Ahmed Naderi, a 30-year-old laborer, sat on his metal jerry can as he waited in line for kerosene in downtwon Tehran.
The line had not moved for eight hours. Like most of the 70-odd Iranians sitting there on the sidewalk, Naderi had been waiting since about 6 a.m. But the kerosene had not even been delivered to the shop.
"We produce oil, but here we are, waiting in line for it," Naderi said.
The shortages of kerosene and diesel fuel, the lines in front of gasoline stations, the nightly power cuts, the lack of some commodities-all result from political strikes that have nearly paralyzed Iran's oil-based economy.
Although the skrikes are directed against the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the people, not the government, are most affected by them. A popular backlash against the religious and political opposition would seem logical, especially now that winter temperatures are chilling Iranian homes andincreasing demand for fuel for the bokharis , or kerosene-burning heaters, that are widely used here.
But so far that backlash does not seem to be happening, at least in any significant way. It seems that if anything bad or inconvenient to the public happens here these days, the average Iranian will find a way to blame it on the government.
"This is because of the strike," said a grizzed man waiting in the kerosene line as he held up an empty jerry can. "The government is responsible for this."
A companion added: "What little is produced, the government seels to foreigners. They shouldn't be sending oil abroad at a time like this."
A bystander agreed: "The government has oil but just doesn't want to give it to the people. The government just wants people to wait in line so they won't be out demonstrating."
Nearly four decades of the shah's authoritarian rule have taken their toll. The wariness and resentment of omnipresent government, of state interference in almost all aspects of daily life, of the secret police and the bureaucracy, are so ingrained that most Iranians have no difficulty conjuring up conspiracy theories to explain why it is really the government that is responsible for their suffering.
"There's a long way to go before there's any backlash," said a university professor named Saeed. He and many other educated Iranians know that the dislocation grows from the strikes an deconomic chaos. But they are willing to accept it as the price for keeping pressure on the shah's military administration.
"If one night the electricty stayed on, people would be unhappy because they would feel the government had beaten the strike," Saeed said. "I know I would be disappointed if we didn't have the power cuts at night."
Some point out that the nightly electricity cuts by workers of the state power company seem timed to start just before the regular 8:30 p.m. television news, thus blacking out what dissidents regard as official propaganda.
A former executive of the National Iranian Radio and Television, who said he was removed for insisting it was not necessary to braodcast "so many lies," called the coincidence a "blessing in disguise."
Other middle and upper-class Iranians do not see it that way, but they do not seem to be in the majority. Often they are members of religious minorities in this nation where more than 90 percent of population is Shiite Moslem.
"The strikes are bad," said an Iranian Christian employed at a travel agency. "I work up to 5 o'clock, and when I get home I want to relax and ready or watch TV. But at 8:30 every night it's finished. You can't do anything. It's too bad for all the people. I don't know what they want really. If things continue like this, in two months everything will come to a complete step."
The Jewish owener of the Paul Anka record and tape shop in downtown Tehran complained that "nobody is buying." He said he has been forced to close during strikes, although his shop has not been singled out for attack. "Business would be better if not for all these demonstrations," he said. "I just want things to be calm."
An Iranian civil engineer who favors the shah said angrily just after one of the electricity cuts plunged a hotel lobby into darkness: "These strikes are ruining this country."
The government seems to be counting on the spread of that sort of sentiment as possibly its best hope of regaining popular support.
"The government today is on the defensive," conceded a high official in close touch with the shah. "but I think there would be a limit. I think we are feeling a backlash now."
A British woman who speaks fluent Persian has noticed that in the kerosene lines, working class Iranians almost universally blame the shortages on the government, while middle-class people complain more about the strikers, but not very loudly.
The capital's monster traffic jams are one feature of daily life that has survived largely intact because motorists frequently line up to hoard gasoline when rumors of trouble spread. So far there has been no serious gasoline shortage.
Iran the world's second-largest oil exporter, is importing some refined petroleum products from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to overcom the kerosene shortage. But industry sources say that even if crude production-fluctuating around 3 million barrels a day-should climb back up to the full capacity of 6.5 million barrels a day, it would not be enough to overcome the shortages because of high seasonal demand.
The crisis also has aggravated chronic problems in the distribution of other commodities.
"Sometimes it's weeks before you can get eggs, sugar or flour," a resident said. "Recently there was a shorage of milk for several days, and now there's a very serious shortage of cooking gas."
The elite and foreigners have been most aggrieved by the decline in Tehran's night life-never scintillating in the best of times-as a result of riots and a 9 p.m. martial law curfew.
Virtually all of Tehran's 40-odd night clubs and discotheques have shut. Several have been burned out in the recent mob violence.
Movie theaters also have been favorite targets, and those that have not been gutted are closed. The entranances of a number of movie theaters have been bricked up.
Many streetside bars, even the small ones that catered to workers and sold beer and vodka, also have closed. Nevertheless, alcohol is still obtainable, though its purchase now requires more discretion.
A foreigner who recently gave a party ordered several cases of beer from a store called "Meat Service," which does a fair trade catering to such affairs aside from its main business of selling imported meat.