Does Iran have one government, two governments or no government at all?
This is not a parlor game conundrum.
It is the real question Iranians are asking themselves two weeks after the insurrection that swept aside Shahpour Bakhtiar's administration, ended the monarchy, disintegrated the armed forces -- and was supposed to clarify the long muddled political situation.
Instead, there is an unmistakable sense of malaise.
Perhaps it is the nightly gunfire in Tehran, the arbitrary arrests, the Marxist guerrillas' defiance of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's once unquestioned authority.Or maybe it is the distaste of many educated Iranians for his dream of turning Iran into an Islamic republic, or the lack of clear government programs, or the often contradictory official statements and acts.
More often than not the sense of unease stems from a perhaps incorrect impression that Khomeini's shadowy committee and Islamic Revolutionary Council deliberately embarrass Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his cabinet. There is just a suggestion that the revolutionaries enjoy throwing their weight around.
Perhaps too much has been made of differences between the often older key ministers, who are men who lived in Iran throughout, and the exiles who returned from Paris with Khomeini, or of differences of generation, education and political outlook.
Much of the confusion, at least theoretically, should disappear if, as has been promised, the revolutionary institutions gradually cede power to more normal government administration.
But meantime, the differences do exist, and examples abound:
On resumption of oil exports, a decision as vital to Iran's badly damaged economy as to foreign customers, Bazargan a week ago said they would start soon, assistant Prime Minister Ibrahim Yazdi last Thursday said "in a few days" and the government spokesman yesterday said in two weeks.
On economic policy, radical Khomeini adviser Abolhasan Banisadr has spoken about nationalizing banks and repudiating foreign debts, but sources at the Finance and Economics Ministry have denied any such suggestions or the thought he might become the next Central Bank governor.
On the controversial question of summary executions, Bazargan, known to deplore such procedures, said after the first four generals were shot that no more would take place. Within 24 hours, four more generals were executed and Bazargan explained that the sentences were ordered by his "superiors," presumably Khomeini himself.
On the referendum, which is to ask Iranians if they want to abolish the monarchy and set up Khomeini's Islamic republic, Yazdi is on record wondering whether such a consultation is necessary, while other government officials have said the vote would take place in two weeks, or three weeks.
On the shakeup of the armed forces command, Bazargan's Cabinet was credited with wanting to keep the various pieces together under a semblance of traditional leadership, but within days more than 250 generals were retried and key staff and divisional command posts given to colonels.
On government missions to the provinces. The latest example involved sending a Khomeini Committee choice to Kurdestan to report on turbulence in the immediate wake of a team headed by Labor Minister Dariush Forouhar.
Yet, for a people historically used to autocratic government behavior -- and fearful that Khomeini's rule may end up as dictatorial as the shah's -- even such signs of disorder are not universally unwelcome.
Yearning for freedom is especially keen among the educated middle class and professionals who played such a crucial role in bringing down the shah, first by withholding their support, then by active opposition.
For such people, Bakhtiar and his brand of social democracy were a kind of ideal, even if they sensed that his was a doomed traditional enterprise bridging the monarchy and Khomeini's triumph.
In the end Bakhtiar failed and so did hopes of keeping the armed forces together and avoiding the present situation pitting conservatives determined to consolidate and radicals set on further revolution.
Laymen and liberals have flocked to the unlikely banner of the Marxists as the only alternative they see to the prospect of the yet ill-defined Islamic republic. A tongue-in-cheek editorial in the English-language Tehran Journal summed up the increasingly jaundiced views of many educated Iranians.
It said they wondered if there is a power struggle going on behind the scenes in calm, happy Tehran, or if there is anything as divisive as a system of parallel governments, or perhaps something as blissful as no government at all?
Perhaps people are finding it hard to adapt to the fact that they are free at last, that members of the same government can express different opinions, that the vital decisions of government are no longer made by one man alone.