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Making Sense of Michael Rubin’s Anti-MEK’s Crusade

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Here we go again! Every time the Iranian Resistance makes political headway, the self-proclaimed "expert" Michael Rubin rushes to the clerical regime's rescue by bashing the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).


In his latest tirades (Washington Examiner, December 19, December 30, 2022, and January 2, 2023), Rubin refers to the MEK by the regime's pejorative acronym MKO ("The Hypocrites"), calling it "the most hated group inside Iran" and a "cult." He also lashes out at a stellar and growing list of international luminaries supporting the movement. Rubin's barrage of constant attacks against the MEK raises serious suspicions. It is not just that he's intellectually dishonest, lazy, and dangerously ignorant about how governments (including his own) work. He is a propagandist; someone who increasingly resembles a surrogate for Tehran's equivalent of the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

Rubin's latest hit pieces are no doubt prompted by a series of conferences in the U.S.Canadathe United KingdomBelgiumItaly, and Ireland, among other places, in which lawmakers and pre-eminent political personalities of all stripes expressed support for the MEK, identifying the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition in which the MEK is a member, as the most viable alternative to Iran’s theocratic dictatorship.

Rubin is singing from the same song sheet as regime officials from top to bottom. All of them are currently reeling over the MEK’s role in guiding and directing the massive recent uprising, now in its fourth month. As was the case with his previous defamatory vitriol, the regime’s propaganda apparatus was quick to promote his latest screed. The so-called Nejat Association, which the US Embassy in London in 2008 said  “helps leverage  the regime’s anti-MEK lobbying and propaganda efforts with western audiences,” promptly ran his most recent work. His funny squawks have also been routinely echoed by the likes of the Qods Force's Young Journalists Club, and Kayhan, the mouthpiece of none other than the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.


Seventeen years ago, I debunked his unfounded and ridiculous allegations against the MEK in full detail. Yet Rubin, unsurprisingly, has failed to respond and keeps repeating the same stale talking points. Why?

Would it not be prudent to ask who gives Rubin his marching orders to demonize the MEK and to throw the regime a lifeline at critical moments? After all, nobody knows what Rubin did exactly when he spent some time living and “studying” in Iran back in the late 1990s, when the so-called “moderate,” Mohammad Khatami, was president.

At the rate he's sobbing over the MEK's successes, could Rubin be mistaken for one of the Ayatollahs' ghostwriters? I cannot say for sure. One must be mindful, however, that the regime's intelligence service is known to have instructed others to follow “the 80/20 rule,” i.e., speak out against the theocracy itself 80% of the time (in order to gain credibility) but disparage the MEK the remaining 20%.

Some academics have apparently been approached by the mullahs to attack the MEK in exchange for money. For example, in 2010, the head of a think tank told the media that he had been offered $80,000 by a man tied to Iran’s mission in Canada. “They wanted me to publish a piece on the Mujahedin-e Khalq,”: he said. “Iran is trying to get other countries to label it as a terrorist cult.”


And in 2017, the then-Daily Beast and now Washington Post reporter Shane Harris wrote a piece entitled Iran’s Spies Tried to Recruit Me, about receiving an invitation for an all-expense paid trip to Iran to attend a conference about “terrorism,” for which he “was asked to name his price.”   

The regime has been quite generous in collaborating with other MEK detractors, including Flynt Leverett and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett. And, most recently, an "advisor" to a major political party at the European Parliament was referred to authorities on corruption charges. The accused, Eldar Mamedov, routinely vilified the MEK in the media and at the European Parliament, parroting the exact same talking points Rubin is using. That is not a coincidence. Interestingly, Mamedov had also traveled to Tehran in 2020 at the invitation of the regime's Foreign Ministry.

As for Rubin’s childish suggestion that the State Department “audit the MEK,”  it is worth recalling that after an 11-year investigation into the financial records of the MEK and the NCRI, including a thorough review of a 100,000-page dossier, a French Investigative Magistrate concluded in 2014 that there was no evidence of any financial wrongdoing by the organization, and closed the file.


Indeed, it is well established that the regime has regularly tried to get others to label the MEK a "terrorist cult." And it's offering cold hard cash to make sure that happens. Rubin says that he spent time in Iran to bolster his bona fides. Since he is so keen on audits, shouldn't an audit determine at whose expense he paid that visit, and at whose invitation?

Speaking of audits, the person who should be audited is Rubin himself. In 2006, The New York Times reported that he improperly hid an affiliation and funding from a private contractor in Iraq. Said Rubin: "Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or honorarium." The Times added: "But Mr. Rubin would not comment further on how much in such payments he may have received." Why not?

Rubin has a checkered past featuring a pattern of questionable behavior, including his activities for the UAE, Somalia, and Turkey. In 2016, according to press reports, human rights activists like Amnesty International questioned whether Rubin had been paid by the UAE to write an article demonizing an Emirati dissident. Sound familiar?

His record as a pernicious swindler in Iraq is also instructive. In early 2000s, Rubin promoted a charlatan named Ahmed Chalabi as Iraq's "president-in-waiting." He painted Chalabi as someone supported by all Iraqis. But Chalabi's party received a paltry 0.36 percent of the vote in Iraq’s elections in December 2005. Too bad that Rubin knew what was best for Iraqis, when the citizens of Iraq themselves did not! Today, Rubin is showing the same deep understanding of political realities in Iran, by promoting the remnants of the despised monarchy as the real alternative to the mullahs. Perhaps that is why he wants to airbrush the MEK out of history. 


If the MEK is so unpopular as he claims, why does he spend so much time attacking it? Why did the regime go so far as to use a serving diplomat to try to bomb the annual Free Iran World Summit in Paris in 2018, organized by the NCRI? That "diplomat" was subsequently convicted of terrorism in Europe and is spending 20 years in a Belgian jail, the first such ruling in Europe's modern history. And finally, why is the regime so afraid of the MEK? And why is Rubin?

Michael Rubin has no understanding of current events in Iran, and even less of the powers of the United States government. His motivations are highly suspect, and the authority with which he pretends to speak is non-existent. It is interesting that his favorite word of condemnation for the MEK is “cult,” and yet he offers conclusions without facts, narrative without authority, and analysis that has no basis in reality. Isn’t that what cult leaders do?

Delusional propagandists like Rubin hope that lies can replace facts. But as the renowned 16th century author Miguel de Cervantes wrote, "Truth will always bear up against falsehood, as oil does above water."

Ali Safavi (@amsafavi) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)

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