October 5, 2018 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Controversial Cultural Attaché Leaves Algeria

On September 22, Iran’s cultural attaché in Algeria Amir Mousavi announced he would leave his position after almost four years in the country. The announcement followed accusations by Algerian activists and former officials against the Iranian diplomat over his alleged role in recruiting thousands of Shiite Muslims in Algeria on behalf of Iran. Mousavi’s departure highlights Iran’s persistent and unwelcome attempts to expand its influence in North Africa.

Before his 2014 appointment, Mousavi was reportedly an Iranian intelligence agent as well as a brigadier general affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He also previously served as an Iranian cultural representative in Brussels and Sudan, and is known as a defender of pro-Iran Shiite militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq.

Mousavi’s extensive contacts with civil society groups invoked the ire of officials in Algeria. In January, Mousavi angered Algerians by criticizing Anissa Boumédiène, the wife of deceased Algerian President Houari Boumédiène, for praising an Iranian opposition group and for urging the ouster of “the mullahs,” phrasing Mousavi regarded as pejorative. Algerians viewed his statement as a violation of diplomatic norms and a sign of disrespect toward a national figure.

Calls for Mousavi’s removal are not new. In January 2016, Algerian activists launched a campaign using the hashtag #Expel_Amir_Mousavi, citing his efforts to spread Iran’s Shiite doctrine in Algeria. (There are an estimated 7,000 Shiites among Algeria’s population of 40 million.) These concerns contributed to the postponement of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s planned 2017 visit to Algeria.

In May 2018, Adda Fallahi, the former adviser to Algeria’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, urged the Iranian diplomat to resign from his position. The calls took on added urgency after Algerian MP Abdurrahman Saidi warned in June of efforts to establish a regional pro-Iranian movement called “Hizballah al-Magharibi.”

Other North African nations have accused Iran of malign activity. On May 1, Morocco severed its diplomatic ties with Iran and withdrew its ambassador to Iran over Tehran’s military support for the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement, an allegation Iran denied. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita claimed to have evidence of collusion between Hezbollah and a member of the Iranian embassy in Algiers – a possible reference to Mousavi.

Governments across the broader Middle East accuse Iran of playing a destabilizing role and using its embassies to carry out malign activities. Washington should assure Algeria and other North African countries that it supports their efforts to counter Iran and to expose Iranian diplomats who abuse their positions to promote the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing policies.

Romany Shaker is an Arabic-language research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @RomanySh.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.