President Trump recently appointed John Bolton, previous US ambassador to the UN, as his new National Security Advisor to the confusion of many, especially Iranians. Within the Iranian community, Mr Bolton has been introduced as a supporter of the Mujahideen-e Khalq, a group which for the past four decades, in both its theories and practice, has damaged its credibility among the Iranians. The Kurds in particular, for example, have not forgotten how the MEK participated in the Anfal genocide, where alongside Saddam Hussein, they killed thousands of Kurds after a pro-democracy uprising in 1991. In the following year, a US congressional research service report detailed the evidence if their complicity, on the basis of U.S government sources. The Kurdish people of Kermanshah and Ilam also have a negative view on the MEK, considering that in its failed armed force operations in Kurdish inhabited regions, Kurdish lives were lost, and more importantly, seen as unimportant to both Iran and the MEK.
But John Bolt’s relations with the Mujahideen-e Khalq, whether out of ignorance or denial, continue to persist to this very day, leaving many Iranians confused. The MEK was a spearhead of Iran’s so-called Islamic revolution, and it helped Ayatollah Khomeini to weaken non-Islamist groups after the 1979 revolution. In fact, the leaders of the MEK only started to oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran after Ayatollah Khomeini announced himself as the supreme leader. It was a power struggle, and not a genuine desire to establish a democratic system in Iran, which pushed the MEK to oppose Ayatollah Khomeini.
And there are many other reasons for people to dislike the MEK. The MEK joined Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. With Bolton’s expressed support of the MEK, those who oppose both the Iranian government, and also the organisation, find themselves in a bind – having to prove themselves to those who oppose the government in Iran and abroad. Iranian state media, as well as pro-Iranian government journalists and organisations in the US and Europe, have been using John Bolton’s relations with Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) in order to push back against Iranians who oppose the government, knowing very well that the MEK does not have much support amongst Iranians at home.
Support for the MEK also leaves Iran’s minority communities feeling insecure. The MEK represents a Shia ideology which is seen as a dangerous sign for minority religious groups in Iran who do not see any difference between the current government in Tehran and the MEK. During the Iraq-Iran war, the MEK was eager to take power and the group cooperated with Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, a fact which Iranians, including the majority who oppose the regime, have not forgotten about and the MEK has not apologised for its cynical mistakes when they sided with Khomeini and then Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, for ethnic minority groups, such as Kurds, Balouchis, Azaris or Arabs who form more than half of the population on Iran, the MEK does not represent a progressive movement, but a different face of the same despotic Islamist system in place.
The MEK is also, simply put, seen as an archaic organisation with no legitimacy in the eyes of many Iranians. The youth represents the majority of Iran’s population and the MEK who represent a Shia based Islamic ideology consequently cannot be attractive to the new generation in Iran. The group does not have wide support amongst Iranian people including the young generation, neither does it have a wide network of organised members inside the country. The MEK’s major activities are on social media rather than being able to organise mass demonstrations in Iran. Nevertheless, the MEK has some elements placed inside the government who pass information to the group. As such, replacing the current autocratic government with another government or group represented by a religious group cannot be an option for young Iranians who want democracy, prosperity and a secular state. Iranians have been living under autocratic Islamic rule for the past four decades and the idea of being ruled by another Islamist group is not an appealing choice for the majority of the population.
The reason the Iranian regime and its affiliated organisations and journalists in the West have been pumping news about John Bolton’s relations with the MEK must be seen as a counterattack by Tehran. Indeed, the regime knows that using this relation will only work in its favour. The Iranian government’s affiliates have therefore been spreading the idea that ‘US supports the MEK to overthrow the government in Iran’, and it’s not surprising that for even those who oppose the Iranian government, many can conclude that the US establishment implies that it would like to replace Ayatollah Khamenei’s cult with another cult.
In light of all this, investing heavily on the MEK could only backfire as it has not clarified its position on its actions in the past which the majority of Iranians despise this group for.
John Bolton’s views have been clear to everyone when it comes to the Iran Deal and the future of the government in Tehran. He wants regime change in Iran and he is against the JCPOA but this is not the reason for confusion amongst Iranians, instead, it is his previous and current relations with the MEK that should be clarified. Have there been any changes in his relations with the MEK since he took his new position? This should be publicly announced in order to clear any confusions amongst Iranians who want change, democracy and a better future. Furthermore, the MEK can attract Iranians after clarifying its position on the allegations mentioned above. Has the MEK changed since the 1990s? This has to be announced only by the MEK leadership and members and it must be visible for Iranians in practice. If not, then this could weaken Iranians’ efforts for change in the country.