Saturday, March 15, 2008


To grasp the sense of stagnation and despair in Iran, you have only to learn the essential economics of a household budget.

A young couple marry and want to set up home together. Suppose they met at Azad University in Tehran and wish to carry on living in the capital, near to friends and family. Renting a one-bedroom flat in a run-down area of this vast, grim city would cost between £250 and £300 a month.

Yet if both husband and wife have found jobs - a very lucky combination - their total monthly earnings may be only £300. Finding a place of their own is simply unaffordable.

In practice, countless Iranian couples are unable to marry because they lack the means to live together. Those who do tie the knot are often doomed to spend years sharing crowded family homes with parents and siblings.

Despite record oil prices, the grinding hardships of daily life have only mounted under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's erratic rule. Rents in central Tehran have tripled since he won power in 2005 and inflation officially runs at 20 per cent, although ordinary Iranians believe this to be a gross underestimate.

Meanwhile, crushing levels of unemployment mean that few graduates can find jobs. So students are condemned to stay on at university, doing course after pointless course. If you come from a country where students enter the real world at 21 or 22, you might be surprised by the age of the inhabitants of Iran's campuses.

Meeting two students in Tehran yesterday, I found that one was 27 and the other 25 - and both were several years away from graduating. Did they want to be at university? Not really, they told me. But try finding a job in this country.

If a democratic government presided over this disaster, it would be swept from office. The young are a vital constituency; two thirds of the country's 70 million people are under 30. They are bitterly aware that Iran floats on a sea of natural wealth, boasting the second largest reserves of oil and natural gas in the world.

With oil prices exceeding $100 a barrel and no fewer than 130 billion barrels lying beneath Iran's mountains and deserts, there is no excuse for decades of economic failure.

In theory, ordinary Iranians will be able to make their voices heard in parliamentary elections today.

In reality, a familiar story has been played out. Whenever Iranians are given the chance, they vote for liberal reformers, who want to improve ties with the West and open up the country's economy and society. So the clerical establishment of this theocratic state carefully denies them the opportunity.

Anyone running for election must first be cleared by the Council of Guardians. This collection of hardline clerics routinely uses its power to sabotage the reformers before a vote is cast. Of the 909 reformists who tried to run today, about 800 were barred from standing.

The Council of Guardians vetoed all of their best-known champions, leaving their cause to be upheld by an obscure collection of contenders.

Of the 290 seats in the Majlis (parliament), only about 100 will have a reformist candidate. Perhaps half of these have a reasonable chance of winning.

Alan Note: preliminary vote results indicate 46 of the less rabid candidates got elected.

Thus a movement that almost certainly represents the majority of Iranians will probably end up with fewer than 20 per cent of the seats.

Yet beneath the surface, there are stirrings of hope. The reformers have no chance in this election, but nor is Mr Ahmadinejad having everything his own way. His combination of belligerence abroad and incompetence at home has alienated many in the hardline camp.

The conservatives are contesting this election as two factions - one, the "United Front", backs the president, while a new formation, the "Broad Coalition", consists of his opponents.

The leading lights in the anti-Ahmadinejad camp are Ali Larijani, who resigned as chief negotiator on nuclear matters last year, and Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran.

If they do well, most new MPs might be opponents of Mr Ahmadinejad, and he may find it impossible to seek re-election next year.

Despite everything, today's contest matters because it could set the stage for the president's departure. But the man who probably remains the most popular politician has yet to declare his hand. Mohammed Khatami, a liberal cleric (liberal ???),served as Iran's only reformist president, between 1997 and 2005.

Alan Note: "liberal" compared to the ruthless Mullah and Revolutionary Guard hardliners, NOT by Western standards in he USA or Europe. He has as much innocent blood and torture on his hands as any of the others clerics.

Parliament was captured by reformers in 2000, dozens of newspapers were established and, for a moment, Iran seemed on the verge of profound change. Mr Khatami offered an olive branch to the West, publicly calling for a "dialogue of civilisations".

(Alan Note: his inability to get any meaningful reforms established and the fact that those who believed him and in him demonstrated and died for him and gained nothing, totally invalidated his credibility (except inside some "hopeful" Western government corridors and Universities) and most of them would never vote for him again after feeling so betrayed).

But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority, quietly resisted his president. The Council of Guardians vetoed most of Mr Khatami's liberalising measures and ensured that reformers lost control of parliament in 2004 by disqualifying their candidates en masse.

After this searing experience, will Mr Khatami seek the presidency next year? "He doesn't want to stand and everybody who has asked him to do so has been rejected," said Mustapha Tajzadeh,
deputy interior minister in Mr Khatami's FORMER government.

"But he is under pressure day by day. Even some traditionalists want Mr Khatami to be a candidate because they believe he could defeat Mr Ahmadinejad."

(Wishful thinking - as matter stand)

Few doubt that Mr Khatami would win (disinformation????!!!). He took the presidency with more than 70 per cent of the vote in 1997 and was re-elected with a staggering 86 per cent in 2001.

Then crashed and burned!

Mr Tajzadeh believes he is torn by indecision. "He thinks that, if he comes again, he will raise many hopes and he will not be able to satisfy them," (exactly as previously) he told me.

"I watch every day as people come to see Mr Khatami to ask him to run." But Mr Tajzadeh said there was one argument that the former president "feared".

"They say to him, 'If you do not stand and something happens to Iran, you will be responsible. We expect you to come forward and save Iran'."

Mr Tajzadeh believes the odds on Mr Khatami running are 55 per cent. Without declaring his hand, this modest, humane (whom are we kidding???) 65-year-old is quietly carrying the hopes of his nation.

(Perhaps in the eyes of the British Press not fellow Iranians)

Mar. 14 - The Iranian regime continues its mad dash towards a nuclear bomb, triggering an inferno of violence and chaos in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East along its path.

Meanwhile, the majority of the Iranian population has found itself confined in an economic firestorm raging within Iran’s borders.

High prices of basic commodities choke the life out of a population already crushed by incredibly low living standards. There is hardly an opportunity lost for the Iranian people to complain and express their misery.

This is while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's campaign pledge in 2005 was to bring the oil revenue, a record 69 billion dollars last year, to people's dinner tables.

From bread to meat to children’s diapers to clothing to houses, there is almost no product that has not turned into an out-of-reach luxury item for the majority.

For example, growing imports of flour by the regime, as well as some crop growers being hard hit by pests, have supplied the main causes for the 60 percent jump in the price of bread in the span of a few months.

The most common food product on Iranian dinner tables, rice, has seen a nearly-150 percent price hike.

In Tehran’s main squares, unemployed women marked by their black chadors sit on pathways, desperately offering anything from socks to hair clips for sale to onlookers.

Their weary eyes are nonetheless alert for the regime’s State Security Forces (SSF) who tend to aggressively disperse or arrest them in public. But, some of them are unmindful of their surroundings, too busy trying to quiet their screaming hungry toddlers.

At the insurance office, pools of single mothers, unemployed and retired men and women are turned away for various dubious reasons.

The youths criticise the lack of jobs and senior citizens complain about the lack of affordable medical care and pharmaceutical drugs.

Poverty and economic hardships sway many to take refuge in drugs or get entangled in other types of social malady.

Stories of depressed young men killed by alcohol poisoning or drugs, young women committing suicide by setting themselves on fire, and fake pharmaceutical drugs that end up killing or harming thousands, are so common that they plaster state-run dailies.

Housing prices have soared in recent months, up to sevenfold in some parts of the capital, making it hard or impossible for many to buy or rent homes.

Experts claim that a shortage of over three million houses exists in Iran and the level of demand increases on a daily basis. According to official estimates, nearly one quarter of Iranian families do not own a home, a half of them low-income families.

The gloomy economic and social situation, in addition to a noticeable dark veil of suppression, has formed the basis of simmering anti-government protests.

According to Iranian opposition sources, more than 5,000 anti-regime protests and demonstrations shook Iran in the past year alone.

Amid public and televised hangings, which the regime uses to instill fear in a disenchanted population, the number of protests is nonetheless growing.

Realizing the devastating potentials of popular dissent, the Iranian regime continues to rule with an unforgiving iron fist.

For example, eye-witness reports indicate that near Tehran’s Haft-Hoz square, where previously about four or five SSF cars maneuvered the streets, the number today is close to 13 or 14, with more on-foot agents keeping a close eye on the nearby locations.

Plain-clothes police also intermingle with ordinary citizens in places where chances of protests are deemed high, such as university campuses.

At the height of World War Two, the writer George Orwell wrote, “One of the chief features of Fascist rule is the enormous number of police that it employs.”

Their mere existence, Orwell added, show the nature of the Nazi difficulties. The situation in Iran bears a striking resemblance.

There are security forces of all kinds operating in the country, including one dedicated to “mal-veiling” and even one for the mountains, to keep an increasingly resentful population at bay.

State resources are thus inevitably squandered on the suppressive machinery while a restless population awaits the apt opportunity to rise from the ashes of economic ruins.

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