Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur: cleric and revolutionary, 1947-2021
Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur, who died at the age of 74, was a central figure in the Iranian revolution of 1979 and its aftermath. The cleric and politician helped turn Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, into the proxy force the fledgling Islamic republic felt it needed to fight the United States and Israel.
Hezbollah, designated as a terrorist group by the United States, is seen as an important form of regional leverage by Iranian leaders, who have attempted to replicate its success by creating similar groups elsewhere in the Middle East, notably in Iraq.
In Iran, however, the reaction to Mohtashamipur’s death earlier this month has been muted and his role in establishing proxy force barely mentioned.
“Today’s extremists don’t want to give him enormous credit for founding Hezbollah,” said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former reformist vice-president, who added that Mohtashamipur was “one of the most important figures. most complicated of the republic ”.
Mohtashamipur was born in Tehran in 1947 and studied in seminaries in his hometown, as well as in Qom. He soon came under the influence of a charismatic professor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, future founder of the Islamic republic.
In the early 1960s he fell under the Shah’s regime and was arrested and detained for a time in 1962. Three years later he joined Khomeini in exile in the Iraqi town of Najaf. In 1978, he followed Khomeini again, this time to France.
Returning to Iran after the 1979 revolution, Khomeini’s inner circle wondered if the best way to “export” the ideals of justice and anti-imperialism from the Islamic republic to regional states was through by existing groups or to create new forces, a policy advocated by Mohtashamipur.
In 1981, he was appointed ambassador to Syria. Iran was then engaged in a deadly war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was the only Arab leader to support the Islamic republic. Assad’s support helped Mohtashamipur convince Tehran that the best way to advance the goals of the revolution in neighboring Lebanon, which had a large Shiite minority, was to create a new force, rather than support Amal, then the main one. Shiite political group.
“He believed that the Shiites in Lebanon had no political or financial support,” said Fazel Meybodi, a cleric and former friend of Mohtashamipur. “He created Hezbollah and started sending financial and military support through Syria, a route that is still in use. ”
Hezbollah’s power grew amid the chaos of Lebanon in the 1980s and it was later blamed by the United States for the 1983 bombing of its Marine barracks in Beirut, in which 241 American soldiers were killed. . Hezbollah and Iran have denied responsibility.
Returning to Iran after the end of the disastrous war with Iraq, Mohtashamipur opposed a move towards a more open economy to finance the reconstruction of the country. But when his former revolutionary comrades became reformists and came to power in 1997 on promises of political development, he quietly joined him in publishing a pro-reform journal that was shut down by extremists. He was then elected to the reformist-dominated parliament.
In 2009, he publicly opposed the controversial re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, which he said was the result of “massive fraud” that made the ballot “meaningless”. After that, he was “pushed into solitary confinement.” . . whereas it is because of his background that he was not put in prison, ”said Ali Mirfattah, a journalist who worked with Mohtashamipur in Bayan, a weekly newspaper.
Shunned from politics, he returned to Najaf, living as a cleric. Diagnosed with coronavirus earlier this month, he was transferred by car to the border province of Kermanshah and then to Tehran, where he died on June 7.
“He was a symbol of the unsuccessful idealism of the generation that made the revolution,” says Mirfattah. “Maybe deep down he realized that the causes he fought for would not materialize, but he never recognized it and instead chose seclusion.”