditions of Iran’s prison system. 

Yet even this severe and ongoing repression has not stopped the Iranian people from protesting or from issuing increasingly daring calls for regime change. After continuing in scattered pockets throughout 2018, the chants of “death to the dictator” recurred in the 2019 uprising and even in protests across multiple provinces in January 2020, following the IRGC’s downing of a commercial airliner near Tehran and the regime’s subsequent denial of this crime. Mass demonstrations became impractical the following month, when it became clear that the novel coronavirus had reached Iran. But in the midst of a mismanaged public health crisis, the regime’s officials have accelerated their habit of warning about the MEK Resistance Units giving voice to the people’s grievances. 

At least one of the regime’s think tanks issued a report earlier in the year about the growing conflict between the regime and people. It predictably advised the nation’s repressive forces to step up their efforts to eliminate dissent, and to prepare for new clashes whenever the coronavirus outbreak comes back under control. That outcome appears to still be far off, given that the NCRI has reported that Iran’s Covid-19 death toll is now over 70,000 and still climbing. And the direct impact of the virus is made worse by the regime’s ongoing mismanagement of this crisis. 

On the other hand, the delay also gives the international community time to plan for its response. And after this week, some policymakers will have even more information upon which to base that response. Friday marks the latest iteration of the NCRI’s summer gathering, which will feature speeches from the opposition leader, Maryam Rajavi, from other expatriate activists, and from dignitaries who support the Iranian people and their organized resistance movement as a viable alternative to the clerical regime. The event will also feature messages from Iranian citizens and resistance units  

In light of the ongoing pandemic, the Free Iran Global Summit will largely be held online, with expatriate groups and political supporters gathering in their home countries while a livestream links together over 30,000 locations. In recent years, the gathering has tended to attract as many as 100,000 participants to rally location near Paris. This testament to the popularity of the Iranian Resistance will only be strengthened by the relative ease of participation in the online gathering.  

The Iranian Resistance will once again underline its strategy of regime change in Iran which has given an extremely restive population new reasons to believe that their cause of regime change will enjoy international support when the next uprising occurs.  So the international community must recognized the Iranian people’s right to resistance and overthrow of the Iranian regime, which is global threat to peace and security.