Gareth Smyth has covered Middle Eastern affairs for 20 years and was chief correspondent for The Financial Times in Iran.

  • Yazdi, Iranian foreign minister turned dissident, stood up for his ideals, On: Sun, 17 Sep 2017

  • Tehran eyes diplomatic offensive to ease international pressures, On: Sun, 10 Sep 2017

  • Remembering Nawshirwan Mustafa on the eve of Kurdish referendum , On: Sun, 27 Aug 2017

  • Nikolaos van Dam: Even with an agreement, it may take generations to ‘normalise’ Syria, On: Sun, 27 Aug 2017

  • Kurdish push for independence likely to unleash new cycle of violence in an already volatile region, On: Sun, 06 Aug 2017

  • Dangers in US-Iran relations over nuclear deal, On: Sun, 06 Aug 2017

  • Agreement with Total boosts Iran’s potential, On: Sun, 23 Jul 2017

  • Iran faces worsening drug addiction problem, On: Sun, 09 Jul 2017

  • The common factors of far right and radical Islamist hatred, On: Sun, 02 Jul 2017

  • Election may have lessened Raeisi’s chances to succeed Khamenei , On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • ISIS a new challenge for Iran as ‘caliphate’ crumbles , On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Islamist extremists and the far right need each other, On: Sun, 11 Jun 2017

  • Tehran expects US engagement but no clear timetable, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Despite Iran’s history of election surprises, Rohani could triumph, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • In Iran’s election, the battle is between rich and poor, On: Sun, 07 May 2017

  • Little-known Raeisi could give Rohani a run for his money, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • The dangerous and far-reaching consequences of ambiguity , On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • US president unlikely to abandon ‘worst deal ever’, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • Iran election may be pointer to race for supreme leader, On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • For Iran’s women, ‘the cat’s out of the bag’, On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Ahmadinejad tweets but is no Donald Trump, On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • Friday prayers key to Iran’s succession politics, On: Sun, 19 Mar 2017

  • Those fighting terrorism should also define their aims, On: Sun, 19 Mar 2017

  • ‘Principlists’ concentrate attacks on Rohani, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Iranians fear their foes are ‘ganging up’ with Trump, On: Sun, 05 Mar 2017

  • The Lebanese have shown a humanity the West could learn from, On: Sun, 26 Feb 2017

  • Shia leadership struggle ahead after Khamenei and Sistani , On: Sun, 26 Feb 2017

  • Iran’s conservatives scramble to find a presidential candidate, On: Sun, 19 Feb 2017

  • A strange new world, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Iran’s judiciary gets dragged into the political dogfight, On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Hunger strikers throw down gauntlet to Iran’s rulers, On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Former German diplomat Paul von Maltzahn: Spectre of Trump haunts Europe’s bid to keep Iran deal intact , On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Rafsanjani leaves Iran in grip of power struggle, On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Iran and Russia, allies in Syria, forge major energy links, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • In Iran, ghosts of revolution’s mass killings come back to haunt, On: Sun, 25 Dec 2016

  • Oil export recovery helps Rohani but election remains a challenge, On: Sun, 25 Dec 2016

  • Is this the 1930s all over again?, On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • On nuclear deal, Iran may play Trump off against other powers, On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Khamenei’s latest headache: Iranians hail a sixth-century BC king, On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Yazdi, Iranian foreign minister turned dissident, stood up for his ideals

    Yazdi opposed velayet-e faqih and had the courage to do so in Tehran, rather than choose exile, as a leading figure in a loyal opposition.

    Insufficiently radical. A file picture shows the late head of the outlawed Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) Ebrahim Yazdi in Tehran. (AFP)


    2017/09/17 Issue: 123 Page: 15



    London - Shortly after the 1979 Irani­an Revolution toppled the shah of Iran, Syrian For­eign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam visited Tehran and presented Iran’s new foreign minister, Ebrahim Yazdi, with a pistol. Startled by the gift — and perhaps by the Ba’athist mindset it revealed — Yazdi placed it in a cup­board and forgot about it.

    Years later, when Yazdi was a leading dissident, security police found the gun while searching his house and Yazdi was charged with illegal possession of a weapon. The story, which he told during a meet­ing in Tehran, exemplifies his ab­horrence of the brutal side of poli­tics.

    Obituaries on Yazdi, who died in August at 85, were polarised be­tween those portraying a man of great principle, almost an Iranian Nelson Mandela, and those dis­paraging him as a naïve dupe who became a close ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during his exile and supported the revolution in the name of democracy only to become one of its victims.

    Perhaps both these views have some truth or rather are two sides of the same coin. It seems scarcely credible that an intelligent per­son could not have realised that Khomeini’s intention was to imple­ment his theory of velayat-e faqih and being about direct clerical rule, even if its form might change over time.

    As an activist outside Iran for 20 years before the revolution, Yazdi knew leading Iranian opposition figures such as philosopher Ali Sha­riati and Mostafa Chamran, later defence minister, before he became spokesman for Khomeini when he left Iraq in 1978 for a new base in Neauphle-le-Château, just outside Paris. When the army refused to quell demonstrations in Iran and the shah fled, Yazdi returned home with Khomeini but would last less than a year as revolutionary Iran’s first foreign minister.

    In November 1979, when militant students in Tehran stormed the US Embassy, Yazdi went to Qom to seek advice from Khomeini, who told him to remove them. How­ever, when Yazdi had completed the three-hour drive to Tehran, he heard on the radio that Khomeini had come out in support of the students. For Khomeini to call the embassy a “lair of espionage” was a turning point for the revolution and for Yazdi, who resigned alongside Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan.

    Yazdi regarded the United States as flawed, not evil. He had joined the Freedom Movement of Iran, formed in 1961 by Bazargan to con­tinue the politics of Mohammed Mossadegh, the prime minister ousted in 1953 by a US- and British-backed military coup after he na­tionalised Iran’s oil.

    Like Mossadegh, Yazdi regard­ed Washington’s role in 1953 as a departure from the principles on which the United States was found­ed. Yazdi had emigrated to America in 1960, became a US citizen and for much of the 1970s was a medi­cal doctor in Houston. His approach was far more nuanced than slogans such as “Death to America” and he looked forward to a day when Teh­ran and Washington could enjoy re­lations based on respect.

    Likewise, his efforts to find a poli­tics inspired but not dominated by religious beliefs reflect a challenge far wider than Iran. Whether Yazdi was a secularist depends on how the term is defined but, while a de­vout Muslim, he opposed velayet-e faqih and had the courage to do so in Tehran, rather than choose exile, as a leading figure in a loyal opposi­tion.

    The Freedom Movement, which Yazdi led after Bazargan’s death in 1995, retained a quasi-legal sta­tus but Yazdi was arrested several times, and, in 2011 at the age of 80, was sentenced to eight years in prison, although he was soon re­leased on health grounds.

    During his last illness, he was denied a US visa to receive cancer treatment, despite the efforts of Gary Sick, professor of internation­al affairs at Columbia University and the principal White House aide on Iran during the revolution and hostage crisis.

    In 2004, Yazdi explained his views thus: “The Iranian people are 97% Muslim and this must be re­flected in any democratic constitu­tion. The first draft constitution [in 1979] did not contain the idea of ve­layet-e faqih and no one said it was un-Islamic. Ayatollah Khomeini was of a far higher calibre than his successor [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and yet, after Imam Khomeini’s death, the leader was given greater power.”

    Just after Yazdi’s death, Sick re­called him as a man “who never backed away from his ideas and his ideals.” The US refusal of a visa was “unfortunate,” Sick told the IranWire website. “[But] given the history, that is not something that should particularly surprise us. Iran’s actions towards the US, the hostage crisis, even though Yazdi opposed it — those things have left scars and he was a victim of that politics, both in Iran and in the US.”

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

    Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

    Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

    Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

    Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Regular Columnists

    Claude Salhani

    Yavuz Baydar

    Correspondents

    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

    Designers

    Ibrahim Ben Bechir

    Hanen Jebali

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    www.alarab.co.uk

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    177-179 Hammersmith Road

    London W6 8BS , UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved