Co-authored by Anne Khodabandeh
Maryam Rajavi’s Grand Gathering in Paris on 9 July was billed as her promise of imminent regime change at her behest. Instead it turned into a Grand Controversy of a different kind. This annual propaganda show advertises Rajavi’s propaganda skills in order to secure continued funding from regime change pundits. This year was dramatically different due to the unannounced presence of Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the UK and US. Certainly not a person you invite from a list in a speakers’ agency.
This year, Prince Turki’s involvement changed everything for the MEK. Not least because of public perception of Saudi Arabia as a repressive regime, particularly toward women. Turki insisted the venue be moved from Villepinte to Bourges for reasons of security. He then ordered changes to the layout of the stage and the speakers panel. Suddenly someone else was in charge of the event. Undaunted, perhaps even pleased to have such a prestigious guest, Maryam Rajavi opened the rally by praising her husband Massoud Rajavi. “May God protect the everlastingly vigilant lion” she announced while gesturing to his picture posted large around the arena. This was only to be expected. Even though he disappeared just before allied forces attacked Iraq in 2003, Massoud Rajavi is known to be the actual leader of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK - NCRI is a front name for the MEK), his wife being second-in-command.
When it was the turn of the Saudi Prince to speak, he gestured for Maryam Rajavi to sit down with the rest of the audience and listen, ensuring at the same time that she was not photographed with him in any capacity. Turki, former head of Saudi intelligence with which he is still involved, is a notoriously shrewd operator. As Ambassador to Washington he famously convinced some Americans that the backing for 9/11 came not from Saudi but from Iran. He is known to never talk off script. Therefore, there can be no doubt that when he twice announced Massoud Rajavi’s death it was not a mistake. The word ‘marhoum’ – which is understood by Arabic speakers as an expression of condolence – appeared clumsily, and thereby deliberately, inserted into his sentence.
Until that moment Maryam Rajavi had been blissfully unaware. Her lack of reaction the first time he turned to look directly at her and said ‘marhoum Massoud Rajavi’, shows that she didn’t catch what had been said. The second time the penny dropped, as did her smile. Clearly Turki had not consulted the MEK in advance on the content of his speech. And if he had made a mistake there was plenty of time afterwards to correct it. He didn’t.
So, what does this mean? Is Massoud Rajavi dead? And if so, why doesn’t his wife know, or if she does, why not say so? More importantly, why did Prince Tuki make this announcement in public during the most important event of the MEK?
Although Saudi support for the MEK goes back to the time of Saddam Hussein, the relationship was never made public. (Indicatively, the MEK have used Al Arabiya as their mouthpiece for years and much more in recent months.) Analysts have surmised that Prince Turki attended the MEK rally in order to publicly announce himself the new owner of the group.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the MEK needed new backers. Massoud Rajavi sold the services of his group to the Israelis, the neoconservatives and of course to Saudi Arabia. This is why we saw the MEK used during the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. Once agreement was reached their anti-Iran rhetoric shifted towards human rights abuses. Unfortunately for MEK backers the group has history in this respect, with Human Rights Watch and the RAND Corporation revealing human rights and cultic abuses taking place inside the MEK. As a fake opposition, the group is so reviled by Iranians that it has even attracted its own opposition!
With the rise of Daesh and other violent gangs and groups in Syria and Iraq, the MEK found new opportunities. Maryam Rajavi made overtures to the Syrian Free Army. It looked for a while as though the MEK would be able to use a new base in Albania - to which its ageing, but deeply radicalised fighting force in Camp Liberty, Iraq are currently being transferred - as a facilitating camp. The idea was to provide training and logistics to newer terrorist groups from a country on the edge of Europe but close to the Middle East. This was blocked when Albanian experts exposed it on national television.
Events in the Middle East have shifted. Saudi Arabia has come to the fore and covert threats of military conflict against Iran are an open secret in the region. But after being left in the cold by the United States, the Saudis have had to search for other allies in this venture. While Turki knows very well the MEK is nothing more than a propaganda machine and irritant for Iran, this is apparently better than nothing.
Turki’s appearance at the rally signals that whoever was handling Rajavi previously – presumably western intel services – have handed him over to the Saudis as they did in 1986 when Rajavi was expelled from France and handed over to Saddam Hussein to help his war effort against Iran.
Massoud Rajavi, being as naïve as he is, thought he would retain the old masters and work on new projects for the Saudis. Instead, MEK experts believe that Maraym Rajavi will have understood Turki’s message as this: ‘There are no old masters, they are all gone. It is only me. And Saudi intel will not treat you like Saddam did. At that time you had a fighting force in Iraq ready to attack Iran. Now your only use is as a propaganda outlet. Nor will we treat you with the leniency that the Israelis or UK or US have shown. And so that you understand your position as our slave I have just announced your husband’s death. Now, forget about disobeying my commands. His actual death can easily be arranged at any time’.
Whether Rajavi is already dead or now killable is not known – only he can answer this - but he and his whole organisation are certainly now, body and soul, in the capable hands of the Saudi Prince. If he is still alive, Rajavi’s only role is to act as go-between to instruct his wife what she must do on behalf of the Saudis. If he is dead, some other operative will easily do instead. The Saudis, like Saddam Hussein, regard women of equal importance to goats and sheep. It would, therefore, be inconceivable they deal directly with her as the so-called feminist leader of a group whose services they are paying for.
Days have now passed since this Grand Controversy erupted. The MEK reaction following the rally was near hysterical. They issued messages in places they would never normally talk to – VOA and BBC Persian - to emphasise beyond doubt that Rajavi is still alive. In spite of this, the MEK has still not been able to actually prove this to be true. Somebody therefore is lying.
The fact is, nobody outside the MEK really cares whether Rajavi is alive or dead. But for his followers the grim reality of their future must by now have sunk in. If the MEK cannot prove – by voice or appearance – that their leader is alive, or proclaim instead that he is actually dead, it means the whole organisation has died. For if they cannot accomplish this simple task, how can they promise regime change?