Analysis and background on the people’s Mojahedin organization
CHAPTER 4/From revolution to rebellion
When, on 1 February 1979, the Air France plane landed at Mehrabad Airport in Teheran, a new page opens in the country's history. On board the plane, Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who for years led the struggle against the Shah, returns after a long exile. Neauphle-le Chateau was only his last address. He returns the victor, carried high by an enthusiastic crowd.
The king, a few days earlier, on 16 January made the trip in the other direction. He left a country beset with revolutionary risings. Like all revolutions, the one that decided Iran's fate did not happen without some elements of chance. And, like all revolutions, it will finish by "devouring" its own children when the time comes to settle accounts.
"The dynamic of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was not driven by any real class struggle, in the socio-economic sense of the term. It was the absence of freedom, the corruption which rotted the s|ystem and the social injustices which resulted from them that were perceived as the causes of suffering and pushed forward collective action...The Iranian Revolution was no simple struggle between interests. Iranians were far from being obsessed only with material issues, symbolised as money. They sought, above all, political reform and the reorganisation of 'civil society' even if they did eventually hope for economic results as well", writes Rouzbeh Sabouri. (23)
The departure of Reza Shah would be, notably, a time for libe¬rating political prisoners. The Chief of the People's Mojahedin of "an is once again free to act, again entering the life of a country from which he had been isolated for almost eight years. The PMOI states:
"Massoud Rajavi was arrested on 23 August 1971. He was freed from prison on 21 January 1979". (24)
His political-military command structure had been smashed by the SAVAK's repression. Only some underground cells survived, but without any means to act. These facts do not prevent the PMOI from rewriting its history and to proclaim boldly today:
"The Mojahedin were the real leaders of the anti-Shah revo¬lution". (25)
At the moment that power was seized, centrifugal forces oppo¬sed each other.
They were two necessarily conflicting philosophical positions on the nature of the new world that was dawning. Nonetheless, the PMOI called on 1 April 1979 for the establishment of the Islamic Republic. They were avoiding a premature confrontation, since the Islamic Left had still not had time to build its base.
An explosive situation
Despite appearances, the stands were irreconcilable, even if contacts had taken place since 1972 between followers of Aya-tollah Khomeini and the Politburo of the Organisation of the People's Mojahedin of Iran.
It would take two years for the hairline fracture to become a complete break.
During the parliamentary elections of August 1979, Massoud Rajavi put forward his candidacy and got 300,000 votes in the capital city.
During the winter of 1979, the situation has become extraor¬dinarily explosive. On 4 November a group of students took take over the American Embassy in Teheran.
Now forced to take a distance from this action, which would mark them as terrorists, the People's Mojahedin now deny their role in the hostage taking. Edouard Sablier, a great expert on pre-and post monarchy Iran notes that at the beginning, the PMOI was involved:
"They were about two hundred, belonging to no political group in particular, commanded by about fifteen Islamic militants who were more politically mature. Among those who climbed the fence around the Embassy on 4 November 1979 were members of the Tudeh Communist Party and Islamic-Marxist groups including the Fedayeen and the Mojahedin. Most were thrown out," writes Sablier, whose testimony on this is definitive.
The struggle with Washington went on for long months and ended with the freeing of fifty-two Americans held hostage in order to force a change in their Government's policies toward the new Islamic Republic.
But the streets did not calm down. Following months of demons¬trations, in the wake of the sovereign's flight, the forces on the ground found the means to defend their claims. Again, Edouard Sablier writes:
"The raiding of the Army and Police arsenals provided every¬one, young and old, with pistols, rifles and submachine guns. There were hardly any homes in Iran without an arsenal of arms and ammunition: Iran is a people in arms, even if the arms are not enough for a civil war or a fight against a foreign army". (26)
This was a worrying situation for the new government which tried to organise a return of the weapons; an unacceptable demand to the PMOI. From its military-political perspective it sought to confront the State. Their aim, evidently, was an armed seizure of power. For the moment, however, they would have to wait for a better time.
The precedent of the Bolshevik Revolution cannot be ignored. The revolutionary Left's herald, Lenin hid his ambitions in order to buy the time he needed to gather up his forces. History has shown the result. Gerard Chaliand gives us the model:
"The Party of the Marxist-Leninist type is an admirable war machine: secrecy, organisation and control. This remarkable instru¬ment for struggle, in very difficult times, saves the movement from collapse. But, after victory, it becomes, not a tool for development, but rather a bureaucratic and police structure". (27)
As well as they could, the People's Mojahedin of Iran coexisted ^th the regime they hoped to overthrow. To them, its would be a victirn of its lack of programmers.
This was a dynamic they were ready to push toward the final fall. Their strategy seemed adapted to the situation. Propelled to the direction of the State, very few of those who brought down the throne had any management experience.
The beginnings of the Islamic Republic were clearly chaotic, with all the attendant mistakes and excesses. The new leaders were young, full of energy, but with little in the way of knowledge and experience to carry through a smooth transition and take the reins of power without violence.
Among the revolution's priorities was the need to elect replace¬ments for the Old Regime and have as clear a policy line as pos¬sible. During the popular referendum on the new Constitution, the People's Mojahedin decided to advocate an electoral boycott. And, during the Presidential Election of 25 January 1980, in which Abdolassan Bani Sadr was the winner, Massoud Rajavi won 500,000 votes.
In spite of all its efforts, the government was reduced to impro¬vising things, trying to fill gaps left by the civil servants of the Old Regime: pushed aside or in flight. This required rebuilding an administrative system, restarting the system of supply, making sure that those committed to the exiled monarch would not take advan¬tage of the situation. This was even more dangerous since, al¬though the Army had rallied to the new regime, many in the gene¬ral staffs and in the other ranks did not view things favourably.
A true gift
During the night of Thursday 24 and Friday 25 April 1980, the Democratic Administration of Jimmy Carter attempted a helicopter-borne attack on Iran. Aiming to free the hostages, American com¬mandos set down close to Teheran. The operation was poorly prepared and "Blue Light" sank in the sand, 350 kilometres south of the capital. Several dead, the burned out wreckage of failed equipment, and the shame of a rapid retreat were the outcomes.
The attempt, a genuine act of war carried out by one sovereign State within the recognised borders of another, was a true gift to the very young Republic, still seeking its bearings. The authorities used the event to show that enemies really were there and that they were ready to strike. It was, therefore, necessary to root out their
Hies and supporters inside the nation.
"This clear defeat seemed providential to Teheran at a time when Bani Sadr and even Khomeini himself feared that no popular unity could be forged among the people," reported the French
weekly, Le Point. (28)
The fact is that, at this time, post-revolutionary anarchy reigned in Iran's main cities. Riots broke out every day and there was bloo¬dy fighting in the streets. Siavosh Ghazi, the Agence France Presse and Premiere-Radio Suisse correspondent spoke of a potential coup d'etat aimed at the eventual establishment of a Popular Democratic Republic in Iran:
"While waiting, the Mojahedin are working to train tens of thou¬sands of young people who now support them. They secretly hope to share power with the clerics. According to former president Bani Sadr, they may have even proposed to the then official successor to Khomeini, Ayatollah Montazeri (eventually removed in 1987), a division of powers. They would get the control of the State and ideology would be given to the Guide of the Revolution." (29)
But they ran into a harsh and loud refusal. The last act was being prepared. In the absence of any solution the revolution was underway.
23.- "Democracy Betrayed" op. cit.
24.- Website: "The Voice of Iran", 30 march 2003.
25.- Iran la poudriere, les secrets de la revolution islamique - by Edouard Sablier-Paris, 1980
27.- Gerard Chaliand, op. cit.
28.- Iran le coup americain - by Jean Lesieur and Alain Louyot -Le Point, 28 April 1980
29.- "Iran : les Moudjahidin ont-ils failli prendre le pouvoir?" by Siavosh Ghazi in Dossiers secrets du Maghreb et du Moyen-Orient, Paris, 1992
Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli called for tougher measures against the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, also known as the MEK, PMOI and NCRI) terrorist group by the European Union...