He Became President, Then Was Betrayed by Ayatollah

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(Newser)

Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first president after the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution who fled Tehran after being impeached for challenging the growing power of clerics as the nation became a theocracy, died Saturday, reports the AP. He was 88. Banisadr’s family said in a statement online Saturday that he died in a hospital in Paris after a long illness. Iranian state television followed with its own bulletin on his death. Neither elaborated on the illness Banisadr faced.

Among a sea of black-robed Shiite clerics, Banisadr stood out for his Western-style suits and a background so French that it was in philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre that he confided his belief he’d be Iran’s first president some 15 years before it happened. Those differences only isolated him as the nationalist sought to implement a socialist-style economy in Iran underpinned by a deep Shiite faith instilled in him by his cleric father.

Banisadr would never consolidate his grip on the government he supposedly led as events far beyond his control—including the US Embassy hostage crisis and the invasion of Iran by Iraq—only added to the tumult that followed the revolution. True power remained firmly wielded by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whom Banisadr worked with in exile in France and followed back to Tehran amid the revolution. But Khomeini would cast Banisadr aside after only 16 months in office, sending him fleeing back to Paris, where he would remain for decades.

A parliament controlled by hard-line clerics under Khomeini’s sway impeached Banisadr in June 1981 for his opposition to having clerics in the country’s political system, part of a long-running feud between them. A month later, Banisadr boarded an Iranian Air Force Boeing 707 and escaped to France. “I was like a child watching my father slowly turn into an alcoholic,” Banisadr later said of Khomeini. “The drug this time was power.” He emerged from the flight with his trademark mustache shaven off; Iranian media alleged he’d escaped dressed as a woman. He would remain outside of Paris for the rest of his life, under police guard after being targeted by suspected Iranian assassins.

(Read more Iran stories.)

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