People's Mujahedin of Iran

The People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, or the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (Persian: سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران, romanized: sâzmân-e mojâhedīn-e khalq-e īrân, abbreviated MEK, PMOI, or MKO), is an Iranian political-militant organization.[26][27][28] It advocates overthrowing the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran and installing its own government.[29][30][31] Its revolutionary interpretation of Islam contrasts with the conservative Islam of the traditional clergy as well as the populist version developed by Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1970s.[32] It is also considered the Islamic Republic of Iran's biggest and most active political opposition group.[7][32][33]

People's Mujahedin Organization
سازمان مجاهدين خلق
AbbreviationMEK, MKO, PMOI
LeaderMaryam Rajavi and Massoud Rajavi[note 1]
Secretary-GeneralZahra Merrikhi
    • Mohammad Hanifnejad
    • Saeid Mohsen
    • Mohammad Asgarizadeh
    • Rasoul Meshkinfam
    • Ali-Asghar Badi'zadegan
    • Ahmad Rezaei
Founded5 September 1965; 56 years ago (1965-09-05)
Banned1981 (in Iran)
Split fromFreedom Movement
Military wingNational Liberation Army (NLA) - disarmed by the US in 2003.[6]
Political wingNational Council of Resistance (NCR)
Membership (2011)5,000 to 13,500 (DoD estimate)
Ideologysee below
ReligionShia Islam
Colours  Red
Party flag

Former armed wing of the MEK
National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA)[7]
Dates of operationSince 20 June 1987 - disarmed in 2003.[6]
Active regionsIran and Iraq
SizeBrigade (at peak)[11]
Battles and warsOperation Shining Sun
Operation Forty Stars
Operation Eternal Light
Designated as a terrorist group by Iran

MEK was founded on 5 September 1965 by leftist Iranian students affiliated with the Freedom Movement of Iran to oppose the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[3][34] The organization engaged in armed conflict with the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1970s[30] and contributed to the overthrow of the Shah during the Iranian Revolution. It subsequently pursued the establishment of a democracy in Iran, particularly gaining support from Iran's middle class intelligentsia.[35][36][37] After the fall of Pahlavi, the MEK refused to take part in the constitutional referendum of the new government,[38] which led to Khomeini preventing Massoud Rajavi and other MEK members from running for office in the new government.[16][page needed] This created conflicts with Ayatollah Khomeini,[39][page needed][40] and, by early 1981, authorities had banned the MEK, carrying out a major "crackdown on the group's members and supporters", driving the organization underground.[30][41][42]

In June 1981, the MEK organized a large demonstration in Iran against the Islamic Republic and in support of president Abolhassan Banisadr, claiming that the Islamic Republic had carried out a secret coup d'état.[43][44] Afterwards, the government arrested and executed numerous MEK members and sympathizers.[45][46][35] The MEK initiated attacks targeting the clerical leadership that lasted until 1982.[47]

The MEK attacked the Iran regime for "disrupting rallies and meetings, banning newspapers and burning down bookstores, rigging elections and closing down Universities; kidnapping, imprisoning and torturing political activists".[48][49][50][51][52] The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps raided MEK safe houses, killing Massoud Rajavi's first wife, Ashraf Rabi'i, and Musa Khiabani, MEK's second in command at the time.[50]

In 1983, the MEK started an alliance with Iraq following a meeting between Massoud Rajavi and Tariq Aziz.[53][54][55][56] In 1986, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) requested France to expel the MEK from its base in Paris,[50][57] so in response, it re-established its base in Iraq. The MEK then sided with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war taking part in several operations against the Islamic Republic, a decision that was viewed as treason by the vast majority of Iranians and that destroyed the MEK's appeal in its homeland.[58][59][60][61] It was involved in Operation Mersad,[62][63] Operation Forty Stars, Operation Shining Sun[64][65][66][67] and the 1991 nationwide Iraqi uprisings.[48][68][69]

Following Operation Mersad, Iranian officials ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners said to remain steadfast in their support for the MEK.[70][71][72] In 2002, the MEK was a source for claims about Iran's clandestine nuclear program.[73] Following the occupation of Iraq by U.S. and coalition forces in 2003, the MEK signed a ceasefire agreement with the U.S. and put down their arms in Camp Ashraf.[citation needed]

The European Union, Canada, the United States, and Japan have previously listed the MEK as a terrorist organization. This designation has since been lifted, after a legal battle launched by the PMOI, first by the Council of the European Union on 26 January 2009,[74][75] by the U.S. government on 21 September 2012, by the Canadian government on 20 December 2012,[76] and by the Japanese government in 2013.[77] The MEK is designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq.[68] In June 2004, the U.S. had designated members of the MEK to be ‘protected persons’ under the Geneva Convention IV, relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,[78] which expired in 2009 after the attainment of the full sovereignty of Iraq.[79]

Critics have described the group as "resembling a cult".[80][81][82] Those who back the MEK describe the group as proponents of "a free and democratic Iran" that could become the next government there.[83]