tehranbureau An independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian diaspora

The Nationalist-Religious Movement | Part 2: The Revolutionary Era


31 Mar 2012 23:27Comments

Part 1: Patriots and Mosaddeghists

Defeating monarchy, mishandling victory.

2057_61643023000_61641948000_1365961_3371_n.jpg[ series ] Part 1 of this series described the birth of the nationalist-religious movement in the early 1940s, and its development all the way to 1977. In the present article, I describe the efforts of the nationalist-religious groups and activists between 1977 and 1979. As this article makes clear, the Iran of that era has striking similarities with the country and its state of affairs today.

The eventful June of 1977

In June 1977, Mehdi Bazargan suggested that a letter be sent to the Shah. He drafted the letter, and suggested that a large number of political activists sign it. Others in the opposition movement believed that only a few of the best-known dissidents should sign the letter. Bazargan did not agree, and refused to sign the letter that he had written himself. The letter was eventually signed by three prominent members of the National Front: Front Secretary-General Dr. Karim Sanjabi, Dariush Forouhar (assassinated in November 1998 amid the infamous Chain Murders), and Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar, a well-known nationalist figure (assassinated in a Paris suburb in August 1991).

Around the same time, Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Alaei Taleghani, Bazargan's long-time comrade, who had been rearrested in 1975 after spending years in jail (see part 1), was sentenced by the Shah's military court to ten years of imprisonment. The news of his arrest provoked widespread protests. On June 19, 1977, Bazargan wrote a letter to the grand ayatollahs of Qom in which he strongly protested Taleghani's sentence, particularly in light of the fact that his attorneys, Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, Hassan Nazih (first head of the National Iranian Oil Company after the Revolution), and human rights advocate Dr. Abdolkarim Lahiji, had not been allowed by the military court to take part in the trial.

On the very same day, Dr. Ali Shariati, the sociologist and distinguished Islamic scholar, passed away in London, having left Iran on May 16. He was immensely popular among the youth and university students. Everyone thought (incorrectly) that he had been murdered by the SAVAK, the Shah's security apparatus. Large demonstrations broke out, including one at the University of Tehran, in which I took part after leaving a final exam. Many memorials were held for him, which turned into large demonstrations. These demonstrations created the first major revolutionary wave among the youth. Bazargan wrote a letter to Mohammad Taghi Shariati, the late Shariati's father and himself an Islamic scholar, praising his son profusely.

Qoba Mosque and the passing of Seyyed Mostafa Khomeini

Beginning in September 1977, during the fasting month of Ramadan, a series of political speeches and seminars were held in Qoba Mosque in north Tehran. They were organized by Dr. Mohammad Mofatteh, the clerical philosopher (assassinated in December 1979). The speakers included many nationalist-religious figures, such as Bazargan, Dr. Habibollah Peyman, and Dr. Kazem Sami (killed in 1988 as the likely first victim of the Chain Murders). Huge crowds attended. The public prayer for Eid al-Fitr, celebrating the end of Ramadan, was held in Gheytarieh in north Tehran. Its Imam was Ayatollah Seyyed Abolfazl Zanjani, an ardent supporter of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh. A large number of people participated.

Shortly afterward, Bazargan and his comrades called on the people to take part in a peaceful demonstration in Rey, a town on the southern edge of Tehran. The shrine of the Shia figure Shah Abdolazim is located in Rey, and it is the resting place of Sattar Khan, a hero of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11. There was a large turnout. Kayhan, the leading newspaper of the era, attacked the gathering, which it called "demonstrations of the agents of Islamic Marxists," a phrase used by the Shah's regime to refer to its Islamic leftist opponents.

On October 23, Mostafa Khomeini, 49, the oldest son of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was living in exile in Najaf, Iraq, suddenly passed away. Once again, many believed that he had been murdered by the Shah's regime. Once again, memorials were held in his honor all over Iran in which huge numbers of people took part. In particular, a memorial held at Tehran's Ark Mosque, one of the largest and most significant in the country, was attended by many leading opposition figures -- both secular and nationalist-religious -- including Bazargand. A young cleric named Sheikh Hassan Fereydoun (now known as Dr. Hassan Rowhani, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator) spoke about Khomeini and referred to him for the first time as "Imam Khomeini." Bazargan later accused Fereydoun of abusing the memorial to advance the clerics' agenda.

Issuing the "statement of national demands"

On November 2, 1977, a long, important statement was issued over the signatures of many nationalist-religious and secular activists, including Bazargan. It described what the Shah's regime had done to the Iranian nation since the CIA-sponsored coup of 1953, including the continuous "destruction of the honor and human rights of the citizens." It listed what it called the national demands:

(1) Complete implementation of the constitution

(2) Release of the political prisoners and return of those in exile

(3) Elimination of single-party rule [the one political party at the was the Rastakhiz Party, founded by the Shah], and freedom for all the political parties, religious associations, and labor unions

(4) Freedom of the press

(5) Freedom of opinion and speech

(6) Dissolution of the Majles and the Senate [Iran had a Senate before the Revolution], and the holding of free elections

(7) Independence of the judiciary, and elimination of all special courts [such as the military courts for civilians]

(8) Dissolution of all the government organs that limit the personal and social/political freedom of the people, using violence covert and overt

(9) Prosecution of all those who had violated people's rights and the nation's interests

(10) Strengthening implementation of the universal declaration of human rights

These are strikingly similar to the demands of the Green Movement and its leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, in the aftermath of the presidential election of June 2009. As Hossein Alaei, the first commander of the naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently said in an article in the newspaper Ettalaat (which has since been removed from its website), "If the Shah had listened to his people, respected their opinions, and allowed them to speak their mind, would the Revolution have happened?" Alaei was, of course, drawing a comparison between the Shah's regime of that era and the Islamic Republic of the present, which is why he has been under attack by the hardliners since the article's publication.

Founding of Iranian Human Rights Association

In April 1977, a group of opposition political figures had decided to found an association that would publicize the gross violations of human rights in Iran in that era. Only two years earlier, the United States had been badly defeated in Vietnam, and the new U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, had begun talking publicly about respect for human rights. Fatollah Bani Sadr, brother of Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who would become Iran's first president after the Revolution, proposed the idea to Bazargan.

Thus, on December 7, a 15-page long letter signed by 29 opposition figures, including clerics, legal scholars, academics, and writers, was sent to then United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. Some of the signatories included Bazargan, Sanjabi, Peyman, Sami, Haj Seyyed Javadi, Zanjani, Dr. Yadollah Sahabi, Nour Ali Tabandeh, Mohammad Maleki, Naser Minachi, Ali Shariatmadari, Ali Asghar Haj, Eslam Kazemieh, and Hashem Sabbaghian, many of them nationalist-religious figures. They were all supporters of Mosaddegh, and at one time or another were active in the National Front. They announced the founding of the Iranian Human Rights Association (IHRA), which brought together secular and religious nationalists under one umbrella. Three days later a statement was issued, signed by Bazargan and Sanjabi, that announced the formation of the IHRA to the Iranian nation.

The first secretary-general of the IHRA was Sanjabi. He soon resigned and Bazargan was elected to replace him. The IHRA continued its activities until February 12, 1979, the day the Shah's regime and the government of Bakhtiar, the Shah's last prime minister, were toppled.

Ahmad Rashidi Motlagh's article and "Chain Mourning"

In December 1977, President Carter spent New Year's Eve with the Shah in Tehran. In the state dinner in his honor, Carter proclaimed,

Under the Shah's brilliant leadership, Iran is an island of stability in one of the most troublesome regions of the world. There is no other state figure whom I could appreciate and like more.

The speech reassured the Shah that he had the full support of the Carter administration. He consequently embarked on an unwise adventure that resulted in the demise of his regime a year later. On January 6, 1978, a now infamous article in the newspaper Ettalaat titled "Iran and the Red and Black Colonialism," written by Ahmad Rashidi Motlagh (a pseudonym), savagely attacked Khomeini. In the regime's jargon, red and black referred to communists and the clergy. The Shah had been informed that the ayatollah was going to declare his reign illegitimate and issue a fatwa that would forbid paying taxes to his government. The identity of the author has never been revealed, although there has been much speculation.

The IHRA strongly protested the article, which also sparked demonstrations involving around 4,000 clerics and seminary students in Qom on January 7 and 8. The army dispersed them, killing at least three. Following Shia tradition, on February 18, the 40th day after the deaths of the Qom protestors, more demonstrations took place in several cities. The most violent was in Tabriz, where between 10 and 500 demonstrators were killed, depending on what source one credits. In what became known as the "Chain Mourning," the cycle of demonstrations was repeated again on March 29, the 40th day after the Tabriz deaths, and again on May 10,

During this entire period, Bazargan and his nationalist-religious comrades played key roles in organizing memorials for those killed by the security forces. On March 16, 1978, a statement signed by 54 prominent opposition members, including Bazargan and his nationalist-religious comrades, was issued, calling on people not to celebrate Nowruz, the beginning of the Iranian New Year on March 21, in order to mourn the dead. Bazargan, who was born in Tabriz, also organized a memorial on the 40th day of the Tabriz demonstrations in Tehran that was attended by thousands. Dr. Fereydoun Sahabi, son of Yadollah Sahabi, organized foreign reporters in Tehran to take part in the memorial. Fortieth-day memorials for the dead in Yazd, Jahrom, and Ahvaz followed, and Bazargan, Yadollah Sahabi, and Haj Seyyed Javadi issued a statement calling on Tehranis to participate in a memorial for the three cities' martyrs in the capital. Thousands again turned out.

Bombing of the opposition's homes

As the demonstrations began to spread all over Iran, shadowy groups, most likely connected to the SAVAK or hardline military elements, began taking matters into their own hands. In November 1977, bombs had exploded in front of Bazargan's home and those of several of his comrades. Another round of explosions occurred on April 8, 1978, in front of the homes of Bazargan, Sanjabi, and Rahmotollah Moghaddam Maraghei. Leaflets were dropped, signed by the "Underground Organization of Revenge," warning the opposition members. Bazargan and the others strictly followed the law, writing to the police and asked them to look into the bombings. In a letter to Major General Samadian Pour, commander of Tehran's police, Bazargan wrote of the bombings and threats, "We are letting you know, so that if you think the police are responsible for the security and protection of people's lives, you issue the orders to do so."

By early 1978, there were many foreign reporters in Tehran. Bazargan and his nationalist-religious comrades were in high demand for interviews. In every single interview, Bazargan emphasized that the goals of the protests were freedom of thought, press, and peaceful gatherings, free elections, and complete implementation of the constitution. He was also always respectful toward the Shah, always referring to him as "His Majesty." But he also told a Belgian reporter, "So long as the Shah is in Iran, the country will not see freedom."

Writing to Khomeini and challenging the Shah

In May 1978, Bazargan sent a secret letter to Khomeini in Najaf. The letter clearly indicates the large gap between his thinking and the ayatollah's. Some highlights:

The original constitution and its amendments [excluding those added by the Shah] compose an important and defendable document, which can also be used to condemn the Shah, as he has repeatedly violated it.

"The sharp tip of the protests" must aim at dictatorship, not colonialism. [Bazargan believed that with freedom at home, no colonial power would dare to intervene in Iran.]

Every national and religious movement of our era that has been successful has begun its work through the free election of the government, which allows the opposition leader to talk to the people and inform them.

We should accept any meaningful step by the government that is meant to address people's demands, even if it might be meant to deceive the people.

The eventual goal is to topple the regime, but at this stage it is forcing his exit [from power], and limiting the power of his successor in the framework of the current laws, and organizing the people.

The "Islamic government" [Khomeini's goal] is still unknown and does not have a clear definition. No work has been done on the ideological, political, economic, and social aspects of such a government. In addition, exclusive leadership of the government by the clergy, which does not have a good track record and the necessary experience and expertise, and excluding the nonreligious nationalist groups is not in the nation's interest.

Once again, note the striking similarities between what Bazargan wrote and what Mousavi and Karroubi have been demanding. Note also Bazargan's opposition to "Islamic government" and clerical leadership.

At the end of May, Bazargan sent a letter to the Shah's chief of staff, Nosratollah Moeinian, inviting the Shah to a nationally televised debate with himself and other opposition leaders. The letter concluded, "We believe that His Majesty should confront the opposition with the weapons of law and rationale, rather than stick, machine gun, and tank." No response was ever received.

Taking action: Strike, memorial, boycott

As I have previously described, Khomeini led an uprising on June 5, 1963, that eventually led to his exile, first to Turkey and then Iraq. As the anniversary of the uprising approached in 1978, the National-Islamic Front, a coalition put together by Bazargan and his nationalist-religious comrades, called on the people to stage a strike on the date. The call was highly successful. In many cities and towns, close to 80 percent of the people, in some cases even more, went on strike. A statement signed by 163 prominent figures, including Bazargan, many other participants in the nationalist-religious movement, and several important clerics, was subsequently issued that called on the people to take part in a memorial on the first anniversary of Ali Shariati's death, to be held in Ark Mosque. Once again, the event was a resounding success.

Shiites lavishly celebrate the birthday of Mahdi, the 12th Imam, whom they believe will return someday to save the world. In 1978, the birthday fell on July 20. Khomeini called on the people not to celebrate Mahdi's birthday because "the dear nation of Iran is mourning its loved ones [killed by the Shah's security forces]. What is happiness when honorable people are in jail and under the most severe torture?" Sixty opposition leaders in Tehran, including Bazargan and other nationalist-religious figures, issued a statement in support of Khomeini's position. They wanted to have a public meeting, but the security forces did not allow it and arrested Hashem Sabbaghian, a leading member of Bazargan's Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI).

"The Shah must go"

Again, as I have previously described, the opposition radicalized rapidly during the second half of 1978, as it became clear that the Shah was willing to make only cosmetic changes to his rule. On August 28, the LMI issued a strong statement, stating that the only way to save Iran was for the Shah to abdicate and leave the country (note that the LMI did not call for the abolishment of the monarchy). It declared that either "every child of the nation will be killed by the regime," or "the Shah must go."

Then came Eid al-Fitr on September 4. Once again, Bazargan and his nationalist-religious comrades organized the public prayer in Gheytarieh. The prayer's Imam was Mofatteh. At least one million people took part, and after it was over the crowd began marching toward central Tehran, joined by others en route. The marchers gave flowers to the soldiers who were watching the march atop their military vehicles, asking them, "Baraadar-e arteshi, cheraa baraadar koshi?" (My army brother, why do you kill your own brother?) This became the most famous slogan of the Revolution.

On September 8, thousands of protesters gathered in Tehran in Jaleh Square (now Martyrs' Square). Security forces killed dozens on what became known as Black Friday. That same morning, Bazargan and other opposition leaders were arrested. While in jail, Lieutenant General Naser Moghaddam, then head of the SAVAK (he was executed after the Revolution), visited Bazargan and told him, "His Majesty has arrived at what you have said repeatedly, that he should be the monarch, not the ruler, and is ready to fully implement the constitution." Bazargan responded, "Fine, but it is too late; no one believes him."

Bazargan was released after a week. The LMI issued a statement, written by Bazargan, calling on government workers to go on strike:

Are you well aware of what the government is doing to the people and nation? Have you realized that all the hardships and problems that people are suffering from are directly and indirectly the government's work? Do you know that the stealing [of the nation's resources], pressure, treason, harassment, torture, and massacre that are being revealed take place through you? Whether you want it or not, you are hurting this nation.... It is your turn [to do your part against the regime]. People are watching you...

Bazargan said later that he had prepared the statement to be issued on the anniversary of the June 5, 1963, uprising, but did not release it, hoping that the Shah's regime would back down and begin implementing meaningful reforms, which did not happen.

Ebrahim Yazdi and Khomeini's move to France

It was Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, a central figure in the LMI, who suggested to Khomeini in September 1978 that he relocate to France from Iraq. In a statement issued by the LMI on April 1, 1991, Yazdi recounted the events that led to the ayatollah's move, after his son Ahmad Khomeini criticized the LMI during a Friday Prayers speech at the University of Tehran. Yazdi's account begins with a call from Mahmoud Doaei, a moderate cleric who has been Ettelaat's managing editor for the past two decades and served six terms in the postrevolutionary Majles:

In early September 1978, my dear brother Mr. Doaei called me from Najaf and informed me that the late leader of the Revolution [Khomeini] was determined to leave Iraq and asked me to go to Najaf, if possible. While we were making preparations for the trip, the events of September 8 and the slaughter of people occurred, which necessitated holding demonstrations in Washington against the United States' support of the Shah. The Imam's home in Najaf was surrounded [by Iraq's security forces], news of which I received in Britain on my way to Najaf, and then I became aware of the plans for moving to Kuwait, which had reduced the limitations [on Khomeini's political activity]....

I then joined [on October 3, 1978] the car [that was taking Khomeini from Najaf to Basra and the border with Kuwait].... After recounting the pressure on him by Iraq, the late leader of the Revolution said that he intended to move to Kuwait and then to Syria. I told him that Mr. [Sadegh] Ghotbzadeh has already contacted Syria's government, that they did not want him there, and that Ghotbzadeh was going to Algeria to talk to its government. I also told the Imam that I believed these trips were useless, and even if they accepted him in those countries, the restrictions imposed on him would be severe and his contacts with Iran would be even less than from Iraq. I then expressed my view about moving to Europe and explained that for many reasons France was better than any other European country [for Khomeini]. He neither accepted not rejected the suggestion.

Khomeini eventually decided to take Yazdi's advice. He told Yazdi that a house must be rented for him, because he did not want to stay with anyone. He moved to a Paris suburb, Neauphle-le-Château, on October 8, 1978, and began issuing statements against the Shah's regime. Yazdi and Ghotbzadeh were key aides to the ayatollah while he was leading the Revolution from France, acting also as his translators; see, for example, here. Both men were controversial figures, particularly in the early days of the Revolution.

Yazdi was born on April 4, 1931, in Qazvin, a town about 85 miles west of Tehran. He studied pharmacology at the University of Tehran, and after the CIA coup of 1953 joined the National Resistance Movement, in which he was active until 1960. He then moved to the United States to continue both his studies and his political activities against the Shah. He was instrumental in founding the Muslim Associations of Europe and the United States, and played a key role in organizing the LMI in the diaspora (see part 1).

Ghotbzadeh was born on February 11, 1936, in Tehran. Ironically, February 11 is also the day of the Revolution's victory in 1979. As a student, he was jailed for his activity against the Shah's regime. He moved to the United States in 1958 and began his studies at Georgetown University in Washington. In April 1960, the Confederation of Iranian Students (CIS) was formed to oppose the Shah. The CIS had its roots in the anti-Shah activities of the Iranian students living in France, West Germany, and Great Britain. Representatives of students in the three countries met in Heidelberg to announce the establishment of the CIS. In a speech during that meeting, Ghotbzadeh attacked the Shah strongly. Then, in 1961, in a meeting at a hotel in Washington, D.C., Ghotbzadeh once again spoke very strongly against the Shah. When Iran's ambassador to the United States, Ardeshir Zahedi, protested the verbal attack, Ghotbzadeh slapped him in the face. He was later expelled from the United States and took up residence in Canada. After he escaped a SAVAK assassination attempt in Paris, the Shah's security service arrested Ghotbzadeh's brother in an attempt to force him to return to Iran, but he refused. He continued to speak out against the Shah and ultimately joined Khomeini in Paris in October 1978.

Bazargan meets Khomeini in Paris

In November 1978, Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a disciple of Khomeini, went to Paris to meet with him. During the meeting, the idea of forming the Islamic Revolutionary Council was discussed and agreed upon. It was also agreed that Bazargan and the nationalist-religious figures would play prominent roles in the council.

On November 30, Taleghani was released from prison after more than three years of incarceration, the last of multiple times that he was jailed by the Shah's regime. Thus, the three founders of the LMI, Taleghani, Bazargan, and Yadollah Sahabi, were once again free and together.

In December, Yazdi called Bazargan from Paris and asked him to go there to meet with Khomeini. It was clear that the Shah's regime was not going to last, and the composition of the government that would take over was discussed. After Bazargan returned from Paris, he told his comrades that Khomeini was not aware of the modern world and how it should be governed, and expressed his grave concerns. Taleghani, himself a popular and progressive cleric, warned that the clerics could not be trusted, but that the opposition to the monarchy had no choice. The country was in a deep crisis and a political vacuum had been created by the Shah; opposition members such as Bazargan and his comrades thus felt compelled to serve the nation any way they could. (See the excellent book by Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari for many more details.)

Shapour Bakhtiar and Bazargan

Meanwhile, in late December 1978, the Shah asked Shapour Bakhtiar of the National Front to become his prime minister, replacing General Gholam Reza Azhari, whose military government had failed to stem the revolutionary tide. The Shah had first asked Dr. Gholam Hossein Sedighi, another respected figure in the National Front who had served as deputy prime minister and interior minister under Mosaddegh, to form the new government; Sedighi had rejected the offer because the Shah was not willing to cede control of the military to him. On January 3, the Majles gave Bakhtiar's cabinet a vote of confidence. As soon as Bakhtiar, a social democrat who had served in the French resistance against the Nazis, was sworn into office on January 6, he was expelled from the National Front, which had joined the Revolution and accepted Khomeini's leadership. The Shah left Iran on January 16, and passed away in exile on July 27, 1980, in Cairo at the age of 61.

On January 12, the Islamic Revolutionary Council was formed by Khomeini and charged with directing the Revolution. The Council was composed of seven clerics chosen by Khomeini, several nonclerical opposition figures, and two representatives of the armed forces. The clerics were Taleghani; Motahari; Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini Beheshti, the first judiciary chief after the Revolution who was assassinated in June 1981; Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; Dr. Mohammad Javad Bahonar, who was assassinated in August 1981 after serving just 15 days as prime minister; Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, now Assembly of Experts chairman; and Seyyed Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili. They were joined by Mir Hossein Mousavi, Bazargan, Yazdi, Haj Seyyed Javadi, Yadollah Sahabi, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, Mostafa Katirayee, Major General Valiollah Gharani, and Brigadier General Ali Asghar Masoodi.

Laborers, particularly in the oil industry, comprised the last stratum of the society to join the Revolution. Once the oil workers went on strike, it became clear that the Shah's regime would collapse. The complete halt in oil production, however, brought hardship to the people. So Khomeini appointed a committee headed by Bazargan and including Rafsanjani and Katirayee to go to southern Iran, administer the oil strike, and ask the workers to produce enough for domestic use. Thus, similar to the Mosaddegh era (see part 1), Bazargan was once again put in charge of directing the oil industry during a highly critical time.

Forming the first postrevolutionary government

The LMI was at the height of its power after the Shah's regime was toppled on February 11, 1979. At the suggestion of his disciple Morteza Motahari, Khomeini asked Bazargan to be the first prime minister after the Revolution. Bazargan was reluctant to accept the post, and asked for 48 hours to think about it. He consulted with Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, one of the most important Marjas (sources of emulation for Shiites) of the time, who was opposed to many of Khomeini's actions and pronouncements, and then accepted the premiership. Yazdi was deputy prime minister for revolutionary affairs and both were members of the secret Islamic Revolutionary Council, which acted as a temporary legislative power until the first Majles was elected. Taleghani chaired the Council, which also included Bazargan, Yadollah Sahabi, and other members of the LMI.

Why did the LMI agree to form the first government after the Revolution? There are several reasons:

(a) Though Bazargan and his comrades were opposed to Khomeini's revolutionary path, they also recognized that they were probably the only group that had enough experienced members to run a complex country such as Iran in the revolutionary chaos of the era.

(b) At the same time, the LMI thought that by forming a government and running the country, it might be able to prevent revolutionary excesses.

(c) Most importantly, the LMI was too optimistic about the clerics in general, and Khomeini in particular. This optimism was not baseless. First, two of the most important clerical members of the LMI, Taleghani and Zanjani, were opposed to intervention in politics by the clerics. Second, so long as Khomeini was in France, there was no talk of Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by the Supreme Leader). Khomeini had emphasized that in his vision of a future Iran, everyone would be able to express their opinions freely and without fear, "even the communists," as he famously said.

Drafting a new constitution

The first draft of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, which was prepared mostly by the members of the LMI, contained no article establishing Velaayat-e Faghih. It envisioned a democratic republic. Khomeini signed the document and asked Bazargan to put it to a referendum. Others who supported Khomeini were Beheshti, Bahonar, Rafsanjani, Mahdavi Kani, Ghotbzadeh, and Ali Khamenei. Due to his complete honesty and integrity, Bazargan made a grave mistake: He reminded the ayatollah that he had promised the nation that the new constitution would be drafted by a constitutional assembly. He was supported by his LMI comrades, such as Yadollah Sahabi.

Thus, Khomeini asked Bazargan to hold elections for the assembly. Bazargan wanted to have a body with 600 members, but Khomeini was opposed. Most of the clerics wanted a low number of representatives, so that they could more easily control the group. Bazargan relented -- another of his errors. Eventually, roughly one representative was elected for every 500,000 people and the assembly ended up with 72 members, skewed completely in favor of rural centers where the mullahs held sway. The new body was refashioned as the Assembly of Constitutional Experts.

It was during the debates within the Assembly that the principle of Velaayat-e Faghih was inserted into the Constitution. Two groups played the leading role in the move: a clerical group led by the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri,and a second group consisting of the members of the right-wing Islamic Coalition Association (now the Islamic Coalition Party) who were active within the clergy-led Islamic Republican Party. The leader of this group was Dr. Hasan Ayat, a disciple of Dr. Mozaffar Baghaei, a supporter of the Shah during his confrontation with Mosaddegh in 1951-1953 (Ayat was assassinated in August 1981). Meanwhile, both Taleghani and Bazargan let their opposition to Velaayat-e Faghih be known.

Interestingly, the altered Constitution was opposed even by many clerics. For example, Jafar Shojouni, who now presents himself as an ardent supporter of Khamenei, wrote in a letter, "Under the current conditions in which everyone is terrified, we had to vote yes to the Constitution because we wanted to stay alive. But this does not imply that we actually accept it because it is filled with contradictions."

The provisional government

Belying what critics of the LMI claim, the Bazargan administration was not drawn largely from the group. It did have several senior LMI members, but it also included Dariush Forouhar and Karim Sanjabi of the National Front, several members of the Islamic Association of Engineers, Kazem Sami, and a few independents. From almost the very beginning, Bazargan and his group were opposed to many policies, both domestic and foreign, promoted by the clerics under Khomeini's leadership. Bazargan himself talked publicly about the differences many times.

On September 9, 1979, Ayatollah Taleghani passed away, creating a vacuum that was never filled. The nationalist-religious movement lost one its most popular and charismatic leaders, and Iran lost a great patriot. Then, on November 1, Bazargan, Foreign Minister Yazdi, and Defense Minister Mostafa Chamran met in Algiers with Zbigniew Brezezinski, President Carter's national security adviser. Nine days earlier, the Carter administration had allowed the Shah to enter the United States for cancer treatment after several other countries had turned him away. The revolutionaries in Iran saw this as the first step toward another coup, similar to the one in 1953 that overthrew the Mosaddegh government. Three days later, a group of leftist Islamic students calling themselves Followers of the Imam's [Khomeini's] Line overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 53 Americans hostage. Though in the morning, Khomeini had ordered Yazdi to expel the students from the Embassy compound, by the end of the day he had declared his support for the takeover. Bazargan and his ministers submitted their resignations, which were quickly accepted by the ayatollah, and the Revolutionary Council formed the next cabinet.

Swiftly after the resignation of the Bazargan government, the hardline clerics and their supporters began to attack the LMI. A hardline cleric referred to Bazargan's move as "the conspiratorial resignation of the Mosaddeghist prime minister of the Liberation Movement." Another declared, "Were you not the ones who were trying to deviate the Revolution [from its true path] and commit treason against history."

In another important development during this period, a group of LMI members led by Ezatollah Sahabi whose economic positions were relatively leftist -- along the lines of the European Social Democrats -- left the organization. In addition, the Sahabi group were adherents of Shariati, whereas many other LMI members, such as Bazargan, had criticized his interpretation of Islamic teaching. Although the schism still persists, they are all allies in the Nationalist-Religious Coalition that was led by Sahabi until his death.

Soon after the Bazargan administration resigned, all the nationalist-religious figures joined the opposition. They are still in the opposition, and though many of their leaders from the prerevolutionary era have either passed away or are of advanced age, they are still very popular and respected within Iran. The clerics and their supporters have always opposed nationalism, which many consider an apostasy. At the same time, as the nationalist-religious activists have always been devout Muslims who present the society with an enlightened interpretation of Islamic teaching, the clerics have always considered them as threats to their power and special privileges. They must, therefore, somehow be eliminated, which explains why the nationalist-religious groups have always been under tremendous pressure.

End of Part 2 | Part 3, the last of this series, will describe the nationalist-religious movement since it joined the postrevolutionary opposition

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

SHAREtwitterfacebookSTUMBLEUPONbalatarin reddit digg del.icio.us
blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.