IRAN: Reformer in Shako

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At fever pitch, the crowd plunged through Teheran's vaulted bazaar, making its way past brilliant stacks of rugs, past squatting tinsmiths and hanging ranks of newly slain lambs and, at last, down a labyrinthine alley to the home of Ayatollah Mohammed Behbehani, Teheran's most powerful religious leader. In Ayatollah Mohammed's great walled garden, a white-turbaned mullah shouted over a microphone: "All elections must be canceled!" The crowd roared back: "We agree! We agree!'' White-robed and heavily bearded, bent by his 90 years, Ayatollah Mohammed shuffled slowly across the garden on the arms of two aides. "Shall we shut down the bazaar?'' shouted the crowd. "Wait." answered Ayatollah Mohammed.

In his suburban palace north of Teheran, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, occupant of Iran's jeweled Peacock Throne, listened to the somber reports of his people's wrath. The blatant rigging of Iran's latest parliamentary elections was too much, and the Shah had to act. Scarcely had the roar of the mob in Ayatollah Mohammed's garden died away when the Shah last week accepted the resignation of Premier Manouchehr Eghbal. whose conservative Nationalist Party had just scored an unbelievably lopsided election victory. Three days later, with the crowd still unappeased, the Shah made a more drastic concession. "It seems." he proclaimed, "that the interest of the nation requires the mass resignation of all Deputies in order that new elections may take place." Dutifully, the newly elected members of Iran's 200-man Majlis fell in line, renounced their seats.

Trouble is nothing new in Iran—or for Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. In his 19 years on the throne, Iran's Shah has been shot once, chased into exile once, and has seen his country occupied by foreign powers. But that corrupt elections—which have been standard through Iran's modern history—could produce a popular explosion told of a new sense of power, and new discontent, among the country's swelling city masses. It was also a tribute to the ceaseless campaign of radio abuse Soviet Russia has lately showered on its southern neighbor. Moscow is doing everything it can to topple the Shah.

With its warm-water ports on the Persian Gulf, Iran has been a target of Russian imperialism since the days of Peter the Great. Its attraction for the Communists in the Kremlin is even greater than it ever was for the Czars. The world's fourth largest exporter of oil, Iran, as a member of CENTO (formerly the Baghdad Pact,), is an essential link in the defensive tier along Russia's southern border. The U.S. has poured more than $800 million into Iran since World War II. By bringing Iran under its influence, Russia would knock out the last anti-Communist alliance in the vast area between Western Europe and the Far East, and would acquire a land bridge to the troubled Arab world. Should the Shah lose his fight for his dynasty and his nation, the Soviets would at last be free to dominate the Middle East.

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