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Source: Washington Examiner

Feb 6, 2023

By Michael Rubin - Washington Examiner - February 01, 2023

I once asked a senior American official about why he accepted honoraria from the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or the MKO, given the group’s cultlike nature and its lack of popularity inside Iran. His response: Even if the group lied about its support, they said the right things about democracy and regime change, and so he saw no harm in collecting the cash. The regime’s fall, he said, would be a moment of truth: Either the MKO would prove itself right, or its political Ponzi scheme would collapse.

The problem with engaging in the MKO’s endorsement-for-cash scheme is the impact it has on ordinary Iranians. I spent seven months in Iran during the 1990s, during both the administrations of the late President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his successor Mohammad Khatami.

MKO representatives have rejected my calls that they open their books and suggested I must do so first, suggesting that this Jewish neoconservative ex-Bush administration Iran hawk must be, if not a Manchurian candidate, then a “Mashhadian” one supporting the ayatollahs’ regime.

This is silly but reflective of MKO diversion. There is no secret about my time in Iran: First Yale University and then the American Institute of Iranian Studies funded my work, which focused on language study and archival research in pursuit of a Ph.D. dissertation about telegraphy in 19th-century Iran. So too was my participation in a Tabriz conference marking the 90th anniversary of the 1909 Constitutional Revolution. I spoke on the telegraph system at the time. It was not riveting. After leaving Iran for the last time, I penned this short monograph on the history of secret societies and vigilante groups in the country.

Over the course of those seven months in the country, I engaged with hundreds if not thousands of ordinary Iranians: shopkeepers, bus drivers and passengers, grocery store clerks, doctors and lawyers; Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and Muslims; and residents from the Azeri northwest to the Baluchi southeast. Most ranged from apathetic to hostile toward the regime. Even bureaucrats no longer believed the regime’s lies.

While the regime banned me from Iran more than two decades ago, I have continued my conversations. I regularly meet Iranian religious pilgrims in Iraq; it is not hard to strike up a conversation in the lounge of Baghdad or Najaf International airports. Whether in 1996 or today, there are commonalities: Iranians do not hesitate talking about their hope for change. Some were curious about the exiled shah’s son. Many just wanted a parliamentary democracy absent the ayatollahs, and to be a normal country.

There were two items, however, on which all Iranians agreed:

First, change must be internal. Iran has suffered its share of foreign interventions over the centuries, and the country has suffered because of them. No Iranian wants to be bombed or invaded. To do so would be counterproductive and, as after the 1980 Iraqi invasion, allow the regime to rally Iranians around the nationalist flag.

Second, Iranians despised the MKO. The group was an early ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. After Khomeini purged them as rivals, many died in his prisons, but the group’s leadership fled to Iraq.

There they made two mistakes that few Iranians will forgive: They allied themselves to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as he was lobbing missiles into Iranian cities and killing their conscripted fathers, sons, and brothers. They also launched a wave of terror to destabilize the regime, killing hundreds of innocent bystanders in the process. Put another way, Iranians look at the MKO as Americans see American Taliban John Walker Lindh or deserter Bowe Bergdahl.

The point is this: Paying lip service to the MKO has a price. It endorses a group Iranians believe worse than the current regime. If John Walker Lindh gave money to aspiring American politicians, it would disqualify them in American eyes. For Iran’s leaders, those five-figure MKO honoraria are a godsend that deflates and delegitimizes the grassroots opposition. Americans should stand with the Iranian people, not sell them out for cash.

Audit the Mujahedin-e-Khalq

by Michael Rubin December 30, 2022 06:00 AM

The Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO) is a barometer of Washington corruption.

While the group describes itself as dedicated to freedom in Iran, it is anything but. Its roots lie in a combination of Islamism and Marxism. In the run-up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the group both allied with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and conducted terrorism against Americans and American companies.

Khomeini back-stabbed his MKO allies. In an episode their spokesman buries and the MKO purges from their website, the group allied itself with Saddam Hussein, killing not only regime officials but also Kurdish dissidents and ordinary Iranians.

Today, they are not much better: The ongoing Iranian revolution shows the emptiness of previous MKO claims. Iranians march for freedom and democracy, not for a cult whose leader still veils and who runs the organization as an autocracy.

Some American politicians may feel they do no harm by taking MKO cash in exchange for peppering a short gala speech with MKO talking points, but they are wrong. Endorsing the MKO is a gift to the Islamic Republic. It plays into the ayatollahs’ propaganda that the West hates Iranians rather than respects them.

The MKO, of course, rejects such reality. They embrace the big lie. MKO spokesmen claim popularity and grass roots support, and castigate anyone who criticizes them as part of some broad pro-Islamic Republic conspiracy, no matter how ridiculous. The MKO ignores their alliance with Saddam or the crimes they committed alongside Khomeini’s revolutionaries. While their galas are glitzy and seek to project an aura of popularity, their finances are opaque.

If the MKO truly was anything more than a political Ponzi scheme, they would open their books to audit. They would explain the murky origins of the money they channel through shell organizations to gain the endorsement of American and European politicians. They would explain how Maryam Rajavi lives a life of luxury, as apparently do the few prominent spokesmen whom the group allows to speak to outsiders.

Every non-profit in the U.S. must file tax returns and explain their income and spending. The MKO and its subsidiaries may not be non-profits, nor is its headquarters in the U.S., but there is no reason the group cannot voluntarily provide the minimum information expected and provided by thousands of American nonprofits.

At the very least, Alireza Jafarzadeh, who often acts as the group’s mouthpiece in the U.S., might release his tax returns just as American politicians do. It would be telling if he lives in luxury while many MKO members live in group homes and apparently donate the vast majority of their earnings to the group.

The reality, of course, is that the MKO will make every excuse not to open their books. They will bluster, but they will never hire a neutral auditor to confirm the legitimacy of their organization. To do so would be to expose the image they seek to project as an illusion carefully crafted for greedy or naïve outsiders.

Autocrats hate transparency.

There really is no difference in the desire of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his top henchmen to keep the finances of his business empire secret, and that of Rajavi and her top aides. Absent such transparency, however, American and European politicians should steer clear of the MKO, and redirect any money offered by the group to the protesters actually fighting for freedom in Iran rather than simply seeking to profit from it.

Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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