May 24, 2015
Will the Egyptian Revolution Also Devour Its Young?
Posted on Feb 18, 2011
By Barry Lando
But events were moving too fast. The French government, always attuned to the changing political winds, yielded to Ghotbzadeh’s entreaties and allowed Khomeini to go to Paris.
By December 1978, it was obvious that the shah was out. Ghotbzadeh was exultant as we entered a fine restaurant for lunch in Paris. He was immediately recognized by the maitre d’ and escorted to the best table. The now 39-year-old dissident, who for years had traveled about from one Western capital to another, staying in shabby hotels, attempting to interest reporters and politicians with his apparently forlorn cause, representing an Iranian cleric none had even heard of, was now appearing on everyone’s TV screen. He was one of the key spokesmen for the bearded ayatollah, whose image was now recognized around the world. They were on the brink of power. The shah’s rapid collapse had amazed everyone, including the opposition.
In a few days they would fly to Tehran, Ghotbzadeh told me with supreme confidence. Khomeini would be the new guard’s spiritual leader, but the real source of government, he assured me, would be Western-educated reformers like himself.
I raised the question of the world’s great revolutions and how they all seemed to follow the same dynamic—from the French to the American to the Russian. How they all seemed to arrive at some terror, how they devoured their young before they subsided and the political pendulum gradually swung back to center. “How will you avoid being devoured?” I asked Ghotbzadeh, only half in jest. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We know what we’re doing.”
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That’s, of course, not the way it worked out. The revolution became increasingly chaotic, increasingly radicalized, as competing parties and factions struggled violently for power, particularly after the American hostages were taken. Ghotbzadeh maneuvered desperately, trying to stay on the political tightrope—head of Iranian TV, ultimately foreign minister.
He helped us get an exclusive interview with Khomeini after the hostages were taken. Nine months later, in December 1980, with the hostages still being held, we returned to Iran. War had broken out with Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded, quietly encouraged by the United States.
We interviewed Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, an economist turned president who was totally out of his element. The war had even further radicalized politics in Iran, and Bani-Sadr had become a virtual prisoner in his own presidential palace. The Imam Khomeini had thrown in his lot with the Islamic radicals. The Western-educated revolutionaries such as Bani-Sadr and Ghotbzadeh had been thrust to the side.
In a Kafkaesque interview, Bani-Sadr talked frankly of the mounting wave of torture and repression under what in theory was his own government. He condemned the road the revolution seemed to be taking. Shortly afterward he fled for his life to become an exile in Paris.
Ghotbzadeh chose a different fate. A few months before our visit he had been thrown in prison, charged with conspiring against the regime. It was only Khomeini’s personal intervention that saved him.
Ghotbzadeh was released, and ordered by the imam to go home, stay there and stop his plotting.
Our last evening in Tehran in December 1980, Wallace and I went over to Ghotbzadeh’s spacious residence. He greeted us with a wan smile. He was blunt in his criticism of Khomeini and the way in which the revolution had been perverted from the goals that Western-educated Iranians had hoped it would take. “The imam,” said Ghotbzadeh, “had promised us before the shah fell that, once the revolution had won, he would go back to the holy city of Qom and give us occasional spiritual guidance. But the real job of government would be left to us. But he misled us. Once he tasted power, he liked it. We were betrayed.”
It was obvious Ghotbzadeh was ignoring Khomeini’s stern warning to stop conspiring. Several people were there, some of them mullahs, others with the bearing of military officers. They talked softly in small groups. Occasionally one came over to speak in Farsi with Ghotbzadeh. Yet Ghotbzadeh was still optimistic about the future, he said as we left. It was after midnight. The others remained.
Ghotbzadeh was rearrested a few months later and charged with attempting to overthrow the Islamic government in order to establish a secular republic. Though at his trial he denied the accusation, he was also charged with planning to assassinate the Imam Khomeini, the man he helped bring to power.
On Sept. 21, 1982, at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, Ghotbzadeh was placed before a wall and executed, shot through the neck.
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