New Hopes of Unity Among Iran’s Exiled Opposition

By Hiva Feizi

October 27, 2020

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s political masterstroke was disabling Iranian opposition groups through arrest, torture, execution and exile. His efforts have played out over decades and were aided by opposition groups pitting themselves against one another. For more than 41 years, Iran’s global diaspora has been unable to organize and lead Iran forward, but there are fresh signs of change. Against the backdrop of a regime struggling to provide for Iranians, the diaspora is coalescing. No matter who leads the United States over the next four years, this warrants serious attention and support.

To be sure, the challenges to an organized opposition are significant. Monarchists clash with republicans, nationalists clash with sectarians, and the MEK clashes with all other political camps – and the differences are not superficial.

Passions run deep and alignment with one movement over another is often inherited, much like political affiliations in the United States. The difference being that there aren’t many Democrats or Republicans who lay blame at the feet of their ideological opposition because their loves ones or members of their communities have been harassed, demonized, attacked, or even killed.

And yet the lines of division and discord are fading. Changes in sentiment and behavior are happening. That much is unmistakable. And it is coinciding with events that have put the regime on unstable ground.

Millions in the politically, religiously, and ethnically diverse Iranian diaspora are recognizing their collective strength and mutual responsibility to ensure that the future of Iran is bright, peaceful, and tolerant. This deserves the applause, admiration and support of human rights activists, proponents of democracy, liberalism, and leaders who dream of a more peaceful Middle East.

Barriers that were built and hardened over decades between opposition groups are falling every day. For the first time in 67 years, the Constitutional Party of Iran (CPI) invited one of Iran’s oldest pro-democracy opposition group – the Iran National Front (INF) and its sister organization, the PanIranist Party – to its annual congress held virtually in September.

Senior members of the CPI, under the leadership of its first-ever female secretary-general, called on the party during its virtual congress to “maximize its efforts aimed at forging alliance with other political parties, including the National Front.” At this same congress, the PanIranists took pains to emphasize the mutual values they share with the constitutionalists, and the INF called for cross party collaboration aimed at creating an anti-regime lobby in Washington.

Soon afterwards, Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince of Iran, spoke out in favor of democratic rule in Iran that would prevent a concentration of power in the hands of any particular individual or special group.

Opposition groups around the world are embracing the thaw, which has been facilitated by organizations like CPI – which leans on the pedigree of its founder, the late Dr. Daryoush Homayoun, one Iran’s most celebrated political theorists and intellectuals – that bring together Iranians with liberal democratic tendencies in a modern progressive political party. Other facilitators are willing to go further. The U.S.-based International Convention for the Future of Iran was launched last year to support unity and collaboration among all Iranian opposition groups. Its ultimate objective is helping to form a unified front against the regime – something that has been lacking since 1979.

This is possible. It is in fact more likely than ever before, and that represents a new and strategic threat to the stability of the regime – which is already under siege – and its capacity to continue its violent and oppressive rule.

Today, most Iranians both inside Iran and abroad have lost all hope of gradual and intrinsic reforms within the Islamic Republic. During the bloody October protests in 2019 that resulted in about 1,500 people being killed by security forces, according to Reuters, Iranians openly calling for regime change. Many went as far as calling for the reestablishment of the monarchy.

The regime is also keenly aware that it cannot hide its failure to manage the Iranian economy, open international trade, or keep its banks connected with others around the globe as evidence of the regime’s terror financing apparatus builds. Though the regime has tried to shift blame for the toll on Iranians to the U.S. maximum pressure campaign, Iranians inside and outside the country know where responsibility rests.

The Iranian national currency has been in free fall for months. The cost of even modest living has risen to exceed the means of most families. And the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been shown before the entire world to be as incompetent as it is deadly. Iranians have boldly called for an end to many of the behaviors that have prompted global sanctions and for accountability of regime leaders.

In the coming weeks and months, Washington and some European capitals will see a flurry of conferences held by Iranian opposition groups. Western governments would be wise to lend their support and nurture the efforts of groups that value peace, transparency, accountability, and freedom. In November, shortly after U.S. voters go to the polls, the INF will hold a conference in Washington where constitutionalists and republicans are expected to participate. Subsequent events are also being planned in Europe.

To be sure, disagreements persist amongst opposition groups on the form and function of a post-clerical regime in Iran, but what binds them together is stronger right now than what divides them. The moment is being seized. And if this new momentum leads to the formation of a viable alternative to the Iranian regime it would be a tremendous step forward toward the end its despotic rule.

Hiva Feizi is the executive director at the International Convention for the Future of Iran.

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