analysis and background on the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
CHAPTER 21/The Maryam Cult
As we have already seen, the People’s Mojahedin have given women a priority role in their organisation. This is confirmed by Agence France Presse:
“The People’s Mojahedin group, which was the target for a major police operation Tuesday in the Paris region, is the main armed opposition to the Iranian regime. Its leadership is made up largely of women.
This organisation, directed by Massoud Rajavi, whose wife Maryam is designated as the ‘future President of Iran’, established a Council of Direction in August 1993. It is made up of 24 women.
Moreover, women are half the troops in the National Liberation Army of Iran NLAI), the armed wing of the Mojahedin. Maryam Rajavi is the Deputy Commander in Chief.
Until now, the sect led by Maryam and Massoud Rajavi has followed a process of several ‘mutations’. The last ‘leap’ in the organisation’s development is marked by the perceived incompetence of men to hold posts in the direction. With the exception, of course, of Massoud Rajavi! The sect’s direction must be done by women and, surely, the men around Rajavi have to obey and accept them. Otherwise, they are jailed and tortured”. (205)
This is a strategy based on the classic model of ‘Divide and Conquer’. However, the role of women in revolutionary movements on the Left has been quite clearly defined by the major spokesmen for Marxist-Leninist ideology. Thus, once again, Mao Tse Tung gives his advice on the issue:
“Of primary importance in building the great socialist society is to lead the mass of women to participate in productive activities. The principle of “equal salary for equal work” must be applied in production. Real equality of men and women is only achievable through the process of the socialist transformation of all of society”. (206)
However PMOI’s dissidents — the female dissidents especially — show us a vision that owes nothing to the romantic mythology of the proletarian revolution:
“Moslems who joined were trying to flee the fundamentalist and fanatical interpretations of Islam, especially those concerning the status of women. In their struggle, it was never their aim to be separated from men. If they joined the Mojahedin, it was to fight against the male chauvinist domination of the mullahs. Unfortunately, they found themselves in a misogynist movement, this time exercised by the Leader himself. Whether or not they were conscious of their rights as women or human beings, including the right to love, to choose, and to freely decide their fate, they were doubly robbed and abused.
I have always asked myself why Rajavi needed to be surrounded by women. It took me a long time to understand that they were, for him, a fortress against the men. Thanks to these women, he could dominate the males and force them to obey him and accept his status as lmam. They were also a barrier against any risk of rebellion or insurrection in the ranks.
To humiliate the men of the organisation even more, he forced them to worship his wife Maryam and even to bow down before her...
For Rajavi and his followers, competence did not have the same meaning as in the dictionary. It was measured by the degree of obsequiousness and servility...
Is the Mojahedin’s Chief, as he pretends, a fervent defender of women’s rights? The answer is negative; since the organisation’s women are deprived of their basic right to choose their male partner and to have children”. (207)
One woman has escaped this sad fate. She is the one who is the object of a cult of personality as demented as that of her husband. She represents for the PMOI’s membership the ideal woman, the model: Maryam Rajavi.
The Terrorist Madonna
Marianne investigated this phenomenon:
¬“This woman, with her emerald eyes and so sweet a smile, is a pathological ‘case’. Withdrawn, secretive, unburdened by too low an opinion of herself, Maryam Rajavi, the Mistress and Muse of the People’s Mojahedin, is a surprise for the rare visitors she deigns to receive in Auvers-sur-Seine. With her hair always hidden under her Islamic scarf, the person whom the militants call the ‘Sun of the Revolution’ is a consummate user of political slogans and jargon. Denouncing the obscurantism of the mullahs in power in Teheran, she presents her organisation as a democratic model along Western lines preaching moderate Islam, which includes women’s rights. Of course, this position is at the opposite extreme from the Islamist-Marxism, in Red and Green, which never wavered throughout their years of struggle.
Her hagiographers add that Maryam Azdanlou, trained as an engineer, was heroic in her opposition to the Shah. She lost her first sister in the Savak’s prisons — and then rose up against the Islamic Republic. She was then the wife of one of Massoud’s lieutenants, with whom she had a daughter who is now 21. Her official biography says nothing about this union. Rather it emphasises Maryam’s ‘sense of organisation’ which rocketed her in only a few years to the head of the movement, after her exile in France in 1982. It was, however, only in 1986 that she became a living legend, when her second marriage, this time with Massoud Rajavi, the Mojahedin’s Chief, took place. It was a question of silencing the more puritanical militants. The matter was presented as ‘one of the most important revolutionary and ideological decisions ever taken by the Mojahedin’. Thus, Allah was great!
Since then, Maryam would be the focus of all the spotlights, worshiped as the Madonna of the martyrs... ‘Co-leader’ of the organisation in 1985, she became, four years later, its Secretary General. She was also nominated to the position of ‘Commander- in-Chief’ of the National Liberation Army, a force estimated at 10,000 troops.
These functions, which she gave up to become ‘the future President of Iran’ in 1993, were voted by the National Council, the People’s Mojahedin’s political front.
At the same time, she joined her husband in his Iraqi sanctuary. She led military parades a few kilometres from the Iranian border”. (208)
But for her husband, Massoud Rajavi, this was not his first marriage. The heart has its purposes that reason does not know, goes the popular saying:
“His wife, Ashraf, remained in Teheran in 1982 where she would be killed by the Revolutionary Guardians. Their child was kidnapped. Rajavi quickly married Bani Sadr’s eighteen year old daughter. Two years later, the men did not see eye to eye anymore. Divorce was inevitable.
Rajavi fell in love again. He fell for Maryam Azdanlou, the wife of one of his lieutenants. This kind of moral turpitude is not tolerated in a party that mixes Islam and Marxism. The movement preached self-sacrifice and Puritanism, it was not acceptable for a man to shake hands with a woman. Thus, it was important to present the lovers’ marriage as a revolutionary act. As stated, it was ‘one of the most important revolutionary and ideological decisions ever taken by the Mojahedin’. Even the betrayed former husband accepted this and congratulated the newly weds. The spiral into a sect went on. The cult of personality exploded”. (209)
An Irresistible Rise
Enjoying being invited to mass meetings, aggressively cultivating contacts with feminist movements in Europe and America — who overlooked the eternal scarf of the personality they met — Maryam Rajavi used all the cosmetic tricks of the PMOI to advertise the organisation’s struggle.
“Her return to France in the beginning of 2003 alerted the DST. Flanked by senior officials, Maryam Rajavi had mysteriously left Iraq to return to Auvers-sur-Oise. This was a worrying decision for those who for almost thirty years were watching this woman, sometimes a seductive Ambassadress, sometimes an implacable fighter. She was armed all too often with false papers and borrowed names to pursue ‘the armed struggle’. Between the democratic façade and the life and death struggle against the Iranian regime, Maryam Rajavi’s history is bonded to that of her organisation...
For Maryam, the time had come for diplomacy. In 1994, she was photographed with Abbé Pierre, among other celebrities, without ever respecting the duty of political silence which she had accepted on entering France. Yet, the militant is never far from the diplomat: back from Iraq in 1998, she addressed the NLA fighters, “The resistance is on the right tracks toward overthrowing the mullahs’ regime “. In June 1998, an attack on the main law courts in Teheran, claimed by the Mojahedin, left several civilian victims in its wake!
Five years later, the changes in the Iraqi Context forced the ‘future President’ to return to France, only to be arrested and charges with possible crimes. This was a vision that, according to Western intelligence services, her worshipers could not accept. She was the object of their ‘cult of personality’. (210)
Her rise was irresistible.
For Western specialists, Mrs Rajavi fools no one.
Liberation underlined the contradictions: ‘In Auvers-sur-Oise, some years ago, they whispered to us, just before the interview:
‘Above all do not shake hands with Maryam Rajavi’. Whether in France or Iraq, men could not greet her except from a distance: she was the Mojahedin’s ‘Sun of the Revolution’. The opposition Iranian woman may well denounce the mullahs’ obscurantism, present her organisation as one dedicated to Western-style democracy, for freedom and modernity, and preach an alternative Islam that is compatible with women’s rights, But her attitude shows nothing of her real priorities or plans.
She preaches ‘freedom of dress’ for women, but their militants are never seen in anything but severe raincoats, and the Islamic scarf. She is never without this costume, but does wear bright colours: but this coquettish touch is also acceptable in Teheran. Distant, secretive, listening only to herself, her face frozen in a permanent smile which tells nothing of her real personality, Maryam Rajavi remains an enigma. She never opens up, always refusing to meet with journalists.
Now aged 50, she has for twenty years been the incarnation of the movement. How did she conquer this party. which preached a Marxist-leaning Islam, without the mullahs and was heroic in the armed struggle against the Shah and went On to dare to oppose Khomeini’s seizure of power? How has she turned it into a politico- religious sect completely devoted to the Rajavi couple, each representing God on Earth?
It was in 1985 that Nlaryam Azdanlou began to be heard of. A metallurgical engineer, from a modest background, she was merely the wife of one of Massoud’s lieutenants. Suddenly, she married the Chief. Most Iranians find her quite beautiful. But the bitter pill of divorce and remarriage had to be swallowed by a membership marked by exceptional Puritanism. Thus, their marriage was presented as a kind of mystical union, “one of the most important revolutionary and ideological decisions ever taken by the Mojahedin”. Even the rejected husband congratulated the newly weds.
On the subject of the marriage, the views of the great classical singer, Marzieh, who sings Omar Khayyam, Hafez and Rumi have a special interest. The diva joined the organisation in 1994, literally fascinated by Maryam, whose friend she became: ‘It was she who dared choose her own husband, design her own wedding, and recite the texts that bind the couple together. This had never had happened in human history. Before these responsibilities were the man’s...’.
Throughout this entire period, in a sort of insult to the Islamic Republic, where women were marginalised, she placed women in all the command positions. This inversion of Islamic values would be amusing, were it not organised and commanded within a strict sectarianism: the will to organ ise the exact opposition of what the enemy does: ‘In opposition to the rule of the mullahs with its absolute male domination, the Iranian resistance is directed, commanded and led essentially by our women.’ she made clear. We see that in the Central Committee made up exclusively of 24 women since 1993. It is also evident in the Liberation Army in which women are 30 per cent of the force, but more than 50 per cent of the officer corps”. (211)
“A New Epic Exploit”
With wry humour, sometimes a bit cutting, Jean Gueyras tells the story of Mrs Azdanlou, the new Mrs Rajavi. The most astounding concerns the jumble of embarrassed mantras served up to the membership. After all, they had to be convinced that, in the end, the newlyweds had no choice but to sacrifice themselves for the movement by marrying.
It seems unbelievable that this childish manoeuvre had any impact at all. But “the bigger the lie...”! He writes:
“Hidden away in his country bunker in Auvers-sur-Oise, Mr Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) has mastered the art of allying the useful with the pleasurable. He sugar coats his decisions, even those about his private life, with politico-ideological statements of considerable grandiloquence. Thus, in October 1982, to justify his marriage to Firouzeh Bani Sadr, daughter of the former President of the Islamic Republic only eight months after the tragic death of his first wife, Ashraf Rab’i (killed on 8 February 1982 by the Pasdaran); he published a joint bulletin of the PMOI’s Politburo and Central Committee in which his marriage was presented as ‘one of the most important revolutionary decisions ever taken by the Mojahedin’ and as an initiative which would help consolidate the unity of the Iranian nation’.
The ‘historic event’, however, did not stand up to the test of time and the differences that developed later between Mr Bani Sadr and his son-in-law. On this last 22 February, Mr Rajavi announced ‘to his great regret’ that, after 7 months of separation, Mrs Firouzeh Bani Sadr had had a religious divorce pronounced with his agreement, given in July 1984. The Chief of the Mojahedin rapidly recovered from the shock caused by this separation and has just published his decision to marry again, this time Mrs Maryam Azdanlou, a long term Mojahid militant whom he had personally promoted on last February eighth — the anniversary of the death of his first wife, Ashraf Rab’i — to the rank of co-leader of the organisation.
Normally, such a decision should not have caused any waves in the Mojahedin’s Big Family, but the matter is complicated by the fact that Mrs Azdanlou was the legal wife of Mehdi Abrichamchi, “Number 4” in the sixty-odd members of the organisation’s hierarchy. Once again, the sixty-odd members of the Politburo and Central Committee rushed to explain why Mr Rajavi — ‘Our Great Teacher, of whom we all have the honour to be students’ — had been led to consider marriage with... the wife of one of his closest collaborators.
In a rather fuzzy-styled document of 14 pages, the members of the organisation’s governing bodies explain, first of all, that Mrs Azdanlou has been promoted co-leader ‘on an equal level with Mr Rajavi’. This was done in the praiseworthy desire to better advance ‘women’s liberation’, a long term plan of the Mojahedin Chief. it was, therefore, necessary, affirm the signatories with the greatest solemnity, to marry Massoud and Maryam. This was done to prevent ‘women’s liberation’ from being relegated to the status of ‘a simple bourgeois formula’. The Politburo and Central Committee members, however, do not want to create a precedent. They warn ‘the Mojahedin brothers and sisters’ against following this example as a general practise. They recommend it only as ‘an exceptional case’.
Now it was time to deal with the tragic-comic case of Mr Abrichamchi, who had suddenly become a burdensome husband and a real weight on the conscience of the movement’s leaders. These latter hint that, on 27 January, they had simply forgotten about him in naming his wife Maiyam to the organisation’s highest position. It was only afterwards, they claim, that they realised that Mrs Azdanlou’s promotion involved the ‘revolutionary and ideological necessity’ of a marriage between Maryam and Massoud. Consequently, there had to be a divorce between Maryam and Mehdi. If we are to believe the signers of this astonishing document, this final obstacle was overcome due to the ‘heroic’ attitude of the couple, who voluntary decided to separate, despite the contrary advice of Mr Massoud Rajavi. The Chief, ‘inspired by his own personal, human and moral values’ did not wish to break up their family.
There was a happy ending: the co-leaders of the PMOI were legally married in June, following the Prophet Mohamed’s example. He, the document recalls, ‘married the wife of his adopted son’. Mr Massoud Rajavi had, therefore, accomplished ‘a new exploit which represents a qualitative leap forward, transcending all the achievements of the Mojahedin’. As to the rejected husband, he consoled himself in ‘thanking God for having permitted [him] to participate in such a brilliant ideological decision’.” (212)
Beyond these pompous and hollow declarations lurked the unhappy reality: the family had become a target for the PMOI. This would lead to intense suffering among its women and innocent children whose loved ones had made bad choices.
For decades, Western empires have waged a silent war against Iran, using tactics ranging from supporting known terrorist groups to deposing the country’s leaders and leveraging regional rivalries. The war...