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Moderates in Iran—the Iranian Regime or its Political Opposition

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The search for moderates in Iran to justify the nuclear deal with Tehran would benefit from looking at the moderate Iranian opposition that rejects both clerical rule of Iran as well as acquiring nuclear weapons in word and deed. It is the main adversary of the Islamic Republic from within.


Iran’s parliamentary elections took place on February 26. They prompted two narratives of the outcome. As headlined in The New York Times of Feb. 29, “Iranian President and Moderates Make Strong Gains in Elections.” But as noted in The Weekly Standard Magazine of Mar.14, Iran’s moderates only “Make-Believe” ones. The Obama administration advocated the nuclear deal with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) partly to reinforce “moderates” of the regime.

Foreign powers like the United States should place their bets on the Iranian opposition rather than the Islamist theocracy. Reinforcing the Iranian opposition is in line with the second narrative that the search for regime moderates is wishful thinking. Think about the characters selected by the theocracy to stand for election.

Those allowed to run did so as reformists-in-name-only. Their views and political records demonstrated steadfast allegiance to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the vicious policies of the Islamic Republic.

Among the leaders of this supposedly reformist faction in 2016 is former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In 1988, however, he presided over arguably the worst period of Iran’s state-sponsored international terrorist activities, as well as helped carry out a fatwa that led to the execution of approximately 30,000 political prisoners within Iran. The overwhelming majority were activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), the true Iranian moderates.


On April 17, 1992, a report from Elaine Sciolino of The New York Times told how then-President of Iran, Rafsanjani sketched a vision of a moderate, modern Iran.

Included in what Rafsanjani ironically described as a “List of Hope” are a former Intelligence Minister and Prosecutor who oversaw assassinations of dozens of authors and intellectuals, a former Revolutionary Court Prosecutor, who supervised all executions of political prisoners and became globally infamous for issuing medieval sentences. They consisted of stoning four military servicemen and torturing as well as executing hundreds of dissident religious scholars.

With this cast of characters standing at the head of the “mainstream reform movement,” there is no alternative to the past 36 years of repression and violence, short of the total political transformation of the existing regime.

What is difficult to understand is why the global media and many leading Western policymakers have taken it upon themselves to sanitize images of people like Rafsanjani. At the same time, the media ignores the PMOI call for serious and substantial reform that will truly end the reign of terror that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of political dissidents and has been the constant factor in Iranian political landscape.


Hassan Rouhani was swept into the Iranian presidency in 2013 on promises to defend free expression. Now, not only has the renowned “moderate” taken no steps in the direction of fulfilling these promises, but the domestic situation has gotten worse, as evidenced by rising executions and less freedom for writers and artists.

Western endorsement of the 2016 selections assumes it is better to choose the devil you know as lesser of two evils; but doing so ignores the fact that there is a third option, which includes the PMOI.

Unlike superpower United States, tiny Albania leads the way by taking in PMOI refugees who have been subject to several politically-motivated attacks while living in Iraq at camps Ashraf and Liberty under an agreement brokered by Washington and the UN. I was among the last group of foreign civilians who visited Camp Ashraf in 2008. Subsequently Baghdad at behest of Tehran imposed a total blockade on the camp, which has also been the case with its successor, Camp Liberty.

Albania’s heroic actions exasperate the Islamic Republic because it is the only party that opposes relocation of Iranian dissidents to safety in third countries. At the end of the day, all politics are local and Tehran is totally worried about the enemy within.


Albania has taken the appropriate first steps toward giving Iran policy an out-of-the box option that isn’t merely the same hard-line ideologies in different clothing. The approach by Albania, a candidate for EU membership, takes a stand that is morally correct and hopefully is diplomatically sound.

Those countries that contributed to the misrepresentation of last month’s Iranian elections would be well-advised to follow Albania and not pin their hope on the fictitious moderates within the ruling theocracy.

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