PARIS, October 9 (Reuters) – Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who became Iran’s first president after the 1979 Islamic revolution before going into exile in France, died on Saturday at the age of 88.
He died at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris following a long illness, his wife and children said on the official Bani-Sadr website.
Bani-Sadr had emerged from obscurity to become Iran’s first president in February 1980 with the help of the Islamic clergy. But after a power struggle with radical clerics, he fled the following year to France, where he spent the rest of his life.
Announcing the death, his family said on their website that Bani-Sadr had “stood up for freedom in the face of new tyranny and oppression in the name of religion.”
The family want him to be buried in Versailles, the Paris suburb where he lived during his exile, his longtime aide, Jamaledin Paknejad, told Reuters by phone.
In a 2019 Reuters interview, the former president said Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini betrayed the principles of the revolution after coming to power in 1979, adding that it left a “very bitter” taste in some of those. who had returned with Khomeini to Tehran in triumph.
Bani-Sadr recalled in this interview 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 reign of the Shah.
“We were sure that a religious leader was getting involved and that all of these principles would happen for the first time in our history,” he said in the interview.
Bani-Sadr took office in February 1980 after winning elections the previous month with over 75% of the vote.
But under the new constitution of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini wielded real power – a situation that has continued since Khomeini’s death in 1989 under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
STRUGGLE FOR POWER
Within months of his election, Bani-Sadr found himself locked in a power struggle with radical clerical factions whose powers he attempted to restrict by giving key jobs to liberal-minded secularists.
He used his electoral victory and popularity – thanks to his close ties to Khomeini – to discredit his rivals in the Islamic Republican Party (IRP), a well-organized group led by die-hard clerics.
In his attempts to form a non-clerical cabinet, Bani-Sadr was also encouraged by a never-fulfilled promise from Khomeini that the clergy should not assume the highest positions and instead devote their time to giving advice and guidance to the government.
While enjoying the support of moderate clergymen, he mounted a nationwide campaign against the IRP, touring the country and delivering speeches in which he accused its leaders of trying to restore the dark days of the past through lies, cunning , prison and torture.
The power struggle came to a head in March 1981, when Bani-Sadr ordered security forces to arrest religious extremists who were trying to disrupt a speech he was giving at the University of Tehran.
This prompted calls for his impeachment and trial, as most of those present at the rally were supporters of the opposition People’s Mojahedin, denounced by Khomeini as enemies of the revolution.
Khomeini, who had tried to stay out of the bickering, then engaged in increasingly bitter internal feuds, banning political speeches and setting up a commission to settle the differences.
The commission accused Bani-Sadr of violating Khomeini’s constitution and orders by refusing to sign the legislation.
With Khomeini’s consent, parliament deposed and fired Bani-Sadr in June 1981, forcing him to go underground with the help of the mujahedin.
A month later, he flies to Paris, where he forms a loose alliance with the group to overthrow Khomeini.
The alliance collapsed in May 1984 in a clash of ideas between the then Mujahedin leader Massoud Rajavi and Bani-Sadr.
Despite the disappointment and his long exile, Bani-Sadr said in the 2019 interview that he does not regret being part of the revolution.
Bani-Sadr is survived by his wife Azra Hosseini, his daughters Firouzeh and Zahra and his son Ali.
Reporting by Michaela Cabrera and the Dubai Newsroom Writing by Gus Trompiz Editing by Frances Kerry
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