Ibrahim Yazdi, Leading Iranian Dissident, Dies at 85

Joining other government ministers in resigning from the cabinet, Dr. Yazdi helped found the secular, pro-democracy Freedom Movement of Iran, which was frequently suppressed by the theocratic Islamic government.

Dr. Yazdi described himself as a “modernist intellectual Muslim.” His political outspokenness was generally tolerated by the regime because of his early kinship with Khomeini — “No one can claim to be more revolutionary or Islamic than I am,” he said — although he was marginalized and regularly arrested and charged with rumor-mongering and jeopardizing Iranian security.

“We have a political crisis. We have an economic crisis. We have a social crisis,” he told The New York Times in 1995, the year he began leading the Freedom Movement. “People feel they’ve been betrayed, that the revolution has been kidnapped.”

In 2005 he sought to run for president, but he was disqualified. In 2011 he was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, but he was released because of his deteriorating health.

Ibrahim Yazdi was born in 1931 (sources differ on the exact date) in Qazvin, in northwestern Iran. His father was a merchant trader who sold henna.

Dr. Yazdi earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology from the University of Tehran in 1953. That same year, a military coup supported by the United States deposed the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and installed Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, whose father had abdicated as shah in 1941.

Photo

Ibrahim Yazdi in 1979. Credit Henghameh Fahimi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After the coup, Dr. Yazdi joined the National Resistance Movement, formed in response to the coup to keep the flame of nationalism alive. He left for the United States with his wife, Sourour Taliye, in 1961.

She survives him, along with four daughters and two sons.

Dr. Yazdi taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and completed his postdoctoral studies at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where he conducted research in pathology, taught pharmacology and worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital.

Unable to return to Iran, where the shah’s military court had condemned him to 10 years in prison, he remained in the United States until 1977, then joined Khomenei in France as his interpreter and spokesman.

As an opponent of American foreign policy and Zionism, he helped organize disparate rebel groups into the Revolutionary Guards, the military arm of the revolt.

Dr. Yazdi had foiled an attempted takeover of the American Embassy earlier in 1979, but later that year he warned American officials that their decision to admit the exiled shah to the United States for cancer treatment would open “a Pandora’s box.” Three days later, on Nov. 4, 1979, student supporters of the Iranian revolution seized the embassy.

But by 1981, when the Revolutionary Guards and allied groups had rallied behind the mullahs and ousted the moderates, he was criticizing the ruling Islamic Republic Party for what he called its “Stalinistic and un-Islamic methods.”

The title of Dr. Yazdi’s memoir, published in Persian in 2012, reflected his long-term perspective: “Sixty Years of Patience.”

“The day after the revolution, Khomeini was facing the question: What is an Islamic republic?” Dr. Yazdi recalled in 2008 in an interview with The Times. “I was in favor of a constitution and elections. They were against it. Khomeini was oscillating, but gradually he turned to the conservative side.”

Dr. Yazdi predicted then that while Iran’s “revolutionary chapter” was not over, the country was “learning democracy.”

“Democracy is not a commodity to be imported,” he said. “America doesn’t carry democracy in its soldiers’ rucksacks.”

Rather, he said, democracy and its basic components — pluralism, tolerance, compromise — must be acquired from within a society, one that for the time being he considered still to be despotic.

“Many basic rights and liberties are continuously being denied,” Dr. Yazdi said. “Therefore, one inspiration behind the revolution, restoration of people’s sovereignty, democracy and so on, hasn’t been achieved — yet.”

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