The Effect of Oil Rationing on Iranian Stability


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.

[Video: LiveLeak]

Using Popular Discontent to Create an Unpopular Government

Reza Pahlavi
In 1979, Iran witnessed the creation of an unpopular government based purely on popular discontent. In 2007, another group of people – Solidarity Iran – are seemingly attempting to ferment similar change by using popular discontent in order to create a government in Iran based on their own wishes. Never, except for possibly once in the 1950s, has any authority in Iran come to power purely with the vision of instituting a government on the bases or desires of the Iranian people. Each has come with its own self-serving agenda in mind, which is why each has also failed to satisfy the people of Iran. The group of exiles launching the movement “Solidarity Iran” are no different. It is because almost every dissident group comes with an agenda, comes with a perceived method that places themselves in power, and comes from a perspective of egoism rather than civil service, that each inevitably fails to achieve not only the popular support of Iranians but also experiences internal conflicts.

As noted by Ahmad Ra’fat, “What Iranians outside are fighting for is quite different from what Iranians inside the country want.”

Iranians on the outside want a form-based government. They want to see a constitutional monarchy, like Reza Pahlavi’s; or they want to see a socialist government, like the MKO. They desire structures and persons. They’ve decided on their presidents and representatives, should they come into power. They are not content driven, and even if they are, the content of rights which they seek to give Iranians are overshadowed by the the form in which they wish to place those rights. Reza Pahlavi, for example, talks about content (human rights, democracy, and freedom) but will always be overshadowed by form (the creation of a monarchy). Rightfully so, we should never fully trust an individual who conflates personal interests with the interest of others – it’s like trusting a director of a corporation who is trying to persuade the rest of the board to agree to a contract with another company he owns. The conflict of interest is so large, it’s impossible to ignore. In the same way, our exiles have too many conflicts of interest to ignore. Nor should they be ignored, for to ignore them risks creating a situation dreadfully similar to 1979.

In the end, should we trust Solidarity Iran? No. We can never trust any organization which wishes to use foreign powers to accomplish its own objectives. The fact that the Solidarity Iran movement is filled with persons whose objective is coupled with how successful they are at persuading European and American powers, is all the indication we need that they cannot be trusted as actually desiring to fulfill the needs of Iranians everywhere.

The Iranian Government is Targeting the Diaspora, not the United States

I wrote about this issue on Iranian Truth, but I think it’s relevant to address this matter in a more direct way, given that there have been various theories posited in regard to Iran’s recent arrests of Iranian-Americans. These arrests are not an attack against America. They are an attack against us, the Iranian diaspora. They are a method being used to silence our dissent and our efforts to discuss democracy and human rights openly and without fear. They are part of a process being used to make us second-guess our efforts, our thoughts, our beliefs, and our hopes. See the effect:

In a recent NY Times interview Professor Abbas Milani, the director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University, is quoted as saying, “People don’t want to come to conferences, they don’t even want to talk on the phone. The regime has created an atmosphere of absolute terror.” The National Iranian American Council notes that Iranian-Americans are hesitant to go to Iran this summer due to the arbitrariness of the arrests and detentions. As a result, in fact, the State Department has gone so far as to specifically advise Iranian-Americans to “consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning to travel to Iran.”

On Praising Khomeini

Khomeini Mural
Despite the fact that he is a friend of mine and was one of my inspirations to begin blogging, I cannot disagree more with Hossein Derakshan’s recent praise for Khomeini (the text is in Persian, with a small English excerpt). While the post might be sensationalist and most likely written for the purpose of getting attention, there some things called out by Hoder that I think he gets right. First, he touches on Iranians’ generally excessive admiration of ancient Persian emperors. I think it’s relevant to ask ourselves: if we were not Iranian but rather of another culture with no prior interaction with Iranians, how would we view the former Persian kings? Would we, for instance, praise Darius and Cyrus for slaughtering thousands of people in order to colonize surrounding territories? To the extent that Derakhshan writes that the praise we give the former Persian empire is ridiculous, closed-minded, and egocentric, I believe he is correct.

However, suggesting that we should praise Khomeini because he successfully pulled Iran away from Western quasi-colonialism is foolish. That type of analysis is reactive rather than affirmative. It looks at what evil exists in the world and falsely concludes that its polar opposite must be good. In other words, instead of determining the value of something based on abstract moral or even religious principles, we would be judging something based on how it contrasts with the thing we dislike the most. In this case, we would be looking to colonialism and the “Western” model, submit that it is evil, and therefore accept everything contrary to it. This is the same reactive impulse utilized by many advocates of “Islamic democracies.” Khaled Abou el-Fadl tackles this issue perfectly in his discussions on Islamism:

[Many Muslim scholars] challenge asserted moral values, including the norms of democracy, as false universals, but offer no moral alternatives. Their opposition conforms to the reactive state of modern Islamic discourse. Much of this discourse is formed by the experience of colonialism and imperialism, and is hostage to a traumatized condition in which obsessive concerns with autonomy are coupled with a disregard of the need for constructive self-definition.

Derakhshan’s commentary on Khomeini functions precisely the same way: it does nothing to create a sense of self-definition or value of the Iranian, but mimics a system of values based purely on the importance of autonomy and Iran’s reaction to colonialism. This is precisely the way that the killing of thousands of Iranians, the suppression of fundamental human rights, and the subversion and manipulation of popular support committed by Khomeini are (unjustly) justified. If we perceive this regime from the perspective of the “other,” the same way that an outsider would see Cyrus and Darius, then we reach something closer to this conclusion: Khomeini was nothing more than a megalomaniac who systematically utilized violence and repression to achieve his private dreams and ambitions. In other words, Hossein got it wrong.

[Photo: Sydney Morning Herald]