Opposition Political Parties in Exile

Iran Table of Contents

Many of the opposition parties that were suppressed inside the country were reorganized abroad. In 1987 more than a dozen political parties were active among the Iranian exile communities in Western Europe, the United States, and Iraq. All of these parties belonged to one of four broad ideological groups: monarchists, democrats, Islamicists, and Marxists. With the notable exception of the Mojahedin and the ethnic Kurdish parties, the expatriate opposition parties eschewed the use of political violence to achieve their shared goal of overthrowing the regime in Tehran.


The several monarchist political parties supported the restoration of a royalist regime in Iran. With varying degrees of enthusiasm the monarchists contended that Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, the eldest son (born 1960) of the last shah, was the legitimate ruler of the country. The former crown prince proclaimed himself Shah Reza II in 1980 following his father's death. Subsequently, he announced that he wanted to reign as a constitutional monarch and have a role similar to the role of the king of Spain. The most active monarchist group has been the Paris- based National Resistance Movement of Iran under the leadership of Shahpour Bakhtiar, the last royalist prime minister. The National Resistance Movement's official position was to restore the 1906 constitution as its original drafters intended, with a shah that reigns rather than rules. In 1983 Bakhtiar's group agreed to cooperate with another Paris-based party, the Iran Liberation Front, which was led by elder statesman and former royalist prime minister Ali Amini. In general, the monarchist parties have been weakened by personality conflicts among the several leaders. When Manuchehr Ganji, a former royalist cabinet officer, broke with Amini in 1986, many Iran Liberation Front followers joined him in forming a new rival party called the Banner of Kaveh, after the legendary pre-Islamic blacksmith hero who defeated an evil tyrant and restored the rule of ancient Iran to a just shah.

Democratic Parties

The democratic parties also consisted of several groups, all of which supported a republican form of government; some of them, such as the National Democratic Front and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDP), also espoused varying forms of socialism. The National Front, under the nominal leadership of Karim Sanjabi, and the National Democratic Front of Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari were both headquartered in Paris. Neither the National Front nor the National Democratic Front has engaged in significant political activity since 1982, although the latter party joined the Mojahedin-dominated National Council of Resistance in that year and was still a member in 1987. In contrast, the KDP, which advocated political and cultural rights for the Kurdish ethnic minority within a federally organized government, has been fighting against the Islamic Republic since 1979. By the beginning of 1986, however, KDP forces had been driven out of Iranian Kordestan, although they continued to conduct sporadic hit-and-run operations against units of the army and Pasdaran from bases in Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan.

Islamic Groups

In 1987 the principal Islamic party in opposition to the government of Iran was the Mojahedin, which had been founded in 1965 by a group of religiously inspired young Shias. All were college graduates who believed that armed struggle was the only way to overthrow the shah. In the early 1970s, the Mojahedin engaged in armed confrontations with the military and carried out acts of terrorism, including the assassination of an American military adviser. The Mojahedin was crushed for the most part by 1975, but it reemerged in early 1979 and revitalized itself. Its interpretations of Islam, however, soon brought the organization into conflict with the IRP. During the summer of 1981, the Mojahedin unsuccessfully attempted an armed uprising against the government. More than 7,500 Mojahedin followers were killed during the conflict, and within one year the organization had once again been crushed.

Rajavi, the leader of the Mojahedin, managed to escape from Iran with Bani Sadr in July 1981. In France he reorganized the Mojahedin and tried to broaden its appeal by inviting all nonmonarchist parties to join the National Council of Resistance, which he and Bani Sadr established to coordinate opposition activities. Although most of the political parties refrained from cooperating with the Mojahedin, it nevertheless was most successful in recruiting new members and establishing a loyal following in United States and West European cities with sizable Iranian communities. From the perspective of the other political parties, one of the Mojahedin's most controversial positions was its public endorsement of direct contacts with Iraq, beginning in 1983. This was a contentious issue even within the National Council of Resistance and eventually led to Bani Sadr's break with Rajavi in 1984.

The Mojahedin maintained clandestine contact with sympathizers in Iran, and these underground cells regularly carried out isolated terrorist acts. For this reason, Tehran was more concerned about the Mojahedin than any other opposition group based abroad. The freedom of operation that the Mojahedin enjoyed in France became one of the issues that led to increasingly strained relations between the Iranian and French governments after 1982. When Paris actively sought to improve relations in late 1985, Prime Minister Musavi set restrictions on the Mojahedin as one of the conditions for normalizing relations. In June 1986, France pressured the Mojahedin to curtail its activities. This move prompted Rajavi to accept an invitation from President Saddam Husayn of Iraq for the Mojahedin to establish its headquarters in Baghdad. Following the move to Iraq, the Mojahedin set up military training camps near the war front and periodically claimed that its forces had crossed into Iran and successfully fought battles against the Pasdaran. In June 1987, Rajavi announced the formation of the newly reorganized and expanded National Army of Liberation, open to non-Mojahedin members, to help overthrow the government of Iran.


Like the Mojahedin, several Marxist political parties have maintained clandestine cells inside the country. Tudeh leaders, who managed to escape the government's mass arrests and forcible dissolution of their party in early 1983, reestablished the Tudeh in exile in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The Fadayan Majority, which later in 1983 suffered the same fate as the Tudeh, was decimated by government persecution; its surviving members eventually joined the Tudeh. The Komala (Komala-ye Shoreshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan), a predominantly, but not exclusively, Kurdish party, had rejected as early as 1979 the Tudeh and Fadayan Majority policy of cooperation with the regime and continued to fight against central government forces up to the end of 1985, when it was forced to retreat to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Fadayan Minority had joined the Mojahedin uprising in 1981 and consequently lost most of its cadres in the ensuing confrontation with the regime. It has party offices in several West European cities and on university campuses in the United States. The Paykar, which also joined the Mojahedin's unsuccessful rebellion, was largely destroyed by 1982, although secret cells were believed still to exist in 1987.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress