Iranian opposition abroad finds new voice amid protests

Daily demonstrations have been held outside the Iranian Embassy in London. (AN Photo)
Updated 08 January 2018

Iranian opposition abroad finds new voice amid protests

LONDON: Iranian opposition groups in the West have been vocal in their calls for the overthrow of the regime during the recent widespread protests across Iran. 
Daily demonstrations have been held outside the Iranian Embassy in London while supporters at a rally on Thursday organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its affiliate The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) echoed protesters’ chants of “down with Khamenei, down with dictators” opposite the UK prime minister’s residence.
Headquartered in France, the PMOI, which is also known as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), claims to be the Iranian government in exile. Founded in 1965 in opposition to the shah, it has a chequered past in the UK, Europe and the US, where it was designated a terrorist organization until being delisted in 2008, 2009 and 2012 respectively.
Laila Jazayeri, director of the Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK, which is under the NCRI/PMOI umbrella, said: “The fact that the PMOI was named among designated (terror) groups was the work of the Iranian regime. It was part and parcel of a political deal, part of an appeasement policy.
“It is time for change and it is time for all Western leaders to wake up to the reality and stop tying their fate to a regime that has no future.”
Before the Iranian revolution in 1979, the group conducted bombing campaigns against the shah’s regime, and then against the theocratic government during the 1980s and 1990s. They also attacked American targets and supported the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran shortly after the revolution.
Its stance changed after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with the group claiming to have renounced violence and lobbying for support against the Iranian government among Western parliamentarians and building relationships with politicians in the Europe and the US.
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and president of the International American Council, described the “paranoia with which the Iranian regime officials constantly speak about the group at home, including the most recent appeal to the French president by Hassan Rouhani, in which he blamed the MEK for its role in the unrest that has engulfed Iran over the past eight years.
“The Iranian regime has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to demonize the PMOI and portrayed it as a group without popular support,” Rafizadeh, an Arab News columnist, added.
Some experts in the UK and US questioned the PMOI’s relevance after decades in exile.
“They have a support base in London, Paris, Washington, but to really become viable as a national alternative to the Islamic Republic they would need to do a lot more to attract people to their cause,” said Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.
“They have their hardened core supporters, but that is not going to cut it as far as becoming a really viable alternative.
“History tells us that the Iranian opposition are immensely fragmented — they have a proven record of not getting along. That just helps the Islamic Republic,” he added.
Speaking to Arab News at a rally in London, Azadeh Hosseini, a member of the Anglo-Iranian Teachers Association, said: “We’re here to be the voice of the Iranian people and express our support for the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the PMOI, who have been striving for peace and democracy in Iran since the Iranian regime came into power.”
“Unfortunately Western governments have been very late in condemning the actions of this regime,” she said.
Protesters at the rally in London represented “Iranian people from all walks of life inside Iran,” Jazayeri said, adding: “The PMOI has been after regime change for the last four decades.”
The PMOI’s former association with Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, when the group conducted raids into Iran during the latter stages of the Iran-Iraq war, alienated many Iranians, some of whom see them as “betrayers of the nation” according to Clement Therme, researcher fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
But Rafizadeh said they remain “the largest and most organized opposition group outside and inside Iran.”
“Regardless of what one might think of the group, the MEK is a major player in Iran. It cannot be dismissed. Not only have they roots within Iranian population, but they also have the organizational power, which makes them a leading player in any change in Iran.”

Misery mounts as Kashmir marks 100 days of lockdown

Updated 3 min 1 sec ago

Misery mounts as Kashmir marks 100 days of lockdown

  • Normal life continues to elude the valley with several schools and colleges shut, internet services suspended and prepaid mobile services barred
  • More than three months ago, New Delhi repealed Article 370 of the constitution which gave special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Kashmir completes 100 days of a lockdown on Wednesday following the abrogation of the special constitutional status of the state on August 5.

Normal life continues to elude the valley with several schools and colleges shut, internet services suspended and prepaid mobile services barred.

More than three months ago, New Delhi repealed Article 370 of the constitution which gave special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir.

It also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories (UT) – UT of Ladakh and UT of Jammu and Kashmir. A UT is a centrally administered unit where the power of the local legislature becomes subservient to the will of the lieutenant governor, a bureaucrat appointed by New Delhi.

Major mainstream leaders, including three former chief ministers of the state, continue to remain under house arrest, and nearly 3,000 civilians from different parts of the state are being held in different jails across the country.

The shops in Srinagar and other parts of the valley remain shut with businesses operating for a few hours every day.

“This is our way of resisting,” Qurban Ali, a cloth merchant in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar, said.

“New Delhi wants us to open the shop normally but people want to resist the dictates of the government. They want to tell the government that we are not happy with the decision to abrogate Article 370, or the bifurcation of the state,” Ali told Arab News.

Ghulam Rasool of Pulwama district in South Kashmir has been struggling to get his 21-year-old son released from a detention center for the past three months.

“The security forces picked up my son in August as a preventive measure fearing protest. He has been put in a jail in Agra in Uttar Pradesh and despite so many entreaties he has not yet been released. It’s really painful to see my young son languishing in jail,” he said.

Professor Sheikh Showkat of the Central University of Kashmir said: “I have not held a single class for more than three months. It feels so painful to be deprived of the pleasure of teaching. The university is only conducting necessary exams without holding classes. Students don’t come to the campus out of fear.”

He told Arab News: “I cannot remain cut off from the internet. There are some important conferences and papers to present and for that I need internet. My daughter also travelled to Delhi last time to download some important study materials.

“Kashmir has been excommunicated in this modern world. We have been deprived of modern means of communication. How long this will go one only Delhi can tell you. We have been pushed into this situation.

“New Delhi took the drastic decision of abrogating the special status without understanding the situation and without knowing the consequences. It’s now 100 days and the government does not know what to do. The irony is that this government has dismantled the structure they built in 70 years. They have also now alienated all those who have been with India. Kashmir has never been internationalized so much as it is now all because of the folly of Delhi.

“With each passing day India looks more distant. The dance of majoritarianism in the mainstream India with almost all wings of the state showing disregard to the secular values, the people in Kashmir feel more nervous.”

Srinagar-based Professor Siddiq Wahid said: “I don’t see any change taking place in the next 100 days also. No reach out to people at all. The government remains in complete denial of the criticism it is facing.

“People will continue with the resistance and they will sustain the civil disobedience against the government.”

Jammu-based Ajay Sadotra of National Conference, the oldest regional party of Kashmir, said: “People are in trouble in the valley. It’s three months still there is no attempt by the government to reach out to the people. Allow democracy to breathe in the valley.”

He told Arab News: “It’s sad that all the important leaders are still in jail and the government is more keen to manipulate media and manage headlines rather than genuinely attempt to restore normality in the state.”

Srinagar-based Dr. Hina Bhat of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said: “It is to the credit of the government that in three months no major casualties have taken place in the valley despite the landmark political decision.

“There is no curfew, no clampdown, no restrictions. If people are not opening shops it is because of the threat from the separatist groups and militants,” she added.

Bhat told Arab News: “Despite the presence of militants in the valley the situation has remained under the control of the government. I feel this is remarkable.

“Right now we cannot think of the democratic process. If you release the political leaders there are chances that they might provoke people to protest and this will lead to killings.

"Elections will take place when there is a little normality. The government is taking steps and I am sure with time life will resume when people see the good works of the government.”