By Saeed M. Shams
On June 30, Iranians from across the world, including the Iranian-American community of New Mexico, will be gathering near Paris to lend our voice to the cause of democracy in our homeland as part of the annual Iran Freedom rally. The event typically attracts a crowd of approximately 100,000 participants, including hundreds of dignitaries from North America, Europe and much of the world. But given everything happening inside and outside of Iran, this year might be a watershed.
The rally is a unique showcase for the platform of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is at the heart of global activism pushing to bring democracy to the people of Iran. Its vision for the country’s democratic future is outlined by the 10-point plan created by its president elect, Maryam Rajavi. It calls for free and fair elections, legal protections for ethnic and religious minorities as well as women, and the dissolution of the current regime’s nuclear weapons program.
NCRI’s platform makes it a natural ally to the United States and Europe, and an important alternative to theocratic system that currently reigns in Iran and reinforces the nation’s status as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the country with the highest rate of executions per capita.
That same system also makes the existing Iranian government fundamentally unconcerned with the interests of its own people. And this, of course, makes the regime vulnerable to domestic discontent. Indeed, that discontent reached a fever pitch at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, when the Islamic Republic was rocked by a nationwide uprising, during which protesters in approximately 140 cities rejected both the “hardline” and “reformist” political factions and chanted “death to the dictator” and “death to Rouhani,” in reference to the supreme leader and the president of the regime, respectively.
The uprising and subsequent protests have also led to an unusual admission from regime officials. On Jan. 9, for instance, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) had planned for months to facilitate the nationwide spread of slogans calling for regime change. The MEK is the leading constituent group of the NCRI, and as its domestic efforts to fuel the activist movement will be well represented to the world during the June 30 rally.
This goes to show that the NCRI is not only ideologically compatible with the United States and its allies but is also a politically viable alternative to the existing regime. The mass uprising and the subsequent comments by Khamenei and others leave no doubt about the fact that MEK and its parent coalition are steadily gaining in popular support. Already, that support has proven strong enough to both spark and sustain a nationwide movement, in spite of Tehran’s numerous attempts to stamp out the organization at home and to spread propaganda about it on the global stage.
For a long time, that propaganda seemed to have an outsized influence on Western policies toward Iran by assuming that there was no viable, democratic alternative to the existing regime.
The White House seems to have finally set aside the propaganda originating from Tehran, thereby setting the stage for the appropriately assertive strategy that was recently laid out by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The NCRI rally can be expected to provide further encouragement for that strategy, which promises to further amplify the clerical regime’s vulnerability while also bolstering the ongoing movement for democratic change.
The Trump administration’s emerging sanctions and other measures constitute the final piece of the puzzle – alongside the organizational structure of the NCRI and the popular opposition to the Iranian government – that will make its 10-point plan a reality. With this in mind, anyone who earnestly supports the causes of democracy and self-determination would be well advised to pay close attention to the rally June 30.
This article originally published on abqjournal