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Will Iranians Riots Over Utility Price Hikes?

05/13/11 By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

In June 2007, riots erupted across Iran when the government attempted to ration gasoline.

Blogger "Zeitoon" believes Iran could see social upheaval and riots over the hike in energy prices that is the result of the removal of subsidies by the Iranian government.

She suggests that the reported tensions between Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad could be an attempt by the Iranian establishment to divert the public's attention from the rising prices:

In the past several years that Iranians outside the country have been advising us not to pay the electricity, water, and gas bills in order to pressure the government, I used to say its wishful thinking!

I felt that those friends don't have a good understanding of the situation inside the country. I would say that if we didn't pay our bills, others would pay and the Electricity and Telephone organization would cut the electricity and telephone of those of us who didn't pay.

The issue of gas and water is separate. The bill comes for the whole apartment buildings and each unit is charged and one cannot not pay because it would result in insults and curses and maybe even complaints from others.

Also the price of such services was not such that one wasn't able to pay and needed to fight over it. For example the 8,000-tuman bill for the electricity, 3,000 for the water, 10,000 for gas and telephone, for two months was not that much compares to other charges.

But with the new utility bills people have been so severely affected that even some of the supporters of the government cannot afford to pay.

Let me give you an example: a few days ago a young man in a taxi with me said: "I'm a student and I have a job as a worker. I make 200,000 tumans per month [about $170]. I have rented a small place in Zourabad for 50,000 tumans per month (I don't think the rent is as low as this anywhere in Iran) with the remaining 150,000 tumans I would hardly manage to pay for food, transport, and university costs.

"I have now received a gas bill for 150,000 tumans. As soon as I saw the bill I got so angry that I tore it into pieces. The bill for water and electricity is also several times more expensive than before. Please tell me how I can survive under such conditions." His face had become red out of anger. The none of us in the taxi had a response. Just that "Well, it's good that you didn't pay, we have decided to do the same. God willing things will get better...."

People disputing their gas utility bill in Tehran

I really raised this issue in the meeting of our apartment complex and I talked about what I had heard, that in a city some people had gathered people's bills in several bags and sent it to a government body. All of the neighbors also said they had been told at work not to pay their gas bills, they argued that if many of us do so, [officials] can't do anything and so on.

Despite the objection of several neighbors, it was decided that for now we wouldn't pay our gas bills. I heard that many neighborhoods in Karaj had done the same. I think that the high amounts of the bills will definitely lead to riots. And this issue is a long and deep story, as is the dispute between [Khamenei and Ahmadinejad].

If the postelection riots took place mostly in middle-class to upper-class neighborhoods, this time the southern part of the city and villages that have been so far supportive of the government have been affected.

The deadline for the payment of the gas bills was the end of [the first Iranian month that starts on March 21]. Out of every 10 people you ask, six to eight say they haven't paid their bills. The government has promised to make monthly installments possible. But how do you do that for a monthly bill? How can those who can't pay their gas bill this month pay it in the coming months?

The establishment has to either apologize for raising the price of gas (It will not) or it has to do something to divert the public opinion and blame everything on a hated person (who is more suitable than Ahmadinejad?).... Now some are saying, "Poor [Khamenei], he didn't know until now that Ahmadinejad is so bad, we have to support him so that he changes the government."

Don't be fooled by these games!


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