Iran In Throes Of Fierce Crackdown On Dissent; Real Change At Hand

Dowlat Nowrouzi
As the specter of the Iranian mullahs loom over the streets of Iraq, and as the mullahs get closer to a nuclear bomb, so have all previous hopes for a modus vivendi with Tehran been dashed. Far from being an impasse, however, this is good news, and presents a welcome opportunity for real change in Iran and the Middle East.

The bad news is that the mullahs’ President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted recently that Tehran has reached a key nuclear target enabling it, according to experts, to make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb in about a year.

The really bad news is that the regime continues to be a menace in Iraq. American military officials recently warned that the quantity of Iranian bomb-making components being found in Iraq is on the rise. As well, prominent Iraqi politicians are increasingly speaking out about the "occupational incursion" of the Iranian regime. Some pay the price for it by being targets of the regime’s assassination squads.

The worst news, however, comes from inside Iran. The mullahs’ attempts to diffuse simmering popular opposition have placed Iran in the throes of one of its most fierce crackdowns on dissent.

In the past 10 months alone, more than 250 people have been hanged in Iran, many in public, or even broadcast on state television. According to Amnesty International, 71 children are currently awaiting to be hanged in Iranian prisons. And, at least eight women will be stoned to death in the coming months.

All signs, therefore, point to a hardening of the regime’s stance with respect to domestic and foreign policies. However, Western response to these developments is trailing at a snail’s pace. Only now, and after decades of the West being an approving spectator to the Iranian regime’s blatant deceptions, growing threats and terrorism, and ferocious human right violations, are signs of a change in course being sensed.

The change happens to be perceptible against a backdrop of the apparent realization in Western capitals that appeasement vis-à-vis the turbaned tyrants in Tehran only works to embolden and radicalize the regime further. Washington’s decision to blacklist the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Qods Force was a sufficiently tangible move away from a long expired conciliatory stance toward the regime.

With appeasement out of the picture, more eyes are naturally turning to the option of regime change. However, any attempt to replace the regime without popular backing as its necessary precondition would be counterproductive and act as a severe impediment to regional democracy and stability. Therefore, military intervention falls out of the picture all the same.

In light of the scope of available options, some analysts invite support for a kind of "civic movement" in Iran supposedly leading to an Iranian version of the anti-Soviet upheavals in Eastern Europe. However, the prevalent, yet implausible, proposal to support nameless and faceless Iranians in bringing regime change is more a pie in the sky than a practical and concrete solution.

Democratic and real change in Iran is certainly possible. In fact, it is the only viable policy worth pursuing, and we are now endowed with a historical opportunity to do just that. In order to make change a reality in Iran, however, an organized and deep-rooted opposition movement, which could act as a catalyst for change, is of the utmost necessity. In the words of a Tehran-based European diplomat, "The pent-up anger is still there [among the Iranian populace], beneath the surface. But for it to seriously take off you need a catalyst, you need a cause, you need organization and leadership. It’s a big task."

Only a dedicated and effective organization would be able to coalesce the simmering but shapeless popular discontent into a nationwide organized resistance movement capable of confronting and overcoming the mullahs’ terror. Such a popular resistance movement already exists in Iran. At its core is the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Created by a group of Muslim intellectuals in 1965 with the aim of establishing a democratic order in Iran, the PMOI possesses a nationwide leadership and a vast support network inside the country that could act as a practical mechanism for change.

While some are quick to dismiss the PMOI by rehashing the oft-repeated and specious allegations against it, most of which is disseminated by Tehran’s intelligence service, the undeniable fact is that the organization’s four-decade-old relentless political struggle against two dictatorships has provided it with unmatched credibility and following in Iran, which ironically explains why it remains to be the focus of so much attention by the mullahs within the country and by Tehran’s spin-doctors abroad.

Unfortunately, both the United States and the European Union, prompted either by financial greed or by naiveté that goodwill would make Tehran blink, have tagged the PMOI as a "terrorist organization." On December 12, 2006, the European Court of Justice ruled against the legality of the terror label and ordered the PMOI to be removed from the EU list. More recently, the Council of Europe heard a report from its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights that the EU’s decision to keep the PMOI on the list goes completely against the rule of law in Europe.

Aside from its total lack of legality, the terror label has hamstrung the PMOI’s full potentials, and has acted as a serious barrier to realizing change in Iran. The PMOI does not make any bones about the fact that its first priority has always been and continues to be the safeguarding of the national interests of the Iranian people. However, as an anti-fundamentalist Muslim movement espousing a tolerant and democratic interpretation of Islam, it envisions an Iran that is democratic and at peace with its neighbors. It is therefore a potential ally in the fight against Islamic extremism, which has emerged as the number-one global threat.

Moving at a snail’s pace when the mullahs are rushing pell-mell to expand and consolidate their power both regionally and domestically can have dire consequences not only for the region but also for the West itself.

To reverse the Iranian regime’s reactionary tides throughout the region, and to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear bomb, the West must adopt a firm stance coupled with the realization that it is only the Iranian people and their organized resistance movement who have the capacity to overthrow the mullahs and establish a long-term democracy in Iran. To this end, the PMOI must be removed from the terror list in order to infuse the popular discontent with renewed zeal and energy. There has never been a more apt nor urgent historical opportunity to act than now.


Dowlat Nowrouzi is UK representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran