Iran & the World News & Media: economics Nima Milaninia oil
by Nema Milaninia
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When I lived in Egypt, I was always told that the way to spark a revolution was not through expanding democratic institutions, establishing grassroots political parties, or weakening Mubarak’s totalitarian regime. Rather, revolution would come with a reduction of wheat subsidies by the US, which would result in an increase to the price of bread. Egyptian friends would always recount, often facetiously but with truth nonetheless, that the closest Egypt had gotten to a national popular revolution was when the government either increased the price of bread or decreased the bread’s size in order to reduce the subsidization.
Why did this happen? Because humans care less about political idealism and more about practical necessities. Affect the ability of people to provide for themselves and you have the fruits of a democratic revolution.
In Iran, I have no doubt that recent oil rationing does more to destabilize the current regime than any political or ideological movement inside or outside of Iran. It is not a coincidence that anti-Iranian opposition groups – like the MKO, a Marxist Islamic terrorist group that’s behind http://www.netnative.com/news/05/sep/1122.html” target=new>the IranFocus.com “news” site – are emphasizing the protests as much as possible. Think about it this way: immediately following the creation of fuel rations, several incidents of violence sparked throughout the country. According to Rooz Online, “Clashes took place in gas stations on Resalat Street, Shariati Square, Fath Square, corner of Abureihan and Azadi streets, among other locations.” These are not areas generally associated with upper class families. In fact the protestors are not known to be Iranian university students, who typically come from wealthy or affluent families, but rather taxi drivers, contract workers, and laborers, who interesting, provided broad-based support to conservative and moderate elements in both the Iranian Parliament and the Presidency. Contrast that with protests in Iran’s holding of political prisoners, or in Iran’s suppression of free speech. These protests have generally occurred at universities and parks located in Northern Tehran and are organized and frequented by Iranian students and elites. What this means is that the issue of oil rationing, an economic and social matter, affects Iranians more acutely and is more likely to encourage them to revolt than are issues of free speech and assembly, civil and political issues. In order words, bread and oil are the keys to democratization, not freedom and press.
To make the effects of oil rationing a bit more vivid, let’s take a story recounted to me by a friend of mine who has family in Iran. A business owner in Iran has an office on the outskirts of Tehran, in the city of Karaj. Prior to the enactment of the law, he would commute to and from his office, roughly an hour and a half drive (100 miles). Because of the new restrictions on oil, he is unable to commute any longer and now he (as well as his employees) sleeps at the office, since the gas requirements for his commute would easily exceed the monthly allocations.
On a side note, Iran’s attempt for economic independence draws interesting parallels to South Africa’s end to apartheid and China’s actions following the Cultural Revolution. In each case, both countries were alienated from the international community and sought to cushion themselves from sanctions and trade embargoes by making their countries self-sufficient. South Africa’s attempts succeeded insofar that they resisted change from the outside, but ultimately, apartheid collapsed because it polarized the huge majority of persons living inside its territories. China is clearly still successful and appears to be a template that Iran seeks to replicate. More interesting is that Iran has significant ties with both countries and continuously sends government emissaries and intellectuals to pattern these countries’ political and economic developments.