About Iranian opposition leader Massoud Rajavi
Massoud Rajavi was born in Tabas, a town in eastern Iran, in 1947. He hails from a family of intellectuals. He attended Tehran University where he earned his degree in political science. As an adolescent, Rajavi became acquainted with the teachings of Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani, a progressive cleric. He was also a supporter of the Freedom Movement of Iran, an organization that was in league with Mohammad Mossadegh, the popular Iranian prime minister who nationalized Iran’s oil industry in 1951. Mossadegh was deposed by the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in a coup instigated by foreign powers in 1953.
Massoud Rajavi became acquainted with the
People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)
while he was a university student, when the MEK was still a very young Iranian opposition movement. He was drawn to the principles and ideals that its members and leaders sought and their dedication to achieving freedom and democracy in Iran.
Rajavi joined the PMOI/MEK in 1967 and became in direct contact with
Mohammad Hanifnejad, the leader and founder of the MEK.
Hanifnejad appointed Massoud Rajavi to the MEK’s ideological group, where he helped in studying and documenting the organization’s ideological principles. Rajavi later became a member of the PMOI/MEK’s Central Committee.
Massoud Rajavi’s imprisonment by the Shah regime
In 1971, Massoud Rajavi was arrested during a series of raids by Savak, the secret police of the Shah regime, which rounded up the entire leadership and Central Committee of the PMOI/MEK. After his arrest, Rajavi was brutally tortured in the prisons of Shah and was sentenced to death along with the rest of the leaders of the MEK.
The Shah regime was forced to reduce Massoud Rajavi’s sentence from death to life in prison due to the efforts of his older brother Kazem, a respected jurist in Geneva. Kazem Rajavi launched an international campaign to pressurize the Shah regime into revoking the death sentence of his brother. The campaign received support from many parliamentarians and political leaders, including Francois Mitterrand, the leader of the French Socialist Party and the future-to-be President of France.
After the execution of MEK’s founders in 1972, Massoud Rajavi assumed leadership of the organization and helped steer the young movement through the many trials and tribulations that lay in its path. In 1975, a coup by a group of separatists within the MEK, who claimed to have converted to Marxism, nearly shattered the organization. Afterwards, Massoud Rajavi restored the organization and spelled out distinct guidelines that explained the principles of the MEK.
Until his release in 1979, Massoud Rajavi continued to lead the MEK from inside the prison, helping organize the movement that aimed at toppling the Shah regime and bringing freedom to Iran.
The 1979 revolution
In the final years of the 1970s, Iran was increasingly shaken by nationwide demonstrations that raged against the tyrannical rule of the Shah. Many of these demonstrations demanded the release of all political prisoners from Shah’s prisons.
As Shah’s regime grew increasingly weaker, it started ceding ground to the protesters. In January 1979, Shah's regime gave in under the mounting pressure of popular revolt and released the last group of political prisoners, which included MEK leader Massoud Rajavi and several senior members of the now-famous Iranian opposition organization.
Less than a month later, the Shah regime was toppled by popular uprisings. Ruhollah Khomeini, a powerful cleric who had been in exile, returned to Iran to seize control of the country and establish what he named “the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Since Khomeini’s rise to power, Massoud Rajavi focused the MEK on protecting the freedoms and rights of the Iranian people and preventing the mullahs from imposing their outdated beliefs and practices on the Iranian people. In the first years that followed the 1979 revolution, Massoud Rajavi directed the efforts of the MEK on raising awareness on the threats of extremism by holding meetings and political rallies.
The MEK tried in a very peaceful manner to prevent Khomeini’s regime from establishing a tyrannical rule. During this time, Massoud Rajavi and the MEK grew very popular among Iranians, and the organization expanded to tens of thousands of members across Iran.
Massoud Rajavi’s weekly lectures in Tehran’s Sharif University, in which he introduced and detailed the worldview and ideology of the MEK, were attended by thousands of people and was described by France’s Le Monde as such:
“One of the most important events not to be missed in Tehran are the courses on comparative philosophy, taught every Friday afternoon by Mr. Massoud Rajavi. Some 10,000 people presented their admission cards to listen for three hours to the lectures by the leader of the People’s Mojahedin on Sharif University’s lawn.”
Massoud Rajavi’s candidacy for president
In 1980, Iran held its first presidential elections following the 1979 revolution. Khomeini, who had established himself as the Supreme Leader, declared that he wouldn’t support any particular candidate.
Massoud Rajavi ran for office on behalf of the PMOI/MEK, offering a platform that promoted freedom of speech and religion, equal rights for women and separation of church and state. Rajavi quickly became the favored candidate of various individuals, groups and movements that opposed fundamentalism and were worried that Khomeini was heading the country toward a religious dictatorship.
Some of organizations that became supportive of Massoud Rajavi’s bid for presidency included Feda’iyan, the National Democratic Front, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Kurdish Toilers Revolutionary Party (Komula), the Society of Iranian Socialists, the Society for the Cultural and Political Rights of the Turkomans, the Society of Young Assyrians, and the Joint Group of Armenian, Zoroastrian and Jewish Minorities.
The MEK and Massoud Rajavi also found a strong base of support among a large number of prominent figures including the widow of Ayatollah Taleqani; Shaykh Ezeddin Hosayni, the spiritual leader of the Sunni Kurds in Mahabad, and Hojjat al-Islam Jalal Ganjehi...; fifty well-known members of the Iranian Writers’ Association, including the economist Naser Pakdaman, the essayist Manuchehr Hezarkhani and the secular historians Feraydun Adamiyyat and Homa Nateq; and, of course, many of the families of the early Mojahedin martyrs, notably the Hanif-nezhads, Rezais, Mohsens, Badizadegans, Asgarizadehs, Sadeqs, Meshkinfams, and Mihandusts.
The growing influence of Massoud Rajavi and the MEK caught the attention of Khomeini, who feared that a democratic movement would become a challenge for his regime. Khomeini issued a Fatwa (religious decree) disqualified Massoud Rajavi on the grounds that the MEK had not voted in favor of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution in an earlier national referendum. This was of course against Khomeini’s previous pledge to avoid meddling in the presidential elections, and having no legal or political basis to eliminate Massoud Rajavi, he resorted to his religious power, the one thing that later became one of the main pillars of his dictatorship.
The founding of the National Council of Resistance (NCRI)
As the Khomeini regime continued to tighten the noose around the freedoms of the Iranian people, it became evident that the country was headed for an era of total tyranny and religious dictatorship. In a final attempt to encourage Khomeini to respect the most basic political, social and legal rights of the Iranian population, Massoud Rajavi and the MEK called for a peaceful demonstration on June 20, 1981.
Even though the rally’s schedule had only been circulated through word of mouth a mere two days before it took place, in Tehran alone 500,000 people gathered. Similar rallies took place in other cities. The regime responded by opening fire on the peaceful protesters, killing many in the streets and arresting thousands of others. Members of the Revolutionary Guards killed many MEK members and supporters in the streets in extrajudicial executions.
On the morrow of the June 20 demonstrations, Khomeini officially banned all Iranian opposition groups and ordered all of their members and leaders arrested.
MEK supporters and members were executed in droves. Massoud Rajavi was forced into hiding. While still in Iran, Rajavi founded the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition groups that aimed to replace the theocratic regime of Khomeini with a free, secular and democratic state. The NCRI became a rally point for anyone who endorsed regime change and supported democracy in Iran.
On July 29, 1981, Massoud Rajavi, who was the top wanted opposition figure in Iran, exited the country with the help of personnel in Iran’s air force who opposed the regime. Rajavi landed in France, where he took refuge and established the headquarters of the NCRI to further pursue the struggle against the Iranian regime.
Massoud Rajavi’s efforts to end the Iran-Iraq war
When war erupted between Iran and Iraq in 1980, members of the MEK picked up arms to defend their country against the Iraqi invasion. And they continued to so while the regime still hadn’t banned the organization.
However, as the war stretched on, it became evident that Khomeini intentionally wanted to extend the war and was using it as an excuse to avoid responding to the demands of the people and to suppress dissidents and opposition forces such as the MEK.
In 1982, when Iraqi forces retreated from the last stretches of Iranian soil, the NCRI and MEK called for an immediate end to the conflict and declared the continuation of the war as unjustified. In October 1982, The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that called for an immediate ceasefire between the two countries. Naturally, the Iranian regime, which had turned the Iran-Iraq war into a cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy, refused to adhere. Khomeini continued to vent his expansionist dreams and insist that his regime’s strategy was to conquer Quds (Jerusalem) through Karbala, Iraq.
Accordingly, Massoud Rajavi engaged in efforts to prove that a lasting peace was within reach. On December 22, 1982, Rajavi met with Tariq Aziz, then–foreign minister of Iraq, on behalf of the PMOI/MEK, the NCRI, and the Iranian people. The two introduced a plan for peace between Iraq and Iran, which stipulated respect for the independence and sovereignty of both countries and called for the resolution of differences through direct, diplomatic negotiations. Two months later, the NCRI unanimously ratified the plan. Three months later, the Iraqi government also declared its acceptance of the peace agreement.
Massoud Rajavi’s efforts for ending the Iran-Iraq war also garnered the support of thousands of parliamentarians and politicians across the world.
The Iranian regime, however, continued to squander the lives and assets of the Iranian people on waging war on its western neighbor.
In June 1986, Massoud Rajavi and a large number of MEK members left France and established their headquarters in Iraq, whose government had recognized and pledged to respect the MEK’s political independence. In Iraq, Massoud Rajavi founded the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA), which became a major offensive force against the Iranian regime and Khomeini’s aspirations for expanding his regime’s power.
The operations of the NLA eventually forced the Iranian regime to grudgingly accept a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement in 1988.
Massoud Rajavi’s vision for the future of Iran
Since 1981, Massoud Rajavi has remained adamant that the only solution to the problems of Iran and the Middle East is democratic regime change in Iran. Massoud Rajavi believes that the Iranian people and their organized resistance movement have everything they need to bring about democratic change in Iran, and it is upon this belief that he has founded the largest independent opposition movement in Iran’s modern history.
Western states have tried on numerous occasions to tackle the challenges posed by the Iranian regime through appeasement and rapprochement and the endorsement of so-called “moderate” and “reformist” groups within the regime, and it has often been at the cost of causing damage to the Iranian people and the Iranian opposition.
Meanwhile, Massoud Rajavi has remained firm on his stance that the religious dictatorship ruling in Iran does not have the potential for reform. Today, in the aftermath of the failure of the decades-long appeasement campaign, it has become evident that Massoud Rajavi’s understanding and vision of Iranian politics had been accurate all along.
Despite the Iranian regime’s heavy security measures and repression, people across Iran are protesting and chanting slogans against the regime’s entirety, calling for the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime, the goal that Massoud Rajavi and the MEK have been fighting for since 1981.