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The Iranian Revolution – a worm’s eye view (1)

As you can see, Tehran is surrounded by mountains, making its airport one of the most dangerous in the world to land at. In 1976, when we arrived, it was a city of three- and four-storey apartment blocks, with a single family occupying each floor.

It was a boom town. The Americans came to buy oil and sell weapons, the British came to buy oil and sell weapons, the French came to buy oil, sell weapons and build a subway system (a formidably difficult project, since the city had no mains drainage and floated on a sea of septic tanks. The Philippinos and South Koreans came to work in the aerospace industry, the Russians came to (among other things) make mischief, and streams of pale European women flooded in to work in the nightclubs and cabarets that existed to entertain the foreign workers and richer Iranians.

Since there was no such thing as a driving test and no standards of road-worthiness for vehicles, the streets were jam-packed with cars, many of them lacking the luxury of an efficient braking system.

Most of the drivers believed that they would die when Allah had determined they would die, and hence there was no need to pay attention to inconsequentialities like speed limits and red traffic lights. At night, it was not uncommon for drivers on the expressways to turn off their headlights, in order to save battery...

The Shah’s photograph hung in every shop and public building, and a newspaper article (on almost any subject) which didn’t mention him at least once was in danger of being considered radical. The newspaper headline - “Twenty-five years of unprecedented achievement under the wise and good leadership of His Imperial Majesty the Shahenshah (king of kings) Aryamer (light of the Ayrians).” – says it all.

Yet despite all the photographs and the newspaper articles, the Shah was not universally loved, as we all realised even before things started turning nasty.


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