For many months now, the dominant subject of discussion in Iranian Government circles and in the Government-controlled mass media
To give you an idea about the extent of poverty among Iranian villagers, the observations of a ‘Literary Corps’ man, whom I met recently, can be valuable. The Literary Corps consists of high school graduates who, after a short period of training, are sent to a remote village to spend their two years of National Service in running or starting a primary school. An admirable idea and we shall examine it later, but, for the moment, let us see what this friend of mine wrote in his diary about poverty in his assigned village. He wrote: ‘Some families combine efforts with others and send a man to Teheran to buy a sack-full of dry bits of bread, the left-overs from restaurant tables, for ten toomans (about 8 shillings). This bread is then soaked in water and forms the only food of the families!’ The priorities of the Iranian Government are demonstrated by what my friend did later. He reported the situation to his superiors and was energetic enough to go to the provincial Governor also. He was told, however, that although the authorities were sorry, they had no money available for hunger relief. There were ‘other more urgent needs’! I wonder now, what this young man thought when, only a few months later, he read in Teheran newspapers that over £20 million had been spent on the decoration of Teheran alone for the coronation? A revolutionary Emperor, indeed, and some ‘urgent needs’!
Another young man told me an amusing story which illustrates the corruption within the Iranian Civil Service. One day, he said, he saw a lengthy advertisement in a newspaper, announcing that a Government organization needed 15 graduates to strengthen its existing staff, and that candidates would have to sit for a written examination. Our young man at once began to gleam with joy, for he knew full well that the important connection he had in that organization would ensure his success in the examination, which would be attended by hundreds. However, much to his disappointment, the connection found for him that the 15 required men were already working there, and the examination would be a mere formality! Thus showing that corruption in the Iranian bureaucracy always tends to keep one step ahead of people’s wildest guesses.
The Literary Corps, as we agreed above, is an excellent idea, and was first proposed in a resolution by the Iranian Students Society in Britain nearly seven years ago. According to its original form, not only all the educated young men of the country would spend their national service doing some constructive work—instead of the usual marching up and down barracks, shouting: ‘Long live the King of Kings, the Aryan Sun’, but a part of the enormous defence budget, varying between 47 and 55 per cent of the total budget, would also be directed toward education. What has happened, however, is the exact opposite of this. For not only is the Literary Corps financed by the Ministry of Education, thus cutting down other education projects, but also only a tiny minority of the eligible young men are sent into the Corps, and these act more as the representatives of the secret police, savak, than teachers, threatening villagers into total obedience and indoctrinating them about the supremacy of the ‘holy Aryan Race’!
Even when some of these well-meaning young men of the Literary Corps decide to start a useful project, for example building a school, the local District Clerks, or Bakhshdars, are often the first obstacle in the way, demanding part of the funds as a bribe for allowing the projects to be started. Once, the whole of a village Council were imprisoned for alleged embezzlement, but in fact because they would not pay up half of their Bath Fund to the local Bakhshdar!
This corruption of the Government officials, together with the insincerity of the Régime itself, has made a disaster of the Land Reform Programme also. Whole villages, often without ever having seen a tractor, are written off as ‘mechanized’ and thus exempted from reform, just because the landowner has previously seen the local Land Reform official with a bribe of often only £100. The peasants who used to work on the land are thus formally denied ever having worked there, and are therefore forced to migrate to towns where, for the lack of employment, they are scattered and their women may have to go into brothels. An alternative way would be to go to the landowner and beg of him to let them continue as before, as serfs. He would, of course, demand a written declaration that the peasants are employed only as labourers, thus having no rights to the land, but this way, at least, their families would be held together.
From what was said above, we can see that, although calm on the surface, Iran is sustaining and growing conflict inside her. The revolt of the Ghashghai people in the south has more or less been put down now, but the next one, in some other corner of the country, may grow into a major revolution. The present peace may thus be a short pause, a false calm before a devastating storm.