“Trump does not want regime change in Iran”

“Trump does not want regime change in Iran”
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Abolhasan Bani Sadr (Tehran, 1933) was living in exile in Paris when in 1978 Khomeini contacted him to welcome him in France after his expulsion from Iraq. The economist, who was imprisoned by the Shah twice and was the son of a prominent ayatollah, became one of his closest advisors during those months when Khomeini persuaded the world press that he was a defender of democracy. democracy. Bani Sadr, who was on the same plane in which Khomeini landed in Tehran, was the first to be convinced of the religious leader's good intentions, he admits at 85 years old in a telephone interview from Paris, where he has lived in exile since 1981.

His friendship with the Ayatollah ended as badly as the Iranian revolution. Elected at the polls as the first president of the Islamic Republic in 1980, Bani Sadr faced the growing power of the mullahs while dealing with the outbreak of war with Iraq and the hostage crisis at the US embassy. He was removed from office a year and a half later and fled into exile. Khomeini, his old mentor, sentenced him to death.

During the revolution, Khomeini defended democratic principles. They even called him the 'libertarian ayatollah'. Does he believe that he lied or that he changed when he came to power?

I'm not saying it, there are documents that prove that there was a secret plan based on full powers for Khomeini and a single party to control society. But no matter how much Khomeini lied about his intentions, the restoration of the dictatorship would not have occurred without the conjunction of internal and external factors.

What was the turning point, from a democratic revolution to religious dictatorship?

The Iranian revolution had 20 guiding principles, such as independence, freedom, human rights, democracy, participation of citizens in the management of the country, etc. Not a single one could be realized. We wanted to break two fences of domination: the internal one, which was the Shah's regime, and the external one, which was the dependence on the United States in particular and the West in general. We tried to keep Khomeini out of those fences, but we were a minority within the revolutionary cadres. Our enemies wanted to take over the State and managed to bring Khomeini to his territory by taking hostages at the US embassy. A revolution made with the flower was replaced by generalized violence by political groups whose objective was to take power.

You were part of Khomeini's inner circle in France. Why did you trust him so much?

We were sure that he, being a religious leader and not a politician, would respect the commitments made. We must not forget that our revolution was the first whose leadership made commitments in front of the world press. He did not do it. He behaved worse than a politician. Our mistake was to rely too much on the sincerity of one man. We made the revolution without thinking about the day after. Preparations were needed to prevent the restoration of the dictatorship.

Khomeini's betrayal

“Our mistake was to rely too much on the sincerity of one man.”

Did you believe in an Islamic democracy?

Islam was the guiding thought of the Iranian revolution, but it was not traditional Islam. It stopped being a religion of duty, of man's submission to power, to become a liberating Islam, which recognized the intrinsic rights of men. Of those 20 principles announced by a religious leader, all were for change by the people and none existed in traditional Islam. It was a true revolution in the religious thought of the Iranian people. Even when Khomeini turned back to traditional Islam and made religion the justification for his dictatorship, he could not reverse that change of mentality unprecedented in the history of Iran and the Muslim world.

The legacy of the revolution?

Yes. The change in religious mentality began before, allowed the revolution and continues today. Even today there is a big difference between the popular Islam of Iran and the rest of the Muslim countries. The Iranian sees himself as someone independent, free and with rights.

On a personal level, do you remember the moment when you saw that Khomeini was an enemy?

It happened shortly after we returned to Iran. In France, one of the principles she defended was that women had the same rights and status as men and were free to wear the veil or not. But once in Iran, the religious hardliners began to attack women who did not wear it. Then I went to see Khomeini in Qom, as religious head of the country, and reminded him of his word given to him before the whole world. He told me that what he had said in France was for convenience, and that now it was convenient for him to say the opposite. Something broke in my heart. For me, he stopped being the same man.

When the Ayatollah imposed the veil

“He told me that what he promised in France was for convenience, and now it was convenient for him to say the opposite”

Let's move on to today: what consequences will it have for Iran and for the Iranians that the US has broken the nuclear agreement?

The atomic issue is an internal problem that the regime has managed to turn into an external one, because it needs the permanent crisis with foreign powers to survive. Iran signed the agreement without either the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei) or Parliament approving it. Within the State there are contradictory trends and Trump has taken advantage of this, imagining that by imposing new sanctions he would force Iran to submit to his orders. But the sanctions have a great impact on the lives of Iranians, increasing unemployment and poverty and aggravating the agricultural situation. They prevent the Iranian people from acting. They are a hungry people, who are afraid of a new war, of ending up like Syria or Afghanistan if they try to get rid of this regime. Under external pressure, no people act. We are also seeing it in Venezuela.

Abolhasan Bani Sadr, 85, a few days ago in Paris, where he has lived in exile since 1981


Can't regime change come from outside?

Exact. All the coups d'état that Iran has had have come from abroad. The coup of the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty (1921), the coup against Mosadeq (1953) and the third against me, in 1980.

When President Rohani was elected, he raised a wave of hope. But has it achieved anything?

His presidency will be a great failure, both because of the US and because of the regime's hardliners. Stabs from within are more deadly than sanctions. This is a dictatorial regime, the axis of which is the full power of the supreme guide. All instruments of the State are monopolized by it, from the forces of order to the propaganda apparatus. He directs foreign, domestic and economic policy. What can a president do? There is a supreme leader with full powers and a president without power, but then it is the president who is responsible to the people for solving the country's enormous problems that have not stopped worsening in 40 years.

Pressure helps the regime

“Sanctions prevent the Iranian people from acting; “He is hungry and afraid.”

Only Khamenei's death can change things?

Neither Trump nor anyone in the US wants to overthrow this regime because they profit from it, in the region, in their public opinion or to raise the price of oil. The only solution is for the Iranian people to move to free themselves and find their independence. It is very difficult.

Do you want another revolution?

No. We already had one and it ended badly. We need something else. The State must be changed from top to bottom to establish a rule of law. The regime is more fragile than it seems. In the revolution 40 years ago we wanted to tear down the three legs of the dictatorial State; We tear down the military-dynastic leg and the feudal system in the rural world. The only thing that remains is the religious institution. They must be told to worry about religion and leave matters of state alone. But for this it is necessary for the external pressure to decrease.

Is reform possible from within the regime?

If it happened in Russia, it is not impossible in Iran. But its success depends on a legitimacy that can only come from the people.

Do you think you will be able to set foot in Iran again one day?

To answer I would have to know how long I will live (laughs). I remain hopeful because Iranian civil society exists. Iranians are aware of their individual rights, and that makes me confident that change for the people, the only one possible, will succeed.

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Nathan Rivera
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