Ousting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's regime is not the only problem that has confronted exiled Iranian oppositionists for seven years. Intense political rivalry among and within the main opposition groups is another longstanding problem, interviews with Iranian exiles and Western diplomats show. These divisions, along with recent French restrictions on their activities, seem to prevent the exile opposition from posing a viable threat to Tehran in the near future.
The ``monarchists'' -- supporters of deposed Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and those advocating a ``constitutional monarchy'' -- fled Iran soon after the 1979 revolution. The non-monarchist opposition -- many of them leftists who initially worked with Khomeini -- were forced out in 1981. Both groups appear to detest each other, and are further weakened by internal dissensions.
``Iranians have always been individualists,'' one Iranian exile here comments, indicating that a lack of strong leadership among the exiles contributes to the divisiveness.
Ali Amini, former prime minister and now an opposition leader here, acknowledges he is unhappy about the bickering within the monarchist movement: ``We're not even back in Tehran [and] they quarrel over the name of the country's future prime minister.''
Mr. Amini, who heads the Front for the Liberation of Iran, contends the Iranian regime will sooner or later be swept away by a popular uprising -- in large part because of economic mismanagement. ``Central bank reserves are dwindling. The [nearly six-year-old Iran-Iraq] war is awfully expensive,'' he says. ``Millions of Iranians are unemployed and businessmen refuse to invest money in a country where there is no security.''
Amini also believes moderate mullahs who oppose clergy involvement in politics will eventually gain the upper hand. ``We don't call for a second revolution or a military coup,'' he claims. ``We just hope that, inside Iran, politicians defending the interests of the middle class will form a coalition that will topple hard-line leftist clerics. Then King Cyrus Reza should fly to Tehran like Khomeini did in '79 to prove to Iranians that he is their leader.'' Cyrus Reza Pahlavi, 26-year-old son of the late Shah, declared himself King in 1980. He reportedly is not closely involved with any opposition group.
But a European diplomat in Tehran says exiled Iranians are losing contact with the realities of life in their country. ``Since the revolution,'' he says, ``Paris-based opposition leaders have [often] said that the Islamic regime was on the verge of collapse. [But] what all Iranians who live inside their country have seen is the reinforcment of the Islamic regime's power.''
``Anyone who intends bringing the mullahs down,'' a senior European diplomat here says, needs ``a large popular base and a solid military infrastructure within Iran, which no opposition movement has [currently].''
Amini is often in conflict with another Paris-based royalist, Shahpur Bakhtiar, who backs armed struggle against the Iranian regime and has some support from exiled Iranian Army officers.
But all the monarchists agree on one thing: They refuse to work with the People's Mojahedin of Iran, who Amini says are ``intolerant.'' Monarchists, and even another leftist leader, former President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, accuse the Mojahedin of working closely with Iraq and getting material support. The Mojahedin strongly deny receiving financial support from Baghdad and criticize the monarchists for adhering to an obsolete system. By supporting the 1979 revolution that deposed the Shah, the Mojahedin argue, the Iranians cast a vote against the principle of monarchial rule.
After leader Massoud Rajavi's hurried and apparently forced departure from Paris June 7, the Mojahedin have retained a small bureau here. In recent months, France has been trying to improve relations with Iran, partly to secure help in gaining the release of French citizens abducted in Lebanon by Islamic fundamentalist groups. The release of two hostages in Lebanon June 20 indicates that France's new policy -- which raised some controversy here -- seems to be paying dividends.
A Mojahedin spokesman, who asked not to be named, disagrees with views that say Rajavi's move to Iraq was a setback for the group. ``Actually,'' the spokesman says, ``Rajavi planned to settle in Iraq several weeks earlier because the six coming months will be crucial for the armed struggle against the Khomeini.''
Exile Karim Lahidgi, a Paris-trained lawyer, heads the League for Human Rights in Iran here. When asked to compare the human rights records of the Imperial and current regimes, Lahidgi says: ``It's like comparing the plague with the cholera.''
``Ten thousand people have been executed for political reasons since the revolution and 25,000 are still in jail,'' he says. (The Mojahedin claim 50,000 have been put to death and some 140,000 are imprisoned, but Mr. Lahidgi believes those figures are exagerated). Detention conditions are terrible -- political prisoners are regularly beaten and denied the assistance of lawyers and repentant detainees are encouraged to denounce inmates who still harbor ``non-Islamic'' ideas, Lahidgi says.
However, the situation is not hopeless, he believes. ``The French Revolution was bloody, too, but after a period of terror things eased. The same process may take place in Iran ... I'm no politician and I'm not bent on the destruction of the Islamic regime. As soon as it is possible, I will return to my country.''