Free Iran: Understanding the first opposition group of its kind
More than 20 Nobel laureates have declared their support for the "Free Iran" gathering
It is the world’s largest gathering of those who advocate freedom and democracy in Iran. A mass “Free Iran” rally is being held in the French capital, Paris, on July 9. The event is expected to attract more than 100,000 people who come together from around the world in order to make their voice heard. More than 20 Nobel laureates have declared their support for the "Free Iran" gathering.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the parent coalition of the opposition People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), has planned this rally that is normally preceded by round-table events.
Every year, the NCRI gathers the opposition and supporters of freedom and democracy in Iran. More than 100,000 Iranian expatriates attended the rally last year. The annual event attracts hundreds of prominent international personalities, many high-level politicians, political leaders, military officials, religious leaders, and former diplomats from around the world. This year high-profile American figures- such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former ambassadors to the United Nations John Bolton, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, to name a few- have confirmed their attendance for the Free Iran rally. The number of officials endorsing and attending the NCRI’s rally appears to increase every year.
The United States Congressman, Brad Sherman, veteran of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, emphasized the significance of the Free Iran rally and he congratulated the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) for "the critical role it played in exposing the Iranian regime's nuclear weapons program." Patrizia Toia, a Member of the European Parliament from Italy, declared that she desires to "encourage everyone to join the event in Paris of 9th of July."
Free Iran: The significance, purpose, and aspirations
For many, the significance of such event is that there exists a powerful and organized institution (NCRI/PMOI), holding the largest number of Iranian oppositions connected with people inside Iran, that can be a critical platform for facilitating a fundamental change in the Iranian government and its political establishment by the Iranian people themselves, and without the need for foreign or military intervention.
Maryam Rajavi is the president-elect of the NCRI and PMOI. The US Congressman, Brad Sherman commended Rajavi, for her "advocacy of democracy, human and women's rights in Iran."
Maryam Rajavi stated that the participants of the Paris convention represent the voice of millions of oppressed Iranians who long from freedom and democracy and expect the next U.S. President as well as other western leaders to stand with the Iranian people and stop appeasing the Tehran regime. She added that the international community must adopt a firm policy, which would have as its components the condemnation of the regime’s human rights violation and its export of terrorism.
In addition, the organizers of Free Iran rally advocate these kinds of protests give voice to those people who are suffering in the Islamic Republic.
The objectives of Free Iran rally are anchored in several themes as well. Firstly, many of the protesters emphasize and provide a clear understanding that the nuclear agreement – known as JCPOA - has not made Iran less repressive regionally and domestically, and that President Obama’s message of Iranian moderation is inaccurate. They oppose the US appeasement policy towards the Islamic Republic, and contend that the nuclear agreement is encouraging Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing behavior.
On a domestic level, the rate of execution has reached an unprecedented level in over 25 years, and any opposition is being silenced immediately. On the regional level, Iran has tested ballistic missiles several times, it is assisting Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Hezbollah, Shiite militia groups and fueling sectarianism more forcefully, which is leading to more recruitments by ISIS and other radical groups. In addition, Iran is growing its IRGC stranglehold across the region.
On a humanitarian level, the protesters are demanding rule of law, equality for all nationalities, gender equality, implementation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression and press, putting an end to discriminations against ethnic, religious minorities, and women, among others.
Keyvan, an Iranian-American businessman who travelled from Washington DC to Paris to attend the rally said “Washington’s appeasement policy towards Iran is empowering Iranian leaders and making them more interventionist and aggressive in the region. There is no difference between the moderates and hardliners. They have the same objectives. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians opposed the nuclear agreement. But Obama did not listen. The nuclear agreement is helping IRGC to dominate other countries in the region, crack down domestically, and help its proxies like Hezbollah”.
Mohammad, an Iranian-Canadian policy analyst, attending the rally, pointed out that many protesters truly believe that the Iranian government is on the verge of collapse, the only thing that is needed is pressure from other countries. He also argued that other governments should support Iranian dissidents; “In 1978, no one thought that Shah was going to be overthrown in a year. Iranians are now ready to change their government. They need support from outside. The only difference between now and then is that US administration of Carter put pressure on Iran at that time, which was instrumental in helping people to change the regime. But Obama is supporting the Iranian regime. We are connected to the large, dissatisfied and organized opposition in Iran. We need support for bigger version of the 2009 protests. That is what the Iranian government is most afraid of.”
Many of the protesters argue that the next US administration should take bolder stance towards Iran by putting pressure on the Iranian government not only concerning the nuclear issues, but also human rights abuses.
The Iranian leaders fear: An uprising
From the perspective of Iranian leaders, NCRI/PMOI and Iranian dissidents are a graver threat to their hold-on-power in comparison to any other threat including foreign intervention. It was a major blow to Iran when NCRI revealed Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment site at Natanz. Iran state-owned media outlets do not report NCRI’s annual rally. Iran also executes people who are linked to PMOI and NCRI.
NCRI’s headquarter is in Paris, but it also has offices in Washington DC and several other major European countries. PMOI has a camp in Iraq, camp Ashraf, which has been attacked by the Iranian government several times. This week, according to Reuters, militias affiliated with IRGC Quds Force, a special elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards that operates in foreign nations, bombarded the camp by firing tens of rockets and injuring more than forty people.
Iranian leaders are concerned that more politicians and governments, particularly the next US administration, might endorse NCRI, the Iranian resistance, and the Iranian dissidents. Although President Obama seems to have abandoned the Iranian resistance, more Congressmen and global leaders are becoming advocates of NCRI. From the perspective of Iranian leaders, Iranian dissidents abroad might inspire the disaffected youth to revolt inside the country. Khamenei has repeatedly warned the youth of such infiltrations from the West.
For Iranian leaders, PMOI and Iranian dissidents, attending the Free Iran rally, can be significant threat because they can facilitate a popular uprising, a larger repeat of the 2009 protests, put pressure on Iranian politicians, and direct a change in the Iranian government, specifically when they are supported by regional and global powers.