WASHINGTON, DC – Iranian dissidents, and individuals brave enough to speak with the media from within Iran, are calling for an end to the tyrannical regime they argue has left their homeland far worse off than it was before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979.
Many of those speaking with Breitbart News wished to remain at least partially anonymous, withholding their last names.
In a phone interview with Breitbart News, Maleki, 75, who lives in Los Angeles, said, “My wish is to see the death of this regime while I’m still alive and then can I die in peace.” He said he left Iran 29 years ago because he was not happy with the mullahs.
“Yes, I have family in Iran,” he said in Persian. “But I haven’t gotten in touch with them. I don’t think they are protesting solely because of their old age.”
In a phone interview with Breitbart News, a man named Mohammad, 38, who lives in Iran and could not provide his last name for fear of his life, says he supports the exiled Iranian resistance, the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK). He said he has been protesting in the streets of Iran for at least seven days. Mohammad said he was imprisoned by the regime for over 10 years. “They took my youth from me,” he told Breitbart News, adding that his marriage fell apart as a result of his detainment and he has not since seen his estranged wife or son.
He told Breitbart News one of his friends, Kaveh Salehi, 24, died in a prison in Hamedan.
The MEK has been instrumental in providing information about Iran’s illicit nuclear program to the State Department and has a solid network within the Islamic Republic which has been helpful for intelligence purposes. They are reviled by Iran’s regime and many Iranians still reject them over the group’s ties with Saddam Hussein after going into hiding in 1981, during the Iran-Iraq War. The MEK was established as a Muslim organization in 1965.
It has been referred to as “Islamist-Marxist,” a claim the group denies.
In a piece he penned for the Huffington Post, Ali Safavi, the head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)—which is the MEK’s counterpart in the United States—and President of Near East Policy Research (NEPR), wrote:
The origins of the “Islamic-Marxist” label date back to the early 1970s, when the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, sought to erode the organization’s growing popularity among young Iranians. The Iranian scholar Afshin Matin-Asgari described it as “an ingenious polemical label” used by the Shah’s regime to discredit its enemies.
However, critics of the group cite it as Marxist because of the red sickle and star on their flag.
The Viability of the MEK
Dr. Mohammed Hamzepour, founder of the Iranian American Patriots and a volunteer for President Donald Trump’s campaign, has been fighting for Iran’s freedom since 1979.
“I have no animosity toward any group,” when asked about the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK). “What I’m going to tell you is fact, whether or not you choose to accept it. The fact is the Mojaheddin at that time were very well organized, well-financed, well-informed.”
He complimented their intelligence in receiving information and establishing networks within the nation. He went on say that “Ayatollah [Mahmoud] Taleghani, who was jailed while the Shah was in power, was the only hope of the Mojaheddin.”
Taleghani was a senior Shia cleric who lived during the same time as Iran’s leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He also was opposed to Iran’s late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In his book, The Shia Revival, Vali Nasr writes, “Taleghani represents an influential clerical tendency [of Shia clerics]to blend Shia with Marxist ideals in order to compete with leftist movements for youthful supporters.”
Hamzepour said that while the MEK have financial ability and access—two key components in their efforts to help overthrow Iran’s regime—they lack internal support from the Iranian people. “They had been supported by several different parties,” Hamzepour said. “They have money, access, everything. The only thing they don’t have is support from the Iranian people inside Iran.”
Ultimately, Hamzepour said, “The people of Iran say they would rather keep the mullahs in power than having the Mojaheddin. They’d rather have the crazy ayatollahs.” When asked why, he said, “With the ayatollahs, you know what you’re getting. With the MEK you don’t know what you’re getting. They have no legitimacy. All this money will be exhausted.”
Two Sides to Every Story
There are also some Iranians who were dissatisfied with the late Shah because they incorrectly viewed him as a puppet for the West.
As the Daily Beast notes:
The accusation that the Shah was a ‘puppet’ of the West and particularly the Americans is an old canard disproven by the most recent scholarship. To the contrary, the Shah was a strong nationalist whose ambitions led to protracted and intense disagreements between Tehran and Washington over the direction of Iran’s foreign and domestic policies.
There have been calls for the return of the shah and for Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who has been vocal in the media sharing his support for the Iranian people since the December 28 protests began. In an interview with Reuters, Pahlavi said, “My message to the outside world is, don’t let the Iranian people down again,” like they were let down under former President Barack Obama in 2009. “Today, the people are risking their lives but what they want to know is that this time their voices will be heard.”
Mohsen Shenasi, a captain with Iran’s Imperial Navy under the late Shah for 27 years, told Breitbart News he was thrown into the notorious Evin Prison in 1979 along with many of his fellow naval peers and remained there for 13 months. His eyes became teary when he recalled his experience and longing for the Iran he once knew. “It was really something else back then,” he said. At one point, he had to look away to gather his emotion.
A video posted on YouTube the day after the December 28 protests began records one such instance of this. Protesters are saying, “return to Iran, Reza of Iran,” referring to Iran’s crown prince:
“Yes. They definitely want the Crown Prince Reza Shah to return,” Hamzepour said. Asked how long he thinks it will take for Iran’s government to falter he said, “I think the regime will fall very soon. It’s a matter of months.”
‘That’s My Motherland’
Nooshin Meshkaty, 55, said she came to the United States when she was 15. She is a member of a seven-person executive council as part of the Iran National Council for Free Elections; a group that was founded by Iran’s Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who also served as the group’s president for three years before stepping down from his position, “because he doesn’t believe in a lifetime presidency for anything,” Meshkaty said.
“That’s my motherland,” she said of Iran. “So I’m hoping for a day that I can go back and visit.” Her sentiment is shared by thousands of Iranians throughout the world.
“As someone who has spent most of her adult life in America, there is not a day that I don’t think about that country because of what we had and what we lost,” she said. “Especially seeing how many people who are below the age of 35 are standing up against this regime shows me that this regime has no hope.”
Asked why, Meshkaty said, “They are born under the regime and one would think they are brainwashed, but the fact that they were born and raised under this regime and are now standing up against it proves otherwise.” She added, “It gives me hope.”
“I have hope that we will have a referendum and an election that is observed by international groups that can see that it is truly a free election,” she said. “And we will have a national council that will recognize all parties and all groups that would like to participate and have a nomination for the free elections observed by the neutral international groups to make sure they are truly free elections.”
Asked if she sees the demise of Iran’s Islamic regime, she said, “I definitely see the regime falling, but I don’t see it happening in the next month. I know the movement to bring it down has started.”
Planning the Next Steps
So far, media have reported 25 deaths during the protests. Many suspect that number is far higher and expected to rise.
Three of the 25 deaths reportedly took place in prisons. Iranians authorities have claimed these prisoners committed suicide.
“Of course they call it suicide,” Meshkaty said. “But these are kids who were tortured by these brutal agents of the regime.”
Amir Fakhravar, 42, founder and senate chairman of the National Iranian Congress, told Breitbart News he was a prisoner in Iran for nearly six years. “I have been arrested 19 times over the course of 14 years, until I escaped the country,” Fakhravar said. “I was arrested for my student activities. I was tortured while I was in jail and most of my bones were broken.”
“I organized these peace protests throughout Iran,” Fakhravar told Breitbart News. “We had originally invited people to come out on Saturday, December 23. We use our Telegram news channel, Amad News, which has 1.5 million followers.” He said, “About 10 million people are watching and following us through our various media channels. We are very influential in Iran.”
He said a cargo fire on a ship that took place off the coast of China was such a distraction “The regime wanted to use this incident to distract people from the protests that are still happening in Iran.”
Of the civil uprising, Fakhravar said, “The protest are still alive. We’ve changed the tactics. we are the ones who are leading the people. The other opposition groups, the Mojaheddin, Reza Pahlavi, have no idea what’s happening,” Fakhravar said.
“These protests are not just protests. This is not just a movement. This is a revolution,” Fakhravar said. “We are calling it the Constitutional Revolution,” he said referring to a constitution he and his organization drafted and introduced during a conference on Capitol Hill in March. “We’ve worked for this revolution and drafted a constitution for the future of Iran.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Samira Damavandi, who has served as the Office Administrator for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) since September 2017, said, “We have been talking to our cousins on Telegram and checking in with them.” Damavandi added, “They all said, ‘No, I don’t know anyone protesting.'”
NIAC, which was founded by Trita Parsi in 2002, is regarded as a pro-Iranian regime lobbyist organization which has often acted in favor of Iran’s government. Parsi and NIAC were instrumental in helping with the passage of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).