On July 17, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) will host the “Free Iran Global Summit.” Whereas the organization’s annual gathering is typically held in an event space near Paris, this year it will be comprised of a series of socially distanced gatherings in world capitals, linked together by a live video stream. The event will be available for viewing online and via satellite, and the emphasis on remote participation will make it especially easy for journalists and policymakers to tap into the message of support for regime change and democratic governance in Iran.
That message has steadily been growing in importance during recent years. In-person attendance at the French rallies had consistently attracted as many as 100,000 participants, consisting of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as human rights activists and political supporters of the NCRI. The high levels of participation appeared to reflect similarly high levels of optimism about the prospect for that coalition’s platform being realized in its homeland.
Anticipation of regime change surged at the beginning of 2018 when the Iranian regime was rocked by a nationwide uprising, which gave rise to unusually provocative activist slogans. Phrases like “death to the dictator” were chanted by diverse crowds of protesters, drawn from demographic groups that had previously been regarded as largely apolitical, or even supportive of the theocratic regime. The rapid spread and widespread embrace of such slogans prompted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to acknowledge, perhaps for the first time, that the regime was facing an existential threat in the form of an organized Resistance movement.
That movement is represented internationally by the NCRI, while the activity of “resistance units” inside Iran is typically associated with the coalition’s leading constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK). The MEK has long been recognized as the leading voice of support for a transition to democratic governance, and it oversees that transition as being led by Maryam Rajavi.
This call to action is sure to be repeated from Washington, as well as from Paris, Berlin, and other participating locations, on July 17. And it is sure to be met with fury from the Iranian government. Khamenei’s acknowledgement of the MEK’s role in protests turned out to be a precursor to subsequent warnings about the potential for future uprisings. Months after his initial remarks on the matter, the supreme leader signed off on a plan to attack the Resistance directly by setting off explosives at the 2018 Free Iran rally.
Fortunately, this plot was foiled through the cooperation of European authorities, and charges were filed against two would-be bombers and their diplomat handler. Unfortunately, this marked only the beginning of Tehran’s crackdown on the opposition. In November 2019, Khamenei’s fears of another uprising were realized when the previous year’s message of regime change was revived across approximately 200 cities and towns. But the opposition’s fears of worse retaliation were realized soon thereafter, as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps began opening fire on crowds of demonstrators. After just a few days, some 1,500 peaceful protesters lay dead, while thousands of others had been arrested.
This violent suppression of dissent underscores the Iranian activist community’s need for foreign support. And the preceding foreign terror plot makes it clear that conflicts between the Iranian regime and its people will mostly likely have consequences for the international community, whether or not the US and its allies actually take a side.
As NCRI gatherings tend to make clear, the catalogue of Tehran’s crimes includes more than just terrorism and outright human rights abuses. There are also countless crimes of negligence and omission, including a botched response to the coronavirus pandemic which has reportedly resulted in the deaths of more than 63,000 Iranians so far. The overall message of the democratic Resistance is that the only true solution for any of Iran’s domestic crises, or for its role in undermining global security, is regime change at the hands of the Iranian people.
The two recent uprisings, plus countless smaller-scale protests, suggest that that outcome is well within reach. It is time for the International community to watch the NCRI’s live stream and then reach out to the organization to discuss how they can assist the Resistance in achieving its noble objectives.