A 79 years old former guerrilla trainee has been officially named as the new secretary-general of Iran Freedom Movement (IFM).
Mohammad Tavassoli replaces the Islamic Republic’s former deputy prime minister and second foreign minister, Ebrahim Yazdi who died at 86 on August 27.
“IFM’s public, peaceful and legal campaigns will continue as before,” deputy secretary-general of the IFM, Hashem Sabbaghian, said in a statement.
The IFM’s new secretary-general was the first mayor of the capital, Tehran from 1979-1981, after the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the establishment of the Islamic Republic led by ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Later, he was repeatedly arrested, tried and condemned to spend years behind bars by the victorious revolutionary forces loyal to the ruling clergy.
In 1962, the same year IFM was formed, Mohammad Tavassoli went to Stuttgart, Germany, to continue his studies as an architect. There, he joined an Iranian anti-monarchy umbrella students’ organization called Iranian Students’ International Confederation. He was already a member of IFM.
Later, he went to the US and, from there, traveled to Egypt to be trained as a guerrilla and militia for armed struggle against the monarchy.
Tavassoli was also one of the first anti-Shah young activists who pledged allegiance to the outspoken dissident and exiled ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1960s, in Iraq. For six consecutive months, Tavassoli was one of the escorts of the revolutionary ayatollah.
Meanwhile, Tavassoli who had married Ebrahim Yazdi’s sister, Mina, was responsible as a go-between for Khomeini and the founder of IFM, Mehdi Bazargan.
The Freedom Movement of Iran (Nehzat-e Azadi-e Iran – NAI, in Persian) was launched in 1962 by two Western educated political activists, Mehdi Bazargan and Yadollah Sahabi, as well as a politically active cleric, Ayatollah Mahmud Taleqani.
They were all former active members of the National Front, formed around Doctor Mohammad Mossadegh, the charismatic leader of the Oil Nationalization Movement of Iran.
On August 19, 1953, in a highly controversial upheaval, supported by the U.S. and Britain, Prime Minister Mossadegh was dismissed and later arrested by the forces loyal to the Shah.
The downfall of Mossadegh and placing him under house arrest, dispersed the members of the already unsteady National Front.
Eight years later, Mehdi Bazargan and his close religious activists formed the IFM, following Dr. Mossadegh’s guideline of supporting the idea of constitutional monarchy, where the shah (king) is the formal head of the state with no executive power.
But this did not last long. A brief revolt, mainly led by a little-known clergyman, Rouhollah Khomeini, took place in June 1963 against the shah, which was quickly put down, but it led to the radicalization of IFM in general and its young cadres in particular.
IFM had supported the revolt and after it failed, its leadership was put behind bars and branded as "guerillas in suits".
Mohammad Tavassoli was among those who came to believe that political activists should unite with the clergy in their struggle to overthrow the shah.
As he and many others remained part of IFM, others left to form the Mojahedin Khalq Organization, MKO.
However, Khomeini’s second try in 1979 was successful. To Bazargan’s shocking surprise, the shah’s regime collapsed much easier than any of his opponents could have dreamed of. The highest executive position in post-revolution Iran was presented to Bazargan on a golden plate.
Nevertheless, the marriage of convenience between the political-religious activists in suits (Bazargan, et al) and the power thirsty clergy under cloaks proved abortive.
The IFM was kicked out of the power circle and gradually shrank and as its old-time members aged, it resembled a senior citizens’ private club.
The IFM that Tavassoli has accepted its leadership is far from the party that 52 years ago gave birth to a well-disciplined guerrilla formation, Mojahedin Khalq Organization, MKO.
Even the loosely formed Religious-Nationalist Alliance, another grouping that emerged from the remainders of the IFM, looks more solid today than its paternal party.