Bani-Sadr Dies; Iran’s President After Islamic Revolution
(Bloomberg) -- Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, an economist who became Iran’s first president after the 1979 Islamic revolution and fled into exile in France two years later, has died. He was 88.
He died in a hospital in Paris after a long illness, the family said on his website.
Initially a protege of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the revolution, Bani-Sadr joined the list of Iranian politicians who lost a power struggle with Iran’s clerical hierarchy. Instead of acting as a moderating force, Bani-Sadr was forced to into exile in 1981 while his supporters were jailed and executed.
Bani-Sadr was among a group of Western-educated revolutionaries who opposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iran from 1941 until 1979. After the monarchy was toppled, they had hoped the nation’s religious leaders would return to their mosques and leave the political arena to them. It proved to be a serious miscalculation.
Under the new regime, Bani-Sadr served as foreign minister and condemned the taking of 52 American hostages from the U.S. embassy in 1979. He won the presidency in February 1980 with 75% of the vote and Khomeini’s backing.
Not belonging to the clergy, Bani-Sadr soon found himself on the defensive.
His 17-month presidency was marred by battles between his moderate technocrat supporters and the clerical establishment who were learning the intricacies of governing. In particular, Bani-Sadr was opposed by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the then-speaker of parliament, and Ayatollah Mohammed Hosseini Beheshti, who was killed in 1981.
“Bani-Sadr was a very important figure as he looked for a few months if he might be the face of liberal Iran permitted to operate under the authority of the Islamic republic but it became apparent quickly that wasn’t going to happen,” said Michael Axworthy, author of 2013’s “Revolutionary Iran” and senior lecturer at University of Exeter in the U.K. “He also made questionable judgments at certain junctures and was seen as a loose cannon.”
When left-wing students gained support at Iranian universities in 1980, for example, fundamentalist groups pushed to close Tehran University in order to spread Islamic ideology. Bani-Sadr aligned himself with the fundamentalists, which alienated his moderate and leftist supporters without gaining him support among the nation’s Islamist groups.
In September 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army attacked Iran, hoping for a quick victory against demoralized and disorganized Iranian troops decimated by purges. Bani-Sadr commanded Iran’s armed forces at the start of the war, which dragged on until a cease-fire was arranged eight years later.
The war effort made the clerical establishment suspicious that Bani-Sadr was accumulating too much power. He wanted to close down the semi-military and security units that reported to the clerics and pushed to have secular leaders take more prominent positions in government. The parliament pushed to curb his powers, and after months of bickering with lawmakers, he was removed as the nation’s military commander.
On June 21, 1981, Bani-Sadr was impeached and fled to Paris while his aides and followers were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards.
The impeachment was a coup d’etat against democracy, Bani-Sadr maintained.
Bani-Sadr was born March 22, 1933, in the city of Hamedan, the son of a prominent Muslim cleric. He actively opposed the monarchy and was arrested several times by the Savak, the shah’s secret police. In 1963, at age 30, he moved France, where he spent 15 years and studied economics.
He first met Ayatollah Khomeini in 1972, when he traveled to Najaf, Iraq, the Shiite holy city where Khomeini had lived in exile since 1964, and where Bani-Sadr had gone to bury his father. Khomeini at the time was one of the few Shiite clerics who had dared oppose the shah, who had banished him from Iran.
When Khomeini decamped to Paris, Bani-Sadr joined him and the two returned to Iran on the same chartered plane.
After his election, Bani-Sadr believed the clerics would pull back from politics. He attempted to bring Iran’s revolutionary courts and armed groups under control of the central government. Instead, he was outmaneuvered and his presidential powers scaled back.
By June 1981, the Ayatollah had turned against him, denouncing the idea of democracy. Bani-Sadr went into hiding before leaving the country on an Iranian Air Force Boeing 707 piloted by supporters.
In exile, he wrote books and gave lectures.
Bani-Sadr lived in France with his wife Ozra and three children. His daughter, Firoozeh, married Massoud Rajavi, leader of the People’s Mojahedin Organization, in Paris. After Bani-Sadr’s alliance with Rajavi ended, Firoozeh’s marriage also ended.
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