Most Iranians react calmly to Shah's move
Iranians' first response to the Shah's move to Egypt was one of perhaps surprising calm. This could well be an initial lull before a later storm. Militant clergymen have called for a massive demonstration here March 25; and some of them, notably Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali, who presided over many of the trials of the Shah's officials, have suggested that at least some of the 50 American hostages themselves be put on trial.
Ayatollah Khalkhali, however, is prone to make erratic statements, which are often discounted here. And the ruling Revolutionary Council has made it clear on previous occasions that it does not favor trying the hostages; at time of writing, it had given no indication of changing its mind.
Indeed, one of the most obvious reasons for the delayed reaction here is that the country has been busily celebrating the Persian New Year. Everyone has been enjoying a week's vacation -- including the Cabinet and the Revolutionary Council.
Another reason is that, for most Iranians, Panama and Egypt are as alike as Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee as far as extracting the Shah is concerned and bringing him back here to face revolutionary justice. Both countries are seen as proteges of the United States.
In addition, few Iranians believed Panama was going to extradite the Shah anyway, even though the legal machinery had been geared up and the necessary documents were to have been presented to Panama March 24. The conditions the Panamanian government had set -- that he should not be executed if extradited -- would have been unacceptable to Iranian revolutionaries, let alone to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Finally, while the militant students in the US Embassy still insist that the American hostages will not be released until the Shah is returned to Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini and President Bani-Sadr have long since disconnected the two issues. Hence, in theory at least, the sudden departure of the Shah for a new sanctuary in Egypt should not have any impact on the continuing ordeal of the US hostages.
Even the embassy militants themselves, through a spokesman March 24, indicated that the Shah's move would not alter their treatment of the hostages.
The real problem is that the American captives are held hostage far more to internal Iranian power struggles than to any moves of the exiled Shah. This was underlined again over the past couple of days when Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh tried to thwart the Shah's to Egypt by offering to have the hostages handed over to the Revolutionary Council if the Shah was detained and returned to Panama.
From the American viewpoint, the Ghotbzadeh offer must have appeared somewhat hollow. For previous efforts by the Foreign Minister and President Bani-Sadr to effect such a transfer have crumbled on the rock of the militants' intransigence and the refusal of Ayatollah Khomeini to force the issue to a conclusion. Instead, the Ayatollah has placed responsibility for deciding the hostage crisis upon the new parliament, for which elections will not be complete until next month.
It may be that the Shah's flight to Egypt has taken Mr. Ghotbzadeh out of a difficult corner. But it could give the militants in the embassy ammunition for attacking him, by pointing out that they could have been easily deceived by the Panamanian government if they had given in earlier to pressure on them to release the hostages.
Meanwhile, the militants, by refusing to modify their demand that the Shah be returned before the hostages are let go, are not strictly "following the Imam's line," as they claim to be doing. Mr. Bani-Sadr, who has had a moderating influence on the whole Iranian scene since being elected president in January, has repeatedly advised the students directly and indirectly (through statements to the media) that "the extradition of the Shah cannot be secured by the taking of hostages" -- but to little effect.