Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Middle class angst; political weakness

Jeff Silva-Brown, who teaches at Ukiah High School in California, pointed this article out to me. It's a good lesson about Iran's political culture. Thank you, Jeff.

Iran’s Middle Class on Edge as World Presses In
One measure of the profound anxiety now coursing through Iranian society can be seen on Manouchehri Street, a winding lane at the heart of this city where furtive crowds of men gather every day like drug dealers to buy and sell American dollars.

The government has raised the official exchange rate and sent police into the streets to stop the black marketeers, but with confidence in Iran’s own currency, the rial, collapsing by the day, the trade goes on.

“Am I afraid of the police? Sure, but I need the money,” said Hamid, a heavyset construction engineer who was standing by a muddy patch of greenery amid a crowd of other illicit currency traders here. “Food prices are going up, and my salary is not enough.” Glancing nervously around him, he added that he had converted almost all of his assets into dollars. Like many Iranians, he had also stockpiled months’ worth of rice and other staples…

Already, the last round of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran’s private sector…

The rising economic panic has illustrated — and possibly intensified — the bitter divisions within Iran’s political elite. A number of insiders, including members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have begun openly criticizing Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent weeks…

Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market. Some analysts and opposition political figures contend that Mr. Ahmadinejad deliberately worsened the currency crisis so that his cronies could generate profits this way…

Even Iranians who oppose their government tend to see the growing economic pressure as an unfair gesture unlikely to yield any positive results.

“We know they want to pressure us so we rise against our government, but we are not in a position to do that,” said Murad, a haggard 41-year-old waiter at a Tehran tea shop. Like many middle- and lower-class Iranians, Murad seemed to blame both his own government and the West for his plight…

The crisis has taken a toll on medical care, affecting the middle class as well as the poor. Because of the ever-tighter pressure on any kind of trade with Iran, the black market price of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, has nearly doubled in the past year…

Many Iranians are also skeptical about the Western preoccupation with Iran’s nuclear program. “The economic pressure will not push Iran to a nuclear settlement,” said Kayhan Barzegar, the director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, who has taught in the United States. “The nuclear file is a nationalistic issue; it’s too late for Iran to backtrack. Domestic politics will react negatively to any negotiation…

Some Iranian businessmen make similar comments, noting that there are always ingenious new ways to sell oil and to transfer money, and that the people who will suffer most from sanctions are not the ones who can pressure the government for change. “So you kill the pistachio trade in Iran,” one businessman said. “How does that stop nuclear enrichment?”…

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