Amid the demonstrations, executions and recriminations, a sputtering, half-life normality now exists on the streets of Tehran. Regular commercial flights have started again, but since the borders are still sealed to most Iranians, planes fly in almost empty except for journalists and the occasional French businessman trying to turn his country's hospitality toward Ayatollah Khomeini into contracts with the new government. Outward flights are now jammed with foreign workers -- Koreans, Filipinos, Turks. In the course of the revolution the baggage handlers have become customs inspectors and, despite Islamic morality, the line between tips for carrying luggage and bribes for not inspecting it gets blurred.
One can walk through prosperous central and north Tehran and, by studiously avoiding the wandering patrols of armed irregulars and the gunmen perched on rooftops, convince oneself that all is normal. The shops are open and full of goods, though one wonders who is investing in BMWs or ski vacations now. In central Tehran chadors are about as common as kimonos in Tokyo. The first movie theaters have reopened, playing, ironically, American films -- a Bruce Lee thriller and Richard Burton in "The Medusa Touch."
All the reporters -- and there are hundreds of them -- are housed in the Intercontinental Hotel in the middle of the city. Pictures of the ayatollah festoon every window in Tehran; at the Intercontinental the required portrait is, appropriately enough, a Xerox of the Newsweek cover with the banner, "Iran's Mystery Man." Muzak in the elevators has been replaced by the Moslem call to prayer and a half-dozen approved revolutionary songs. A bomb destroyed the hotel's coffee shop, but its two rooftop resturants are still open -- one Polynesian, the other overstuffed French. One day Yasser Arafat's entourage came for lunch, bringing their own security guards, who introduced the clientele to whole new dimensions in full-body frisking.
In the lobby of the Intercontinental the main tea-time occupation is comparative revolutions. Those who covered the Portuguese or Cuban revolutions argue over whether Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan is more a Soares or a Castro. Those with a historical turn of mind seek parallels in the Russian revolution, wondering if the Fedayeen will fill the role of the Bolsheviks. For those who fancy the French revolution there's the fun of identifying a future Napoleon from the ranks of obscure Iranian colonels.
It used to be easy to determine where the power was in Tehran. In this high, dry desert city, where maintaining a lawn requires almost full-time sprinkling and trees are unspeakable luxuries, one only had to fullow the green. The shah's palace is surrounded by acres of opulent foliage, but there's no power there anymore -- just a cardboard sign saying that when everything is accounted for the grounds will be turned into a parl and the palace into a museum. There is no green around Khomeini's headquarters, but there's plenty of power, even after the ayatollah's deparutre to Qum. A sprawling labyrinth of sooty brick, the com pound seems to have dozens of doors; in front of each there is almost always a crowd trying to get in and a smaller but better-armed crowd trying to keep them out. This is the headquarters of the Committee, the revolutionary council.
When one asks the young men guarding buildings or manning roadblocks around town who assigned them their duties they sometimes shrug their shoulders and answer, "no one" -- they saw buildings that needed guarding, they had guns and so they took up their positions. Others will tell you that their authority comes directly from Khomeini. But most will say simply, "the Committee."
The revolutionary council was appointed by Khomeini to coordinate the thousands of neighborhood committees, often based in mosques, that supervised the strikes and demonstrations that brought down the shah. Each of these local committees has a security auxiliary, the members of which, since the raiding of army stores during the weekend revolution, are now heavily armed. These local committees are the basic units of power in post-revolutionary Iran.
The theology of Khomeini's revolution was direct, individual action; he had only the loosest kind of organizational structure. Khomeini himself issued the general orders, which traveled less through a chain of command than through the mass media directly to the local committees. Khomeini's orders did not require interpretation -- they were supremely simple: Do not pay taxes, close your stores, go out into the streets.
The orders now needed to reconstruct the society, however, are much more complex. They require a managerial structure, a hierarchy to make sure they are implemented. To fill this void, Khomeini appointed the revolutionary council and it, in turn, supervises the government and the ministries. Many who serve on this council have been in exile for 10 or more years, with few real ties to grass-roots organizations in the Country. The future of Iran now rests on whether the government they are establishing will be able to gain legitimacy from and, ultimately, control over the local revolutionary committees.
At this point, power is still a diffused quantity in Tehran; it is, almost literally, lying around in the streets. There are obviously strong incentives for gathering up this power and taking immediate control over the actions of local revolutionary committees; until this happens no project which requires overall coordination -- the restructuring of the economy, the military and the banking system, the all-important resumption of oil exports -- can be accomplished.
But there are also strong disincentives to the consolidation of power. Once it becomes clear who is in the government, it will also be apparent who is not. So far the opposition groups -- the Fedayeen on the left and the Mojahedeen on the right -- have merely called for participation in the new government. Once it becomes clear that they have been excluded, however, their demands, backed up by enormous caches of arms, will quickly escalate. In order to consolidate its power the current government would have to make major concessions to technocrats and businessmen who were involved in the past regime, opening itself up to charges that it is selling out the revolution.
When Khomeini withdrew to Qum, there were fears that his absence from Tehran would make it even more difficult for the government he appointed to establish its control. When Khomeini then began sniping at Bazargan and his ministers for their "carpets, furniture and western trappings," he seemed to tip the scale from consolidation and control to continued revolution. If Bazargan does make good on his threats to resign, taking with him the few politicians capable of administration and planning on a national scale, the half-formed and perhaps faintly absurd normality one now sees on the streets of Tehran will soon become a bitter, mocking memory.