In all of Iran they have pinned their hopes on this woman. She is the ayatollah regime's number-one enemy. A modern, Muslim Joan of Arc, brilliant and cheerful, who leads the struggle against the gloom and darkness of the rulers in Tehran. The focal point of hope for democratic change in Iran is Maryam Rajavi, the Paris-based President-elect of the Iranian Resistance.
"Allow me as a woman to tell the wicked and misogynous mullahs: With all of your reactionary and medieval savagery, misogyny and oppression, you have done all you could do to Iranian women, but I warn you to beware of the day when this tremendous historic force is set free...
"You will see how you and your backwardness will be uprooted by these free women. You mullahs have chosen, with your unspeakable crimes against women, and you cannot avoid being swept away from Iran's history by these same liberated women."2
These are one of the most recent remarks by a woman who has today become the focal point of hope for all Iranians, particulary women, for a democratic and equitable future. A woman who for many years had strove unremittingly to pave the way for women's equal partnership to chart their lives and fate in the realm of politics and struggle.
Maryam Rajavi was born 43 years ago to a middle-class family in Tehran. She has a 13-year-old daughter and a degree in metallurgical engineering. She became acquainted with the anti-shah movement in 1970. After entering Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, she became a leader of the student movement and joined the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a Muslim, democratic and nationalist movement that espouses the establishment of a secular government in Iran. The shah's regime executed one of her sisters and the Khomeini regime murdered another, pregnant at the time, along with the sister's husband.
After the fall of the shah, the Mojahedin soon emerged as the principal opposition movement to the Khomeini regime. Mrs. Rajavi was active in the social department of the organization, and played an instrumental role in attracting and recruiting university and high school students. She was a candidate for the parliamentary elections in Tehran in 1980. Despite widespread rigging, she received more than a quarter of a million votes.
Mrs. Rajavi was among the key organizers of two major non- violent demonstrations in Tehran, in April and June of 1981, against the new dictatorship. On June 20, 1981, Khomeini unleashed his pervasive terror on Iranians. Tens of thousands were arbitrarily arrested or executed en masse. During this period, the Pasdaran (Guards Corps) raided her places of residence several times, but she managed to survive these life or death encounters.
In 1982, the organization asked her to move to Paris, where the political headquarters of the movement had been established. The most capable woman member in the Mojahedin. Mrs. Rajavi was elected as the Mojahedin's joint-leader in 1985, and four years later, in 1989, became the Secretary General of the organization.
Following the formation of the Resistance's military arm, the National Liberation Army (NLA), in 1987, she was appointed the army's Deputy Commander in Chief, and directed the NLA's transformation into a well-trained, modern and mechanized force.
Mrs. Rajavi's leadership in the Mojahedin and NLA had a dramatic impact on the progress of women within the Resistance movement. Her approach to the issue of women's emancipation was unique, as was her offensive against the patriarchal culture. She says: "Iranian women must free themselves. Freedom does not come free, and no one will ever deliver it to us on a silver platter. The path to liberation begins the moment you believe that no one can prevent the liberation of a woman who has chosen to be free of all the fetters we all know too well."3
Under her leadership, women have played a tremendous role within the Resistance. In the NLA, women quickly advanced and in less than a year took part in front line combat, later becoming brigade and division commanders. These advancements were not limited to the military sphere. Women occupied decision-making positions in the Resistance's political, public relations, financial and management directorates. In Mrs. Rajavi's view, "First we must create an opportunity for women to choose freely; in other words, build relationships that are unimpeded by distinctions and discrimination based on gender. It is only in such a relationship that the issue of free choice can be meaningful for women... Rejecting distinctions based on gender requires us to reject the notion of a human being as condemned to a determined fate because of characteristics imposed on him or her about which she or he had no say, for example, nationality, gender, language, appearance, etc. The law of human evolution determines that an individual's humanity is determined by what she or he has created by choice and action."4
On the basis of this outlook, major advances in rejecting gender-based distinctions were made within the ranks of the Resistance, and all women, not just a few, were able to realize their human essence. Given the deep roots of the patriarchal mind-set, Mrs. Rajavi argued, women had to be given the opportunity to exercise hegemony over men, at least for a period of time, in order to consolidate them in their positions. Consistent with this rationale, all sections of the Resistance underwent profound changes. In 1985, women comprised 30% of the movement's rank-and-file, but none held senior positions. In 1988, seven of the 15 members of the NLA's General Command were women. By 1991, more than half (51%) of the Mojahedin's Executive Committee (the highest decision-making body) were women. A woman, Fahimeh Arvani, was elected as the Mojahedin's Deputy Secretary General and presided over the organization's 738- member Central Council. This tremendous growth led to the formation of the Leadership Council. All 12 members and 12 candidate members were women. Presently, women comprise half the members in the NCR, the Resistance's Parliament. They occupy the most senior positions in the political, international and military sections of the Resistance.
Obviously, these achievementsdid not come about easily. Mrs. Rajavi had to eliminate obstacles to this full participation one by one. First of all, she tried to convince her woman compatriots to believe in their capabilities and potentials and to take their political destiny in their own hands. By the same token, she courageously made the male members of the resistance understand that without such participation of women, the overthrow of the Khomeini regime and the establishment of pluralism in Iran would be impossible. Thus, not only did women undertake remarkable responsibilities within the Iranian resistance movement, men too, blossomed in their work and surpassed new frontiers in assuming responsibilities.
In August 1993, the 235-member National Council of Resistance, the Iranian Resistance's Parliament, elected Mrs. Maryam Rajavi as Iran's future President for the transitional period following the mullahs' overthrow.
Subsequently she resigned her posts in the Mojahedin and NLA, in September 1993, to devote all her time and energy to her new responsibilities. In her new role as the President, she presents a formidable political, social, cultural and ideological challenge to the ruling clerics. "In this new capacity," she said, "my most important responsibility is to create and promote national solidarity. My first task is to give the Iranian people back their hope... I want to give them the hope that, united together, we can overcome the darkness, hopelessness and death that has enveloped our country."5
Her election dramatically changed the domestic political scene in Iran, where the helpless and demoralized citizenry, especially women, were given new hope for a better future. Her election proved equally inspiring and its impact profound among Iranians living abroad. Mrs. Rajavi's message of compassion, love and fraternity offered a remedy to heal the deep wounds and scars inflicted during the clerics' 16- years of vengeful reign on Iranians at home and abroad.
The misogynous mullahs immediately realized that the election of a Muslim woman as the President of Iran was undermining the cultural and ideological foundations of their regime. They reacted by unleashing their fury on France, where Mrs. Rajavi set up her headquarters in 1993. Government agents hurled grenades at the French embassy and other French institutions in Tehran.
Meanwhile, a multitude of delegations from the four-million- strong Iranian exile community, consisting of the most educated and skilled sectors of the society, rushed to meet Mrs. Rajavi in Paris. Her message to them was simple and to the point: "I have devoted my life to bringing hope for a better future to the people of Iran... And also to proving to the world that Islam as a social and democratic religion is not belligerent and can be productive for women. This is the mandate that gives me inner satisfaction and a sense of true freedom... After the overthrow of the mullahs, we should, more than anything else, try to soothe the sense of revenge and hatred among our people. We should create unity and expand the sense of tolerance and patience in the society. It is our mandate to revive the identity and dignity of the Iranian people."6
On July 22, 1994, some 50,000 Iranians in 16 cities the world over participated in demonstrations against the Tehran regime and in support of the National Council of Resistance and its President-elect. The events marked the 42nd anniversary of the public uprising that brought the nationalistic Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, to power in Iran, thwarting efforts by the shah to oust him. In the fall of 1994, she urged Iranian students to celebrate Mehregan, a popular traditional celebration of autumn banned by the mullahs. The Resistance's sympathizers engaged in different activities in more than 50 Iranian cities.
Her calls to Iranians to defy the clerics gave impetus to the popular unrest. Eight major uprisings and many smaller protest actions, demonstrations and strikes have erupted throughout the country in 1995. The Mojahedin's Command Headquarters in Iran, which directs an extensive network inside the country, recruited scores of new activists in various cities. This network distributed millions of brochures and leaflets, as well as tens of thousands of video tapes containing Mrs. Rajavi's messages, among the populace. Despite the risks, Resistance cells also posted thousands of banners with pictures and messages of Mrs. Rajavi in major cross streets and public areas.
Mrs. Rajavi paid special attention to Iranian art and culture, two rich and deeply valuable features of Iranian life which the mullahs have adamantly tried to pervert. "Whereas Khomeini espouses the culture of sorrow, despair, and disappointment, in a word a culture of the cemetery and graveyard, the Iranian Resistance advocates the culture of love, jubilation, affection, life and happiness,"7 underscores Mrs. Rajavi, adding that the Iranian Resistance's task at this juncture and in future Iran is "to prepare the ground for artists to develop their creativity in an open, free and healthy environment... We hope that our genuine culture and art can take the spirit of life and hope, light and brightness, prosperity and abundance throughout the country and deep into the heart of every Iranian, fueling the flames of hope for a better life and a brighter future,"8 she says.
Under her direction, Iranian artists and music stars, forced into exile, came forward and began performing to revive Iran's rich heritage in the arts and music. On July 21, 1994, Mrs. Rajavi attended a memorable concert at Paris's Palais des Congrès, where nine of Iran's most acclaimed music stars performed before an audience of 3,000.
In summer 1994, Marzieh, the grande dame of Iranian music for the last 50 years, left Iran after 15 years of silence in defiance to the mullahs, and came to meet Maryam Rajavi and join the ranks of the Resistance against the clerics. She became a member of the National Council of Resistance and was appointed as the Cultural Advisor to the President- elect. She performed her first concert at London's Royal Albert Hall in March 1995 and followed with two other successful performances before capacity crowds in Dusseldorf and Stockholm.
"Freedom is the most precious of all jewels... Freedom is the essence of progress... For us, freedom is an ideal and a belief. It is the spirit that guides our Resistance. Freedom is the raison d'être of our movement, it is the reason for its growth and development."9 These remarks, during a speech broadcast live via satellite to 15,000 Iranians in Dortmund's giant Westfalenhallen and to millions of Iranians at home, on June 16 1995, aptly reflect Mrs. Rajavi's profound understanding of and deep commitment to fundamental freedoms.
In the two-hour speech, Mrs. Rajavi presented her 16-point "Charter of Fundamental Freedoms" for future Iran after the mullahs' overthrow. The event, the largest gathering ever by Iranians abroad, commemorated June 20, designated as the Day of Martyrs and Political Prisoners and marking the start of the just Resistance against the mullahs' rule 14 years ago in Iran.
Mrs. Rajavi also provided a brief record of the mullahs' abysmal rule in Iran and said that love of freedom was the driving force of the Resistance movement. "Without it," she said, "we could not have stood firm against the ruling dictatorship. Our nation has paid the price of freedom with 100,000 martyrs."10
On the emancipation of women she said: "Iranian women must free themselves. Freedom does not come free and no one will ever deliver it to us in a silver platter. We must build relationships that are unimpeded by gender-based distinctions and discrimination. The path to liberation begins the moment you believe that no one can prevent the liberation of a woman who has chosen to be free of all fetters we all know too well...
"Parallel to the liberation of women, men are also liberated and become even more responsible. This is because men who reject gender-based distinctions and discrimination and recognize women's freedom of choice, first of all liberate themselves."11
In concluding her speech, Mrs. Rajavi highlighted the main platform of the Resistance for the future of Iran, listing 16 items. She reiterated the Resistance's commitment to freedom of speech, opinion, the press, parties and political associations, and said that the ballot box will be the only criterion for the legitimacy of the government.
In this platform, she emphasized the absolute equality of women's political, social, cultural and economic rights with men. She reiterated women's right to elect and be elected, freedom to choose their occupations and obtain any government position, the right to be a judge, the freedom to choose their husbands, equal rights in divorce and the right to freely choose their form of dress.
She also stressed that in the future of Iran, a free market, private ownership, and investment to expand the national economy will be guaranteed. The foreign policy of a democratic Iran, Mrs. Rajavi affirmed, will advocate peace, coexistence, and regional and international cooperation.
The Islamic fundamentalism emanating from Tehran is the number one threat to world peace and stability, giving rise to a pressing need for a concerted international effort to tame this international menace. While the solution is indigenous, in the hands of the Resistance, the international community has more than a moral responsibility and should act in unison to completely boycott this medieval regime. The longer it is ignored, the graver the consequences.
Religious fanatics offer a distorted, dark portrait of Islam. Khomeini's thinking and ideas do not represent the beliefs of one billion Muslims. Islam is not the religion of hatred and oppression. In Mrs. Rajavi's words: "As a Muslim woman, I declare that the anti-religious mullahs ruling Iran, who suppress the people in the name of Islam and call for the export of terrorism and fundamentalism, are the worst enemies of Islam and Muslims. The day will come when they will be forced to let go of the name of Islam."12
It is imperative that we fight against religious fanaticism, because Khomeinism is a serious threat against world stability in general and Islamic countries in particular. But one cannot confront fundamentalism with an anti-Islamic culture; it requires a tolerant, modern Islam as the antidote. Maryam Rajavi's message rejecting the mullahs' savagery cloaked in religion has launched an international campaign against the mullahs. "Our Resistance against the ruling religious, terrorist dictatorship will not only bring freedom and prosperity to Iran, but will uproot Khomeini's fanaticism in the Muslim World and the Tehran- inspired terrorism the world over," she emphasized. From the onset, in her meetings with scores of international dignitaries, politicians, academicians, parliamentarians and journalists from Europe and the U.S., she underscored this reality, evoking a new international awareness of the issue.
Under such circumstances, many in the international community have begun to take note of this alternative approach. The statement by 425 members of the British Parliament on Iran on June 13 reaffirms this point: "Support for the NCR and its President-elect, who widely reflects the aspirations of the Iranian people, will expedite the establishment of democracy in Iran and contribute to the restoration of stability in the region."
In announcing a statement of support for the Iranian Resistance by 202 U.S. congressmen at a Capitol Hill press conference (June 8, 1995), Robert Torricelli, a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on International Relations, noted: "... Members of this institution have now spoken in support of the recognition of the National Council of Resistance and in particular, Mrs. Rajavi's leadership."
Many foreign dignitaries and journalists have come to visit Mrs. Rajavi. Without exception, they have been surprised. Georgie Anne Geyer, a veteran American journalist, wrote after meeting Mrs. Rajavi: "In my 30 years as a foreign correspondent, I have interviewed many `unusual' leaders - but I do believe that I have finally found the most stunningly unusual one. Her name is Maryam Rajavi, she has been elected the `future president of Iran' by the growing Iranian Resistance, and she is driving the women-hating mullahs of Iran crazy.
"As eloquent as she can be regarding freedom for Iranians - and particularly freedom for women - it soon becomes clear that this cultured 41-year-old woman is a figure to be watched.... It is also Maryam Rajavi who is rapidly becoming the Rorschach blot of hope into which the long-suffering modern and liberal Iranians can read all kinds of hope... Meanwhile, she is becoming the symbol of something new - the modest but active Islamic woman."13
Gabi Gleichmann, then the President of the Swedish Pen Club, had the following to say: "In all of Iran they have pinned their hopes on this woman. She is the ayatollah regime's number-one enemy. A modern, Muslim Joan of Arc, brilliant and cheerful, who leads the struggle against the gloom and darkness of the rulers in Tehran. The focal point of hope for democratic change in Iran is Maryam Rajavi, the Paris-based President-elect of the Iranian Resistance."14
2. The Lion and Sun, the Iranian Resistance's Journal, July 1995, p. 14.
3. Ibid., p. 13.
5. Georgie Anne Geyer, Iranian resistance looks to a 'future President', The Washington Times, 26 August 1994.
6. Gleichmann, op. cit.
7. Maryam Rajavi, interview with Iran Zamin weekly, 29 June 1994.
9. The Lion and Sun, op. cit, p. 4,7.
10. Ibid., p. 7.
11. The Lion and Sun, op. cit., p. 13.
12. Ibid., p. 8.
13. Geyer, op. cit
. 14. Gleichmann, op. cit.