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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 19:20 GMT
Tehran bazaar feels winds of change

Tehran Bazaar The bazaar is the city's economic powerhouse


By Jim Muir in Tehran

The grand bazaar in Tehran is the pulsating heart of the Iranian capital.

It is much more than just a collection of shops, selling more or less everything you can think of.

It is an economic powerhouse which, for centuries, has been a major force in Iranian life.

Carpet merchant Merchants are traditionally conservative
The individual merchants and traders, and the shops they run, are just the tip of iceberg.

Behind them lies a vast network of economic and commercial interests.

This is where the money is, and in Iran, as everywhere else, money, means power.

Revolution

The highly-conservative traders, or bazaaris, felt threatened by the shah's headlong rush towards western-style industrialisation.

They helped finance the Islamic revolution, and today, they remain a pillar of support for the conservative wing of the Islamic regime.

Iranian cash Iran is in the grip of an economic cirsis
''Right now everybody's following the elections,'' says one merchant, Mohamad-Ali Torabi-Fard.

''There are different parties and factions and groups; people follow one or other according to their own ideas.

''But the bazaar is more inclined towards the establishment, and they support the rule of the supreme leader.''

Economic crisis

In many ways, the bazaar is at the heart of the Iranian establishment. People here are traditionally conservative, tending to support the clergy and the Islamic revolution.

But nowhere is immune to the winds of change. The economic crisis is being sharply felt here, and even in this bastion of conservatism, the reformists are making ground.

Gold display Gold display: Still plenty of money in the bazaar
The moderate President, Mohammad Khatami, has his supporters here too. A surprising number of bazaaris are believed to have voted for him two and a half years ago.

In the general elections, the president's popularity will win at least some votes in the bazaar for the reformist parties which support him.

There is still a lot of money in the bazaar.

Nonetheless, everybody here is complaining that they are feeling the pinch of the hard economic times the whole country is going through.

The bazaar will undoubtedly survive - but like everywhere else, it is having to move with the times in a changing world.

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