by Eldar Mamedov
Until recently Spain was the envy of Europe. While in most countries the resurgence of the populist right was reshaping national politics, Spain was able to dodge the trend: a centre-right government lost power six months ago in a no confidence vote, and was replaced, in an orderly fashion, by a centre-left one. A minority Socialist government, which had more female ministers than male, steered the country in a decidedly pro-European direction. The extreme right, meanwhile, polled in single digits.
Not any longer. The December 2 regional elections in Andalucia, Spain’s largest region, saw a noisy irruption of Vox, a hitherto marginal extreme right party, into Spanish political life. Vox won almost 11% of the popular vote, which gave it 12 seats in the 109-seat regional chamber. For the first time since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in mid-1970s, the extreme right has entered a Spanish parliament, albeit for now only a regional one.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal is a professed admirer of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French extreme right, and built his campaign on a platform of Euro-scepticism, anti-feminism, xenophobia, and exacerbated Spanish nationalism. The transatlantic extreme right political guru Steve Bannon sees Vox as a valuable part of his global ideological crusade against the “liberal elite” and “cultural Marxism”.
What is less known is that Vox’s emergence is intimately linked to Mojaheddeen-e Khalk (MEK), an exiled Iranian cult bitterly opposed to the current government of Iran. MEK was on European Union’s terrorist list until 2009 and on the U.S. terrorist list until 2012.
The Vox-MEK link goes beyond any ideological affinity that might exist between the two groups. According to an investigation on Vox’ finances conducted by El Pais, a leading Spanish newspaper, Vox received a donation of 500.000 euros from MEK, acting under the umbrella of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in 2014. The money reportedly came via thousands of contributions ranging from 200 to 5000 euros from individual members and sympathisers of the NCRI. This money allowed the party to kick-start its election campaign for the European Parliament.
The person who played a key role in securing this funding was Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a veteran Spanish politician who served as a vice-president of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2014. Vidal-Quadras abandoned his center-right Partido Popular (People’s Party—PP) in 2013, on the grounds that it moved too far to the center under the leadership of Spain’s former prime-minister Mariano Rajoy. He became one of the founders of Vox, which sought to attract the disaffected voters of the right.
During his years as a vice-president, Vidal-Quadras was the most influential MEK lobbyist in the EP, leading the cross-party group “Friends of Free Iran“. This group acted mostly as a mouthpiece for the MEK. In his role as a vice-president he hosted on numerous occasions the NCRI “president-elect” Maryam Rajavi in the European Parliament.
At first sight, Vidal-Quadras and Rajavi would make strange bedfellows. Given Spain’s own traumatic experience with terrorism, the country’s right-wing has traditionally projected an image of unwavering toughness on the issue. Vidal-Quadras, however, saw no qualms in advocating for a removal of an avowedly Islamic-Marxist cult like MEK from the EU terrorist list—an effort that eventually culminated successfully in 2009. A self-professed defender of the “West”, Vidal-Quadras was lobbying on behalf of an organisation that was responsible for terrorist attacks on Westerners in Iran.
Vox did not make it to the EP in 2014, and Vidal-Quadras eventually parted ways with the party in 2015. He still spends a lot of time in Brussels, however, continuing to promote the NCRI/MEK, now through the “International Committee in Search of Justice” (ICSJ). Unfortunately the ICSJ’s website shows a marked lack of transparency. It gives no disclosure on its funding and staff. It claims that it “enjoyed the support of over 4000 parliamentarians on both sides of Atlantic”, but doesn’t identify a single one. Despite its lofty name, it seems to be narrowly focused on pushing the NCRI/MEK agenda of regime change in Iran. In sum, the “committee” looks more like a one-man operation.
Vidal-Quadras may no longer be with Vox, but that hardly means that MEK-Vox ties are severed. Rafael Bardaji, a former adviser to the Spanish prime-minister Jose Maria Aznar, recently joined Vox and is a staunch advocate of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran. And Aznar himself addressed a MEK rally in Paris in 2010.
Current leaders of Vox insist that they no longer receive any funding from foreign sources. They claim that the party is supported exclusively by small Spanish firms and crowdfunding. This, however, flies in the face of the party’s apparent financial strength, as reported by El Pais, which has enabled it to acquire real estate, hire new personnel, pay lawyers to file complaints and petitions against the government, etc. Former party leaders accuse the current leadership of running financially opaque operations, falling far short of satisfying legal standards for transparency.
Whatever the financial status of Vox currently, the role of MEK in enabling this newcomer into the ranks of Europe’s extreme right cannot be ignored. It should also serve as a wake-up call to mainstream Western politicians who have allowed themselves to be fooled by MEK’s siren songs about democracy and secularism in Iran.
This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the European Parliament.