Abolhassan Baniadr, Iran’s first president following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, died Saturday. He was impeached after challenging the increasing power of the clerics during the transition to a theocracy. He was 88.
Banisadr stood out among a sea Shiite clerics in black robes. He was known for his Western-style suits, and his French background that Jean-Paul Sartre was the one who convinced him that he would be Iran’s first President. This happened 15 years earlier than it actually happened.
These differences did not make him any less able to pursue a socialist economic model in Iran, based on a Shiite faith instilled by his father.
Banisadr wouldn’t be able to consolidate his hold on the government he led, as events beyond his control — such as the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy and the invasion by Iran by Iraq — only added fuel to the turmoil that followed the revolution.
Supreme Leader AyatollahRuhollahKhomeini, who Banisadr had worked in exile in France with whom he was followed back to Tehran during the revolution, remained true power. Khomeini would dismiss Banisadr after 16 months of office and send him back to Paris where he would stay for many decades.
Banisadr said later about Khomeini, “I felt like a child as I watched my father slowly become an alcoholic.” “The drug at this point was power.”
Banisadr’s relatives posted an online statement Saturday saying that Banisadr died at a Paris hospital after a long battle with cancer. Iranian state television also issued a bulletin about his death. Both did not elaborate on the condition Banisadr was suffering.
Khomeini was exiled from Iraq earlier by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. However, he had to flee Iran in 1978 due to renewed pressure from the Iranian monarch. After moving out of his apartment to make room for him, Banisadr arrived in Paris to give the cleric a place.
Khomeini would eventually end up in Neauphle-Le-Chateau outside of Paris. Banisadr told The Associated Press that he and a group vetted Khomeini’s messages based on what they believed the Iranians wanted.
Khomeini’s tape recordings were sold in Europe, and sent to Iran. Others messages were sent by telephone to various supporters in Iran. These messages set the stage for Khomeini’s return to Iran after the shah, who was fatally ill, fled Iran early 1979. However, Banisadr said that he wasn’t sure if he had the support.
Banisadr stated to the AP that “it was absolutely certain for me, but not Khomeini or for many other Iranians,” in 2019.
Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution swept the country after his return. Banisadr was made a member the cleric’s Revolutionary Council. He became the head the country’s Foreign Ministry days after the November 4, 1979 seizure by hard-line students of the U.S Embassy in Tehran.
Banisadr was forced to leave the post after he tried to negotiate an end to hostage crisis. He was then replaced by Khomeini as a hard-liner.
Banisadr later complained that the hostage-takers were “dictators” who had created a government within another government.
He remained in Khomeini’s council, and would push for the nationalization major industries and ex-private business holdings of shah. In 1980, Banisadr won three quarters the vote after Khomeini had earlier decreed that no cleric should hold Iran’s newly-created presidency.
In his inaugural address, he stated that “our revolutionary will not win” unless it was exported. “We will create a new order where people who are not deprived will not be always be deprived.”
Iraq invaded Iran amid purges of Iran’s armed forces. This would start a bloody eight year conflict between the two countries. Under a Khomeini decree, Banisadr was the commander-in-chief of the country. The president would be a victim of the complaints and battlefield failures of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. He also survived two helicopter crashes close to the front.
Khomeini’s control over the parliament impeached Banisadr for opposing the inclusion of clerics within the country’s political structure. This was part of a long-running feud. Banisadr, along with Massoud Rajavi (leader of the leftist militant group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq), boarded an Iranian Air Force Boeing 707 a month later.
His trademark mustache was shaved off when he emerged from the flight. Iranian media claimed that he fled the flight dressed as a woman.
Banisadr stated that Khomeini was responsible for the “apalling disaster” that had befallen the country. He has inflicted this fate on our people to a great extent.”
Banisadr was born March 22, 1933 in Hamadan (Iran). His father, Nasrollah Banisadr, was an ayatollah. He was a Shiite cleric of high rank who opposed Reza Shah’s policies.
Banisadr boasted once, “Even in my womb I was a revolutionary,”
He was a young protestor against the shah, and was twice imprisoned. He was a supporter of Mohammad Mosaddegh (Iran’s Prime Minister), who nationalized Iran’s oil industry. Later, he was expelled during a 1953 CIA-backed coup. Banisadr was wounded during 1963 unrest and fled to France.
Banisadr studied finance and economics at Sorbonne University, Paris. He later taught there. After entering Khomeini’s inner circle, he wrote books and tracts about Islam and socialism.
Banisadr, Rajavi and others formed the National Council of Resistance of Iran after they had left Iran. Banisadr would leave the council in 1984, after Saddam Hussein’s Mujahedeen-e-Khalq had partnered with him as part of his war against Iran.
After being assassinated by Iranian assassins, he would be outside Paris for the rest his life. He was kept under police protection.
Banisadr gained again notoriety when he claimed, without supporting evidence in a book, that Ronald Reagan’s campaign conspired with Iranian leaders to prevent the hostage release. This resulted in the defeat of Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid. This was the birth of the “October Surprise” in American politics – an event that is deliberately timed and so potent as to influence an election.
Later, U.S. Senate investigators would state in 1992 that “the great burden of the evidence is that no such deal” but after Reagan’s 1981 inauguration U.S arms began flowing through Israel to Iran in what would be known as the Iran–Contra scandal.
Banisadr, a former hostage who was on a U.S. Tour in 1991, said that the clergy had used him as a means to remove democratic forces. “I went to Khomeini the night that you were taken hostage and told him that he had acted against Islam and against democracy.”