Iran's year of political and religious strife finally has caught up with Melli Industries.
The industrial conglomerate, built from a shoe stand in the Tehran bazaar into one of the county's biggest privately owned corporations, closed its factories last week. Most of the 10,000 workers were sent home, and all but a few of the 320 Melli shoe stores around the country have been shut.
Melli, and industry that stayed out of politics and has not been a target of the strikes that paralyzed Iran, is a good example of how the cumulative effects of the country's economic collapse are spreading.
With more than 6 million pairs of shoes piling up in warehouses, distribution halted by the shutdown of the transporation system, raw materials tied up in ports by customs strikes and money blocked in struck banks, Melli finally closed its doors.
According to R.P.M. Carlson, Melli's managing director, the decision to close was made with "great regret." But with international loans already past due and no end in sight to the strikes or fuel shortage, Melli had to cut expenses, he said. The workers will continue to be paid, at least for a while, but production lines will be closed indefinitely.
What has happened to Melli Industries challenges the theory propounded by officials of Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar's new government and by some Western diplomats that the economy soon will begin to right itself once the government is installed.
Bakhtiar himself, treading a political tightrope, has not listed economic recovery as one of his priorities -- a reasonable approach because Iran's oil workers have vowed there will be no more exports until the monarchy is abolished -- and the new minister of finance and economic affairs, Rostam Pirasteh, has been talking in terms of long-range projects such as tax reform.
They appear to believe that once bank workers and transport workers return to their jobs, economic normality somehow will return on its own impetus. The view from Melli, or National, Industries is different.
Carlson said the situation reminds him of the great depression in the United States almost 50 years ago in which banks stopped lending, factories stopped expanding, and production and the economy began a progressive contraction.
Independent economic analysts here confirm that property and real estate values are dropping, lenders and depositors alike have lost faith in the banking system, government spending on capital goods and public works projects has been slashed, and the bottom has dropped out of the stock market -- not a set of conditions indicative of a quick recovery, even with oil revenue.
The corporate headquarters of Melli Industries, near Tehran Airport, looks like Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's vision of the new Iran.
With modern equipment and Western-style management, it became a regional power as the biggest footwear manufacturer and distributor in the Middle East. It was a model success story in a developing country but, like Iran itself, it now has been brought to a halt.
Carlson said the workers at Melli have been "cooperative, dilingent and helpful," but there is no longr anything for them to do.
Melli is an integrated conglomerate of 25 companies that makes shoes, shoe lasts and shoe boxes, markets the shoes in Iran and abroad and also makes hosiery, gloves and fanbelts.
Melli's problems are not only economic. Carlson said that 12 stores were burned out in recent riots, some because they were next to banks and other favorite targets but some deliberately because of a rumor that Melli's founder and chairman, Rahim Irvani, was a member of the Bahai sect.
Bahai is a universalist religion founded in Rian in the 19th Century, espousing a belief in all other organized religions. Its adherents, a small but rich and powerful minority among Iran's 35 million Shiite Moslems, have encountered angry resentment that has taken the form of attacks on some of their properties and businesses over the past year.
Carlson said two leading ayatollahs, or Moslem religious leaders, have signed a letter attesting to Irvani's Shiite orthdoxy, and photostats of it will be posted in the windows of all Melli shoe stores this week.