The Revolution Against Itself

Iran Since the Revolution

by Sepehr Zabih
Johns Hopkins University Press, 247 pp., $21.50

Iran: The Untold Story

by Mohamed Heikal
Pantheon, 217 pp., $14.50
Ayatollah Khomeini
Ayatollah Khomeini; drawing by David Levine


When Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Mojahedin-e Khalq guerrilla organization, fled Iran in July 1981 and arrived in Paris to establish their National Resistance Council and a government in exile, both men believed the fall of Ayatollah Khomeini to be imminent. Rajavi was then predicting the collapse of the regime in a matter of weeks. Today, more than a year later, Khomeini and his allies not only maintain their hold on the country but have survived a series of convulsions.

Since June 1981, the Mojahedin and other guerrilla organizations have killed hundreds of members of the Revolutionary Guards and committees, minor officials and clerics. They have assassinated religious leaders, government officers, and members of the ruling Islamic Republic Party (IRP). In addition to Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, Khomeini’s right-hand man, those killed have included a president, a prime minister, the revolutionary prosecutor-general, the chief of the national police, four cabinet ministers, some twenty parliamentary deputies, and six ministerial undersecretaries. Leaders of Friday prayers in four major provincial towns, Rasht, Tabriz, Shiraz, and Yazd, lost their lives. All four were part of the chain of command through which Khomeini’s writ is exercised in the provinces. Half the command staff of the armed forces was wiped out in September last year, when the chief of staff, the minister of defense, and two other top commanders lost their lives in an air crash.

None of this has caused the collapse of the regime. Shortages of basic necessities, food lines, nearly two million war refugees, a widespread sense of misgovernment and corruption, forced military conscription and alienation of the merchant and middle classes have not as yet led to the kind of mass strikes and protests that brought down the monarchy in February 1979. The regime has even had a number of successes.

Iranian forces earlier this year expelled Iraqi troops from Iranian territory, and in July, in a dramatic reversal of fortunes in the two-year-old Persian Gulf war, crossed the frontier and invaded Iraq. The glut in the oil market notwithstanding, Iran was able to increase its oil exports. While these fell back again recently, as a result of Iraqi harassment of tanker shipping at Iranian ports, the government has for the moment at least survived a severe shortage of foreign exchange. By exploiting differences among the Arab states, using trade as an incentive, and lobbying among the nonaligned countries, Tehran has to a degree emerged from its diplomatic isolation.

In Iran Since the Revolution, Sepehr Zabih, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College in California, seeks to explain the Khomeini regime’s seemingly remarkable staying power. Professor Zabih views the Iranian revolution as a good thing gone sour, “an authentic and anti-dictatorial popular revolution” that was “transformed into a fundamentalist power grab” by the men around Khomeini. Because he never provides an…

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