After seven years in prison, Massoud Rajavi was released on January 20, 1979, four days after the Shah fled Iran. Mr. Rajavi was in the last group of 162 political prisoners to be set free.
Four days later, Mr. Rajavi gave a speech at Tehran University that was attended by thousands of people. He discussed the PMOI’s history, his reverence for freedom, and bringing democracy to Iran. The event marked the new beginning of the Mojahedin National Movement.
The '79 Revolution had been set into motion years earlier by President Carter, whose foreign policy emphasized human rights. The Shah feared his poor record would damage relations with the U.S. and he took steps to reduce the level of terror, including among other measures, halting the torture and execution of his opponents. Iranians, for the first time in 25 years, could demonstrate in public without the certainty of being arrested, tortured, and executed.
A broad range of political organizations, including the PMOI, united in support of removing the Shah from power. The PMOI considered the ousting of the Shah as a continuation of the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the Mossadeq national movement in 1950 with the objective of establishing freedom in Iran.
The mullahs' sought a different objective. In both the 1906 Revolution and the Mossadeq national movement the clerical establishment was supportive of the Shah. The mullahs, while having differences in how to modernize the country, essentially remained loyal until a short while before the revolution.
The Iranian people, having long yearned for freedom, took advantage of the consequences of Carter's human rights policy. With the easing of repression they took to the streets to demonstrate their objection to the Shah's dictatorial regime.
Khomeini misled the Iranian public, giving them false hope of replacing the Shah’s monarchy with a democratic government. Fundamentalist mullahs believe “all means are justified in the service of God.” This includes lying to Iranians about the structure of the new government. The mullahs pursued their own interests under the pretext of Islam, rather than support the aspirations of the public. In doing so, the mullahs betrayed Islam and the people's sentiment.
The term “khod’ eh” means tricking one’s enemy so they misjudge events. Khomeini regularly employed this strategy to minimize opposition by Iran's middle class, students, intellectuals, minorities, and other groups.
As an example, Khomeini falsely gave assurance to women they would be treated as equal to men. He also lied when he stated the new government would support a free press.
Another strategy employed by Khomeini to deceive the public is “tanfih,” which means to mislead about one’s true beliefs when faced with a hostile environment. To lull Americans into complacency, Khomeini reduced public attacks against the U.S. When setting up a provincial government, he endorsed Mehdi Bazargan, a longstanding pro-democracy activist, knowing that his tenure was strictly limited.
When discussing a new government, Khomeini spoke in generalities and offered few specific programs or pledges. When asked about the role of clerics in government, he lied, saying that the “clergymen, like other sectors of society, would have representatives.”1
Khomeini’s deceptions and falsehoods proved successful. The public mistakenly viewed Khomeini as an elderly statesman in opposition to the Shah’s ruthless monarchy. After the Shah was deposed, the public believed they would be allowed to choose their new government.
In the Shah’s final months of rule, he was stricken with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, sapping his ability to control events and hold on to power. The end came on January 16, 1979, when the Shah departed Iran never to come back.
Two weeks later, Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran. The mullahs were well organized and had largely escaped SAVAK’s wrath. “[T]he Shah did not destroy the religious institutions,” Mr. Rajavi explained. “He compromised with them, and they with him.”2 In contrast, many of the leaders supporting democracy and freedom had been imprisoned or executed, limiting their ability to fill the vacuum left by the Shah’s absence.
Almost immediately Khomeini “began to monopolize power and concentrated everything in the hands of the clerics around him,” Mr. Rajavi said.3 “He rejected the election of a constituent assembly and instead formed a clergy-dominated Assembly of Experts. He also imposed the velayat-e faqth constitution [government based on a Supreme Leader] on the Iranian people. Step by step, the fundamentalists ogre began to wipe out the achievement of the revolution and solidify an autocratic theocracy in the name of Islam.”4
1) "Enemies of the Ayatollahs," by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004, p.50
2) "Mujahidin's Masud Rajavi: 'We are the only real threat to Khomeini,'" MERIP Reports, March-April 1982.
3) "Enemies of the Ayatollahs," by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.