The chilling tale is told by a widely respected diplomat who is afraid to give his name. He holds a photograph of a beautiful Iranian girl. She had been one of the original supporters of the revolution, one of the chanting millions who had marched in the streets of Tehran in support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Then, two weeks ago she was executed on the grounds of Evin Prison after being suspected of “free thinking.” Revolutionary guards who raided her home hauled off works by Flaubert, Rousseau and Zola to be used against her at a trial that was never held. Even more chilling for her friends was the fact that her death was never officially reported.
This month, as Iranians observed the third anniversary of the founding of the republic, the celebrations were counterpointed by an awesome level of fear even among those who had originally supported the revolution as evidenced by last week’s arrest of former foreign minister Sadeq Gotbzadeh. Far from ending the late shah’s reign of terror, Khomeini’s regime has maintained the fears of arbitrary arrest and execution once associated with the former kingdom’s secret police. Most diplomats stationed in Tehran contend that Amnesty International’s figure of 4,000 executions since 1979 represents only onethird of the actual toll.
Even at the celebrations themselves there were flashes of the underlying terror. A chambermaid admitted that she only attended the events because she was afraid that her absence might be noted by the Islamic committees that keep watch at work and prowl in her neighborhood. A taxi driver said he decided to take part after he was stopped
by a revolutionary guard who asked why he was not “celebrating.”
Still, despite the omnipresent surveillance there is evidence of growing discontent with the regime’s handling of both economic and social issues. But Khomeini is unrepentant.“We did not launch the revolution for bigger houses and better melons,” he declared. The decaying hulks of suspended building sites and abandoned construction cranes are evidence that expansion has been aborted. At the same time, meat is rationed—one chicken per family every 20 days—and fruit has all but disappeared from supermarket shelves. Regular supplies of staples—such as dairy products, rice and cooking oil—are available only on the black market.
Part of Iran’s economic woes undoubtedly stem from the nation’s 18month war with Iraq, a conflict that has reportedly drained the country of $250
million a month just for weapons and supplies. But general inefficiency and mismanagement by inexperienced personnel have made even oil, which remains the core of the economy, a national headache. Pre-revolutionary production of five million barrels a day has dropped by an estimated 80 per cent, according to economic analysts.
Also conspicuous in post-revolutionary Iran is the continuing social upheaval. Women shrouded in full-length black chadors have been removed from jobs, dissuaded from schooling and segregated from men. Meanwhile, the universities have been shut down and secondary schools overhauled. Students must sign declarations of loyalty to the regime before they are admitted, and their behavior is monitored by intelligence committees made up of fellow students and staff. Even the schoolbooks are being rewritten, excising references to the outside world and concentrating on Islamic theology and history.
It now seems unlikely, however, that much will change while Khomeini, 81, is still leader. And reports of his poor health are discounted by diplomats in Tehran who claim he is frail but not failing—pointing to his family’s longevity. Even in the post-Khomeini era, the Islamic republic is likely to endure. Islamic republicanism is a grassroots movement, and even in its darker activities the regime is aware of the enormous passivity of its subjects and of their ability to absorb tremendous abuse. It is both the base and the springboard for the revolutionaries’ endurance.
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