When the MKO comes out of Its cave


A case about the appearance of an MKO (Mojahedin-e Khalq) member on BBC Persian

A debate was aired on BBC Persian a couple of weeks ago, about Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization’s (MKO) capability to play the role of an alternative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. “What is the weight of Iran’s Mojahedin-e Khalq?”, was the debate’s topic, featuring “Majid Rafizadeh”, an MKO advocate, who introduced himself as a “political analyst and a consultant at Harvard International Review”, on one side , and an Iran expert named Malihe Mohammadi on the other side of the debate. We will be reviewing in details who is this so called “political analyst”, advocating on behalf of the MKO, and evaluate his responses to the questions raised on MKO’s nature during the debate.

Who Is Majid Rafizadeh?

“Dr. Majid Rafizadeh” is a name frequently seen bellow many anti-Iranian articles published in American and Saudi warmongering media outlets in the past few years. In the Persian Wikipedia, this person, who is claimed to be of Iranian-Syrian origins and whose father has allegedly been a political prisoner in Iran and Syria [1], is introduced as “an American scientist and politician, researcher, professor at Harvard University, journalist, human rights activist, expert and a commentator of foreign policies of the United States and the Middle East, and (former) advisor to the president of the United States”  [2].

Claiming to be recognized as “one of the most notable Iranian-Americans” [3], Majid Rafizadeh is the head of a center called the International American Council on the Middle East [4], and his name is seen on the list of advisors to the Harvard International Review, a journal affiliated to the student organization of Harvard International Council [5]. His writings are regularly published in Arab News [6], Al Arabiya (English) [7], and news website of the Gatestone Institute [8], a right-wing anti-Muslim American think tank that has attracted attention for publishing false articles and being a source of viral falsehoods. [9]

The official page of Dr. Majid Rafizadeh on Twitter is filled with contents re-posted from official websites of the MKO, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and authorities of this organization, such as Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy of the representative office of the “National Council of Resistance of Iran” in the United States; and Ali Safavi, a member of the foreign commission of the “National Council of Resistance of Iran” [10].

In addition, on Rafizadeh’s personal page in the scholars at Harvard (Scholars @harvard), an open source website for graduate students and visiting scholars at the Harvard University, his photos with some notorious MKO advocates, including Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, are observed [11]. What follows is a brief look at these two former US officials’ record in supporting the MKO.


Rudy Giuliani

Perhaps the best known MKO votary is none other than former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, reported to be on the shortlists for Trump’s secretary of state and director of national intelligence, whose ties to the group have resurfaced as the press examines the numerous possible conflicts of interest created by his international business activities. The MKO has paid Giuliani handsomely for years—$20,000 or more [12], and possibly [13] a lot more [14] —for brief appearances before the group and for lobbying to have it removed from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), which occurred in 2012. A Treasury Department investigation in 2012 examined whether speaking fees paid by several MKO front groups to a long list of U.S. politicians, including Giuliani, violated laws on Americans receiving money from designated terrorist organizations.


Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the United States House of Representatives and unsuccessful Republican candidate of the 2012 presidential election. He is also one of the serious supporters of right-wing social policies in defense of the United States. A former member of the Neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Gingrich was one of the well-known figures of the Republican party. On July 6th 2016, Newt Gingrich attended the presidential election rallies of Trump in Cincinnati in his support. While the Republican party selected him as the companion of Trump on competitions and as his first vice president, the former head of the house of representatives suddenly traveled to Paris to attend the annual summit of the MKO. In his speech, Gingrich greatly admired the hypocrites and congratulated the group because of the presence of Turki bin Faisal Al Saud in the summit.

Appearance on BBC Persian

On September 15th, 2018, Majid Rafizadeh was invited to Pargar show on BBC Persian Television as a political analyst and MKO advocate to set up a hot debate on MKO’s capability to play a role as an alternative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rafizadeh was confronted by another expert who was a serious critic of the group. The host started the debate with a question: “MKO is the best organized group opposing the Islamic Republic of Iran. This group tries to introduce itself as a serious alternative to the current establishment in Iran. Does such a power exist in this group, and can we imagine such an outlook for this organization?” In this part, we will review Rafizadeh’s responses to this question.

At the beginning of the program, the host asked Rafizadeh, who was introduced as “a political analyst and advisor of Harvard International Review”, why was he so optimist toward the MKO, despite the “serious suspicion” about the organization even among the opponents of the Iranian government. Unexpectedly, Rafizadeh, who essentially had been invited to the program as a pro-MKO pundit, denied his optimism toward the organization, expressing that being suspicious about the MKO is not unjustified. In this regard, he marked: “I did not say that I was optimistic and did not say that suspicion is aberrant. I analyze the organization academically based on the existing documents and facts...”.

In response to another question proposed by the host about MKO’s ability to play the role of an alternative to the Islamic Republic of Iran, given the negative attitude of Iranians toward the group, while attempting to show himself impartial and deny his affliation with the organization,  Rafizadeh raised issues such as MKO’s strong ties with various heads of states; significant financial power; and resilient organizing power as signs of MKO’s superiority. He, even, confirms calling the group as “hypocrites”, expressing: “whether you agree with or oppose this group, whether you say they are hypocrites or they are zealots, whether they are good or bad forces, they are organized…”.

When facing the host’s reminder to stay focused on the topic, which was MKO’s popularity among Iranians, claiming there is no authentic way to determine the opinion of Iraninan people, Rafizadeh tried to paint the 2017–18 Iranian protests as an arena for the MKO fans to express their support. This assertion raised reaction of the other guest of the program, expressing that despite chanting monarchist slogans during the protests, not even one slogan in support of the MKO was heard. Here, Rafizadeh was forced to confirm the false claims of the MKO to have extensive support and penetration in Iran, affirming: “the MKO may not have millions of supporters in Iran, but it does not mean that they have no supporters … We cannot say that this group has no impact or power… they still have influence in Iran.”

In response to Rafizadeh’s claim that the MKO “still” has influence in Iran, Malihe Mohammadi doubted that Iranians would let a group, who has lived alongside with them at most for two years throughout the past 40 eventful years, to lead their demands, pointing out MKO’s headquarters location out of Iran. Referring to the negative reaction of Iranian people to MKO’s urban Warfare Method before and after the Revolution, Mohammadi stated that Iranians will never forget MKO's alliance with Iraq's former Baathist regime during the Iran-Iraq war. In response to these statements, Rafizadeh expressed that most researchers have remained in the 1970s era, claiming the youth today don’t care about MKO’s background.

Responses to Claims

As stated earlier, Rafizadeh enumerated some factors such as strong connection with heads of states; significant financial power; and strong organizing power as signs of MKO’s superiority over other Iranian opposition groups. Following are some answers to his claims.

MKO Advocates’ Gathering in Villepint, Paris, June 30, 2018


The first factor introduced by Rafizadeh as a sign of MKO’s supremacy, was alleged strong connection with the global state officials. In this respect, we must point out that the people whom he refers to as “heads of various countries” are in fact a crowd of former policy-makers and authorities who live on their retirement pensions and attend MKO gatherings and give lectures in favor of them in exchange for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, according to their own confessions or reports from financial audit centers. For instance, the term “former” was observed next to the names of almost all attendees of the latest annual summit of the MKO held in Villepinte of Paris.

Of course, it should be noted that the current US government is an exception in this regard and we see the presence of some of the notorious supporters of the MKO, including John Bolton and Elaine Chao, in president Trump’s cabinet. However , All the American invitees of this year’s summit of the MKO were former and retired government officials, including Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York; Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the United States House; Robert Torricelli, former United States senator; Bill Richardson, former secretary of energy; Michael Mukasey, former attorney general of the United States; Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI; Frances Townsend, former homeland security advisor to US president; and General George Casey, the commander of the multinational force in Iraq. It is clear that the gathering of some expired officials who have no political and administrative position is not indicative of “strong relations with other countries”. In fact, these people would support any group in exchange for money.

Another factor presented by Rafizadeh as a sign of the MKO’s superiority was its coherent organization. Meanwhile, valid scientific centers, such as Rand Corporation and Human Rights Watch, have reported that the MKO is a cult. Obviously, one of the most important features of any cult is having a coherent structure, which means assigning specific and hierarchical positions to members and defining methods to improve their position in the system. By doing so, members will not be able to leave the cult, and they will be motivated to continue their activities in the system. Nevertheless, in the past 10-15 years, since the US invasion of Iraq and opening of new communication ways between the cult and the outside environment, we have witnessed hundreds of members leaving the cult. The reports on the exit of and interviews with these individuals are frequently published on the websites of those leaving the cult. Therefore, the coherence Rafizadeh talks about is the result of sectarian relations and structure.



In terms of financial power of the MKO, it must be noted that before the overthrow of Saddam's regime in 2003, which was the official supporter and host of the MKO, their source of fund was clear. However, the financial resources of the MKO have always been questioned by researchers since the fall of Saddam. While there are serious speculations on the provision of heavy costs of this organization by Washington and Riyadh, the indecency of official relations with this group, which has been has been acknowledged as a terrorist group for many years, has prevented these countries to officially declare their support. Nonetheless, it is clear that the financial supporters of the MKO send cash to this group in order to prevent any tracking and eliminate financial interactions and documents. In turn, the MKO carries out its purchases and interactions with third parties in the same way. As reported by The Independent, paying $ 13 million in cash to buy 200,000 m of land in Albania, cash payment of heavy utility, telephone and Internet bills, cash purchase of 1700 laptops, which costs $700,000 without tax, and other similar purchases, clearly mean that they are reluctant to leave any trace of themselves. Such a purchase method is not common in many places around the world unless it is used in illicit businesses such as drugs and weapons, increasing the suspicion of governmental support of the organization.[15]

Scientific Analysis

Another claim made by Rafieizadeh in Pargar show was his scientific investigation on the MKO and analyzing the group based on documents and evidences. According to him, any proposition about the organization should be based on scientific surveys, and it should be avoided to postulate anything in this regard. This is while he himself did not observe the most prominent scientific principles in the program, which include impartiality and evaluating the subject through scientific methods. Firstly, despite his efforts to show himself impartial, he speaks throughout the program from the position of a patron of the group, in confrontation with the host and the other guest of the program, who spoke from the position of an MKO critic.  

Secondly, all the propositions that Rafizadeh proposes in support of the MKO are based on studies that according to him have been done on the group’s members and fans. Meanwhile, a research is valid only when the both sides of proponents and opponents are investigated, not just the proponents. Never mind that Rafizadeh even does not provide the results of these alleged investigations so that its accuracy could be measured, and he is just content to say that in his research he has come to a certain end, expecting the audience to reach the same conclusion. For instance, in response to a question about financial resources of the MKO, he says that he knows an Iranian-American citizen who has donated 250 thousand dollars to the MKO, while claiming that if the group has only a thousand of such supporters, the “million dollars” costs of the group’s annual programs would be funded.

Another important issue is the scientific credibility of Rafizadeh. As expressed before, in the official pages of this person on Twitter and the website for Graduate Students and Guest Scholars of Harvard University, he has been introduced as a PhD holder.  In addition, in the entry of “Majid Rafizadeh” on Persian Wikipedia, it is claimed that he holds a PhD in state and international affairs, and MScs in international and global studies, journalism and communications, and linguistics and teaching, and a BSc in linguistics. Nevertheless, neither in the pages attributed to Rafizadeh nor in the official websites belonging to any scientific center his profile has been recorded. Moreover, throughout the web there is no CV or academic paper from this person and the only book published in his name is about women's clothing in Iran, which obviously has nothing to do with his alleged PhD in international relations. In addition, it is declared on Wikipedia, which can be edited by users, that Mr. Majid Rafizadeh is a professor at Harvard University and a member of the editorial board of Harvard International Review. Meanwhile, no one with his characteristics was found on the Public Harvard Directory, where the names of Harvard students, faculty, and staff members can be searched. Furthermore, in response to Habilian correspondent's inquiry about Majid Rafizadeh, the university announced that there is no one with his characteristics in Harvard staff. Harvard University also stated that the journal of Harvard International Review has nothing to do with the university.

Unanswered Questions

September 15th, 2018 will be remembered: The day that the MKO left its shell and attended a TV program to answer some of the most obvious questions about its nature in front of cameras. Questions such as: “What would they do with their negative record in the minds of the Iranian people, if they plan to replace the Islamic Republic of Iran?”, “Considering the stealthy nature of the organization, how will they earn the trust of the new generation that seeks transparency?”, “Who funds the group?”, “Where is Masoud Rajavi?”, “How can one speak about popularity among Iranians on one hand and invite people like John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani, who advocate military strike against Iran and imposing tough sanctions against the Iranian people, to their summit for speech on the other hand ?”, “How open and democratic are the relations within the organization?”, and “when did the organization decide to set aside their anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist ideals and work with the most militant US wing?”

As it was obviously predictable, the MKO had no answer to these questions, and that's why it has escaped from cameras for more than three decades and continued to reel off in the media that had no use but satisfying the controlled members. Therefore, it was not strange at all that their agent looks straight into the camera in BBC and says that MKO supporters donate 70-80% of their monthly incomes to the organization, and from this source the “million dollars” costs of the group’s annual programs are funded. In addition, it is not unlikely for the confused calculation system of the MKO to assume people are so stupid to accept its ridiculous estimations: “If the organization had only 10000 supporters, and each of them would donate a thousand dollars to the organization, 10 million dollars would be collected in a year ]by which the group could supply the heavy costs of its event[”

On the other hand, given the dark background of the group and considering the fact that no impartial academic figure or researcher is willing to defend them, it is possible if they separated one of the children of their members in Camp Ashraf and sent him to Europe and North America, making him a “PhD holder” and a “professor at Harvard University” in one night and make up a fake background for him to hide his past: “According to CNN and BBC biographical features about Dr. Rafizadeh, he was born into poverty and became homeless in his childhood. He acquired several languages in addition to being a native speaker of both Arabic and Persian languages. During his childhood, his father was tortured by Assad’s forces in Syria and in Iran, for advocating for democracy...”[16]

Even, considering MKO’s indefensible records, it is not surprising if an agent of the group, when facing challenging situations, denies his affiliation with them or confirms suspicions about their procedure and says that he might not vote for the MKO if it becomes an election candidate in Iran: “I am not a fan nor a member of the organization. ]As far as[ If the current government of Iran is overthrown one day and the MKO becomes an election candidate, I might not vote for it.”

The MKO’s unexpected business was the historical mistake of leaving their isolated environment, in which they have been the sole speaker for several decades, and sending their agent to a television to defend them. Even though the television belongs to the United Kingdom and the host helps them in critical situations, such as the question of Malihe Mohammadi from Rafizadeh about the MKO’s terroristic acts in Iran and its betrayal at the time of Iran-Iraq war during the 1980’s, by interrupting the conversation to remind the guests not to travel between the past and the present.

Given the stroke that the MKO suffered from this action, rationally it seems very unlikely that they once again exit their cave and appear in a television not belonging to them. Nonetheless, given our understanding of the organization and the fact that they do not learn from history and are not able to analyze the situations, it is not unexpected to observe similar behaviors in future. At the end, Habilian invites those who have created the Wikipedia entry of “Majid Rafizadeh” and provide him material to publish on the web, to present any documents that confirms his background, including his career as a professor at Harvard University or former advisor to the U.S. president, if they have such a thing.


[1] https://scholar.harvard.edu/majidrafizadeh/biocv

[2] https://fa.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D9%85%D8%AC%DB%8C%D8%AF_%D8%B1%D9%81%DB%8C%D8%B9%E2%80%8C%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%87

[3] https://scholar.harvard.edu/majidrafizadeh/biocv

[4] http://iaccouncil.org/about/

[5] http://hir.harvard.edu/advisory.php

[6] http://www.arabnews.com/authors/dr-majid-rafizadeh

[7] https://english.alarabiya.net/authors/Majid-Rafizadeh.html

[8] https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/biography/Majid+Rafizadeh

[9] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/john-bolton-chaired-anti-muslim-think-tank-n868171

[10] https://twitter.com/dr_rafizadeh?lang=en

[11] https://scholar.harvard.edu/majidrafizadeh/biocv

[12] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2016/11/15/giuliani-was-paid-advocate-for-shady-iranian-dissident-group/?utm_term=.1e81aa492dc7

[13] https://www.ft.com/content/cc6d5774-b23d-11e0-9d80-00144feabdc0

[14] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/us/politics/lobbying-support-for-iranian-exile-group-crosses-party-lines.html

[15] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/mek-maryam-rajavi-anti-iran-albania-cult-state-regime-a8556201.htmlScientific Analysis

[16] https://scholar.harvard.edu/majidrafizadeh/biocv