Mehdi Bazargan and the controversial legacy of Iran’s Islamic intellectual movement

Mehdi Bazargan was head of Iran’s interim government, making him Iran’s first prime minister after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. A well respected religious intellectual, known for his honesty and expertise in the Islamic and secular sciences, he is credited with being one of the founders of contemporary Islamic intellectual movement in Iran. Unable to predict nor resist Khomeiny’s grip on power and cult status ( denounced by secular politicians such as Shapour Bakhtiar the last Prime Minister of the Shah of Iran whom Bazargan befriended in France during their Student years and in the French Resistance in which both actively participated in their common fight against the Nazi Occupation), Bazargan’s political and intellectual legacy remains associated to theocracy he helped create but which ultimately ate it’s own children. His ideals of an Islamic Democracy or rather compatibility between Islamic values and democratic demands (and based on the teachings of Islamic intellectual Ali Shariati ) were to inspire the reform movement that emerged with the election of Muhamed Khatami in 1997 and which reached it’s limits with the last fraudulent Presidential elections of june 2009 that led to controversial re election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Here is a documentary on Mehdi Bazargan by those who knew him in Commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his death:

Part I:

Part II

Part III

Abdol Ali Bazargan ( one of Bazarghan’s son’s) shares his outlook on Iranian History from an Islamic Perspective:

One of Shapour Bakhtiar’s last Interview’s before the fall of his government:  

Pro Bakhtiar Demonstrations in support of the Secular 1906 Constitution:

About Mehdi Bazargan (September, 1907 – January 20, 1995):

Born to an Iranian Azeri family in Bazargan, West Azerbaijan. Bazargan grew up in Tehran. His father, Hajj ‘Abbasqoli Tabrizi (d.1954) was a self-made merchant and a devout religious activist who was the head of the Azarbaijani mosque and community in Tehran.

Bazargan was educated in thermodynamics and engineering at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris. After his graduation, Bazargan voluntarily entered French army and fought against Nazi Germany in his early life.[2]. Bazargan then came back from France and became the head of the first engineering department of Tehran University in the late 1940s. In 1951 with the leadership of Dr. Mossadegh, Iranian parliament nationalized the Iranian oil industry (National Iranian Oil Company) and removed it from British control. Mr. Bazargan served as the first Iranian head of National Iranian Oil Company under command of Prime Minister Mossadegh.

After the fall of the Mossadegh government, he co-founded the Liberation Movement of Iran, a party similar in program to Mossadegh’s National Front. Although he accepted the Shah as the legitimate head of state, he was jailed several times on political grounds.

On February 5, 1979, after the revolution forced the Shah to leave Iran, Bazargan was appointed prime minister of Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini. He was seen as one of the democratic and liberal figureheads of the revolution who came into conflict with the more radical religious leaders – including Ayatollah Khomeini himself – as the revolution progressed. Although pious, Bazargan initially disputed the name Islamic Republic, wanting an Islamic Democratic Republic.He had also been a supporter of the original (non-theocratic) revolutionary draft constitution, and opposed the Assembly of Experts for Constitution and the constitution they wrote that was eventually adopted as Iran’s constitution.

Bazargan resigned along with his cabinet on November 4 following the US Embassy takeover and hostage-taking. His resignation was considered a protest against the hostage-taking and a recognition of his government’s inability to free the hostages, but it was also clear that his hopes for liberal democracy and an accommodation with the West would not prevail.

Bazargan continued in Iranian politics as a member of the first Parliament (Majles) of the newly formed Islamic Republic. He openly opposed Iran’s cultural revolution and continued to advocate civil rule and democracy. In November 1982 he expressed his frustration with the direction the Islamic Revolution had taken in an open letter to the then speaker of parliament Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The government has created an atmosphere of terror, fear, revenge and national disintegration. … What has the ruling elite done in nearly four years, besides bringing death and destruction, packing the prisons and the cemeteries in every city, creating long queues, shortages, high prices, unemployment, poverty, homeless people, repetitious slogans and a dark future?

In 1985 the Council of Guardians denied Bazargan’s petition to run for president. He died of a heart attack on January 20, 1995 while travelling from Tehran to Zurich, Switzerland.

Bazargan is considered to be a respected figure within the ranks of modern Muslim thinkers, well known as a representative of liberal-democratic Islamic thought and a thinker who has emphasized the necessity of constitutional and democratic policies. He opposed the continuation of Iran-Iraq war and the involvement of clerics in all aspects of politics, economy and society. Consequently, he faced harassment from militants and young revolutionaries within Iran.

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