This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Alleged Support for US Embassy Takeover
State Department Allegation The MEK “supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran.”156 Background This allegation was previously articulated by the State Department on July 24, 1985, when Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Richard Murphy appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Middle East. The Associated Press quoted Murphy: “The Mujahedeen took a measure of credit for the prolonged holding of American diplomats as hostages, advocated putting them on trial as spies and staged a large demonstration in Tehran in January 1981 protesting their release,” [Murphy] said. The Mujaheden, however, were not the group directly responsible for holding the 52 American hostages for 444 days beginning November 4, 1979.157 According to the US State Department, on the day the crisis erupted, the MEK issued a proclamation titled After the Shah, It’s America’s Turn.158 It is also alleged that “the Mojahedin participated physically at the site, assisting in holding and defending the embassy against liberation.”159 The hostages were released in January 1981. The US State Department alleges, in the following issue of Mojahed, that “the Mojahedin-e Khalq were the first force who rose unequivocally to the support of the occupation of the American spy center,” and further noted its members had spent “days and weeks” in “heat and cold” in front of the embassy.160 Discussion The State Department’s allegations reflect a misunderstanding of events in Iran leading up to the hostage crisis and the position of the MEK in supporting democratic freedoms in Iran. While the MEK and Khomeini were aligned in the national front in opposition to
156 “Country Reports on Terrorism,” US State Department, April 27, 2005. 157 “Murphy Warns Congress of Campaign by Iranian Leftists,” ASSOCIATED PRESS, July 25, 1985. 158 “Report on the People’s Mojahedin of Iran,” Unclassified document, US State Department, 1994 159 Id. 160 Id.
EMPOWERING THE DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION
the Shah, once he was removed from power, the MEK and Khomeini became political adversaries. Two days after the revolution, Rajavi and a number of senior colleges met with Khomeini. In the meeting, Rajavi emphasized the importance of freedom. Subsequently, Khomeini sent his son, Ahmad, to offer the MEK top ministry positions in the new government, but only on the condition that the MEK recognize the clerics as the supreme authority. The MEK declined. Since its inception, the organization had fought for political freedom and the separation of power. The MEK refused to compromise its principals and a power struggle ensued. The MEK initially followed a policy of non-confrontation with Khomeini in the hope of playing the role of the loyal opposition in the new government. When the hostage crisis erupted on November 4, 1979, the MEK chose not to challenge Khomeini, who had immediately endorsed the takeover. On the day the Iranian students stormed the embassy, Khomeini blamed America as the source of all evil in a speech to a group of university students. “It was later revealed that these university students were organized by Hojjat al-Islam Khoiniha, a prominent member of the IRP and the leader of the Tehran University komiteh [a morality guard organization].”161 According to Massoumeh Ebtekar, who was the spokesperson during the hostage crisis for the radical students, the MEK “had been opposed to the takeover and the confrontation with America from the very first.”162 Ebtekar, a chemical engineering student who became known as Sister Mary, “held center stage at the front gate whenever the students needed to make a statement to the press in English.”163 For Iranians, the hostage crisis was “predominately an internal crisis rooted in the constitutional struggle.”164 Under the cloud of the embassy crisis, the clerics rushed to ratify their proposed constitution, which the MEK refused to endorse. The original document, modeled on De Gaulle’s constitution, had been altered by the Assembly of Experts, shifting power from the president and elected deputies to senior clerics. The MEK boycotted its ratification.
161 The Iranian Mojahedin, Ervand Abrahamian, Yale University Press, 1989, p. 57. A recent history of the
hostage crisis by David Harris (The Crisis: The President, the Prophet, the Shah – 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam, Little Brown, 2004) states that the takeover was first advanced by Ibrahim Asgarzadeh, a student at Tehran’s Aryamehr University of Technology, and two other students. 162 Takeover in Tehran, Massoumeh Ebtekar, Talon Books, Canada, 2000, p. 234. David Harris, in his recent book The Crisis, makes no reference at all to the Mujahedin, which indicates the organization’s lack of involvement. 163 The Crisis: The President, the Prophet, the Shah – 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam, by David Harris, Little, Brown and Company, 2004, p. 236. 164 The Iranian Mojahedin, Ervand Abrahamian, Yale University Press, 1989, p. 57.
IRAN: FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGES AND CHOICES
As hostilities escalated between the MEK and Khomeini, the MEK openly criticized the hostage crisis. The MEK said the clerics had “engineered the hostage crisis to impose on the nation the ‘medieval’ concept of the velayat-e faqih [the title of Khomeini’s book that advocates the creation of a theocratic state].”165 To support that last accusation they [MEK] published articles revealing how the student hostage-takers were linked to the IRP [Islamic Republican Party]; how the pasdars [armed volunteers] had facilitated the break-in; how those who had refused to tow the IRP line had been forced out of the compound; how Ayatollah Beheshti [head of the Supreme Judicial Council] had used the whole incident to sweep aside the Bazargan [Provisional] Government; and how Hojjat al-Islam Khoiniha, the man appointed by Khomeini to advise the students, had carefully removed from the embassy all documents with references to US officials meeting clerical leaders during the 1979 revolution.166 The MEK accused the cleric-controlled government of “disrupting rallies and meetings; banning newspapers and burning down bookstores; rigging elections and closing down universities; [and] kidnapping, imprisoning, and torturing political activists . . . .”167 In response, “The Muslim Student Followers of the Iman’s Line, the occupiers of the US embassy, denounced the Mojahedin as secret Marxists in cohorts with the ‘pro-American liberals.’”168 “In criticizing the regime’s political record,” Abrahamian explained, “the Mojahedin moved the issue of democracy to center stage.”169 They argued that the regime had broken all the democratic promises made during the revolution; that an attack on any group was an attack on all groups; that the issue of democracy was of “fundamental importance,” and that other issues, including imperialism, hinged on it, for without political freedom the country would be vulnerable to foreign intrigue.170
165 Id. at 208. 166 Id. at 208. 167 Id. 168 Id. at 205 169 Id. at 209. 170 Id.
EMPOWERING THE DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION
Six months after the hostage takeover, the MEK “could muster over half a million into the streets of Tehran. Its newspapers outsold those of the ruling clerical party by sixteen to one.”171 In sum, MEK opposed the hostage crisis. The MEK was not in alliance with The Muslim Student Followers of the Iman’s Line, the student organization that seized the embassy, nor with the clerics. The MEK used the crisis to reveal Khomeini’s involvement and how his regime was using the incident to usurp power and push aside the Provisional Government. Given these facts, it is inaccurate to assert that the MEK was responsible for the hostage crisis or that it supported it.
171 Id. at 1.
IRAN: FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGES AND CHOICES