IRAN: Oil, Grandeur and a Challenge to the West

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Another aspect of Iran's development that bothers critics is the Shah's unstated decision that political progress for the time being must take second place to economic growth. Decentralization of political power is moving slowly, and there is scant evidence of any quick shift from benevolent but absolute monarchy to at least limited democracy. Theoretically, Iran is a nation of competing political parties. Hoveida's Iran Novin (New Iran) holds power with a dominating 235 seats in the 267-seat Majlis. But Mardom (The People's Party), which has all but one of the remaining seats, was created on the Shah's order as a kind of loyal opposition. As it is, neither party is outspoken or forceful. Citizens of Tehran, who tend to be both apolitical and cynical, sardonically dismiss them as the "yes" party and the "of course" party.

Clockwork Orangers. Younger Iranians chafe at such restrictions, but the government is in no hurry to change the situation. Premier Hoveida, in an interview with TIME Correspondent William Stewart, dismissed protesters as "a bunch of Clockwork Grangers." Said he: "The survival of the state cannot come about with a permissive society." The Shah himself is even blunter: "We want to catch up and do it quickly. In these very specific conditions, the blah-blahs of armchair critics are obviously ignored. If this is intolerance, I accept it."

Convinced that change is impossible, many students simply remain abroad after they complete foreign studies, even though the Shah's social-minded program is as ambitious as anything they could prescribe for Iran. The shortage in doctors—presently 22,000—could be nearly wiped out merely if all the Iranian doctors living in the U.S. would come home again.

In contrast with the dissident young, older Iranians appear to have accepted the priorities. In place of political freedom, they are willing to accept a stunning improvement in their lifestyles. Comments a Western diplomat in Tehran: "If you want to call that buying off —economic gain for the loss of political expression—you might be right." As the middle class is uneasily aware, Iran's new prosperity is unevenly shared. A scant 10% of the people control 40% of the wealth, while the bottom 30% enjoy only 8% of it. Inflation, now running at 20%, diminishes even these gains. Until the situation improves, the Shah's white revolution will be incomplete.

In moments of reflection, the Shah has been known to confess some unease about aspects of his Great Civilization.

He worries in particular about the contamination of Iran's proud cultural heritage by modern life. In fact, there is an untrammeled kind of frontier spirit on the loose in Iran today; past heritage is being bulldozed into rubble as the country tries to build a future.

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