These Iranians in exile reject both Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in favour of a “third way: a democratic change and the establishment of popular sovereignty by the Iranian people and its resistance”. But by “resistance” they mean armed combatants, classified by the European Union till last January (and by the US to this day) as a terrorist organization.

This movement, which used to be called an “Islamic Marxist” organisation and helped overthrow the Shah’s regime before turning against the mullahs’, was deemed the foremost opposition force in exile, initially in France, then for a long time protected by Iraq under Saddam Hussein, though its current standing is less certain. Every year its leadership, based in Auvers-sur-Oise, holds a large gathering of the diaspora.

“There’s a bigger turnout than usual; 90,000 people showed up here at the exhibition centre in Villepinte,” claims Afchine Alavi, in charge of press relations, who makes sure each journalist gets steered toward the “right” people and doesn’t linger too long in the crowd, which is more disparate – and thinner on the ground – than he would have us believe (at a glance, their numbers look to be more like a tenth of the figure announced).

We have been told of “a thousand coaches” converging from every corner of Europe to support the cause. There are plenty of Russians and some Germans, who don’t get a word of the speech but are valiantly waving their little flags to say “no to terrorism and no to Mousavi”.

Some African women’s organisations from Sarcelles [another ethnic Parisian suburb] have come “in solidarity with the martyrs of Ashraf”, a refugee camp in Iraq that holds some 3,500 recently disarmed Iranian combatants.

Not a few Marxist militants likewise identify with these “resistance fighters”: pensioner Bernard Fortin, for instance, sees Maryam Rajavi as a “true democrat with great charisma who deserves to govern”. There are even some young Somalis from London roped in by their Iranian friends, because “at 30 pounds for the weekend it was affordable”.

Tightly-guarded podiumMaryam Rajavi, hailed as the “Sun of the Revolution”, has all the makings of a would-be head of State. The arrival of her procession of limousines was filmed by a whole battalion of cameras and relayed onto a giant screen, her legion bodyguards making sure no-one came too close to their precious charge, as spokesmen on every side brandishing photographs distil the discourse of the martyrs.

Like Hassan Habibi, who introduces himself as the head of the Paris office of the international support committee for the revolt in Iran and vaunts the diversity of this NCRI Iranian Resistance coalition (the bulk of whom are mujahideen):

“You see girls here in miniskirts and women in veils, right-wingers and left-wingers; we’re all secular and democratic. Our watchword, “Down with the dictatorship!”, is what you hear in the streets of Tehran. Everyone now realises the importance of our organisational capabilities here and over there.”But exactly what role do the mujahideen play in the current uprising? Very hard to say. In a private interview arranged for us by Maryam Rajavi’s entourage after her stump speech, she was evasive on this point:

“It’s a bit of a secret, but I think now the Iranian people in the streets sympathise with our goal.”