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A summer of protest. Is anyone listening?

An Iranian exile worries his demonstrations against Iraq fall on deaf ears.

Asked for a response to the pleas, European Commission Spokesman Ton van Lierop said Friday that “the Commission is aware of the situation of the Iranian group, People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), in the Ashraf camp. The EU always calls for refugee populations not to be victims of political problems.”

But no government has stepped forward yet to either navigate or ignore the complex political situation surrounding Camp Ashraf and address the humanitarian concerns.

The politics are as complicated as it gets. Nobari, his fellow demonstrators and the residents of Camp Ashraf are supporters or members of the PMOI, also known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the largest of the Iranian dissident groups that form the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), based mostly outside Iran. For more than two decades, the headquarters of PMOI has been based in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, welcomed there by Saddam Hussein as a place where the group could launch attacks across the border — just about an hour away — on their mutual nemesis, the regime in Tehran.

For this armed struggle and other activities against the Iranian government, some of which cost U.S. lives in the 1970s, the PMOI/MEK and the umbrella organization to which it belongs, NCRI, have been branded as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. Until a court ruling removed the designation this January, the groups were also on the EU’s blacklist. 

Though legally cleared of being a terrorist group, PMOI is by no means free of controversy in Europe. Even as the European Parliament passed a resolution in April that called on Iraq to maintain protection of Ashraf — and on the EU to increase its oversight of the situation — opponents spoke up. Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes, for one, said PMOI-linked dissidents were neither “heroes or a true alternative to the Iranian regime.” During the debate over the resolution, Gomes gave voice to accusations that PMOI itself acted to repress Ashraf residents, punishing those who wanted to leave the compound. PMOI denies those claims, saying all are free to leave and that the vast majority chooses to stay.

It’s the continuing U.S. designation as a terrorist group, however, that leaves the NCRI and its member groups both furious and incredulous. They believe it’s as simple as this: Since the government of Iran is considered by much of the world to be hostile and dangerous, these opposition members who wish to establish a democratic regime in Tehran should be supported.