49. Telegram 668 From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1 2

Subject:

  • Demonstrations Cause GOI to Cancel Bus Fare Increases
1.
Students and other groups in Tehran demonstrated and clashed with police over three-day period Feb 21–23, in protest against increase bus costs. Recently revised bus routes had raised and even doubled costs for many passengers and had created widespread grumbling and dissatisfaction which not limited to students.
2.
Demonstrations started afternoon Feb 21 at Tehran University when 200–300 students assembled inside campus shouting protests against bus company and reportedly calling for bus boycott next day.
3.
Feb 22 saw similar demonstrations at practically all university campuses in Tehran. Several incidents of students stoning buses occurred plus some clashes outside campuses in which students stoned and were firmly suppressed by riot police who, by this time, out in moderate force in university areas. [Page 2]Some students injured and some arrested. In afternoon all universities closed.
4.
Feb 23 clashes with police occurred again at Tehran University and other schools as well as elsewhere in city, as students tried enter campuses, stoned buses, or organized boycott of buses. Groups remained small and dispersed and seemed to be spontaneous gatherings, involving some high school students and non-students. We know of at least six separate clashes with police and saw evidence of broken glass from buses stoned.
5.
Afternoon Feb 23 GOI broadcast and published Shah’s order that PM personally investigate bus fare problem. Committee chaired by PM met immediately and by early evening had ordered return to previous bus routes and fares. By morning Feb 24 bus company and situation in city back to normal, though Tehran and other universities remained closed and will reportedly remain so for several days to allow students cool off. Once decision made cancel fare raises taken, press somewhat surprisingly was permitted mention student protests and stoning of buses, and AP correspondent allowed file story of events.

Comment: Demonstrations, first since mid-1968, give every appearance of spontaneous reaction to specific issue of bus costs, matter of importance to all classes. Public irritation undoubtedly enhanced by not unwarranted image of bus company as corrupt and inefficient. GOI’s own relatively restrained response probably due to recognition genuine grievance existed and lack of clear policy on issue within GOI. Some student frustation at inability express dissent on other issues undoubtedly fanned their feelings, though political content of demonstrations (expressed in occasional anti-Israel, Iraq, US, and GOI signs or shouts) was insignificant. [Page 3]Fact all this took place while Shah out of country and that GOI decision to reverse field taken as result Shah’s intervention probably means Shah has not only escaped being held responsible but also added minor laurels as guardian of popular interest. PM’s image sufficiently strong so that his popularity will not suffer from this fracas.

MacArthur
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–8 IRAN. Confidential. Repeated to Ankara, CINCSTRIKE, London, and Rawalpindi.
  2. Ambassador MacArthur informed the Department that after three days of student demonstrations, the Iranian Government had cancelled the recent hike in bus fares.