Despite the increasing tempo of their country's 10-month-old crisis, middle class Iranian have remained spectators on the sidelines in a revolution that is unlikely to spare their interests.
Interviews with middle class Iranians consistently showed a certain anger at being taken for granted as automatic partisans for the shah and a certain pleasure in snapping at the father figure who has treated them and other Iranians like children for so long.
As always, caution is the middle class hallmark. Briefly tolerated books are being burned again for fear they could lead to arrest.
Yet it was a kind of emotional self-discovery the three weekends ago prompted middle class Iranians dressed in ties and suits to participate in the orgy of destruction in Tehran which the military invoked to justify its takeover.
Symptomatic of this feeling was thecomment of a 50-year-old professor who insisted, like all other Iranians interviewed, on remaining nameless.
"I'm not scared about what will happen if the regime goes," he said. "I'm scared to go back to what it was like before. When you're having a nightmare, you don't care what your next nightmare is going to be like. You just want to get rid of this one, of being scared of one's own shadow."
Across town as economist frankly stated the dilemma. "We're told we owe our material well-being to the shah," he said, "but morally we find unacceptable the regime's repression, torture, corruption, highhandedness and the ruling class contempt for the rest of the nation."
Horrified by the rabble-rousing Ilamic mobs' excesses and bague political demands, angered by the shah's systematic repression of middle class intellectuals and political aspirations, they feel trapped.
But even the nonreligious admired Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's courage for calling out loud - admittedly from exile - for the shah's removal. It was something they have wasted to say for years, but did not dare.
"We are the smallest class; our views are not taken into consideration by either side," the economist said. "And we fear being eaten alive by both the army and the mob."
Foreigners nonetheless are disappointed at the middle class' reluctance to stand up and defend its interests.
"The Iranian book on political courage is two pages long," a disgruntled Western diplomat complained.
A Western banker long resident here forlornly recounted how ministers in the military government desperately pleaded with two top Iranians financiers to join the government.
"Thery were typical of those who should be helping - the 40-year-old graduates of MIT, Oxford, or the Ecole Nationale d'Administration who should come forward and take charge," the banker said.
Appeals to patriotic duty were to no avail, but one man finally joined the government after the military put pressure on his family.
"Amazing the number of slipped disks and diplomatic illnesses among the top middle class takers," the banker said.
But if Westerners might find such behavior almost suicidal, to many middle class Iranians it makes perfect sense. Basically the shah is reaping the consequences of his own policies of eliminating potential rivals in favor of yes-men.
"The top talent, the educated planners, economists, manging directors, bankers have become disenchanted by the system," the foreign banker said. "After the 60s, when talent was encouraged, they've seen so many third-raters get ahead through loyalty, not ability, that they don't want their reputations ruined by any association with a probably doomed regime they no longer approve of. They want to stay Simon Pure for the next government."
For people only recently come around to even imagining an Iran without the shah, many middle class Iranians give the impression of naivete when asked about their future if the monarch were forced out of power.
Pushed to the wall, middle class Iranians interviewd often admitted that basically their stake in stability meant they wanted the shah to hold on, but only a figurehead constitutional monarch.
Yet, there is no sign so far that the middle class is going to come out openly in his favor - the way French conservatives did so successfully for the late Gen. Charles de Gaulle after weeks of upheaval in France 10 years ago.
"Sure we will have to go through a period of confusion and teething," a journalist said in talking of the country's future. The first freely elected parliament may be no good. Perhaps the second might be adequate. After all, we're trying to rebuild institutions and leadership snuffed out for a good 15 to 25 years."
"It's been the middle class which has suffered most," an economist aruged. Those journalists, professors, businessmen, lawyers who refused to go along with the regime were seen as threats - and eliminated or cut down to size. Writers were banned, professors spied on by SAVAK (the secret police), liberal judges retired early if they proved too independent and other men exiled and even killed.
"We have no use for the mullahs and think the ill-defined Isalmic government they are pushing is rubbish," he added, "but for us it's a head-you-win-tails-I-lose proposition.
"When I got depressed, which is often these days, I think the middle class will be destroyed. It alwyas loses in class warfare."
Already most middle class Iranians know friends who have left the country. Many more are pondering such a move themselves.
"When your friends leave, that hurts, especially since there isn't much to do here," the professor said, lamenting the departure of two families from his building.
A leading opposition politician who worries about the potentially disastrous effect of the massive middle class brain drain preaches the neccesity of a step-by-step evolution toward constitutional monarchy.
The problem is we are still an undeveloped country, "where loyalties are to niece, uncle, aunt, not nation, and that makes emigration psychologically easier," he said.
Nor has the shah's recent television address apparently moved many middle class Iranians to action. One woman said, "He's almost begging - we've never seen that before." There was not a flicker of sympathy in her voice.
"Sure, people want to believe in the shah," she said, "but it's practically impossible."
Invoked time and time again as cause of the divorce between the shah and the middle class was the oil boom of the early '70s.
The sudden quadrupling of oil prices, which the shah was so instrumental in bringing about, prompted him to indulge in extravagant prestige projects, supposedly designed to make Iran the world's fifth most important economic power by the year 2000.
Particularly galling to middle class minds were his ambitious nuclear power program and lavish defense expenditures.
"All he did was enlarge the corruption machine - the land speculation, the crowding, the housing shortages, the wild rents, the traffic, the pollution you can trace it all back to corruption," the economist insisted.
Even watching television became depressing, he said. "There was Perry Mason on the box and we watched people being arrested, clever lawyers cross-examining witnesses in public court sessions, while here SAVAK arrested people, tried them in secret military tribunals and we never saw them again."
Going abroad to the West, which has so influenced middle class Iranian thinking, proved even more depressing because travelers saw how people could live in a free society.
Indeed, it is the middle class' Western outlook that makes them so infuriate with the staunch America and British support for the shah.
"We have seen that in America you can say anything you want," an engineer said. "Naturally that's the whole purpose of what's happening here.We have learned that Western democracy is good. Why doesn't America realize that we only want the values we have learned from it?