Cult-like group uses its cheque book to line up prominent speakers at its events
Iran opposition hated at home wins big name government backers
The mid-summer rally on the outskirts of Paris always boasts a stellar list of high profile former US and Western officials.
The rhetoric targeting the Iranian regime always optimistically predicts its demise and a return from exile for the hosts, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, a group formerly on the US's terrorism list.
This year, as on others, the headline act was President Donald Trump’s lawyer and friend Rudy Giuliani, who declared the collapse of Iran’s Islamic regime was “around the corner”.
That the former New York mayor added at the event that he was speaking “as a private American citizen,” did not diminish his appeal to the tens of thousands of flag waving attendees.
“This government is about to collapse, and this is the time to turn on the pressure,” Mr Giuliani said.
Other speakers at the event included Newt Gringrich, the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, ex-FBI director Louis Freeh and the former US attorney general Michael Mukasey. Until his elevation to the post of US National Security Adviser, John Bolton was a frequent attendee to the annual rally, as well as other conferences staged around the world.
The MeK is a radical revolutionary group that played a leading role in the revolution that overthrew the Shah. An active participant in the white terror of persecution that followed the downfall of the monarchy, the group was expelled by the cleric regime a few years later.
Finding immediate sanctuary in Iraq, MeK became an ally of Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq war.
Its centre of operations shifted to France, where its leader Maryam Rajavi, now oversees the rebranded movement National Council of Resistance of Iran. Mrs Rajavi's husband Massoud, the long-term leader, is officially described as in hiding but has not been seen for more than 15 years.
The WikiLeaks cables revelations about the group in effect accuse it of being run on cult lines. There is a long indoctrination process for cadres. Their lifestyle choices are dictated by the leadership and rules, according to a Rand study. These include “public self-deprecation sessions, mandatory divorce, celibacy, enforced separation from family and friends, and gender segregation”.
With enormous resources at its disposal, the group offers lavish contracts for high profile speakers running into hundreds of thousands of dollars for a sequence of five or six appearances.
It has thus sustained a high profile as an opposition voice to the Iranian regime. However its efforts to co-opt successive internal protest movements within Iran have not been taken seriously.
The crackdown on the Green Movement in 2009 came as the MeK claimed a role in the protest.
Yet there is a vast gulf between its discredited image within Iran and its overseas following.
Other speakers have included James Woolsey, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, all former CIA chiefs, Bill Richardson, the ex-US ambassador to the UN, Howard Dean, ex-Democratic party chairman Lee Hamilton, the co-chair of the 911 Commission, as well as Stephen Harper, the retired Canadian prime minister, and a dozens of European MPs.