Voices from Tehran
Mohammadi (source: Open
The word on the street
in Tehran is bad news for Iran's
president, finds Kamin Mohammadi.
United States administration
is in a mood for confrontation with Iran. The Iranian president, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, seems more than happy to oblige. His attitude alarms many Iranian
leaders and journalists. But what of the people on the Tehran street?
The evidence of
US military escalation in the region
is clear. The deployment of a second aircraft-carrier in the Persian Gulf, the
increased US troop strength in Iraq, the reported transfer of US fighter jets
and Awacs aircraft in southern Turkey, and the supply of an air-defence
battalion equipped with Patriot missile batteries to protect Gulf Arab allies -
many in Iran see these steps as part of an ominous, choreographed preparation for war.
The pressure is
diplomatic as well as military. The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in December 2006 over its
nuclear plans, and the February deadline for Iranian compliance is fast
approaching. The European Union is no longer offering the opportunity for
Iran to play its western
interlocutors against each other - though (as Paul Rogers reports in openDemocracy) Iran can look
east and north for some comfort.
This, as well as more
familiar national pride, confidence and ideological certitude, helps explain why
Iran's response to American and UN
pressure has so far been defiant. Tehran announced that it would press ahead with
its uranium-enrichment programme at its Natanz plant),
while Ahmadinejad's rhetoric on his Latin American tour was characteristically
But all is not well
among Iran's elite, far less among its
long-suffering people. The tide of opinion is - very publicly - turning against the president. While
northern Tehran's wide, middle-class boulevards have
never lacked harsh critics of the president, what is new is that attitudes here
are beginning to acquire the smell of official sanction.
On 10 January, two
Iran's newspapers - each a
mouthpieces of the establishment - printed an article criticising the president.
Jomhuri-ye Islami (which is said to reflect the views of the supreme
leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself) addressed the
president thus: "One day you announce that we are installing 3,000 centrifuges,
the next day you say 60,000. This gives the impression that what you say has not
been well thought out".
Islami went on to accuse
Ahmadinejad of using the nuclear programme to disguise his government's failings
with the country's economy: "Turning the nuclear issue into a propaganda slogan
gives the impression that you, to cover up flaws in the government, are
exaggerating its importance. If people get the impression that the government is
exaggerating the nuclear case to divert attention from their demands, you will
cause this national issue to lose public support".
The other sting came
from Hamshahri (whose director, Hossein Entezami, is a member of
Iran's nuclear negotiating team). The
paper wrote: "At the very moment that the nuclear issue was about to move away
from the UN Security Council, the fiery speeches of the president have resulted
in the adoption of two resolutions".
The politicians were
quick to join the bandwagon. In an unprecedented move on 14 January, 150 of the
290 members of the majlis (parliament) signed a letter holding the
president responsible for Iran's economic woes, which include raging
inflation (running at around 20%), high unemployment and rocketing house prices.
The letter - whose signatories included traditional allies of the president -
also criticised Ahmadinejad's government for failing to deliver the budget on
Then, when the budget
was delivered, another blow: within hours it was pulled apart by Seyyed Safdar
Hoseni, who served as finance minister in the reformist Mohammad Khatami's cabinet.
Hoseyni's analysis of the figures (he told Etemad, a reformist newspaper)
persuaded him that the government is trying to cover up the budget's true size.
Both the nuclear and
the economic worries have encouraged some - Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the Freedom
Movement, is one - to call for Khatami and his predecessor as president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, to intervene.
On 25 January, the reformist website Aftab reported that over 100 MPs had met
Rafsanjani (now chair of the Expediency Council) to this effect.
Dariush Qanbari, a member of the majlis national-security committee, told
an Aftab reporter that Rafsanjani voiced concern about the military threat while
stressing that economic damage as a result of sanctions could be just as
newspaper Mardom-Salari, also on 25 January, roasted the president,
accusing him of using the media for propaganda purposes and - reminding its
readers of his comprehensive defeat in the December 2006 elections - criticised him for
being out of touch with the public. It contrasted his indifference to mounting
criticism of Iran in Arab
states with his eagerness to solicit friendship with Venezuela.
These concerns over
Iran's economy and political
direction are reflected on the streets of Tehran. Ahmadinejad's approval rating (even as
calculated by the state's television station) dipped to 35% in October 2006 and
has not recovered. The state of the economy is uppermost in people's minds: the
president was elected in June 2005 on promises to
improve living standards (falling for almost everyone, including the middle
class) and battle corruption (still widespread). But the nuclear issue and the
danger of war are also a factor. Ahmadinejad's honeymoon seems well and truly
Many Iranians are
aware that the country's official media underplay the gravity of the country's
situation, and thus tune into (officially banned) satellite channels and access
information on the internet. "I know what's going on", says Nazanin, a
university student, "and I am scared. When will they attack
"I believe that we
have a right to nuclear energy", says Behrooz, a high-school student. "But if
the world doesn't believe us, I don't think it is worth getting bombed
"At first I supported
Ahmadinejad", says Bardieh, another university student. "But he has destroyed
our reputation in the world with all this holocaust nonsense. We are not
anti-Semitic, even if we don't like Israel's politics. We have a tolerant
culture, but now the world thinks we are Nazis. Is that why they hate us so much
Yassi, a young painter
in Tehran, tries to be optimistic about the
possibility of military action against Iran: "I hope it doesn't happen. But
Americans are not knowledgeable about different cultures and Iran is one of
them. If there was more contact between our cultures they could see that we are
just human as they are, we have families that we love like they do, we have
jobs, we have our own businesses, we travel, we are well educated ... like them!
The youth of Iran is still
suffering from the long war with Iraq and just want to make up for the
years they have lost, that their families have lost. I just hope they realise
The concerns over the
economy and the prospect of war are connected for Shahlah, a young housewife. "I
have been buying in extra stores of rice", she says. "All my friends have. We
don't know what will happen, so it's best to be prepared. But it seems like the
prices are going up every day and there is always a reason ... every day our
money is worth less."
People who have
moveable assets are voting with their pockets - capital flight to Dubai is routine. Those on
lower incomes try to survive, amid constant worries over rising prices for basic
foodstuffs, rents and houses. One of them is Majid, an engineer. He pointed to a
petrol-station queue in uptown Tehran: "Already the price of petrol is going
up. My family in Kurdistan have told me it has
tripled there. And now they have announced they will start rationing after
Nowruz [Iran's new year, on 21
Farideh, a mother with
two young children, worries about their future. "We don't know what to do, where
to go. If there is a war, then I honestly don't know how Iran will ever
recover. The happiest day of my life was when the war with Iraq war ended.
I don't think I can bear to go through that again. But what choice do we
Kamin Mohammadi is a writer and
commentator on Iranian affairs. Her website is: http://www.kamin.co.uk/
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... Payvand News - 2/8/07 ... --