Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first president after the 1979 Islamic revolution, died in a Paris hospital on Saturday at the age of 88, after spending decades in exile in France after being dismissed by parliament.
“After a long illness, Abolhassan Banisadr died on Saturday at the (Pitie-)Salpetriere hospital” in southeast Paris, an official IRNA news agency said, citing a source close to the former president.
His death was confirmed by his relatives in France.
“We would like to inform the honourable people of Iran and all the activists of independence and freedom that… Abolhassan Banisadr has passed away… after a long struggle with illness,” they said in a statement.
Banisadr was praised by his family as someone who “defended freedoms.”
But he was slammed by Iran’s judiciary. “All these years, under the shadow of French and Western intelligence, he did not miss a beat to defame the people and the system of the Islamic republic,” said a statement published on its Mizan Online website.
Banisadr was elected president of Iran in the first free election in 1980, just a year after the Islamic revolution.
However, his relationship with late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini worsened, and he was removed by the Iranian parliament in 1981. He had been living in exile in France since then.
Banisadr, who was born on March 22, 1933, in a town near Hamadan in western Iran, was a liberal Islamist.
He began involved in the ranks of the National Front of Iran, the movement of nationalist leader Mohammad Mossadegh when he was 17 years old.
Banisadr became a vocal opponent of the Shah’s rule after studying theology, economics, and sociology.
He was compelled to depart Iran in 1963 because he was wanted by the police, and he landed in Paris. In 1970, he urged for the Iranian opposition to unite around Khomeini, who was then exiled in Iraq.
Khomeini moved to France in October 1978, and Banisadr became a member of his inner circle, referring to him as “dear father.”
Later, Banisadr expressed sorrow for failing to recognise Khomeini’s “thirst for power.”
Banisadr was on the plane that returned Khomeini to Iran on February 1, 1979.
He was Iran’s economy and foreign affairs minister for a few days.
On January 26, 1980, the man dubbed “Khomeini’s spiritual son” was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Banisadr had enormous challenges right from the start of his term: the US hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, economic issues, and, most importantly, the resistance of strong clerics.
He reorganised Iran’s military as armed forces head from February 1980 to June 1981, and spent much of his time on the front lines of the eight-year war with Iraq.
He faced enormous criticism from ultraconservative clerics as a proponent of a “third Islamic path” that supported democratic norms.
The democratisation effort came to a standstill after a year of disagreements with certain senior members of the Shiite clergy and the Islamic Republic Party, which dominated parliament.
Banisadr was sacked by the Majles on June 21, 1981, with Khomeini’s permission, for “political incompetence.”
He was transported onboard an air force plane hijacked by one of his supporters and escaped to France, where he was granted refuge and given police protection after hiding for a week.
Banisadr created the National Council of Resistance of Iran with Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, and leaders from minority groups such as Iranian Kurds once he was exiled.
Banisadr, on the other hand, had a falling out with Rajavi and eventually departed the council.
He wrote a book accusing Iran’s ayatollahs of trying to grab power and testified about the mullahs’ role in the executions of Iranian dissidents.
Since May 1984, he had been residing in Versailles.