The co-founder of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the son of a late ayatollah are the latest exiled Iranian dissidents to hire a Washington lobbyist to pursue their dreams of regime change.
The self-declared Iran Transition Council hired Ayal Frank‘s AF International on June 10 to help “arrange for meetings and activities with government and media toward Iran and the current and future governments of Iran.” The contract is only for $12,000 over six months, $3,000 of which was paid up front.
In his filing, Frank describes the group as an “unincorporated collective.” The founding members include Hassan Shariatmadari, a German-based son of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, and Mohsen Sazegara, a Washington-based journalist and activist who signed the contract with Frank.
“The Iran Transition Council has been formed by the main pro-democracy Iranian political groups and interested individuals to enlist the cooperation of all leading opposition groups and known political activists from all political spectrums,” Frank’s filing reads.
“Without leadership … the chance of chaos and anarchy is real.”Iran Transition Council fact sheet
The council was formally launched in September 2019 to offer an “alternative to the regime” in Tehran, according to a fact sheet distributed by Frank. The fact sheet says the group came together after widespread protests in 2018 convinced them that the clerical regime seems ever more likely to lose power “based on the fact that Iran’s public is fed up with the current political system.
“In the absence of leadership and a coordinating body that can direct and ensure a peaceful transition of power in Iran, the risk of violence and civil war is high,” the fact sheet states.”Without leadership, possessing large constituencies inside Iran and in the Diaspora, which can manage the march to democracy through peaceful means including all layers of society, beliefs and ideas, the chance of chaos and anarchy is real. The ITC was formed to provide that leadership and coordination.”
Despite the elevated rhetoric, popular support for the council is hard to gauge. Its @iran_tc Twitter account had fewer than 300 followers as of Tuesday afternoon, far fewer than the tens of thousands who pledge allegiance to the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) or Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the late shah, for example.
“I just don’t see them as having great prospects. Especially because you know what happens – once you leave Iran, you become irrelevant,” said Barbara Slavin, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “There are plenty of people within the country whose democratic bona fides are much better, who’ve been there and suffered through everything, including sanctions, some of whom are still in jail. If the regime were ever to fall, these are the people that Iranians would turn to.”
Sazegara is well-known in Washington, where he landed after becoming disillusioned with the regime more than decade ago. Sazegara was one of the founders of the IRGC but left the revolutionary government in 1989. After being disqualified from running for the presidency in 2001, he called for overhauling the constitution and was subsequently arrested in 2003.
He joined the Washington Institute for Near East Policy as a visiting fellow in 2005 and has continued his advocacy against the regime since then. This Thursday, he is slated to speak on at a Middle East Institute Zoom webinar on the outlook for a policy of regime change under the Donald Trump administration.
Also on the council is Abdullah Mohtadi, a co-founder of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan. Frank has separately represented Komala’s US office since February 2019.