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The Wall Street Journal Reporting on Iranian Events in 1981

The Wall Street Journal covers a number of articles addressing the "fading fervor" of Iranian citizens in the years following the revolution, and their growing irritation with the Islamic clergy. The article covers the thoughts of Hossain Khomeini who is bitter about the post-revolutionary letdown

Fading Fervor


Many Iranians Become Irritated With Regime Dominated by Clergy


In Income Stir Up Anger; Bribery Is Also Charged


 An Opportunity for Leftists!


Story written by David Ignatius, the Wall Street Journal’s Mid-east correspondent, on the basis of reports from persons recently in Iran.  

The bazaar merchants of Tehran, once enthusiastic financial backers of the Iranian revolution, now are passing around a new version of an old joke that illustrates their dismay with the current regime. 

The joke goes like this: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini places a telephone call to hell and asks for the shah. When the ayatollah has finished berating the late monarch for the miseries of Iran, he asks the operator what he owes for phoning hell. “No charge,” the operator says. “That’s a local call.”

Iran, of course, isn’t yet a hell. But in the two years since the revolution, many Iranians have stopped blaming the “satanic” U.S as the sole cause of their problems. Frustration with the new, clergy-dominated Islamic regime appears to be widespread in Tehran. And some moderate Iranians fear that this discontent could open the way for a leftist, pro-Soviet government.

Mehdi, a bazaar merchant, who sells appliance parts, typifies the current disillusionment. Two years ago, he eagerly supported the Islamic revolution. He believed that it would stop the expansion of multinational corporations in the Iranian economy and give the bazaar merchants a greater role.

Tight Economic Controls 

But these days, Mr. Mehdi’s big problem is the mullahs themselves. The religious leaders of the ruling Islamic Republic Party, which controls the Iranian parliament, have established new “procurement centers” that dictate what the merchants can import and what prices they can set. In this controlled economy, Mr. Mehdi’s income has tumbled from the equivalent of $3,000 a month that he earned before the revolution to about $1,000 a month.

“It is so frustrating we might as well pack up,” Mr. Mehdi says glumly. He is thinking of leaving Tehran and going south to Isfahan, where he hopes the mullahs may have less economic power. 

The glow of the revolution has also worn off for Karim, a 50-year old construction worker. Mr. Karim has been unemployed for the past two years, and he spends much of his time these days worrying about rationing coupons and food queues. 

The queues for milk begin forming at five in the morning. “If you are late, you have to do without milk,”  Mr. Karim says. The same applies to gasoline, bread, sugar, and other necessities. Mr. Karim’s family has one mixed blessing: It can use the coupons allotted for its 20-year-old son, Abee, who has joined the “revolutionary guards”, and is off at the battlefront fighting Iraq.

Avoiding Friday Services 

With all his mundane worries, Mr. Karim has stopped attending the Friday prayer services at Tehran University. These gatherings were once joyous celebrations of the Islamic Revolution, but attendance now is about one-third of what it was in the beady days of 1979. “It isn’t exciting anymore,” Mr. Karim says.

Throughout Tehran, Iranians willing to talk to foreigners express the same dismay with the ruling mullahs. A taxi driver boldly announces that he won’t carry “priests or prostitutes” in his cab.  An airline attendant points to two mullahs on a flight to Tehran and whispers, “they are the ruination of my country.” An office secretary tells a visiting photographer to change his position so that a photo of her won’t show a mullah’s portrait in the background.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the nation’s top religious leader, seems to retain enormous personal popularity. He also appears to share the widespread public mistrust of some of his fellow clergymen. He advised his followers several months ago that “just because I wear a turban doesn’t mean that all clergy have to be supported. I hate a great many of them and have no faith in many others.”

Blunt Assessment 

The ayatollah’s grandson Hossain, a mullah himself, offers this blunt assessment of the post-revolutionary letdown: “I am very sorry to seem my people looking miserable, the smile dead on their lips, and their heads hanging down,” young Hossain said several weeks ago, according to the Iran Press Service, which is published by exiled Iranian journalists.

Iranian moderates seem increasingly worried that the nation’s current political turmoil — with the mullahs bickering almost constantly with Iran’s president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr — could provide an opening for Communists and other leftists.

For example, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Iran’s former foreign minister, contends that the real “threat” to Iran doesn’t come from the mullah-dominated Islamic Republic Party (IRP), but from “the Communists who have infiltrated this group.” Mr. Ghotbzadeh doesn’t name names, but he insists in an interview that Communists associated with Iran’s Tudeh Party have been using the IRP for a purpose.

“The Communists have a detailed plan,” Mr. Ghotbzadeh says ominously. He argues, for example, that the Soviet-financed Communists are spending about $700,000 a week in Tehran to build their political organization. At the same time, he adds, the Communists are trying to weaken moderates such as himself and President Bani-Sadr. 

“Once they isolate us, they try to destroy us,” Mr. Ghotbzadeh says bitterly. He says that to counter this threat, he has “started meeting informally” with other centrists in hopes of forming a new political party.

Mehdi Bazargan, Iran’s former prime minister and a leading moderate, argued in a recent issue of his newspaper, Mizan, that Marxists are gaining strength in the country. He called them “sprayers of poison” and said that because of the country’s disarray, many Iranians are following this evil.”

Mr. Bazargan’s newspaper also criticized the IRP for allowing Communists to take important positions with the national radio and television organization. A few days later, Mizan, which has  circulation of about 100,00, was closed by order of the mullahs (but it has since received permission to resume publication).

President Bani-Sadr and the moderates also get some blame for Iran’s political disarray. Vahe Petrossian, an Iranian journalist who is a correspondent of the London-based Middle East Economic Digest, contends, “The president’s main weakness is one of leadership.” He says that, by failing to exercise power effectively, Mr. Bani-Sadr has handed control of the country to the IRP. 

“Too Many Speeches” 

“We have had too many speeches,” says Jamil Noorani, an Iranian who sold tape recorder cassettes until the authorities banned popular music. While the moderates and the mullahs have been bickering, he notes bitterly, the Behest Zara cemetery in Tehran has been extended to accommodate more bodies from the war front. 

Despite Iran’s political disorganization, some areas of the economy seem to be working fairly smoothly. Iranian oil officials say the country is currently producing 1.2 million to 1.5 million barrels a day and exporting most of that production from Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. 



FERC Keeps Policy Giving Price Break To Industrial Users

By a Wall Street Journal Staff Reporter

WASHINGTON — Federal energy regulators decided to retain policies giving industrial natural-gas users a price break as phased gas deregulation takes effect.

Without dissent, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed to continue its two-year-old formula for setting industrial-gas ceiling prices. That formula softened Congress’s suggestion, in the Natural Gas …. cut off. 

The oil revenues are allowing the country to increase some crucial imports, such as British-made auto parts for the Paykan cars that are assembled at a factory near Tehran. The Iranians are also eager to resume work on some big projects halted by the Iraq-Iran war, such as a $3.5 billion petrochemical complex being built at Bandar Khomeini with Japanese help.

But other sectors of the economy clearly aren’t working. Large shantytowns have sprung up near the Tehran airport, and roaming the city’s streets are many new pedlars trying to scratch out a living. So many middle-class Iranians were trying to find work as “traders” in the year after the revolution that the Tehran Chamber of Commerce had to issue 100,000 new commercial cards, according to a newsletter, Middle East Executive Reports.

Output Declining 

President Bani-Sadr conceded last month that the country’s output of goods and services declined at least 10% in 1980, following declines of 13% in 1979 and 9% in 1978. Meanwhile, Iran’s international credit rating has plummeted to 94th out of 100 countries surveyed by one international rating service.

Iranian merchants increasingly blame the mullahs for the country’s economic problems. Some even contend that clergy-men are accepting bribes in the way that the shah’s officials used to. The system is said to work this way: A merchant will request authority to sell rice at $1.50 a kilogram. A religious official will insist that the rice be sold at $1 a kilo — unless the merchant shells out $300 on the spot.

The mullahs reply that the merchants are complaining only because the Islamic government won’t let them fix prices anymore. Indeed, a recent article in the clergy-dominated Ettalaat newspaper argued that perhaps the bazaar should be abolished because the merchants are “bent on making money and don’t have a true faith.”

Under the 1979 law, the commission might have been obliged eventually to set higher gas-price ceilings for companies that could otherwise burn only costlier oil fuels. Its proposed rule frees it of that obligation, unless Congress acts.

With the oil-price rises of the past two years, the commission’s 1979 fears about fuel-switching are less pressing. Now, though, agency officials maintain that establishing additional price categories will make the already complex system even worse. Also, they say, some companies might acquire boilers capable of burning … 

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Wall Street Journal, Hossain Khomeini, Bani-Sadr, Post-revolution Iran, Post-revolutionary Iran