Last weekend, Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud spoke at a rally hosted by Iranian dissidents, most of whom belonged to or support the Mujahadeen-e Khalq (MEK). While the rally is held annually outside of Paris, this year's rally marked the first time that a member of the al-Saud royal family chose to address the crowd. What might seem like a minor affair has, in fact, raised some eyebrows.
Who is Turki and why does he matter?
Turki serves as chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and has previously served as ambassador to the United States. He also served as the Director of the General Intelligence.
He is the eighth and youngest son of King Faisal, who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975. The Al Saud family has thus far refrained from engaging the MEK, which is perhaps the most ardent Iranian-borne opponent of the theocracy that currently rules Iran. In the years leading up to and immediately following the Iranian Revolution, the MEK was one of the largest political forces within Iran.
Iranian dissident rally attracts tens of thousands.
Organizers claim that 104,000 to 106,000 dissidents attended the annual rally. Besides Prince Turki, numerous senior public figures from the United States, the United Nations, Albania, and across the European Union attended and spoke at the event.
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman in Paris for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of the MEK, said “A year after the JCPOA, the overwhelming and enthusiastic presence in the rally of the throngs of Iranians, young and old, from all over the world reflected the Iranian people’s simmering desire for freedom and their readiness to fight on, making it palpably clear that the overthrow of the religious dictatorship is possible and within reach,”.
MEK at odds with Iranian clerics for decades
When the clerics who now rule Iran seized control, they started to undermine their opponents, and in the early 1980's, after consolidating power, they launched fierce crackdowns. Tens of thousands of MEK members and supporters were arrested, and in many cases executed at the command Iran's theocracy. As a result, thousands of MEK members now live in exile, some in Iraq, some in Albania, many scattered elsewhere.
Since then, the MEK has been waging its battle against the Iranian theocracy essentially on its own. That's what makes Turki's comments so interesting. It marks the first time that such a high ranking member of Saudi society has endorsed the MEK. The Prince lauded the gathered dissidents for their efforts to bring down the Iranian regime and claimed that the whole of the Islamic world stood with them. He also addressed the MEK's leading public figure, Maryam Rajavi, directly, stating “And you, Maryam Rajavi, your endeavor to rid your people of the Khomeinist cancer is an historic epic that, like the Shahnameh, will remain inscribed the annals of History.”.
Usually, stoic Turki was outspoken, poetic.
Turki is largely known for being relatively stoic, and speaking rather conservatively. Most of his speeches in the past of focused more on policies, and avoided any “flowery” language. In his speech to the MEK, however, Turki both talked poetically about the history of Islam and went as far as calling the current regime in Iran “bigoted.”
Despite the lifting of sanctions, and supposedly the curbing of Iran's nuclear program, tensions between Iran and the world remain high. The Iranian regime already lambasted the French government for allowing the dissident rally to be held outside of Paris. Days before that, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was chiding Iran for testing missile technologies.