Exiled Iran opposition group gathers online to press 'uprising'
AFP, , Friday 17 Jul 2020

With prominent supporters from Europe and the United States, an exiled Iranian opposition group on Friday held its annual conference online to press for "uprising" and regime change in Tehran.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is outlawed by Iran, held a physical meeting of just a few dozen at its base in Albania, but said thousands more joined in online.

The event at its base of Ashraf 3 in Albania was addressed in person by the NCRI's France-based leader Maryam Rajavi who stood in front of conference delegates but also a bank of hundreds of screens as guests dialled in from outside.

"Our first commitment is that we, the Iranian people and the Resistance, will overthrow the clerical regime and will reclaim Iran," she said.

"The final word is that the mullahs have no solutions and their regime is doomed to fall in its entirety," she said.

- 'Within reach' -

Rajavi pointed to the recent protests that have swept Iran as the economy suffers under sanctions and the "maximum pressure" policy of US President Donald Trump, including the November 2019 demonstrations against a petrol price hike.

She claimed the organisation had sympathisers on the ground working to record the events in Iran saying: "These activities serve as the spark for the uprising. They sacrifice their lives to keep ablaze the flame of uprising."

Echoing Rajavi's message were foreign speakers who included British MP Matthew Offord, French MP Philippe Gosselin and former Polish foreign minister Anna Fotyga.

But the star attraction was US President Donald Trump's lawyer and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani who had repeatedly appeared at NCRI events.

"This regime is on the brink right now," he declared via Zoom, pointing to Iran's handling of the coronavirus crisis.

"Regime change in Iran is within reach. Don't listen to the pessimists," he said.

- 'Massoud is our leader' -

The NCRI is regarded as the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), known in English as the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI).

The MEK backed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution that ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi but rapidly fell out with the new Islamic authorities and embarked on a campaign to overthrow the regime.

The MEK then sided with Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, a strategy that earned them the moniker of the "monafeghin" (hypocrites) in Tehran.

Thousands of its alleged members were executed in a ruthless crackdown in the late 1980s and since then its campaign against the Islamic Republic has been waged in exile.

Its fighters based in Iraq had by 2016 relocated elsewhere in an accord with the US and UN, notably to Albania.

For detractors, the MEK is a cult-like group that forces its members to avoid sexual relationships and vastly overstates its influence inside Iran.

But its Western supporters, many of whom are neoconservatives and have considerable clout in Washington, see it as a viable force for change.

Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton, who was sacked earlier this year, is a prominent supporter of the NCRI but was not scheduled to speak at the event.

In 2009 the European Union struck the MEK from its list of terror organisations while the US followed suit in 2012.

As Rajavi spoke, those present chanted the name of her husband Massoud who was long the leader of the group and has not been seen for decades. But the group has never confirmed his death.

"Massoud Rajavi is our leader and we will achieve our victory," chanted the supporters. "We will achieve our victory," Maryam Rajavi responded.