Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 11:25 GMT
Eyewitness: Iran's revolution revisited
John Simpson, President Khatami and Ayatollah Khomeini
By World Affairs Editor John Simpson
Half an hour after Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary charter flight from Paris took off for Tehran 20 years ago, one of his officials stood up and addressed us.
It wasn't, of course. Instead, we circled endlessly over Tehran, watching the greatest crowd in human history gather below us.
At dawn on 11 February, the tanks of the Imperial Guard rumbled through the streets, while an excited army of volunteers defended the barricades.
The troops soon surrendered, and up at the Shah's palace, I watched his most faithful guards, "The Immortals", strip to their underwear at the orders of the revolutionaries.
Twenty years later, the Islamic revolution is still in full control of Iran.
But young people, especially in the cities, tend to find it boring and repressive, and the euphoria which seized almost the entire country in 1997, when Mohammed Khatemi was elected president by 86% of the vote because he was a moderate, has long since evaporated.
The battle is fought out bitterly, ministry by ministry.
President Khatami has the support of public opinion, but the conservatives believe they have the Holy Koran on their side.
It has been a terrible 20 years for Iran.
An American embargo has done heavy damage to the oil industry.
Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and began an 8-year war which cost the lives of one million people.
Things have become more settled in the last decade, but there is still no consensus about the direction this complex, sophisticated country should take. The Islamic revolution is stable, but it does not feel permanent.
There must have been 150 people on Ayatollah Khomeini's flight to Tehran in 1979, most of them young and eager revolutionaries.
Others, like the future President Bani-Sadr, were driven into exile. Many were killed in the war with Iraq, or assassinated by extremists.
Less than half of us are probably still alive today. All revolutions devour their children but the Iranian revolution had a fiercer appetite than most.