Monday, May 7, 2018

How Are Things in Iran?

Is Iran on the brink? The story in today’s Wall Street Journal suggests that it is moving in that direction. Most media organizations do not report on conditions in the Islamic Republic, so we ought to pay special attention to the Journal report.

It tells us that Iran is in trouble, that it is unraveling from within, and that the Islamic Republic's rulers can barely hold it together. The Obama administration threw it a lifeline by eliminating most sanctions in the nuclear deal, but the mullahs used the money to support terrorism in Lebanon and Yemen. People who are out of work and starving are not happy about the decision.

The report begins with strikes:

Teachers went on strike in central Iran’s city of Yazd. Steelworkers and hospital staff walked off the job in the southwest city of Ahvaz. Railway employees protested near Tabriz. And a bus drivers union in Tehran battled the private companies that control many city routes.

These were among the hundreds of recent outbreaks of labor unrest in Iran, an indication of deepening discord over the nation’s economic troubles. Workers are turning not only against their employers but also Iran’s government, piling pressure on leaders who promised but failed to deliver better times in the two years since economic sanctions were lifted in the nuclear deal.

Prices of eggs, meat and bread are rising more than 10% a year, compounding consumer woes. Unemployment is about 12%, and the Iranian rial has fallen sharply against the dollar, raising prices on imported goods and prompting a central bank intervention in April. Oil prices have risen, bringing a moment of relief, but consumers say they’ve yet to see the benefits.

Note well: hundreds of outbreaks of labor unrest.  High inflation, high unemployment, unkept promises… a formula for trouble. We know where the money is going:

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds from the nuclear agreement have gone to Iran’s military involvement in Syria and support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah rather than the national economy, critics of the deal say.

It isn’t just the labor unrest. Financial institutions have failed and the economy is being seriously mismanaged:

Iran’s labor disputes are extending a panoply of protests in the Islamic Republic that stem from social, economic and political strains. In December and January, people poured onto the streets for two weeks of demonstrations, touched off by deposits lost through failed financial institutions. The protests, Iran’s largest in nearly a decade, were quashed by authorities.

Since then, women have posted videos that show them removing mandatory headscarves, a criminal offense. Defrauded depositors still air grievances, and workers have kept up demands.

The protesters believe that a corrupt political and theocratic elite is taking all the money for itself:

The simmering anger, as voiced by protesters, is stoked by the belief that a corrupt and politically empowered elite is siphoning off Iran’s wealth.

“The social gap is about to explode,” said Alireza Saghafi-Khorasani, the secretary of a labor-rights group in Iran. “There is no economic plan.”

The government, led by President Hassan Rouhani but presided over by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has had to confront the many grievances. In the sugar industry, imports of the commodity have been periodically banned.

Iran has had four decades of what is called a revolution. How has it worked out for working class Iranians? Not very well:

The financial situation of blue-collar Iranians haven’t improved much in the nearly four decades since the revolution. Urban family incomes average around $800 a month, with a minimum wage of around $200 a month.

“Where in the world is a worker whose wage is four times below the poverty line forced by the police to work?” activist Jafar Azimzadeh said in a video posted on the messaging app Telegram. “This is a crime. This is slavery.”

Monthly cash payments for consumers were cut in response to lower oil revenues before the parliament restored them in February, in the wake of protests. Many with jobs, however, remain unpaid.

And, of course, there has been a cultural rebellion, with women ripping off their headscarves… and being summarily arrested and imprisoned. We do not know why the people are rebelling now. Perhaps conditions are getting intolerably bad. Perhaps people see neighboring Muslim countries liberalizing and do not understand why they continue to be terrorized and tyrannized.

Evidently, it is an important story, well worth telling.


Dan Patterson said...

It is a story that has been retold at the cost of millions of lives: Tyranny and oppression sprouted from the seeds of jealousy and envy. Where is the harm in having people live according to the "dictates of their own hearts" rather than hewing to a line scribed by a master holding a whip? The harm is that independence is a trespass against personalities bent on domination and control; those characteristics are inherently incompatible and with enough inertia small resistance multiplies to battle and into revolt. It seems societies that are unfettered by categories of class are more likely to repel than attract rule by force - I'm thinking of the US in 1940 vs Japan and Europe as an example.
There is a moral and religious construction adding to the mix and that spawns large discussions on morality and cultural rules.

Sam L. said...

Permanent, on-going "revolutions" are not sustainable except by force, and the forces eventually crack.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: The Obama administration threw it a lifeline by eliminating most sanctions in the nuclear deal, but the mullahs used the money to support terrorism in Lebanon and Yemen. People who are out of work and starving are not happy about the decision.

Not a lifeline, but removing an excuse! The leadership of Iran has been scapegoating the US and it was credible, but after sanctions were lifted people expected things to get better, and suddenly the leaders have to produce something. People who have suffered for years don't have much to lose in standing up now, and standing up in a country with limited human rights is a true act of courage that will inspire more to take a risk.

So the Iranian government is at a cross-roads all without any new effort on our part. They have oil revenue, its not like they're destitute, but their priorities must change.