Iran’s first president Abolhassan Banisadr, aged 88, dies in Paris: State media

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Iran’s first president after the 1979 Islamic revolution, Abolhassan Banisadr, died in a Paris hospital on Saturday aged 88, the official news agency IRNA said.

“After a long illness, Abolhassan Banisadr died on Saturday at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in southeast Paris, IRNA reported, citing a source close to the former president.

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His wife and children said on Bani-Sadr’s official website that he died at hospital following a long illness.

In announcing the death, his family said on his website that Bani-Sadr had “defended freedom in the face of new tyranny and oppression in the name of religion.”

Banisadr was elected president in January 1980 hot on the heels of the previous year’s Islamic revolution.

But he was dismissed by the Iranian parliament in 1981 after he opposed late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Since then, he had been living in exile in France.

Born on March 22, 1933, in a village near Hamadan in western Iran, Banisadr was a supporter of liberal Islam.

A practicing Muslim, he was an activist from the age of 17 in the ranks of the National Front of Iran, the movement of nationalist leader Mohammad Mossadegh.

After studying theology, economics, and sociology, Banisadr became a leading opponent of the Shah’s regime.

Wanted by the police, he was forced to leave Iran in 1963 and settled in Paris. In 1970, he advocated the union of the Iranian opposition around Khomeini, who was exiled in Iraq.

In October 1978, Khomeini went to France, and Banisadr became one of his close friends and advisers.

On February 1, 1979, Banisadr was on the plane that brought Khomeini back to Iran.

He served as Iran’s minister of economics and foreign affairs.

The man at times referred to as “Khomeini’s spiritual son” was elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran on January 26, 1980.

From the start of his mandate, Banisadr faced immense difficulties: the US hostage affair, the Iran-Iraq war, an economic crisis, and, above all, the opposition of fundamentalist clerics.

As Iran’s armed forces commander from February 1980 to June 1981, he reorganized the country’s military and spent much of his time on the front lines of the war with Iraq.

But the proponent of an “Islamic third way” that respected democratic rule, he faced intense pressure from hardliners.

After over a year of disputes with some senior members of the Shia clergy, the democratization process came to a halt.

On June 21, 1981, Banisadr was dismissed by parliament for “political incompetence” with Khomeini’s approval.

Banisadr then left Iran on July 29, 1981, hidden on board a military aircraft hijacked by one of his supporters. As soon as he arrived in France, he requested and obtained political asylum.

In August 1981, he founded the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) with another exiled leader, Massoud Rajavi, leader of the People’s Mujahedin, who had escaped on the hijacked plane, but he left the organization less than three years later.

He had been living in Versailles since May 1984.

His family would like him to be buried in Versailles, the Paris suburb where he lived during his exile, his longstanding assistant, Paknejad Jamaledin, told Reuters by telephone.

Betrayal of the revolution

In an interview with Reuters in 2019, the former president said that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had betrayed the principles of the revolution after sweeping to power in 1979, adding this had left a “very bitter” taste among some of those who had returned with him to Tehran in triumph.

Bani-Sadr recalled then how 40 years earlier in Paris, he had been convinced that the religious leader’s Islamic revolution would pave the way for democracy and human rights after the rule of the Shah.

“We were sure that a religious leader was committing himself and that all these principles would happen for the first time in our history,” he said in the interview.

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