IRAN: Oil, Grandeur and a Challenge to the West

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The Shah is the Shadow of God.

— Old Persian proverb Ever since the oil crisis that rocked the world last year, the autocratic ruler of Iran has, to many people, indeed seemed to be basking in the light of the Almighty. Iran sits atop an estimated 60 billion bbl. of crude oil, or roughly one-tenth of the world's proven reserves. The disposition of "this noble product" (as Iranians like to call it), and the money to be made from it, is in the firm hands of one man: His Imperial Majesty Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Aryamehr (Light of the Aryans), Shahanshah (King of Kings). Once dismissed by Western diplomats as an insecure, in effective playboy-King, this emperor of oil commands new respect these days, as much for his ambitions as for his wealth. By means of what he has called a "white revolution," the Shah is determined to transform Iran, a country that still includes nomads whose life-style has not changed in a thousand years, into a Middle Eastern superpower.

Iran today has a unique position in the world: it is a Moslem nation but not an Arab one. For that reason, the Shah was not invited to last week's summit conference of Arab leaders in Rabat (see following story). Yet it plays a key role in the power politics of the Middle East, without being directly involved in the struggles between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Iran has a proud past and almost unlimited future potential, which the Shah intends to develop with his new-found oil wealth. Within the councils of OPEC, he has consistently argued for keeping prices high—essential, he believes, if the countries of the Middle East are ever to achieve the high standard of living taken for granted in the West. Laudable though that ambition may be, many Western leaders find it hard to accept the Shah's argument, especially since he frequently combines it with moralizing messages about the need for industrial nations to scrimp and economize. Iran is one of the handful of nations that has helped push Western Europe to the edge of economic disaster —and has begun a major redistribution of wealth. Whether he is seen as hero or villain, the Shah cannot be ignored. Thus it is no accident that U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (see story page 40) will spend no less than three days of his current diplomatic junket in Tehran.

In the eyes of Iran's 32 million people, the prosperity and national prestige the Shah is bringing them has bathed their ruler with new luster. Thus last week, when the Shadow of God celebrated his 55th birthday—his 56th by Iranian reckoning, which counts the day of birth as one's first birthday—the national holiday was observed with particular fervor. The capital city of Tehran (pop. 3.8 million) glowed from the light of millions of colored lamps. As part of the festivities, the Shah and lissome Empress Farah reviewed a mass exhibition of gymnasts in the $185 million sports complex built for the recent Asian Games. The Shah also grandly pardoned 148 prisoners who had been convicted of such charges as robbery, drug use, antistate activities and "plots against the monarchy."

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