The Mirage of Economic Improvement
Slowly, the Iranian leaders are shaking of their apparent confidence and warn the public of hard days ahead. The last one came by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the veteran politician and current head of the powerful State Expediency Council that monitors the life of all three branches of government in Iran. “Iran is vulnerable to foreign pressure because of domestic conditions, and national unity is the only way we can sail through future crises,” he warns.
Just a few months after president Ahmadinejad had promised during his elections campaigns that he would take oil money directly to the people’s house and table, his aides at the president’s office have gradually retracted those hopeful wishes of improving economic conditions for the masses. In fact, they never even dreamed that “improvement” would actually lead to economic curtailments and conservation.
Ahmadinejad of course never believed that he would need the elite, the educated, the middle class, the investors, and in general the cream of society as his supporters. So he focused on the lower groups and made all kinds of promises to them with the goal of touching their hearts. Today, he is very far from what he had promised them and through which he won their votes.
A quick glance at the events since last June, clearly shows how Ahmadinejad altered his focus from the improvement of the economic daily life of the man in the street, to Iran’s principal foreign policy issue, to the point of creating international crises over it. In the words of a reporter from UK’s Sunday Times, Iran’s president appears like a peasant who has come to town in a gray shirt. Western states had never portrayed an Iranian president through these words.
The president’s confrontational attitude has brought Iran to the point where no day passes in which some sort of threat or warning – war or sanctions - is not issued to Iran. With these preoccupations and atmosphere, any hope of an improvement in the economic conditions in Iran is drifting rapidly into oblivion. No foreign investments are taking place, and no domestic investors are willing to risk their capital. No serious production activities are forthcoming and no economic booms are in sight. Iran’s isolation and the hue and cry about a referral to the UN are not conducive to bright economic adventures.
But on the other hand, even winning the support of the millions in the nuclear issue does not seem to be the driving goal of the decision-makers. The idea of turning the nuclear issue into a national cause and calling it even more important than daily bread, has not succeeded in making people view things this way. The publicity and propaganda machinery are the only ones pursing this goal. All that has happened is that people have been driven around nuclear installations to act as human shields “in case”, or onto streets to condemn some foreign country. Still, one wonders whether any of those that have ridden on these busses have had their economic lot changed with the new administration in Tehran.
So the news about hard days ahead and the necessity of being prepared for them by a government that does not listen to its own citizens is interesting. During the recent months, any public word that is not in line with the government’s nuclear policies has been equated with supporting foreigners. So any real debate is impossible. Under these circumstances, there can be independent analysis of the issue for those that need it either. But what is clear is that people’s vote or views are irrelevant. Not over decisions that determine the future of their country, and not even when international adventurism replaces government promises of bringing oil money to their table.
It is in this light that Rafsanjani’s message demonstrates the uni-directional aspect of the people-government relations. The question that comes to mind then is: what is the government’s role in creating this national unity that he mentions? Can unity be brought about by threatening and suppressing the potentials of social groups and people and then hope that mere propaganda will create that unity? Or must such a goal be tested through the will of people and their ability and desire to pay the price? Is the nuclear goal even worth paying whatever price is in stake? And what are the benefits of all of this for the country? Is this simply following the wishes and interests of a powerful group, or true national interest? Does a government that calls for and needs the-mentioned national unity lay the groundwork for this to take place? These are only a few questions people who have been called in to stay united and support their government ask.
But even when they are allowed to engage in such a dialogue, it is still they who must make the decisions over such important national issues.
(PUblished at Roozonlinedaily)