Maryam Rajavi, maiden name Qajar-Azedanllo, was born in 1953 in Tehran to a middle-class family. She became involved in the movement to oust the Shah in her late teens.
Maryam Rajavi has been politically active since her late teens
She joined the Mujahideen al-Khalq Organisation (MKO), or People's Mujahideen, while at university.
Sharing the goal of removing the Shah with Ayatollah Khomeini, the MKO took part in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
But soon the group, with its blend of Marxism and Islam, fell out with its former allies. Some members, including Maryam Qajar-Azedanllo, stood against pro-Khomeini candidates in the general election of 1980.
With her future husband Masoud Rajavi, she helped stage anti-Khomeini demonstrations. In 1981 the group was forced to move to Paris. It now advocated the overthrow of the Islamic government in Tehran, by force if necessary.
In 1985 Maryam Rajavi was made joint leader of the organisation with Masoud, whom she married in Paris the same year. Following reported pressure from Paris, the leadership left France in 1986 and relocated to Baghdad.
In 1987, the National Liberation Army (NLA) was formed as the MKO's military wing. Mrs Rajavi became its deputy commander-in-chief.
In 1993, the MKO subordinated itself to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR), an umbrella group set up in 1981. Calling itself the Iranian Resistance's "parliament", the NCR promptly elected Maryam Rajavi as Iran's future interim "president".
She gave up her posts in both the MKO's military wing - the NLA - and the MKO proper, leaving leadership of the latter to her husband.
As the movement's figurehead, Mrs Rajavi made trips to Western cities in the mid-1990s to address Iranian exiles and canvas support.
But after it was labelled "terrorist" by the US State Department in 1997 and the European Union in 2000, foreign "appearances" by Maryam Rajavi and her husband abroad were made by video.
There have been no reliable reports of the leaders' whereabouts since the fall of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Tehran has offered MKO fighters an amnesty - but it wants the leaders handed over to stand trial.