Former Iranian president Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr and a group of his associates inside and outside Iran are trying to put together a new political coalition to overthrow the regime of Aytollah Ruhollah Khomeini, according to one of BaniSadr's political allies.
Progress has been slow, Ali Reza Nobari, former head of Iran's Central Bank, said in an interview earlier this month, "because the people want to be assured that the next government is not going to cheat them the same way Khomeini cheated them. They do not want to try things that they have tried once. Khomeini has gotten so bad, we want to make sure it won't be so bad next time."
Many of the 20 to 30 organizers of this effort, including Nobari, were among the western-educated students who worked for almost 15 years to overthrow Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and replace him with Khomeini.
The anti-Khomeini forces Nobari and his colleagues hope to bring together are all over the map, physically and politically.
Conservative former military leaders and businessmen who thrived under the shah but saw the need for change, fled after the revolution. Today, they live in the United States andin Western Europe, waiting for an opportunity to return home.
Anti-shah revolutionaries who studied at western universities and then worked for Khomeini also went into exile as the Tehran government led by muslim fundamentalists turned from modernization back to ancient customs.
On the economic left, the Khomeini foes range rom socialists to communists, from intellectuals to terrorists.
The Bani-Sadr forces tried to generate public support for a revolution against Khomeini last summer, thinking it would be easy because of the economic and political turmoil in the country. But tightened internal security foiled them.
Now they are beginning the slower process of pulling together an international movement, raising money and searching for a way to broadcast anti-Khomeini messages into Iran. And they are trying to structure a pluralistic government in exile, hoping to head off the type of power struggle they lost with Khomeini.
The new attempt to unseat Khomeini would not include members of the communist Tudeh Party, which supports Khomeini, nor the monarchists who want to put the late shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, 21, on the peacock Throne.
U.S. support of any effort by the young Pahlavi, who has proclaimed himself the new shah from his exile in Cairo, to overthrow Khomeini, Nobari warned, "would unite Iranians behind Khomeini against the Americans."
The group's strategy was outlined in Nobari's wideranging interview, the first since he came to the United States after losing his job and fleeing Iran in disguise in September.
Nobari, one of the key participants in negotiating the return of the 52 American hostages last January, sharply criticized Khomeini as "corrupted by power" and painted a grim picture of Iran as a country that has come under a rule of terror since the shah was overthrown nearly three years ago.
Today, Nobari said, the revolutionary psychology of the people is vastly different. Back in January, 1979, there were two enemies: the shah and America.
With Khomeini it's different," said Nobari, "They see that foreigners are not helping Khomeini; it is the people themselves who put Khomeini is power. So here comes a feeling of guilt, a feeling that, why did we do this to ourselves?"
Nobari spoke with bitterness of the religious leader he had colleagues had helped to power, at the risk of their lives.
"Khomeini was shrewd... Khomeini used us...used the hostages and is now using the Iraq war to stay in power," Nobari said.
Nobari disputed the idea, widespread in the United States, that the 82year-old Khomeini is near death and not in control of Iran. "I talked to one of his doctors...Khomeini exercises and walks two or three hours a day," Nobari said.
For years, Khomeini has raised questions about his health and then used the issue for political purposes, according to Nobari.
"Once every two times or three times he used to make speeches that he's sick, he's dying, he doesn't have any more hopes except on the youth, that though he has only one or two breaths left he would rather submit to the bullets of the shah rather than submit to his will," he said.
Such statements, plus disclaimers that "once he got rid of the shah he would go home, do his job as a theologian and the clergy would nooget involved with the day-to-day running of the government," gave Bani-Sadr and others the impression that Khomeini was "a man of God, a saint, who has this religious authority which he uses for the freedom of people...he is deeply involved with ideas of freedom, justice, and he doesn't want any part of public life."
But, says Nobari now, "All these things became wrong."
To hold power, according to Nobari, Khomeini needed crisis to bring the crowds into the street, so he supported or created them.
"The first executions," Nobari said, "shocked everybody, but were done with Khomeini's expressed insistence. Meanwhile he used to tell people like Bani-Sadr that, 'No, we are going to have due process.'"
"From the start," Nobari said of Khomeini, "he consciously was playing both sides," pretending to listen to different groups and pretending to change his positions.
"That was why many in the West couldn't understand. You would feel that there were sudden changes in the position of Iran. But these were not changes, the deep positions were the same. Khomeini was just playing cheat, as the cat that lets the mouse go away and then catches him again.
"That was what was done with the American hostages."
The 63 Americans originally taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November, 1979, says Nobari, were the first accepted as a vehicle to demand that the shah, who had been allowed into the United States for medical treatment, be returned to Iran for trial. But shortly thereafter the hostages also became a tool against Bani-Sadr and other factions who challenged Khomeini's rule.
The crowds brought out in support of the embassy seizure, which then-Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan opposed, gave Khomeini the opportunity to replace Bazaran with his own revolutionary council, dominated by mullahs.
Continued demonstrations in front of the embassy helped Khomeini rally support to get his constitution approved in a national referendum, giving him total control over the government.
Once Khomeini had "his government and he had the control over everything," Nobari said, "he decided we had to get out of this economic embargo of the West because we cannot get spare parts...then he finally decided, yes, it was the time to solve the hostages.
The timing was also influenced by the 1980 American presidential election, on the first anniversary of the hostage-taking.
"I was in the committee that drafted the basic four conditions that were approved by the parliament before Nov. 4," Nobari said, adding that the Iranians were trying to help President Carter in his re-election bid against Ronald Reagan. "I'm absolutely sure of the motives. But it ended up, because they were so inefficient, that it actually hurt Carter."
Khomeini's next step was to remove Bani-Sadr, whose election as president gave him stature among the people, according to Nobari. Nobari, as the last of Bani-Sadr's appointees, was caught in that struggle.
Last June, Bani-Sadr went to visit Iranian army troops fighting on the Iraqi front in his role a commander-in-chief. On June 9, according to Nobari, at Khomeini's order, Bani-Sadr's newspaper, Iranian Revolution, was closed down "by declaration of the revolutionary presecutor general."
Within days, in a surprise move, BaniSadr was stripped of his title of commander-in-chief. "We understood that he was out so all of us, we went underground," Nobari recalled.
Bani-Sadr's opponents in the parliament demanded he appear to be questioned, but fearing arrests, harassment and even Bani-Sadr's life, Bani-Sadr and his allies decided to stay underground, Nobari said.
That meant staying two or three nights in one house, and then moving on to another. After a month or so, however, revolutionary guards began arresting groups of homeowners at a time, Nobari said.
"Any home we went, the houseowner was in danger of being killed. Besides that," he said, "we would get killed."
The situation was particularly dangerous for Bani-Sadr, the target of an intensive government search, and those who protected him.
Bani-Sadr then turned to the Mojahedin, a small, Marxist-Islamic, terrorist group. "Finally, we saw that normal homes were not safe so he went into one of the hideouts of the Mojahedin," Nobari explained.
Relations between the Islamic intellectual, Bani-Sadr, and the Islamic terrorist organization was born despite their differences, according to Nobari, in the early days of the Khomeini regime.
Bani-Sadr got them a place on the revolutionary council over the objection of some mullahs close to Khomeini. "When the Mojahedin were being theatened by Khomeini, killed by Khomeini people...we were conscious that if the Khomeini forces succeeded, the next stage could be us," Nobari said.
The current relationship, Nobari stressed, is built on the common goal of bringing down the present regime. "The Mojahedin needed a kind of transition to legitimacy, and that they could get only from Bani-Sadr," he said.
Another potential base for support for a move against Khomeini, according to Nobari, is the Iranian military. "Khomeini knows that," Nobari said, "and that's why he has kept the army busy with Iraq."
When Bani-Sadr fled the country in an Iranian Air Force plane, "he definitely had the help of the military, army men especially, high level people," Nobari said.
Nobari's picture of Iran is grim.
"All the purely idealistic revolutionary elements have left or were purged. Now in the revolutionary guards there are people who steal, who confiscate houses....
"Unemployment is high and the shortages started mainly with the war have continued," he said. "The government has used the shortages and the war to create a system of control of the population...They distribute every item, chicken, butter, powder, meat, kerosene. Anything that you might consider essential goods."
Unhappy as the Iranians are, Nobari says the religious mysticism Khomeini has wrapped around himself so far has protected him from revolution. "Khomeini, though he has lost most religious leaders, still has charisma on some sectors of the population.
"We have all wished for years and years, maybe even centuries for our utopian society when the messiah will come. Clearly Khomeini came as a messiah of our culture and religion, but this didn't work."