Iran’s first president, Abolhassan Banisadr, dies in Paris at 88

Banisadr became Iran’s first president months after 1979 revolution, but was later impeached and fled the country.

Tehran, Iran – Abolhassan Banisadr, who became Iran’s first president following the country’s 1979 revolution, has died in Paris, where he lived for decades after fleeing his country.

A statement by his website and reports by Iranian media on Saturday said the 88-year-old passed away “after a long battle with illness” in the French capital’s Salpêtrière hospital.

Banisadr was born in 1933 in Hamedan province in western Iran. His father was a renowned religious leader and a friend of Ruhollah Khomeini, who successfully led the Islamic revolution against Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran.

Banisadr, who completed his studies in Europe, was a campaigner against the dynastic rule of the shah. He became a confidante and close ally of Khomeini, whom he hosted when the latter was in Paris prior to becoming Iran’s first supreme leader.

First elected president

Months after the revolution, Banisadr became the first elected president in Iran’s history, garnering a strong majority of the public vote to govern for four years. He was also appointed as acting commander-in-chief by the supreme leader.

Banisadr stood out with his moustache and Western-style suits among the black robes and turbans favoured by the other religious leaders of the revolution. But they shared a common faith in a Shia Islamic state to replace the monarchy.

Banisadr pictured in 2019 in Versailles, near Paris [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

However, two major events beyond his control severely affected Banisadr’s ability to cement his position: the takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran and the hostage crisis that ensued, and the invasion of Iran by neighbouring Iraq led by Saddam Hussein with support from foreign governments to overthrow the country’s fledgling clerical establishment.

Against this chaotic backdrop, Banisadr soon clashed with factions within the establishment over a host of issues, including cabinet appointments and governance vision.

Fleeing to France

The intensifying strife ultimately meant his presidency lasted only a little over a year as the newly formed Islamic parliament impeached him in June 1981 with backing from Khomeini. After living in hiding for some time, he was smuggled out of the country in an aeroplane, weeks after his impeachment.

He had formed an alliance with Masoud Rajavi, the then-leader of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), to oppose the establishment. They sought refuge in France and founded the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Banisadr soon fell out with Rajavi, however, accusing him of espousing ideologies that showed tendencies for violence and dictatorship. Moreover, he opposed the fact that the MEK made camp in Iraq with Hussein’s support and mounted an armed assault on Iranian soil, which was ultimately defeated.

Banisadr spent the next decades until his death living in France with police protection. He remained opposed to Iran’s leaders and published a magazine and numerous books.

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