The ground for changes to the organisational structure
The Mojahedin’s internal structure and organisation at the time of the revolution in 1979 would have allowed the possibility of it eventually evolving into a democratic rather than remaining a revolutionary organisation. After 1985 that possibility no longer existed. From its inception the Mojahedin was governed by a Central Committee, a group of people who were deemed ideologically qualified to lead, and who could be replaced over time by others more competent. The execution of the Mojahedin's original leaders in 1972 left the organisation vulnerable to perversion. At the time of the pseudo-leftist deviation, it was Rajavi who maintained the organisation's Islamic identity.
Inside prison, a core group of members, led by Rajavi, built up trust between themselves, so that upon their release in 1979, they were able to re-establish the organisation's structure and ideology. Rajavi further used this trust to establish the loyalty of these members, and took as many of them as possible to Paris with him, leaving those who might challenge him, inside Iran. Those who accepted this corruption of power inside the organisation stayed with Rajavi and became corrupted in turn. Those who challenged the corruption either left the organisation or were killed in Iran in the ensuing repression.
But in spite of his ambition, there was a balance between Rajavi himself wanting to become leader, and the organisation actually pushing him into this role by its total dependence upon and trust in him. The Mojahedin held him up as the ideological teacher, the representative and Presidential candidate; they praised and fawned around him.
It is arguable, that both culturally and politically, after the fall of the Shah, nobody was looking for the establishment of a democracy. The dominant culture was that of finding a hero to look up to and follow. Now a 'bad' Shah had gone, everyone was individually looking for their version of a 'good' Shah to solve all the problems. There was no culture of collective responsibility and this provided a breeding ground, fair game, for people with ambitions like Khomeini or Rajavi. The same reasoning holds for why the majority of people in Iran followed Khomeini and why many continued to follow him for so long.
Rajavi begins self-publicity
After he was safely out of Iran in 1981, Rajavi was quick to promote himself as the Mojahedin's leader. The subtle tracks of his self-aggrandisement can be found in the organisation's own publications. One early pamphlet is entitled 'Interview with Mojahed Brother Mas'ud Rajavi (one of the leaders of the Mojahedin) about the National Council of Resistance N.C.R. Paris August 1981'. Clearly Rajavi was still regarded by the organisation as 'one of the leaders'. Soon, in a publication in September 1981 'Iran - Gains in four months of Resistance - Guidelines for future stages, Message of Brother Mojahed Mas'ud Rajavi to the heroic people of Iran', it becomes clear that Rajavi has a different view of himself and his role. In this publication, only four months after the 20th June 1981 demonstration, he describes Mousa Khiabani as:
'my deputy and lieutenant in every political, military and organisational aspect.’
Rajavi goes on to urge:
'Pay full attention to his political instructions and his military commands as before.'
This begs the question, before what? It very much appears that by demoting Khiabani to deputy and by default promoting himself to leader, Rajavi feels the need to reconfirm that Khiabani is still in charge inside Iran. But only just. By making the statement he undermines Khiabani's position. In any case it didn't matter much because it was inevitable that Khiabani would be killed sooner or later, thus leaving Rajavi more room for manoeuvre.
The Central Committee members and other high ranking members of the Mojahedin, had no reason early on to suspect Rajavi of plotting to promote himself as sole leader and so were not aware of the import of such statements in respect to themselves. As one of the longest surviving members, they regarded Khiabani, as almost equal to Rajavi in ideological competence. Reference to him, as his deputy had no other meaning than this. It would not have been interpreted at this time as expressing a hierarchy of power as much as the hierarchy of ideological competence, which they all abided by.
A different publication two and a half months after the 30th Khordad (20th June 1981) demonstration, is entitled 'PMOI The message of the People's The Mojahedin Organisation of Iran on the occasion of the beginning of the seventeenth year since the foundation of the organisation and the great, historical days of September'. The 6th September 1981 marked the seventeenth anniversary of the PMOI. The message was published from inside Iran after the foundation of the NCRI. It refers throughout to 'we' as the PMOI and refers to Rajavi in such terms as 'our Brother Mas'ud Rajavi's relentless efforts abroad'.
It is rather sad to see how much trust they put in him and how they viewed him as their saviour. Nowhere does it imply that he is their leader or that they have the notion of such a concept. The document is presented by the PMOI, that is, as an organisation rather than by any individual. This had always been the way until Rajavi started to promote himself as 'The' representative. The space between the abortive 30th Khordad coup until the establishment of the NCRI, effectively marked the beginning of the end of the Mojahedin as its founders had conceived it. After this, everything that Rajavi does is for his own benefit and aggrandisement.
Rajavi's first initiatives in taking control
Once firmly ensconced in Paris, Rajavi started off placing himself further and further away from critical eyes. He would not join with others without thorough preparation first. He delegated work in such a way that there would always be other people to take any ensuing criticism. He only opened himself up for public access when it was time to garner the fruits of the Mojahedin's efforts, such as in interviews, publications in his name, and in meetings in order to show his face in important forums. Rajavi's worst nightmare continues to be that a reporter or anybody, who could challenge him in public, corners him. He has never allowed that to happen. Every interview has to be arranged, recorded and checked personally by him. This has led to many conflicts with the media, which have not accepted his conditions. Rajavi has taken journalists to court or even boycotted the BBC when he could. Whenever there has been a mistake and critical journalists have reached him, the person responsible has been punished. The punishment is usually degradation and humiliation for a period of time, and then sending them to wash tanks or clean vegetables as their new duty. In severe cases, they can be sent to a room for weeks, to write self-criticising reports in order to find out what is wrong with themselves ideologically.
On 8th February 1982, Mousa Khiabani, in charge of operations inside Iran, was killed. Rajavi's wife, Ashraf, was also killed. One of their personal bodyguards had been an informer to the regime, and they were ambushed in their safe house in the north of Tehran. The death of the second most ideologically competent member of the leadership cadre began to open the way for Rajavi. If anything had happened to Rajavi, it would have been perfectly feasible for Khiabani to take over his role as spokesperson. Khiabani was a passionate and moving orator in his own right. It was his additional courage and skill in the military field, which led to him being left in Iran while Rajavi was ordered abroad. As long as Rajavi believed that he could become the sole leader of the Mojahedin - and it is by no means clear at what stage he began to see this as a real possibility - Khiabani represented his biggest threat. His death relieved Rajavi from having to challenge his beloved friend and deeply admired fellow combatant.
When Khiabani and the others were killed in their safe house, Rajavi and Ashraf's son, Mostafa was taken away from the scene and given to Rajavi's parents to care for. Later he was sent to Paris to be reunited with his father with the approval of Khomeini. This is something Rajavi would not have contemplated doing if he had seized Khomeini's son. Mostafa, together with Maryam's daughter Ashraf, from her marriage to Mehdi Abrishamchi, grew up in the best part of Paris and received the best possible education. At the same time, other parents in the Mojahedin were required to send their children to the hostels in Germany and elsewhere to take part in the street fund-raising activities for Iran Aid etc.
Rajavi has tried on every occasion possible, to represent Mostafa as his successor, using outrageous arguments such that the succession of the Shiite Imams was from father to son, among others. Mostafa now lives in Iraq and heads a new military regiment for young people - meaning the children of the Mojahedin who have been returned to Iraq - which was established by Rajavi. He is thereby grooming Mostafa for the future to take over from him.
The Mojahedin outside Iran - the organisation he inherited
During the time of the Shah, there was no official representation of the Mojahedin outside Iran. Their literature, including their court defences, were published by the Islamic Student Society which was Islamic based, or by the Confederation of Iranian Students Outside Iran, a secular, predominantly Marxist organisation. A publication named Mojahed, was published by Ghotbzadeh (later an official of the regime and killed for alleged involvement in an American plot against the regime) and was distributed by postal subscription only. The publication did not have direct contact with the Mojahedin, but would publish their views as far as possible.
Reza Raisi was one of the close friends of Mohammad Hanif-Nezhad. He had been in close contact with the Mojahedin since its inception and had escaped from Iran when they were being attacked in the early 70s. He took up residence in London, studying a PhD. in politics. Then, about two years before the 1979 revolution, Raisi started an organisation named Committee in Support of the Mojahedin.
Raisi had highly developed organisational skills and a good background in politics as well as religious knowledge. He was easily and quickly able to establish his new organisation's headquarters in London, with branches in the USA and France. He began recruiting and teaching potentially acceptable members and held classes and discussions as well as activities in order to promote the ideology and political views of the Mojahedin.
At the start of the revolution, they changed the name to the Moslem Iranian Student's Society, later changed to Confederation of Moslem Iranian Students' Societies in Europe and America. These were of course the boom days and suddenly there were branches in every major city and a lot of work was being done, including producing publications in several different languages and reprinting and distribution of Mojahed newspaper in the Iranian communities in the West.
Shortly before 30th Khordad, Raisi visited Iran and met with the Mojahedin there. Up to this point, the contacts had been made by telephone and telex. Shortly into his trip, Raisi telephoned from Iran to his headquarters in London to say that he had some problems and that he would be back in England later than expected. The next day, the Mojahedin called London to say that Raisi had been demoted and no longer represented the Mojahedin. They said they would immediately send someone else.
By the time Raisi returned to the base in London, there had already been visits from two people from the Mojahedin. They had held lectures in which the official message was that anybody who accepts the Mojahedin without question can stay, or else people should go. Since people at the lectures regarded themselves as devoted supporters of the Mojahedin inside Iran, only a handful that felt uncomfortable with this demand for obedience left. In this atmosphere, when Raisi came to the base, nobody was willing to listen to him. He left the base and went back to his studies. Later, Raisi announced his opposition to the way the organisation was being run. Much later he returned to Iran and took up a teaching post at a university, having no further involvement with the Mojahedin headed by Rajavi.
Raisi had created an organisation which was well structured and effective. It encouraged its members to be educated in the ideology and to think and to question and to be actively involved in the progress and development of the organisation. His generous and idealistic nature allowed him to give responsibility to others and to encourage growth and independence in the members. He believed that the members should be encouraged to develop competence both ideologically and organisationally. That is, he believed in a meritocracy in which those who were able were promoted. This contrasts totally with Rajavi's idea that only those who worship him can be promoted.
The organisation was very active and effective, carrying out various programmes aimed at the large Iranian student communities in Europe and the USA. This existing experience and structure allowed the Mojahedin to gain a lot of support after the revolution. They had the facilities, methods and members at their disposal to perform a propaganda coup, which no other Iranian organisation outside Iran was able to match. All the publicity which the Mojahedin were able to gain against the human rights abuses of the regime, were as a direct result of Raisi's organisation's strength.
After Raisi left, the Society underwent a radical re-organisation. The classes and teaching stopped and more activities were programmed. The anti-Khomeini demonstrations in London and other Western capitals were made more and more radical until shortly after that, the order came to seize embassies throughout Europe and the USA. The message was passed down that the Society had been passive and had been too inward looking because of Raisi. Now was the time for action not classes. Members were instructed to either make money for the Mojahedin or get involved in some action such as selling papers, working in Kebab shops, or seizing embassies or hunger strikes etc. As a result, the existing members of Raisi's organisation with local knowledge of their country of residence, were the ones who grew the Mojahedin in the West. It was they who took the initiative in developing these new activities, not the Mojahedin who had come from Iran.
The Mojahedin began selling their newspaper 'News on Iran' in the street to gain money and to raise public awareness. This progressed to activities such as asking people to give sponsorship money for an Iranian marathon runner. In this way, they were able to raise funds for their activities as the Muslim Iranian Student's Society. This public fund-raising was later transformed into charities and foundations like Iran Aid with a declared annual income of several million pounds, the funds from which were said to be for victims of the regime, particularly children, inside Iran. But in reality, in all their time as fund-raisers, the Mojahedin's charities and foundations throughout the West, have barely used money for anyone inside Iran and have, apart from Iraq and Western governments, been the major source of funding for their armed struggle based from Iraq. The UK’s Charity Commission eventually closed Iran Aid charity in 1997 following an investigation into the misuse of its funds in this way.
After Rajavi came to Paris, the organisation he inherited was truly progressive and ideological. It took some time for the Mojahedin to transform this Society into an obedient organisation with little to ask and little to learn. Rajavi's requirement was for a force that would work all hours of the day and do without sleep, and would unquestioningly undertake any kind of task and activity. Thinking or enquiring or learning, became something only for the top members and not something an ordinary supporter was supposed to expect. In the meantime, the policy of cutting roots and ties came to the fore, based on the experience inside Iran. As a slogan it was constantly stressed that the more you give, the more revolutionary you are. This philosophy has been used up to this day; first give all your money, financial investments and possessions including your houses and businesses. Then move into the base and give 100% of your time. Then give up your spouse and your children and then it comes to your mind and thoughts. You must give everything to the revolution, which means, of course, to Rajavi. Certainly, by the time Rajavi announced his ideological leadership in 1985, the Mojahedin membership outside Iran had become largely obedient and unquestioning.
The recruitment of members outside Iran
After coming out of Iran following the failed coup attempt of 30th Khordad, the loss of supporters in Iran was inevitable. Many were arrested, many killed and many simply became disappointed and went home to get on with their lives as best they could under the new regime. After Rajavi escaped and the rest of the head of the organisation went into hiding, it was only a matter of time before the majority of the body dissolved. But they didn't even try to solve this problem or address it. Maybe this was Rajavi's biggest mistake because it meant losing the trust of the people and it also severed the links to ordinary people.
However, outside of Iran, Rajavi was attracted by a new source of recruitment; ready, inexperienced, willing, and easy to manipulate and fool, were thousands of young Iranian students in the West, who had been encouraged by the Shah’s reforms, to study abroad. Mainly from the wealthy middle class, they were left after the 1979 revolution with their dreams shattered, and with no path to follow. Many of them had access to large sums of money which, under instruction from the Mojahedin, they extracted from their parents with lies and blackmail.
For years afterwards, the Mojahedin would encourage supporters and members to lie to their families - saying they needed money for medical or legal reasons - to get as much money as they could from the unwitting families of members. That is after already giving all they had, which in some cases, was a great deal of gold or investments and properties which parents had put in their names.
After the revolution, students who were abroad either went home or found themselves exiled because they were in disagreement with the nature of Khomeini's Islamic regime. This could have been because they were from the class who benefited from the Shah's regime, or because they were against Islamic rule, or because they were afraid, or for a whole host of other reasons. The expatriates quickly divided up into various factions, which reflected the refraction of society inside Iran. The established organisations, such as the Mojahedin and the Fedayeen, started recruiting. This was not difficult as most Iranians felt passionately about the revolution and more or less aligned themselves according to their interests. Those who were not politically minded and/or were supporters of the previous regime put their heads down and got on quietly with their lives. Some, who supported Khomeini and had ambitions to rise in that regime, returned to Iran or associated themselves with the embassies or consulates. Some students were the children of very prominent mullahs in the new regime. These kept very, very quiet. Things could go either way for them!
Another phenomenon was that the behaviour of these Iranians changed. The disco going, girlfriend-flaunting behaviour was muted and everyone tried to act a little more circumspectly. For one thing, no one was certain when their next funding cheque would arrive as all Iranian banks and assets had been frozen.
So, the Mojahedin, along with the others, started a recruitment drive. The Mojahedin had a huge advantage because of the organisation, which Reza Raisi had started two years before the revolution. It meant that there was already a group of highly organised and committed young people who could be used to garner support. The Muslim Iranian Students' Society was already becoming sophisticated in its recruitment methods and used a sort of emotional, moral blackmail against anyone who showed any interest in their activities. That is, people were drawn in because of the nationalistic argument or because they were labelled as cowards if they didn't do something to help their country and their people. The war with Iraq also helped fuel the nationalistic argument, even though the Mojahedin had no involvement in the fighting.
A great deal of recruitment was achieved through meetings and demonstrations. At every opportunity and at every excuse, they made themselves visible. In universities and colleges all over the West they established Moslem Iranian Student’s Societies. They used the facilities and grants of the Students' Unions to stage their meetings. They attracted people because of the message they gave out and because of the organisational behaviour. It is legendary that many people joined them because the individuals who made up the membership impressed them. The Mojahedin had a 'revolutionary' discipline and principled behaviour, which no other group had, not even the foreign groups, which were also prevalent at that time, such as those from El Salvador or Chile etc. The capacity for devoted self-sacrifice was attractive as a role model for young idealists. Even so, it is important to understand that new members were actively recruited using a methodology rather than simply joining because of their interest.
Once an individual expressed even a little interest or sympathy for the Mojahedin's aims, pressure was exerted in various ways to get them more involved. The most obvious pressure was purely nationalistic. The person should be fighting for the freedom of their country from the despotic grip of Khomeini. It didn't matter whether this person was Muslim or had any leanings toward the ideology of the Mojahedin, what mattered was that the Mojahedin presented itself as the only alternative for them to channel their protest.
In one case the local head of the MISS had someone shamefacedly confess to him after a meeting, that he had been implicated in giving information to the SAVAK whilst an undergraduate student in Iran. This could only have been at the most incidental and inconsequential level because this person had no information to give and couldn't remember whom he gave names to or about whom. Still, the Mojahedin set themselves up as a higher moral order and instructed him to make his confession public in the Iranian community. They wrote a short paragraph on his behalf, that he was a SAVAK agent and was truly penitent and begged everyone's forgiveness. He was required to sign this and then paste it all over his university city so that all Iranians would be aware of this. The Mojahedin then intervened to prevent him being beaten up by angry students. They used this as pressure on this individual to join them, even though he was communist by belief and wanted to remain passive. They claimed that only they could protect him and forgive him. This was another of the Mojahedin's frequent name calling episodes. As far as the Mojahedin were concerned, Iranians were either passive or active in the face of the Khomeini regime. If anyone remained passive, they were derided in such a public and humiliating manner, that many caved in and came along to meetings just to get the Mojahedin off their backs. Some hope. Once embroiled in their clutches it was very hard to get out.
Ironically, at this time it was actually extremely difficult to become a member of the Mojahedin. People had to undergo ideological and organisational training and pass tests in order to be accepted. So, although Iranians were corralled and cajoled into going to meetings and demonstrations and giving time and money to MISS activities, actual membership was held out as a barely attainable greater goal. If you became a member you had really made it.
In fact, it was easy to be thrown out of the organisation for any slight misdemeanour. One student, who was being groomed as a potential member, when working as part of a fund-raising team, was asked in one of the daily review meetings to say what he most enjoyed about the work. His reply, 'watching women' was his - probably much wished for - passport straight out of the organisation. He was never seen again!
After the Ideological Revolution in 1985, things turned around. It began to be much easier to join than to leave. The negative aspect of this can be seen now that right, left and centre the police are discovering infiltration in the Mojahedin's bases. This was happening in Europe in the early 1990s and more recently we read in their newspapers about infiltration in their army in Iraq. Many of their operations have been intercepted because of infiltration in their teams. Rajavi wanted numbers and still does. Who they are and where they came from, does not matter any more. As in the past, he still has to show an increase in numbers, although in reality, he has lost members year after year. Apart from anything else Rajavi is paid by the number of people he declares to Saddam and this is why there are always more guns than people in the camps.