By Hamid Yazdan Panah
Each year the Iranian resistance holds a massive convention in Paris calling for democratic change in Iran. The event draws tens of thousands of participants, more than a hundred elected officials and dignitaries from various countries, and brings together a multitude of political groups and factions. This year things felt a little different, as the event not only garnered significant attention worldwide, but also reflected the steady and deliberate pace at which the Iranian resistance continues to sustain its movement.
I have attended the annual convention in Paris since 2005, and have only missed a few of these events over the last decade. However this year the event had an energy and electricity that was palpable. More importantly the event caused quite a stir in the international arena. To get a better feel for what I mean one need look no further than the coverage the event received.
The New York Times noted the presence of Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, who created a stir by attending the rally. The Times wrote, “In his speech, Prince Turki called on the organization’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, to “rid Iran of the Khomeinist cancer,” a reference to the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. “
Al Arabiya wrote, “The Iranian opposition with its variety of political affiliations and ethnicities called on the international community to stand by it to end the bloodshed committed by sectarian Iranian-backed militants in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”
In an article entitled, “Free Iran: The Largest Iranian Opposition of Its Kind”, Majid Rafizadeh wrote “The size, resources, and influence of this oppositional group shows that this is the movement that politicians, leaders, republicans, and democrats can join and support, if they are looking for the Iranian government to turn into a rational and moderate state, by the Iranian themselves.”
I also particularly enjoyed the articles written by journalists who personally attended the rally and saw the events first hand. Candice Malcolm of the Toronto Sun wrote:
“On July 9, I attended one of the largest political rallies in the world. It was bigger than the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention combined. And yet, you probably didn’t hear about it.
That’s because the mainstream media in Canada did not cover it.
The Free Iran rally and conference was hosted at Le Bourget Convention Centre in Paris. The director of operations told me an estimated 104,000 and 106,000 people attended, to peacefully call for regime change in Iran. (They couldn’t host such a rally in Iran, of course, because they’d all be killed.)”
A particularly memorable piece by Michael Toetten not only provided a unique view of the rally from an outsider, but painted a fair and balanced portrait of the opposition, its history, and its current state of affairs. Being a fan of Game of Thrones, I find this paragarph to be particularly enjoyable.
Here’s another reason the regime hates them so much: the MEK is the only major Middle Eastern political movement led by a woman, Maryam Rajavi. She is Iran’s Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled woman who wishes to overthrow an illegitimate government by rallying forces around her from abroad. (Unlike our Game of Thrones heroine, Rajavi is not angling to be queen, nor does she command any dragons.)
Of all the coverage, including AFP and Al Monitor the National and Gulf News, the most interesting and enjoyable was the outrage expressed by the regime in Iran over the entire incident. In fact the regime not only protested the presence of Egyptian parliamentarians at the event, but it went so far as to summon the French Ambassador over the event.
The reaction of the regime and the the uproar this event caused showed not only the political significance of the event, but the power possessed by the Iranian opposition, one that knows how to target the achilles heal of this regime, and hit them where it hurts.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an Iranian-American human rights activist and attorney focused on immigration and asylum in the San Francisco Bay Area.