Monday, March 06, 2006

People Are Losing Hope

Omid Memarian, Rooz Online:
Neither East, Nor West” is the best-known revolutionary slogan in Iran and its message is about to materialize. When the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna voted with 27 approvals and three opposers to send Iran’s case to the UN Security Council last month, Russia and China’s support of Iran was put on the shelf.

While Iran has absolutely no alternatives but to accept the Russian enrichment proposal, it finds itself isolated like never before. If Iran rejects the Russian proposal, what lays ahead at the Security Council for Iran is even harsher and more harmful.

Unlike in the isolation events of the past, the current conservative government continues to present that it is not vulnerable or at risk in the face of economic sanctions or even military action. Iranian officials also continue to warn the international community of the consequences of any action against Iran. Among these, they include rise in oil prices, destabilization of the peace process in the Middle East, and reprisals by its Shiite allies in Iraq.

Iran’s neocons talk of a Bermuda Triangle in the Middle East, which includes Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Badr brigade in Iraq, and, Hamas in Palestine. Some have even warned that an attack on Iran could start the sparks of the third world war. But the domestic scene in Iran and the failures in the country’s foreign policy indicate that these opinions do not match up with the realities in the field.

Domestically, people are gradually losing hope in what they expected would rapidly take place. Not only the middle class, but even intellectuals and other groups did not support Ahmadinejad in his bid for the presidency. Even from amongst the impoverished that support him, there is a group that does not welcome his adventurism. They impatiently await the promised economic reforms, while the sanctions that loom on the horizon will most certainly destroy their home. But the government vehemently continues to use its propaganda machinery to portray to the international community that nuclear energy is the desire of the Iranian nation. They are also trying to convince the public that this is part of their national pride. But only hardline conservatists and the supporters of the president support this idea.

Being labeled as an axis of evil, two decades of economic stagnation, international isolation, the revolution of 1979 itself, eight years of war with Iraq, has turned even the most nationalistic Iranians into conservatism. This may be the reason why the anti-war movement in Iran and among Iranians outside appears very weak.

When the United States attacked Iraq in 2003, people did not seriously protest against it, even though the government and its machinery strongly opposed the war. In January, less than 40 Iranians gathered in an NGO to condemn a military attack on Iran, while just a month before that more than 400 Iranians paid $25 in the US to watch an Iranian comedy. The anti war movement in Iran appears to be even weaker.

Last year a group of Iranians launched a website to advocate opposition to any intervention against Iran. I too posted some material on the web blog. In it I mentioned how much Iranians detested any intervention into their country. Surprisingly I received a lot of protests over my article and its contents. Other writers of the web blog too received similar complains. I can understand the reasons for their anger. READ MORE

Seventy nine percent of Iran’s population is under 29 years of age. A recent study by the National Youth Organization of Iran revealed that the youth in Iran face three major issues: sex, jobs, and, drugs. These issues appear to be rising by the day. The same study indicates that 55 percent of Iran’s youth have contemplated suicide at least once in their life.

Furthermore, Iranians now believe that even political changes will not lead to significant economic and social changes. So it has become apathetic over the recent years. While some 80 percent of the electorate participated in the presidential election that catapulted Mohammad Khatami to the presidency in 1997, the next round of Majlis (Parliament) elections only 30 percent of the eligible voters cast their vote in Tehran, and in the subsequent city council elections a mere 20 percent participated. Those who voted for Khatami expected changes in their life. They did not materialize after his 8-year administration.

This state of affairs put the conservatists in Iran in a bad position. Insistence on uranium enrichment can pit Iran at a point of no return. Economic sanctions, which will impact the Iranian public, may only be the start of harsher things to come. The talk of reprisal by Iran too is in fact political suicide for the conservative government and the country as a whole. All these conservatists have to do is look at Saddam Hussein and his fate. This is probably the reason why reformers and intellectuals in Iran believe that the Islamic regime must do everything in its power not to be taken to the Security Council, and in fact win back the confidence of the international community. If this does not happen, Iran will certainly miss its last chance.

Omid Memarian is an Iranian journalist and currently a visiting scholar at the University of California in Berkley.