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July 20, 2011

MEK’s attempts to hijack the Green Movement

The Mujahedin-e Khalq campaign to be removed from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organization’s has been fueled by plenty of misinformation.  One big lie that MEK has spread in Washington is that the group is popularly supported in Iran and is the “main opposition.”
This attempt to hijack Iran’s indigenous Green Movement is nothing new.
In his recent book, Then They Came For Me, journalist Maziar Bahari provides a fascinating account of his experience covering the 2009 elections in Iran and their aftermath, and the detention and abuse he endured when he was arrested and detained for 118 days in Evin prison.
Before his arrest, Bahari covered the massive protests and witnessed firsthand how “MEK sympathizers had acted as agents provocateurs among the protestors, inciting violence” during the peaceful demonstrations.
Bahari writes that, during the June 13 demonstration, “The Basijis…normally so rash and confrontational—were clearly intimidated by the sheer size of the crowd.”  But as he worked his way through the masses, Bahari heard shots ring out.  A small group of MEK sympathizers were attacking a Basij building with Molotov cocktails:

“Before long, the Basijis stopped firing warning shots and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd of protestors.  The two Basijis on the roof did not seem to care if the people they were shooting at were attackers or passerbys.  Many peaceful demonstrators in the crowd panicked and started to throw stones at the compound.”

Bahari describes how one of the men attacking the base was shot and killed by the Basijis.  Ultimately 7 people were killed in the attack, and the violence rippled through the nonviolent protests.

“As the Basij started to spread bullets into the crowd, as people scrambled to take cover as bloodied people ran out of the street, and as MEK supporters started to chant, “Death to the Islamic Republic,” I continued to film.
“Hush. Be quiet!  Change the slogan!  Allahu akbar! God is great!” screamed a couple of older men trying to get the crowd out of the street.  “We haven’t come here to say, ‘Death to the Islamic Republic.’”
“We here to support Mousavi,” said another woman.  “Not fight!”
A small group of young men approached a few of the older men who were trying to calm people down.  “Kafeh shin madar saga!” one said, throwing punches at an older man.  “Shut up, you sons of bitches!”  The crowd erupted into a brawl.
“Death to Khamenei!” cried a teenager as he joined the others hitting the older men.  I turned my camera toward him.

Bahari goes on to describe the reaction among Green Movement leaders:

Mousavi was quite upset about the attack, but he was not going to let terrorists hijack the green movement—which was how the support for Mousavi was becoming known.  Mousavi had decided to tell his supporters to take to the streets one more time and avoid any confrontation with the police and the Guards that could provoke further violence.

Bahari subsequently published an article in Newsweek on the incident, “Who’s Behind Tehran’s Violence?  Opposition supporters worry about their movement being hijacked.”  The piece, which came out just days before Bahari was arrested, quotes a peaceful demonstrator:

“I think some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation.  Thirty years after the revolution and 20 years after the war, the majority of Iranians despise violence and terror. My worry is that if the government doesn’t allow reforms to take place, we will fall into a terrorism abyss like the years after the revolution.”

Bahari writes:

“The supposed reelection of Ahmadinejad was a gift to such groups. On their Web sites they claim that the alleged rigging of the vote has revealed the true face of the regime. (Like some Israeli commentators, they argue that the victory of a moderate like Mousavi would actually extend the life of the regime.) It is true that in the past, whenever hardliners have intensified their grip, these groups have gained more support. They reacted angrily when pro-reform Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997.”

The vast majority of Iranians don’t want these groups to have any part in their movement for democracy.  They continue to be wary of attempts by violent groups to “hijack” their movement and risk reigniting a vicious cycle of violence that would undermine well over a century of work toward democracy in Iran.  De-listing the MEK would do just that.

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