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Does an organized opposition to Tehran regime exist?

When it comes to Iran’s opposition and dissidents, the regime has long been investing significant political and financial capital in running covert disinformation campaigns, propagating fake news, and misleading the public, both domestically and globally. 
The Iranian regime and its loyalists have capitalized on disseminating several key arguments and narratives. Some of these arguments include: There exists no opposition against the Islamic Republic; if there are any oppositional groups, they are scattered, trivial, weak and unorganized; those who oppose the Islamic Republic are “monafeghin” — hypocrites, or betrayers. 
Mastering the skill of creating inflammatory mantras, the regime has also coined slogans against the opposition, such as “marg bar monafeghin,” meaning “death to the hypocrites.”
There are several objectives behind such efforts by the ruling mullahs. The theocratic establishment is trying to delegitimize its opposition, to divide and conquer, as well as to project to the international community that no credible and legitimate alternative to the Islamic Republic exists. 
As a result, the regime seeks to illustrate that the only option for the Iranian people and the international community is to accept the current political rule. To debunk the regime’s fallacy, one issue ought to be addressed adequately: Is there an organized and robust Iranian opposition? 
In order for an oppositional group, or any political organization or social movement, to be considered formidable and legitimate, it ought to meet several critical characteristics. These include: Having strong leadership; sociopolitical and socioeconomic influence; clear objectives; written rules; transparency; inclusiveness and accountability; enjoying considerable support from various sectors; launching effective and dynamic campaigns; having dedicated and active followers; being organized into clear organizational divisions; and being politically and financially independent from outside influence and interests.
Regardless of whether some may agree or disagree with the mission of a particular political organization, if the party has these qualities then it is undoubtedly strong and influential. 
After the extensive research I have conducted based on the aforementioned factors, when it comes to Iran’s opposition, one group appears to meet these characteristics: The National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In other words, the Iranian regime’s argument that there exists no organized opposition is totally inaccurate. 
In terms of sociopolitical and socioeconomic influence, as well as organizational qualities and support from people, the NCRI does wield a noticeable amount of power. Every year, the NCRI organizes the world’s largest gathering of those who advocate freedom and democracy in Iran. The mass “Free Iran” rally is held in Paris every year. 
The event attracts tens of thousands of people, who come together from all around the world in order to make their voices heard, and in the hope of freeing and liberating their homeland. They rally and demand regime change in Iran, advocating for a democratic, non-extremist, pluralistic, and non-fundamentalist government. 
The oppositional group enjoys support from ordinary people and also from hundreds of prominent international personalities, notable politicians, dozens of Nobel laureates, and important lawmakers from the US (from both the Democratic and Republican parties), France, other European countries (both liberals and conservatives), Canada, Australia and large delegations from Arab and Middle Eastern nations. 
The opposition group also frequently organizes other campaigns and rallies, such as in Washington and in front of the UN in New York, to raise awareness and protest against the Iranian regime’s human rights violations.
In addition, the group is the oldest Iranian opposition group, with its origins dating back to the 1960s. An organization that has survived more than 50 years and two political establishments — the theocratic rule of the Islamic Republic and the autocratic establishment of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi — cannot be considered an unimportant political party.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the group’s goals, it should be given credit for abiding by the same mission for over five decades: Setting up a democratic, inclusive and pluralistic system of governance in Iran. This mission meant advocating for regime change under the Shah and later under the ayatollahs.
When it comes to influence and having connections inside Iran, the NCRI has shown its political clout to the international community. It was this oppositional group, not the International Atomic Energy Agency or the US, which first revealed Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities at two major sites, Natanz and Arak, in 2002. 
The group has continued to reveal significant intelligence about Iran’s covert activities in connection with its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Due to the NCRI’s connections in Iran, its information is said to have a high level of credibility. Frank Pabian, an adviser on nuclear non-proliferation matters at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, previously told the New York Times that the NCRI is “right 90 percent of the time.”
In sum, despite the Iranian regime’s efforts to portray a sham picture that there is no organized or legitimate oppositional group against its rule, a robust opposition with influence, strong leadership and clear mission does exist. 

This article was originally published by Arab News. Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh