Can MEK Survive the Coronavirus Infection in Albania?

In an interview with the Balkans Post, Dr. Olsi Jazexhi, a Canadian-Albanian historian, argued that the possibility that coronavirus has infected the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK)’s camp in Albania is highly likely.

The transcript of the interview is presented below:

Balkans Post: The Intercept has published a piece, according to which the MEK has isolated, disappeared, and tortured many of its cadres into submission, including forcing dozens of female members to have sex with Massoud Rajavi and undergo medical sterilization. What’s your view on this?

Olsi Jazexhi: Hello Balkanspost and thank you for interviewing me again.

The piece by Murtaza Hussain [and Matthew Cole] for The Intercept was an interesting investigation which exposes to the world the bizarre nature of the Iranian Monafeqeen or the Mojahedin-e Khalq ex-terrorist cult. The unfortunate soldiers of MEK are victims of two lunatic cult leaders, Maryam Rajavi and Massoud Rajavi. Today, five decades after the MEK was created we can see that it has achieved nothing expect terrorism, killings and hate of the Iranian people. After failing in their mission to overthrow the republican system of Iran, MEK soldiers have ended up as desperate and stateless refugees in Albania. The foreign fighters of MEK resemble very much with the jihadis of ISIS who are trapped in camps in Syria and have no place to go.

I have met a number of deradicalized MEK defectors who reside in Tirana and their stories are similar to what The Intercept shows. They have told us stories of torture, sexual abuse, radicalization and weird cultish indoctrination that Massoud and Maryam Rajavi have done with them.

Some of the defectors to whom I have spoken and have a very difficult life in Albania, have shown to me how their jihadi commanders were indoctrinating them to renounce a normal sexual life, not to marry, to abandon their families and relatives and to perceive human relations and love as sin from which they had to abstain.

One ex- Mojahedin member, Ehsan Bidi has shown to me how he was tortured, isolated and beaten by the MEK, because he did not obey to the orders of his jihadi commanders. Their stories resemble very much with stories of other jihadi and lunatic groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the Middle East where foreign intelligence agencies play a crucial role on radicalization and creation of lunatic terrorist organizations such as MEK.

BP: Why do MEK defectors have a difficult life in Albania?

OJ: As I have mentioned in my previous interviews, the Albanian government of Edi Rama and Pandeli Majko are ordered by the Americans to preserve in all possible ways the paramilitary existence and activities of the MEK in Albania. Our government has done anything within its power to intimidate MEK defectors who abandon jihad and return to civilian life to go back to the MEK camp. The strategy of the Americans and the Albanian government is to preserve MEK at any cost, since the Americans hope to use this lunatic cult against Iran and Iraq in the future.

The defectors in Tirana have a very hard time with Albanian authorities. The UNHCR which was responsible for their relocation has abandoned them. Albanian authorities mistreat the defectors, have cut their financial support and refuse to renew the asylum papers to many of them. One defector, Ehsan Bidi has been imprisoned by Albanian authorities since August 2019, after they canceled his asylum status. Ehsan is being punished because he was critical of MEK and exposed their crimes in the media. The MEK which was embarrassed by his revelations did all it could to force the Albanian authorities to illegally remove his asylum status and imprison him.

The defectors present a very serious challenge for the existence of MEK, since they threaten its existence in three major ways:

    They reveal to the outside world the criminal and weird structure of the organization.
    By abandoning the organization, they motivate many of their comrades who are isolated in the camp to escape and start a peaceful civilian life.
    They reveal to the Iranian and international community the schizophrenic cultish nature of the MEK, and show to the world that the MEK has no relation with democracy and civilization. The defectors destroy the massive investment that the Trump administration has done to promote the MEK as an ‘opposition’ group to the democratic system of Iran.

They prove to the world that the MEK is not the ‘Iranian opposition’ as Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton like to describe them, but instead it is a scary lunatic cult which is hated even by its own soldiers.

That is why the MEK hates and fights its defectors. If in Syria ISIS was decapitating its defectors, in Albania MEK is pushing the Albanian government to scare, intimidate and imprison them.

BP: What is going on with the MEK now in the time of coronavirus?

OJ: We know very little about the everyday dealings of the MEK in Albania. They are a very secretive and closed organization. Journalists from the New York Times, al Jazeera, BBC etc. who have approached them, have been attacked, insulted, intimidated and given very limited access to their camp.

Maryam Rajavi, the old leader of the cult who has many friends in the Trump administration has managed to silence the Albanian media and government. The MEK has created a state within a state and even the Albanian government cannot access it. The secrecy of the MEK camp can be compared to the Concentration Camps that China has built against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Since we do not have access to their camp, we do not know how they are coping with coronavirus. Their 3000 or so members live separate from us and are kept in total lockdown. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, their commanders who before this were seen moving in Tirana now are not seen out anymore.

Some defectors claim that the MEK camp is suffering from coronavirus infection. Their camp of Manza is situated between Tirana and Durres. These are the cities which have most infected persons in Albania. We have infected doctors and nurses in the hospitals of Tirana and Durres, places where many old MEK soldiers receive treatment. Thus the possibility that coronavirus has infected their camp is highly likely.

On April 9, 2020, the MEK announced that one of their commanders, Babak Khalili had died. We do not know if his death was caused by coronavirus or other medical complications. Albanian authorities are not allowed to do postmortem analysis to dead Mojahedin. Since their members are not registered with Albanians’ national registry they can die as many as they want. They can even kill each other and no one will be able to trace and analyze the reasons of their death. Moreover, many MEK soldiers have entered into Albania with fake names and identities. By living in total isolation and secrecy and apart from their families, we can never find how many deaths MEK will face because of coronavirus.

However, if coronavirus has already penetrated the MEK camp, the cult members will die en masse. The vast majority of the Mojahedin are old, suffer from different disease, live close to each other and in case coronavirus enters the camp it will devastate the organization and few will survive.

BP: Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has described the organization as a fringe group with mysterious benefactors that garners scant support in its home country. Is there any evidence to show who these “mysterious benefactors” are?

OJ: Karim Sadjadpour is right. The MEK is a fringe group. It has very few supporters among the Iranians. The MEK can be compared in many ways with Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda (LRA). Like LRA it was listed as terrorist organization by the United States and later delisted. Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, the leaders of the MEK, resemble very much with Joseph Rao Kony of LRA. If Joseph Kony proclaimed himself a spokesman of God, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi proclaim themselves – according to testimonies of defectors – representatives of God.

If LRA was supported by Sudan, the MEK was supported by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and now after the American invasion of Iraq, it is being openly supported by the United States and most probably Israel, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Many foreign journalists who visit Albania and meet MEK observers have raised your question: who finances the MEK and its existence in Albania? In an interview that I had for Counter Punch in December 2019, I said the following:

“Their organization, which is believed to have around 3000 members, needs a huge budget to run. Each MEK member used to take around 500 EURO per month to survive in Albania from UNHCR. The minimum budget that the MEK takes to sustain its members and camp is around 1.5 million EURO per month. It is believed that this budget comes from Saudi Arabia. In a year, they need at list 18 million EURO, without counting here the money that they spend for building their facilities and hosting periodic events where they invite retired and second-class politicians from the West who get free hotel, food, airplane tickets and some stipends for their attendance.”

As we can understand from the above, the MEK needs a state to finance its existence. While the U.S. government and Israel will most probably not spend their money with an ex-terrorist organization, I believe that the only state who can support it should be Saudi Arabia. Saudis have done such a thing with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or Jahbat al-Nusra in Syria and we should not be surprised if they pay the MEK bill as well.

BP: In a piece published by the Washington Post in September 2019, Shahin Gobadi, spokesman of the anti-Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terrorist group, claimed that “a cursory review of the MEK’s history shows it has survived and flourished for 54 years, not because of having a voice in the White House but because of its reliance solely on the Iranian people and because it has been willing to pay the price for democracy in blood and treasure.” What could you say about these remarks?

OJ: Shahin Gobadi is an old man whom we have seen in the court of Durres in Albania attending the court case against his friend Behzad Saffari. Shahin is a very interesting personality, who like the rest of his Mojahedin are afraid from the media and do not dare to debate their ideas in public. Now that he is getting old Shahin resembles so much with Victor Hugo’s Quasimondo, the Hunchbacked Bell Ringer of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Shahin and Behzad Safari are both liars. The Albanian journalist Gjergji Thanasi, has sued Behzad for libel and slander after the later accused Gjergji Thanasi to be an Iranian agent. I hope Shahin Gobadi and Saffari will be able to properly defend themselves in the Albanian court for their insult against Gjergji Thanasi, and have not the fate of Quasimondo and Claude Frollo of Victor Hugo’s novel.

Shahin Gobadi’s claim that “MEK has survived and flourished for 54 years … because of its reliance … on the Iranian people” is a lie and Shahin knows this very well. As an Albanian journalist who have visited and interviewed many people in Iran and many defectors in Albania, I can say that the people of Iran and even many Mojahedin inside their Manza camp hate MEK and do not consider them to be serious about what they claim.

In the past 54 years, the MEK has seen only failures, wars, terrorism, betrayal of their nation and death. It has brought only suffering to Iranian people and even to their own members who today survive as desperate stateless refugees in Albania. After coming to Albania, the first thing that the MEK did was to ask the Albanian authorities and their American friends to expel any Iranian national who was living in Albania, freeze their bank accounts and prohibit any Iranian from entering the country. Is this how MEK loves the Iranians and relies on them? If the MEK loves the Iranians it will not fight them in the Balkans as it has done in the past years.

Shahin Gobadi’s statement that MEK “has been willing to pay the price for democracy in blood and treasure” is also fake for a number of reasons.

    The MEK is not a democratic organization. It does not fight for democracy. It is a totalitarian cult.
    The MEK is no longer a physical threat for Iran and it has no blood left to fight with the Iranian people. The vast majority of MEK members are old and cannot fight. Since their expulsion from Iraq and isolation in Albania, the MEK has transformed itself into a warmongering and fake news making organization.

The MEK owes its existence to Saddam Hussein and nowadays to the Americans, Saudis and Israelis who have dumped them to Albania. Shahin Gobadi, Maryam Rajavi and other MEK commanders know very well that their organization is living its last days of existence in Albania. The massive defections, the total isolation of its members and the war that Maryam Rajavi has declared on her defectors and any Iranian national who comes to Albania show the desperation that exists within the organization. Their hysteria against journalists, the media and their fear from facing the public opinion are very revealing.

If the U.S. administration and the Albanian government withdraw their support from the MEK and if the Saudis (or whoever pays their bill) cut their money, the MEK will be dismantled within a few weeks. Maryam Rajavi will face massive defections and without the protection of the Albanian government, her soldiers will riot and break free.

The declaration of Shahin Gobadi is a wishful thinking. Shahin Gobadi, Maryam Rajavi and the MEK command are desperate. Their time has run out and their utopic dream of turning Iran into a MEK-istan will never materialize.

Olsi Jazexhi is a Canadian-Albanian historian who is specialized in the history of Islam, nationalism and religious reformation in Southeastern Europe. His interest covers nationalism, radicalism, religious and ethnic identities in the Balkans.