By Pooya Stone
On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Iranians living both inside Iran and throughout the Iranian diaspora tuned into satellite broadcasts and online streams of the Free Iran Global Summit.
A statement on the website of the event’s organizers, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, declared that the international character of the conference “shows how unity can bring change to Iran.”
In previous years, this unity was demonstrated by bringing together a global community of NCRI supporters in one central location. From the start of the annual gatherings until 2004, that location was an event space near the coalition’s headquarters in France. In 2019, it moved to Ashraf-3, home of members of the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK).
Over the course of 15 years, participation in the Free Iran rallies grew from a few thousand individuals to over 100,000. That attendance had held steady through several summers until the coronavirus pandemic forced a revision to the format of this year’s gathering. Ashraf-3 remained as the primary focus of the proceedings and the location of NCRI President Maryam Rajavi’s keynote speech on Friday afternoon. But Iranian expatriate communities also gathered together in more than 100 countries to view that speech, as well as remarks by a diverse array of Iranian Resistance supporters, together.
The list of participating supporters has grown right alongside the overall attendance at each year’s rally. In advance of the Free Iran Global Summit, the NCRI issued press statements anticipating even greater participation via the new format, both by ordinary people and by the lawmakers, academics, and other policy experts whose presence underscores the international unity on display at such NCRI-led events.
Persons viewing the event from the United States might have been impressed with the unity demonstrated just by the American virtual delegation. As in previous years, expressions of support for the NCRI and its platform of regime change came from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Among those who addressed the summit via Zoom were the former Republican Speaker of the House Next Gingrich and former Democratic Senators Joseph Lieberman and Robert Torricelli.
The ideological diversity of these supporters is indicative of the stark differences they recognize in Iran’s two prospective futures: one under the existing theocratic regime and one built upon the 10-point plan that is endorsed and reiterated at each NCRI gathering. That plan was explicitly referenced by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during Friday’s summit when he described it as “something that all good people want” for Iran and for any other country that is currently languishing under anti-democratic leadership.
The NCRI’s expectation is that this plan will be put into action by a transitional government under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi. Each year’s gathering serves to demonstrate that this government is effectively waiting in the wings for a day when the Iranian people rise up and drive the mullahs out of power. And the Free Iran Global Summit expanded upon this message by arguing that that day is very close at hand in the wake of recent developments inside the Islamic Republic.
“This summit echoes the calls for the clerical regime’s overthrow in the successive uprisings from December 2017 and January 2018 to November 2019 and January 2020,” Rajavi said in her keynote address. Although she went on to warn that the regime is “consolidating power” within particularly hardline institutions, she remained unequivocal about the Iranian people’s prospects for overcoming the inevitable crackdowns, especially in the presence of meaningful international support. “From all indications, the ruling theocracy is in a position to be overthrown,” she said.
Neither Rajavi nor any of the other speakers described that overthrow as resulting from the direct involvement of anyone other than Iran’s own activist community. Indeed, the summit featured a series of recorded messages from members of “resistance units” inside Iran who played a substantial role in the past three years’ public protests and are resolved to continue doing so until the country’s supreme leader and other ruling officials resign. Their defiant statements provided a sort of snapshot of the Resistance movement’s morale – an impressive gesture in light of the severity of Tehran’s latest crackdowns on dissent.
The MEK has reported that during last November’s nationwide uprising, roughly 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed in a matter of days. Earlier this week, it was announced that Iran’s Supreme Court had upheld three new death sentences for participants in that uprising. They were not the first to receive this sentence and they will most likely not be the last, as the regime continues pursuing a strategy of intimidating the public into silence. Yet there’s little reason to expect that intimidation will work, considering that large-scale protests have recurred even after the November killings.
By amplifying the message of those protests’ leaders, the Free Iran summit reliably conveyed the idea that Iran’s future must be determined by its own people. Still, the NCRI made a point of emphasizing the importance of international support for a Resistance movement that is expressly working to establish a democratic system and to safeguard universal human rights. “We urge all governments and international bodies to stand with the people of Iran in this historic showdown with the greatest threat to the world’s peace and security,” Mrs. Rajavi said.
American speakers made an effort to outline what this support would look like, and they were united in stating that it involves a further shift away from conciliatory policies by all Western powers. “We tried [negotiations], but it didn’t work, the regime still brutally suppresses the people, still steals their wealth, still builds nuclear missiles,” Joseph Liberman explained. “We have reached a point that we can conclude after all that has been tried with this criminal syndicate, nothing has worked.”
Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, said much the same thing, focusing directly on the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018. “Despite all the concessions provided under the JCPOA, the Iranian regime did not change one bit. It continued its nuclear activities. It continued to be the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
But according to these and other speakers, the regime has since been weakened by the “maximum pressure” strategy put into place by the White House. The implication of their remarks is that such pressure has helped to create the conditions in which Iranians have risen up against the regime and that more of that pressure, coming from a broader coalition of Western powers, could help to create the conditions for the regime’s overthrow.
Presumably anticipating further increases in the pressure the mullahs are facing both at home and abroad, Giuliani concluded his remarks to the Free Iran Summit by saying, “Regime change in Iran is within reach. That’s the goal of NCRI and Maryam Rajavi, a free Iran that will contribute to peace in the world.” He then repeated to all those listening from across the globe, “Stand with Maryam Rajavi. Stand with Maryam Rajavi. Stand with Maryam Rajavi.”
NCRI and MEK Gathering Highlights the Real Potential for Regime Change in Iran