More than a dozen British lawmakers met this week with the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi to discuss the ongoing protests in the Islamic Republic and the prospect of Western support for Iranians seeking to overturn the theocratic dictatorship.
Rajavi, has been designated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, to lead a transitional government after that overthrow.
The October 20th meeting was organized by the British Committee for Iran Freedom, a multi-partisan parliamentary group that has long recognized the NCRI as a viable, democratic alternative to Iran’s current ruling system. Its parallel in the European Parliament, the Friends of a Free Iran, issued a statement earlier in October which bore the signatures of over 170 lawmakers and declared that in light of the ongoing protests, “the prospect of change in Iran has never been this accessible.”
BCIF Co-president Steve McCabe echoed this sentiment in the meeting, noting that while Iran has undergone a series of large-scale uprisings in recent years, the protests “are much more prolonged on this occasion,” having already lasted more than a month with no sign of slowing.
McCabe described the clerical regime as looking “tired and battered” and as “losing ground” to civilian protesters. Other lawmakers clarified that this trend is largely attributable to the leadership role of “Resistance Units” affiliated to the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also known as the MEK, throughout the country.
“The fact that Mrs. Rjavi has been able to establish these units of resistance inside Iran despite the suffocating repression and suppression by the regime is truly remarkable and shows on one hand the readiness of the Iranian society for another popular revolution, and on the other hand her leadership qualifications and skills,” said Baroness Verma, the former Minister of Energy, Climate Change and International Development who chaired Tuesday’s meeting.
“Thus, the UK government and other world leaders must reach out and talk to her and her organized Resistance movement about future relationships,” she added.
Her colleague Theresa Villiers similarly urged government ministers to “start to talk to Iranian opposition groups,” as a means of following through on their prior expressions of support for the protesters who took to the streets across the Islamic Republic in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Tehran’s “morality police.”
The 22-year-old Kurdish woman was accosted while visiting the capital on September 13, and accused of wearing her mandatory Islamic head covering too loosely. She was then violently arrested in the presence of her brother and beaten en route to a re-education center, where she fell into a coma. Amini died three days later.
Women and girls have assumed a particularly prominent role in the unrest. This was highlighted in the meeting as another factor setting the current uprising apart from its predecessors, of which there had reportedly been nine just since the end of 2017. When the first of those persisted through much of January 2018, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded with a speech that included a rare acknowledgement of the role played by the MEK.
Baroness Verma sought to emphasize that the increased visibility of Resistance Units and female activists are not separate phenomena but go hand-in-hand, with the MEK continually promoting female leadership within the Resistance movement. “Women’s role in protests did not emerge overnight or spontaneously, but is rooted in 40 years of struggle against the misogynous regime,” she said. “The role of women in the democratic opposition, the NCRI and also the MEK has been a source of inspiration for the Iranian women to follow.”
Rajavi, herself, emphasized this same point in the remarks she delivered at the meeting. “The central issue of the present uprising in Iran,” she said, “is that the brave, young women of Iran are leading the way and the world admires their role. Iranian women have been deprived of their fundamental freedoms and rights over the past four decades. Nevertheless, they have always been at the forefront of the anti-regime struggle.”
She went on to add: “Iranian women know very well that freedom of choice in all personal, social, and political fields, including freedom to choose their attire and the right to political and social participation, is possible only if the mullahs’ religious dictatorship is overthrown.”
Rajavi pointed out that even some regime officials have acknowledged that the ongoing protests take aim at the entire ruling system and are not limited to any particular issue. This sentiment is expressed in slogans such as “death to Khamenei”, referring to the Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. It is also a sentiment that several participants in October 20 meeting urged their fellow Western lawmakers to embrace in lieu of hoping for meaningful reforms under the current system.
“The problem is not the behavior of the regime,” said former Defense Secretary Dr. Liam Fox. “The problem is the regime and the essence of the regime itself. This is a dangerous thug autocracy underpinned by an extreme theocracy, which is rooted in a medieval mindset and which has no place in the modern world.”
Fox went on to recommend that the UK take concrete steps toward undermining that regime and creating the circumstances in which the Iranian people can realize their long-sought ambition of overthrowing it. These include designating the regime’s primary repressive institution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a terrorist group, expanding economic sanctions to include the families of key officials, and banning the regime’s official airline, Iran Air, from British airspace.
Other participants in the meeting endorsed these and other recommendations while also highlighting the importance of simply sending clear and unequivocal signals of support to the Iranian activist community.
“We, as a Western democracy, should have the courage to stand up and be counted for what we believe in,” said Sir Roger Gale before addressing Rajavi directly and saying, “Please, believe us when we say we are utterly united in our support for your cause, and we will continue that support for as long as it takes to deliver the freedoms, the democracy that you and your people deserve.”