Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, March 08, 2013

Sanctions creating new government opponents?

K. Sue Witmer, who teaches at Northeastern HS in Manchester, PA, recommended this report from the government-owned Russian news agency, RIA Novosti.

I second the recommendation, in part because it assesses the role of Iranian merchants, who are often overlooked in journalistic coverage of Iranian politics. As I wrote in the chapter on Iran, "Merchants, known as bazaaris, are powerful economic and political actors. As a group, they seem to be pragmatic — forming temporary alliances to meet their needs and protect their business interests. Some of their interests are not legal — smuggling and the black market are profitable enterprises." As reporter Alexey Eremenk asserts, "The bazaaris make up one of the Iranian regime’s main constituencies, and if they’re turning against the government, then something is rotten in the Islamic republic."

And there's this thesis to test: an anonymous Iranian is quoted at the end of the article as saying, “Muddling through has been the golden formula for this country’s survival over several millennia.” Can you find support for that idea in the recent and 20th century political history of Iran?

Sanction-Hit Iran Fears Unrest as New Elections Near
Iranian bazaar
Last October, after the Iranian rial lost half its value against the dollar in the space of a week, hundreds of Tehran’s “bazaaris,” or small merchants, took to the streets chanting, “Death to this hypocrite government!”

Police dispersed them, but with surprising reserve, arresting a mere 16 people, while state media downplayed the incident. And for good reason: The bazaaris make up one of the Iranian regime’s main constituencies, and if they’re turning against the government, then something is rotten in the Islamic republic…

With presidential polls set for June 14, less than four months away, the million-dollar question is whether large-scale dissent will spill into the open as it did in 2009-2010…

[T]his year, if “economic” protesters like the bazaaris start demonstrating en masse, the situation could spiral out of control – at least, the control of the clerical regime.

Whether it does or not, Iranians’ deteriorating living standards are sure to figure prominently in the coming battle for the presidency…

[T]he ruling establishment has been engaging in pre-emptive damage control – cracking down on dissent, fiddling with electoral legislation and accentuating the positive through propaganda…

Though reliable statistics from the country are notoriously hard to come by, official exchange rates suggest the rial has lost two-thirds of its value against the dollar since 2011. Prices for consumer goods and commodities rose by 87 and 112 percent, respectively, in the same period…

Official figures released by Iran’s parliament say the economy grew a meager 0.36 percent in 2012…

If the regime is twitchy, it’s no surprise: The opposition rallies of 2009-2010 were the biggest since the Islamic revolution of 1979 – and last time, the bazaaris stayed out of it…

The 2009-2010 protests were purely political, according to MGIMO’s Mizin, led by intelligentsia and the middle-class, which are receptive to Western culture and disapprove of the Iranian leadership’s authoritarian tendencies.

Their discontent was suppressed but not eliminated and, this time, it could get a boost from once politically passive Iranians driven to dissent by the flagging economy…

But with Ahmadinejad on his way out, and the authorities busy with a clampdown on dissent, it remains unclear whether the public would really take to the streets or just give vent to their frustration at the polls.

“Muddling through has been the golden formula for this country’s survival over several millennia,” an unnamed Iranian ex-official was quoted as saying in the ICG report…

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