MEK Terrorist Designation; an In-depth Look

Nima Sharif
Recently in Washington, DC a number of former high ranked officials and public figures from both parties, made calls for the removal of the main Iranian oppositions group, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq Organisation of Iran (MEK) from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.  At the same time some discussions began to appear in online publications and blogs with arguments such as the MEK being a cult or being unpopular.

In an in-depth fact-finding researched paper, “Iranian Dissidents and Their Critics“, Raymond Tanter[1] of Iran Policy Committee, addresses these issues surrounding the MEK. 

The MEK has been an exiled group opposing the Iranian regime for the past 30 some years.  Both the Mullahs and the West consider the group the most powerful and the only real threat to the authoritarian rule of the mullahs in Iran.  In order to open dialogue with the Mullahs the group was put on the FTO list back in 1997. 

Winning multiple court battles in United Kingdom and Europe, MEK managed to pull out of terrorist lists there and now in the US, following a favorable ruling by the US Federal Appeals Court in District of Columbia ordering that the State Department should revisit the subject, many in Washington are trying to persuade the State Department to do the just thing and remove the organization from the list.

The Iranian regime’s lobby in Washington however, incapable of openly presenting its true face, due to regime’s detested and unpopular image, tries to build its arguments on negative approaches and show that there is really no opposition to the regime so it is better that the West go back to the discussion table and forget about any changes in that country.

With that in mind and considering that with the US Federal Appeals Court ruling, any and all factual, court-presentable, legal evidence have been judged upon and exhausted already, the MEK critics now take up “nonfactual, nonlegal arguments” to muddy the waters.

“When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law. When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout,” Quotes Raymond Tanter in his paper.

One of the two main nonlegal arguments put forward by Iranian lobbyists is aliasing the MEK a cult.  While Tanter extensively addresses the allegation explaining how MEK cannot be a cult, it is important to realize first that being a cult is not grounds for being tagged a terrorist organization.

Another nonlegal argument used almost as a byline to every one of such articles, is that MEK is unpopular in Iran and has no public support.  That again is irrelevant as unpopularity cannot justify designation.

“But this organization has received the attention of majority of the regime’s websites and is the entity the regime dislikes the most. By inference, Tehran fears the MEK the most,” Writes Tanter and concludes, “As facts and law turn against critics of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, they resort to nonlegal accusations, such as cult and lack of popular support, which are not true; even if true, they would not legally justify continuing the terrorist tag against the MEK.”

Considering all discussions, whether a mere opinion of a writer or instigated by Iranian lobby, the truth is that there are really no justifications any longer to keep the MEK on the FTO list.  Keeping the MEK on the list is not only unfair but it will distant us from dealing with real terrorism and besides that it will continue concessions to the Iranian mullahs while the people of Iran are in the street calling for regime change.  The Iranian people by calling down the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, have made it clear to the world that they want the regime to be gone in its entirety.  The Iranian people have made it clear that they don’t want reforms or small changes.

And let us make a final point.  The reality is that MEK is the leading opposition movement to the theocratic regime.  They represent the secular and democratic aspiration of the Iranian people.  Keeping them on the FTO list, whether we like it or not, will side us with the Iranian regime no matter how much we scream support for the Iranian people.

Nima Sharif is a freelance journalist and author specializing on Iran and the Middle East.

[1] Raymond Tanter – President, Iran Policy Committee; Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan; former member of the National Security Council staff, Executive Office of the U.S. President and Personal Representative of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to Arms Control Talks in Europe