By Kambiz Assai
The fall of the dictatorship in Libya, seemingly inevitable during the past months, was certainly considered to be a very long shot only a year ago. Today, as this stage of Libya’s revolution is about to close, the debate about the future of this part of the world will enter a new phase. Some other countries in the region are certainly in line to follow the same route.
Syria’s Bashar Assad and the mullahs in Iran are both strong candidates. Up until today, the two dictatorships saw no problem with continuing the crackdown on their population in the face of feckless calls by the US and EU for reform and change of behavior. The dictators in Syria and Iran brand the opposition and protestors against their rule as “armed gangs” and “terrorists.”
As for Gaddafi, he ruled his people for 42 years, while fostering terrorism abroad. Now Gaddafi’s brutal rule is about to end. Hardly anyone doubts that the most severe threat to world peace and stability is the rule of the fundamentalist mullahs in Iran. The regime has often been rightly called the “Godfather of international terrorism.” It provides financial, ideological and logistical support for terrorist activities around the world to further the religious despotic agenda of the Iranian regime.
With a population of almost 80 million, Iran is far more active in its extra-territorial campaigns than Libya ever was. But the mullahs see themselves as severely troubled today, and the events in the region have worked to enhance their misgivings. It is therefore only too right for the Iranian regime to conclude that it must exert maximum pressure on its main opposition, the MEK, which it had successfully listed as a terrorist organization outside Iran in the past by providing commercial and diplomatic incentives to eager Western governments. The Iranian intelligence ministry followed up with fraudulent information fed to Western governments about its opposition in order to facilitate their blacklisting in the West. Iran’s opposition MEK wants to promote democratic change in the country. The Iranian regime therefore considers it vital to maintain the MEK in the U.S. FTO list.
The mullahs in Iran are however facing a problem here: to achieve their goal, and to keep the MEK in the blacklist, they need to circumvent European and US laws which require that the listing be based on facts and not political motives. Their efforts have failed in Europe and are on the verge of failure in the US as well.
As for the history of the matter, the MEK was added to the proscribed organizations list in United Kingdom in 2001 and to a similar list in the European Union in 2002. Later on, court cases in those countries resulted in removal of the proscription on June 24, 2008, and January 26, 2009 respectively. The courts found that there were no legal grounds for the listing in the first place. A French investigative magistrate recently dropped all terrorist related charges against the MEK and its leadership in Paris arguing that the evidence did not support the terrorism charges against the organization as it was engaged in just resistance to tyranny in Iran and has never targeted civilians or engaged in terrorist activities.
The events in the US were not very different. It is now known that the US designation of the MEK as an FTO was part of a politically motivated effort to appease the clerical regime in Tehran during a time that the regime of former Iranian President Khatami appeared to be warming to Washington. Although the Iranian ruse won over the US State Department to designate the MEK as an FTO, the gesture did not however yield any results for the US. Today, after years of investigation and examination of all available evidence, it has become common knowledge that the group does not deserve to be listed as an FTO and did not belong in the FTO list to start with. The MEK’s resistance against the mullahs rule in Iran was as legitimate as the rise of America’s founding fathers against British tyranny, French citizens against the monarchy, Charles de Gaulle against the Nazi Vichy regime; something which no doubt is much clearer today after the fall of Libya’s dictator.
To deal with this problem, Tehran’s rulers have embarked on a huge smear campaign against the MEK as well as distinguished US officials supporting them. The Iran lobbyists try to brush aside US laws, and put forward political reasons for maintaining Iran’s opposition, the MEK, in the US FTO list. Iranian rulers need the listing to buy more time for themselves, before they are forced to follow the very same route as Gaddafi.
A continued FTO designation of the MEK at the expense of US credibility, interests and laws, and the lives of 3,400 MEK dissidents in Iraq, and a future rapprochement with the Iranian people, all to mollify the mullahs in Iran, seems very unlikely. Just as a majority of the US Congress has called for, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, should not allow the fundamentalist rulers in Iran to lengthen their rule at the expense of their opposition. The US should stand with the Iranian people against their despotic rulers and delist the MEK. It is the only right thing to do.
Kambiz Assai is a scholar of Iranian politics now living in exile and a former political prisoner of the religious dictatorship in Iran. He writes about Iranian current events and human rights issues extensively hoping for a democratic Iran. [email protected]