Transformations may mark demise of Mujahideen
The Daily Star Lebanon
October 16, 2003

The downfall of Saddam Hussein has been a misfortune for a number of non-Iraqi groups and organizations that benefitted from the former dictator’s patronage. Arguably the greatest losers have been the Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization. The loss of their Iraqi base has been among a series of misfortunes that has recently beset the Mujahideen. These setbacks have now placed the organization at a crossroads. Yet the Mujahideen’s eventual demise will owe less to external factors than to their own sect-like ideology.
To date, nobody has really fully explained the perplexing organization that is the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. The veteran Iranian journalist Amir Taheri entitled his recent article on the organization, carried by the Wall Street Journal, Islamist, Marxist … Terrorist. This resembles the psychological war waged by the SAVAK against the Mujahideen. The shah’s regime, in an attempt to discredit the young activist movement that had sprung up in the 1960s, labeled it Islamic-Marxist.
The Islamic Republic, in order to undercut the organization’s populist appeal, referred to it by the derogatory name of Monafeghin ­ a Koranic term for hypocrites. The message was simple: The Mujahideen pretended to be Muslims to mask their Marxist ideology. Their ultimate aim, argued the propagandists of the new revolutionary regime, was to sabotage Islam from within. Of course these propagandist terms do little to capture the complexity of an organization that has survived for nearly 40 years.
But even the distinguished researchers of academia have failed to fill the gap. The only authoratative work on the organization is Ervand Ebrahamian’s The Iranian Mujahideen, which is effectively a sociological study on the rise and fall of the organization. Ebrahamian does well to capture the organization’s transition from a mass movement to a cult in the early to mid-1980s, but he fails to adequately elucidate the mechanisms that were used to prompt the transition.
How did the Mujahideen become a cult? The principal lever for the transformation was Rajavi’s “ideological revolution” in January 1985. This “revolution” basically involved Masoud Rajavi marrying Maryam Azdanlou, the wife of Mehdi Abrishamchi, Rajavi’s most trusted lieutenant, and promoting her to the rank of joint leader of the organization.
Rajavi loyalists contend their ideological revolution was both a strategic and tactical maneuver designed to hasten the demise of the Islamic Republic. They argued that it was strategic at an ideological level as it facilitated the feminization of the organization by promoting female members to virtually all the top positions. This was supposed to present the Mujahideen as the very antithesis of the misogynist Islamic regime. It was deemed to be a tactical ploy as it supposedly confused the understanding and planning of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services and minimized the risks of penetration and subversion.
In fact the whole thing was primarily a purge. Hundreds of veteran Mujahideen members immediately split from the organization for they saw the whole affair as an ugly and bizarre form of cuckoldry.
Yet the ideological revolution moved on from being a purge to becoming an all-consuming cultist ideology. The Mojahedin claimed the sudden empowering of female members was in line with their vision of a matriarchal utopia. In reality this bizarre form of feminism consolidated Rajavi’s hold over the organization as the newly empowered female cadres owed everything to him.
The ideological revolution not only disconnected the Mujahideen from the outside world, but it took them to the depths of depravity. It moved beyond a pseudo-feminist revolution to a tool against the very idea of sexual identity.
The culmination was a series of lectures delivered by Masoud Rajavi to his flock in March 1991. The setting was in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War with Iraq engulfed by a Kurdish and Shiite rebellion. The Mujahideen were assisting the Iraqi regime in quelling both uprisings. This move had proved unpopular with some MKO cadres. Masoud Rajavi, fearing that his organization was in danger of dissolving, started the “second” ideological revolution. Rajavi’s lectures were ominously entitled as “Salib” or the Cross. Rajavi contended that what threatened the organization more than anything else was the members’ attachment to their families. The solution, according to Rajavi, was a full scale war on sex and sexual identity.
By de-sexualizing his flock Rajavi had finally secured the transition to full cult-like status. The Mujahideen now inhabited a bizarre de-sexed parallel universe. In practical terms Rajavi had carried out a second thorough purge of his organization. The remaining members were now embodiments of Rajavi himself. The second ideological revolution had made the survival of the Mujahideen contingent on the survival of Rajavi.
The only contemporary parallel to the bizarre organization headed by Rajavi is arguably Peru’s insurgent Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in their heyday in the late 1980s. Like the Shining Path’s “Presidente Gonzalo,” the now imprisoned Abimael Guzman, Rajavi is the great pretender, the student turned master theoretician and terrorist leader. The Mujahideen resemble the Shining Path in mixing pseudo-Marxist abstractions with local mythologies and like them they inhabit a parallel matriarchal universe.
But the Shining Path were not mercenaries at the behest of the highest bidder. The Mujahideen’s history, meanwhile, is a catalogue of treachery. The organization spied for Moscow. Vladimir Kuzishkin, the former head of the KGB station in Tehran, disclosed in his memoirs that the Mujahideen were a source of information for the KGB. For nearly 20 years the Mujahideen were Saddam Hussein’s proxy army. And since the Iraqi dictator’s ouster they have done everything in their power to endear themselves to the new American masters of Iraq.
But those elements in the Pentagon who favor using the Mujahideen as a tool both inside Iraq and against Iran should heed this warning: The Mujahideen invariably become a liability for their masters. It is not just that the information they provide is usually exaggerated nonsense. The problem with the Mujahideen is that they are a shadow of what they used to be during their peak in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution. Any investment on the Mujahideen is bound to yield negative equity.
In the final analysis, if the 1991 Gulf War proved to be the beginning of the end of Saddam Hussein, it will perhaps prove to be the start of the Mujahideen’s demise as well. There is currently some speculation on the Rajavi’s whereabouts … He has not appeared in public since the Iraq war. Reliable sources maintain he was apprehended by the Americans in the imediate aftermath of the war and taken to a CIA facility in Qatar. Whether or not Rajavi is in US custody, there is no doubt he is the mastermind of recent attempts to present an alternative Mujahideen leadership. Maryam Rajavi is being groomed as the cult’s central figure. For Masoud Rajavi this volte-face is merely a tactical retreat to recover from recent losses. In a way it is a desperate attempt to absolve himself of blame in the midst of catastrophes that have engulfed the organization. But this latest charade may yet prove to be his last. The Salib revolution of March 1991 conditioned the survival of the Mujahideen on Rajavi’s continuous leadership. By de-centralizing himself Rajavi is fatally undermining the very fabric of his organization.

Mahan Abedin, a London-based financial analyst and researcher on Iran, wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR