Victims of Economic Sanctions: The People and the Green Movement
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
23 Nov 2010 03:47
True supporters of democracy in Iran uniformly opposed to sanctions.
[ analysis ] Ever since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected Iran's president in 2005, relations between Iran and the West have steadily deteriorated. While, except for the United States, no other nation imposed any significant economic sanctions on Iran during the administrations of former Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, the West has now moved to impose tough economic sanctions on Iran. Although, as I will describe, these sanctions are both immoral -- because they victimize first and foremost the ordinary Iranian people -- and illegal, one must not underestimate or ignore the contribution of Ahmadinejad's behavior and pronouncements, and particularly his aggressive, confrontational, and senseless foreign "policy," to the creation of an atmosphere that allows the United States and its allies to justify the sanctions. In other words, the Western powers will do whatever they believe is in their interest and offer whatever rationalizations are most viable. It is therefore up to the leaders of the targeted nation -- Iran, in this case -- not to provide easy excuses for the advancement of the external agenda.
Consider, for example, Iran's nuclear program, which is the most important reason for the sanctions. Ever since the existence of the Natanz enrichment facility was formally announced by Khatami in February 2003, Iran's fundamental position regarding its nuclear program has not changed: It has consistently rejected abandoning uranium enrichment, but has expressed willingness to negotiate every major issue about the program. This was true both during the Khatami administration -- when the West did not dare to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the United Nations -- and ever since.
But the West's approach changed once Ahmadinejad became president. The West succeeded in pressuring the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council in February 2006, half a year into his first term and less than three months after he denied that the Holocaust ever occurred and made remarks about Israel that captured the world's attention. True, he never uttered the infamous words, "Israel must be wiped off the map." The actual words were, "The Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said this regime, occupying Jerusalem, must vanish from the page of time," simply referring to the government's collapse, akin to what happened in the Soviet Union. In fact, Iran's position since the 1979 Revolution has always been that Jews, Christians, and Muslims who live in the Holy Land must vote freely in a referendum to select their destiny for themselves. But by the time the intentional mistranslation of Ahmadinejad's words was revealed, the damage had already been done.
The Security Council has issued six resolutions against Iran: 1696, approved in July 2006; 1737, passed in December 2006; 1747, passed in March 2007; 1803, approved in March 2008; 1835 (which reaffirmed the preceding four), approved in September 2008; and 1929, passed in June 2010. Beginning with Resolution 1737, the UNSC began imposing sanctions on Iran, which have been gradually ratcheted up. Resolution 1929, the most recent, has imposed the toughest sanctions on the Islamic Republic:
(1) It forbids sales of even conventional military hardware, including tanks and fighter aircraft, to Iran. It also attempts to hamper Iran's efforts to develop more advanced missiles. Following the resolution's approval, Russia announced that it would not deliver the S-300 missile system, a highly sophisticated air defense system.
(2) It imposes sanctions on Iran's shipping companies and asks other nations to inspect Iranian ships that may transport contraband cargo.
(3) It asks other nations to deny financial sources to foreign companies that are suspected of being involved in selling items that may be used in Iran's nuclear program.
(4) It adds 40 companies to the list of Iranian companies and entities supposedly involved in nuclear and nuclear-related (dual use) activity that had already been sanctioned by the previous resolutions.
(5) It asks U.N. members to exercise "vigilance" over transactions that involve Iran's banks.
Importantly, however, Iran's energy sector was not significantly restricted, presumably because China has extensive interests in Iran's oil and natural gas industry, worth at least $40 billion. Resolution 1929 also does not impose sanctions on the export of Iran's oil and gas, nor does it forbid the sale of gasoline to the Islamic Republic.
In an article in 2007, I argued that when the IAEA sent Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council, it acted illegally. In addition, I argued that, regardless of the legality of that action, the Security Council violated its obligations under the U.N. Charter when it demanded that Iran suspend its nuclear program and began imposing sanctions. The issue was recently revisited in a comprehensive article by Eric Brill, who repeated some of my arguments and expanded on them greatly, particularly regarding the Security Council's course of action. I will therefore not discuss this aspect of the issue any further, and instead focus on the economic and political implications of the sanctions imposed on Iran.
In addition to the Security Council resolutions, the U.S. and its European allies have imposed their own sets of sanctions on Iran. American sanctions against Iran are nothing new. Since the 1979 Revolution, the United States has imposed 19 types of sanctions on Iran. It has sometimes relaxed the sanctions a bit, only to retighten them. After the passage of Security Council Resolution 1929, Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed into law on July 1 the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, that includes the following:
(1) It bans from the U.S. market companies that work with Iranian companies involved with Iran's nuclear program.
(2) It cuts off from the U.S. financial system any bank that is involved in transactions with Iranian entities that are sanctioned by the Security Council or the United States.
(3) It imposes sanctions on any Iranian entity and individual accused of suppressing the democratic movement in Iran, and targets companies that provide technologies to Iran that the hardliners may use to repress political dissent.
(4) It forbids the U.S. government from entering into contracts with any firm that does business with any sanctioned Iranian company or entity.
(5) It bans the sale of gasoline and other refined products to Iran of more than $1 million each time, or more than $5 million in a year.
(6) It closes loopholes in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which targeted foreign companies that invest more than $20 million a year in Iran's oil and natural gas industry.
Unlike most such laws, the new law provided the president with only limited waiver power on national security grounds. Washington then blacklisted a large number of Iran's military leaders, companies that are linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a few charitable foundations, and several companies that have been acting as fronts for Iran's nuclear program and military. The president also signed a special executive order on September 29 that imposed sanctions on eight notorious Iranian political figures and security officials who have played leading roles in violating the rights of Iranian citizens since the rigged presidential election of June 2009. Such U.S. allies as Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, and South Korea have imposed their own restrictions on commerce with Iran.
The European Union, Iran's largest commercial partner, moved to impose its own set of sanctions on Iran. The sanctions act, approved by the EU on July 27, includes the following elements:
(1) It forbids investments in, or technical assistance to, Iran's oil and natural gas industry.
(2) It imposes tough financial restrictions, including prohibitions on insurance for Iranian trade and the sale of Iranian bonds in Europe.
(3) It bars Iran's cargo planes from landing at EU airports.
(4) It outlaws the sale of equipment or technology that may be used for uranium enrichment, including dual-use equipment, though it acknowledges Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
(5) It freezes the assets of a number of Revolutionary Guard officers and government officials, and bars them from traveling to Europe.
With the possible exceptions of North Korea and Zimbabwe, Iran is the most sanctioned nation on earth, thanks to Ahmadinejad. Even Cuba fares much better than the Islamic Republic.
Consequences of the Sanctions and Their Victims
As always, the hardliners are acting defiant. They declare with supreme confidence that they can beat the sanctions. Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and other hardliners have declared that the sanctions will spur greater self-reliance and promote domestic ingenuity. Khamenei interpreted the sanctions as a sign of Iran's growing influence. He claimed that they indicate the "increasing power of awakening Islam," saying they are a "potential opportunity" and a "blessing." In his typical fashion, Ahmadinejad referred to past sanctions resolutions as "pathetic," called Resolution 1929 a "used napkin destined for the garbage can," vowed not to make "one iota of concession," and declared that even "100 times more sanctions" would not have an impact on the Iranian economy.
Many of the steps that the hardliners have taken, both domestically and internationally, demonstrate that they are really worried. Before Resolution 1929 was approved by the Security Council, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki went to Vienna in an attempt to convince the Austrian government, a nonpermanent member of the council, to vote against the sanctions. He was rebuffed. Bosnia, another nonpermanent Security Council member, which was supported greatly by the Islamic Republic during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, gave the same response: It planned to vote against Iran, and it did. Russia's position vis-à-vis sanctions shifted in a similar direction. President Dmitri Medvedev stated several times that Iran had acted irresponsibly toward the international community in regard to its nuclear program, and that there might be no alternative but more sanctions. It voted for the sanctions, and the Islamic Republic's relations with Russia have continued to deteriorate.
The sanctions have been hurting Iran's economy in a variety of ways:
(1) Because many insurance companies have refused to provide coverage for Iranian ships that carry crude oil to international markets and gasoline to Iran, they have not been able to enter ports to deliver or pick up goods. As a result, the Islamic Republic has been trying to reflag part of its cargo fleet. That has increased the cost of exporting oil, hence decreasing income from this vital industry. Who ultimately pays for this? The most vulnerable layers of the society do.
(2) The most important European oil companies have withdrawn from Iran's oil and natural gas projects, and have stopped supplying gasoline to Iran. Even Iran Air is encountering difficulties, with many European airports refusing to handle its passenger flights. Japan gave up its share in the gigantic Azadegan oil field. The Khatami administration had predicted that Iran would need $100 billion in investments over a 20-year period just to keep its share of the oil market, of which $40-50 billion was supposed to be supplied by foreign oil companies. The Khatami administration succeeded in attracting large European oil companies to the Iranian market, but Ahmadinejad and his team have scared them away, hence endangering the future of Iran's oil and natural gas industry. Under the Khatami administration Asalouyeh, a port city on the shores of the Persian Gulf, became a thriving city with tens of thousands of high-paying engineering and other technical jobs; now it is almost deserted. Who has paid for this fiasco? The middle class.
The squeeze on Iran's oil and natural gas sector has been so severe that Khatam-o Anbia, the Revolutionary Guards' engineering arm, abandoned phases 15 and 16 of the development of the gigantic South Pars natural gas field because it could not carry out the project without European participation. Mehdi Bazaargan, a high-ranking Ministry of Oil official, has conceded that the cost of carrying out energy projects in Iran has doubled over the past few years, chiefly due to the sanctions. But do not worry about Khatam-ol Anbia. It has signed other contracts with the Ahmadinejad administration worth $21 billion.
(3) Many Japanese and South Korean corporations have reduced, or eliminated altogether, their dealings with Iran, fearing U.S. sanctions.
(4) Not only has oil production decreased by 141 million barrels, Iran has also had difficulty selling what it does produce. Major buyers, such as Japan, Malaysia, and even China, have reduced their oil imports from Iran and turned increasingly to Saudi Arabia as a supplier. Who pays for this? The lower and middle classes do, because with less money to spend, there are far fewer opportunities for employment and development.
(5) The EU vetoed Iran's participation in the Nabucco pipeline that is being built to transport natural gas from the Caspian Sea area to Turkey and Europe. There had been talk of Iran supplying part of the natural gas through a pipeline that it is building from the southern to the western part of the country. Once again, due to Ahmadinejad's foreign policy -- if it is even deserving of the name -- an opportunity to make Iran indispensable to Europe was lost, probably forever.
(6) In April, Daimler Benz announced that it would sell its 30 percent share in the production of Iranian diesel engines that have been used for years in producing large trucks in Iran. Toyota has also withdrawn from the Iranian market. The automotive industry is one of the country's largest, employing hundreds of thousands.
(7) The cost of banking and insurance for foreign trade has increased dramatically.
Together with the impact on the oil sector, this represents the most visible effect of the sanctions. Due to the official and unofficial sanctions that the EU countries have imposed on Iran, the cost of commerce with the EU has increased dramatically, about 30 percent. One prominent consequence was the sudden surge in the rate of exchange between the dollar and Iran's currency, the rial. A few weeks ago the rate suddenly shot up around 30 percent, followed by a huge rush to exchange rials for dollars. It got so bad that the Central Bank was forced to prohibit the sale of large amounts of dollars and had to intervene to bring down the rate of exchange. Whenever the rate of exchange between the dollar and rial increases, so also do the prices of many essential commodities. But though the government routinely brings the rate back down, the prices stay up. Who profits most from this? The Mafia-like network of corporations and individuals that are linked with the Revolutionary Guards and security and intelligence forces, and the reactionary clerics profits. Who is hurt most by this? The most vulnerable strata of the society -- those who live on fixed incomes, day laborers, and similar groups.
(8) Because the sanctions force Iran to buy certain items in the black market, it must also pay higher prices and wait longer to receive them, which is itself costly.
(9) Due to the climate that has been created as a result of the sanctions, Iran must pay considerably higher interest rates for any loan that it receives. In addition, it must also pay higher interests to attract buyers for any bonds that it offers in the international market.
(10) A hotly debated subject and a source of friction between Ahmadinejad and the Majles (parliament) has been the fifth development program. The sanctions may delay the program, and will surely lead to a drop in foreign investments. The Ahmadinejad administration has already been severely criticized for not implementing the fourth development program initiated during the Khatami administration.
(11) Political repression, social restrictions, and the terrible state of the economy caused by the sanctions and the incompetence of the Ahmadinejad administration have caused a severe brain drain. Many of the best and brightest of Iran's educated youth have been leaving the country at a rapid pace. The brain drain is nothing new. It actually began during Khatami's second term, when it became clear that the hardliners would not allow him to implement his reforms. It has accelerated dramatically since 2007, and particularly in the aftermath of last year's rigged presidential election. Every single day I receive at least one or two emails from outstanding students in Iran, asking me to accept them into my research program or help them gain admittance to my university in other engineering disciplines. By comparison, a couple of years ago, I received one or two such emails every two weeks. My academic friends and colleagues around the United States tell me the same thing. It is impossible to estimate the economic cost and implications of such a brain drain.
The sanctions have also generated considerable friction between the government and the powerful merchants of the bazaar -- as the business district in Tehran and all the major cities is known. The cash-strapped government has been trying to impose a value-added tax on gold, silver, and other precious metals, as well as other pricey items. The bazaar, backed by traditional conservative political parties, such as the Islamic Coalition Party, has resisted the tax. It went on strike for a brief period, and may do so again.
The government has threatened to use the Basij militia to control the bazaar. Like practically everything else, dealing with the bazaar has become a security issue for the hardliners.
An official or unofficial ban on the export of gasoline to Iran will be particularly painful, and it is already partially implemented. About one million Iranians work in the transportation sector of the economy, and millions more depend on the sector for employment and to carry their products to markets. With much fanfare, the Ahmadinejad administration announced that it had reached self-sufficiency in gasoline production by converting some petrochemical plants. However, the gasoline produced by these plants constitutes a major health hazard. The idea was first discussed during the Khatami administration and rejected by then Minister of Oil Bijan Namdar-Zangeneh due both to the heath risks and the negative impact on the petrochemical industry. Indeed, the export of many petrochemical products has ceased, while at the same time the government still imports gasoline. Clearly, the domestic industries that depend on petrochemical products, such as plastics and polymers, have also been hurt, exacerbating the unemployment problem. Despite this, there remains considerable ambiguity in the price of gasoline and whether the government still intends to ration it. One reason: If the price of gasoline is too high, in addition to its direct effect on every commodity, it will also negatively affect the automotive industry.
This is, of course, true about any industry. If, for example, Iran's car industry is sanctioned effectively by the French and South Korean firms that operate in Iran, or go bankrupt due to high price of gasoline and its scarcity, not only will hundreds of thousands of car industry workers will lose their jobs, the employment of those in closely related fields, such as the steel industry, will also be threatened. Once again, the most vulnerable strata of the society is hurt, while the fat cats of the military- and security-led industries grow ever fatter.
Some statistics are telling: Iran's foreign debt currently stands at $31.53 billion, implying 34 percent growth over last year. The income from oil exports has decreased by $16 billion, while oil production has declined by 141 million barrels. The ratio of imports to exports is nearly 2:1. The official rate of unemployment is 14.6 percent, though it is believed by practically all economists that the actual rate is nearly 30 percent, when severe underemployment is taken into account. As for the inflation rate, the Majles report states that it has increased from 10 percent in 2005 (the last year of Khatami's presidency) to 25 percent in 2008. Over the last several months the price of 29 basic commodities has increased dramatically, and people are frightened.
Sober heads have warned that sanctions are hurting the nation deeply. Rafsanjani has said repeatedly that the sanctions are not a joke and must be taken seriously. The research center of the Majles, headed by Ahmad Tavakoli, just released a report that declared a recession and described the state of the economy as "dangerous." The annual rate of economic growth has been estimated at 1.6 percent, a paltry figure. The report said that the government has run out of cash and cannot pay for goods and services that it receives from the private sector, exacerbating the problem. The Khatami administration had estimated that Iran needs annual growth rates of 8-10 percent just to keep unemployment around 10 percent.
At the same time, with the planned elimination of subsidies on many commodities, Iranian society is essentially waiting for an explosion in the price of everything. There are many reports, including from my own family members and relatives, that people are stockpiling basic commodities, fearing that the increase in the prices -- which has already begun -- will be so steep that they will no longer be able to afford certain items.
Despite the terrible situation, the many indications that Iran's economy is spiraling downward, and the fact that it is the ordinary people that are paying the cost of the hardliners' policies, the idiotic proclamations by the hardliners and their cronies have continued. Minister of Finance Sayyed Shamsoddin Hosseini has declared that sanctions have made Iran much stronger, but did not say in what sense. Mahmoud Bahmani, Governor of Iran's Central Bank, stated that sanctions will reduce imports of nonessential products, hence helping reduce the price of other goods. Minister of Health Marziyeh Vahid Dastjerdi (wife of Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of Kayhan, the hardliners' mouthpiece) claimed that, due to the sanctions, Iran's pharmaceutical industry has reached almost 100 percent self-sufficiency. A military commander boasts that despite the Security Council sanctions, Iran is now exporting military equipment to many countries.
This brings us to another fiasco created by the Ahmadinejad administration. The cargo from an Iranian port that supposedly had building materials was confiscated in Nigeria. It turned out to contain 107-mm rockets, ammunition, and other arms. The Nigerian government reported the incident to the Security Council as a violation of the sanctions imposed on Iran. Iranian Ambassador Hussein Abdullahi could not handle the delicate situation. Foreign Minister Mottaki had to travel to Nigeria to explain what had happened, acknowledging that the arms were from Iran, but claiming that they were intended for Gambia. True or not, the claim is a blow to Iran's relatively close relations with Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on three sides.
Despite their rhetoric, none of the hardliners are willing to answer a simple question: If all the claims are true, why does Iran, a dynamic, resource-rich nation, with a young and educated population, sitting in the most strategic area on the globe, need sanctions by nearly every major nation to spur its economy, reach "self-sufficiency," and become a power to reckon with? Why does Iran become self-sufficient in producing gasoline (which is actually not true) only after the threat of worldwide sanctions looms?
At the same time, the hardliners' actions betray the superficiality of their self-confidence.
Minister of Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami has refused to specify the poverty line for income, below which a family of four is considered to be in absolute poverty. Even if he is inclined to do so, he cannot, because prices of the most essential goods have been changing on weekly or even daily basis, mostly upward. Even declaring the prices of essential commodities is becoming a security issue, with some Revolutionary Guard and security officials threatening to punish those who worry people with such issues.
The United States and its allies have been claiming all along that the sanctions are not intended to increase the hardships of the Iranian people, but only to punish the regime. It has become clear that the claim is bogus. Even President Obama, while expressing his "concerns" for the Iranian people, has said that he believes they should blame their leaders for their plight.
Are Sanctions Good for the Green Movement?
I should first stress that both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the leaders of the Green Movement, have emphatically opposed the sanctions. In October 2009 Mousavi warned against imposing sanctions on Iran, declaring, "Sanctions would not affect the government but would impose many hardships upon the people, who suffer enough as a result of the calamity of their insane rulers." This past May, before the approval of Security Council Resolution 1929, he said, "The issue of sanctions has been raised against our nation. Although we think this situation arose from tactless and adventurous foreign policies, we are against it because it will affect people's lives."
In an interview with the Guardian, Karroubi said, "On the one hand, the government's mishandling of the economy has resulted in deep recession and increasing inflation inside the country.... On the other hand, we have sanctions that are just strengthening the illegitimate government." He added, "Look at Cuba and North Korea. Have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given [their governments] the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention."
Dr. Amir Ardeshir Arjomand, a top Mousavi advisor, said, "The international community must not punish workers, teachers and deprived sectors of the Iranian nation." He observed that average Iranians are being punished for the actions of "a president who lacks legitimacy among the people," and that, "contrary to baseless claims, the sanctions will have a clear effect on the day-to-day lives of the people -- therefore the Green Movement wants an end to the economic sanctions. The harm resulting from these sanctions has a direct impact on the situation of the people's livelihoods and will create basic problems for using national resources."
Every major figure in the opposition inside Iran has asserted the same time and again. All the major reformist groups have issued statements against the sanctions, while holding Ahmadinejad and the hardliners partly responsible for them. Dr. Ali Shakouri Rad (who was recently detained for a brief period), a member of the central committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist group, stated, "The government will say that critics of their policies are doing the foreigners' bidding" and will use sanctions as a pretext to silence opponents.
It is amply clear that the opposition to the hardliners inside Iran correctly observes that sanctions hurt only the most vulnerable strata of Iranian society. The sanctions are also viewed by the hardliners as a "God-sent" gift -- an excuse for suppressing political dissidents and linking them with foreign powers. Sanctions are also used to hide the utter incompetence, corruption, and Mafia-like operations of the hardliners.
It is estimated that 60 percent of Iran's official economy is controlled by the government. Almost all of Iran's underground economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, the security apparatus, the hardline clerics, and their cronies. Thus there can be no economic sanctions that both hurt the hardliners and spare the ordinary people. Moreover, who benefits most from the sanctions? The same groups that control the underground economy.
Despite the emphatic opposition of every major Green Movement figure in Iran to sanctions, and the glaring fact that it is ordinary Iranians who are suffering most from them, a few public figures among the opposition in the diaspora support the sanctions. They rationalize their position with some of the most absurd arguments, to put it extremely politely. Some are the usual opportunist culprits, the ones that change their positions all the time just to be recognized as "leaders." One, for example, was a communist, then an ardent supporter of Khatami, then turned against the Reform Movement, then was at the forefront of an ill-advised attempt to force the hardliners to hold a referendum, then became a supporter of the Green Movement, and is now a proponent of the sanctions. When George W. Bush ordered the American invasion of Iraq, the same person declared that to get rid of the Islamic Republic "we need the U.S. pickaxe," seemingly supporting military attacks on Iran. Another one of these characters was an ardent supporter of the neoconservatives and what Bush was doing in Iraq -- to the extent that he was referred to an Iranian neocon -- and is supposedly a member of an Iranian republican group. Others include the supporters of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization and a faction of the monarchists. (I do not suggest that the monarchists and the MKO are allied or ideologically similar.)
Most interestingly, such supporters of the sanctions have become bedfellows with the neoconservatives and the Israel lobby that advocate exactly the same thing. This is not really surprising. When one supporter of the sanctions stated during the Bush era that Iranians need the U.S. pickaxe, when another one enthusiastically supported and justified whatever Bush did, when John Bolton shows up at the MKO demonstrations, and when the neocons support them in any way they can, why should anyone be surprised? As such Iranian supporters of sanctions are in fact quite scarce, the neocons have even begun lying, claiming that many well-known supporters of the Green Movement actually support the sanctions -- see this fascinating article by Ali Gharib.
It is instructive to see how such Iranian supporters of the sanctions rationalize their position.
Economic pressure on the people will be transferred to the ruling elite and change their behavior.
First of all, there is no credible evidence that this will happen. In fact, based on historical trends, both in Iran and elsewhere, the opposite is true. Not only will the hardliners not change their position as a result of the sanctions, they will almost certainly become more tightly bound to it. Dr. Habibollah Payman, leader of Jonbesh-e Mosalmaanaan-e Mobaarez (Movement of Militant Muslims), a group within the E'telaaf-e Melli-Mazhabi (Nationalist-Religious Coalition) perhaps put it best when he said,
When the government is threatened by economic sanctions, and feels that they threatened its existence, its reaction will not be limited to some aspects of its policies. The view of the ruling establishing of the economic sanctions, together with political and psychological pressure and military threats, is that they threaten its existence. Thus, it feels utterly insecure and finds itself in a defensive posture and, therefore, it does not think it as wise to retreat, because it is well aware that any retreat will advance the opposition and increase and accentuate its pressure that may ultimately lead to the loss of power and destroying the instability and equilibrium of the political system.
Thus, it is possible, as we also witnessed [how the ruling elite dealt with the Green Movement] and we guess that it [the present state of affairs] will continue, the defensive reactions of the state will continue to be confrontational. What is the root cause of the defensive reaction? Under the conditions in which the political system is unstable, the unhappiness and dissatisfaction inside the country that potentially exist may lead to protests, and thus [the state] will increase its pressure on the society. Freedom becomes more limited and social movement and civic actions are controlled more tightly. We have already seen that as the sanctions have become stronger over the past five years, the state's pressure on the people has also increased. Thus, unlike what some people believe -- that increasing the pressure on the people will change the behavior of the state -- the change takes place in the opposition direction.
As the government's pressure on the people increases, their protests will also increase, ultimately forcing the government to change its behavior or even change the political system.
Such an argument assumes that both the people and the government behave rationally under pressure. In fact, as Payman put it, there are two types of behavior and reactions in a pressured atmosphere. One type is emotional, or irrational. First, the people confront the state. The confrontation eventually turns violent and the people become aware that their own power is far overshadowed by that of the pro-regime forces. That prompts two primary responses. Some people isolate themselves and try to forget what happened through, and some try to attach themselves to a center of power to attain a modicum of comfort and security. A small fraction of the people may continue to confront the state, however ineffectively.
This state of affairs continues, according to Payman, until conditions change very significantly. For example, the state feels that it has total control and thus lowers the pressure -- it enacts some reforms to make people's lives better, and the society becomes more open. It is under such conditions that creative resistance to the government begins. Led by the better informed and more educated strata, it begins in the cultural realm and represents a long-term form of resistance that can ultimately change the system.
There is the threat of military attacks on Iran. Economic sanctions make such attacks less likely.
This is a totally bogus argument. First, tough economic sanctions are tantamount to war. Recall that the terrible economic sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s ruined that society and caused a large number of deaths, estimates for which ranged from 170,000 to 1.5 million. The UNICEF estimate was 500,000, most of them children. In 1999, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said,
If the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states: "Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war."
Second, sanctions can be a prelude to military war. Iraq is again a good example. When George W. Bush was elected president, he was determined to attack Iraq. One of his administration's main claims was that the world had tried sanctions against Iraq and that they had failed. Even if we assume that the Obama administrative does not want to attack Iran, arguing for and supporting sanctions establishes a narrative that can be used by the next president to rationalize an attack.
Third, an argument that Iranian supporters of sanctions often make is that sanctions worked in the case of South Africa. While sanctions did have some effect on the apartheid regime, mainly because the South African economy was heavily dependent on investments by and trade with Western countries, they were not the primary reason why the ruling white minority gave up power. Rather, white leaders recognized that by resisting the black majority, whites would eventually lose everything -- both political and economic power -- whereas by relinquishing their hold on political power they could preserve their economic strength. That is indeed what has happened. Sixteen years after Nelson Mandela was first elected South Africa's first black president, whites still control much of the country's wealth.
Make no mistake: Those who claim to be supporters of the Green Movement, but also support the sanctions, have a hidden agenda: to discredit the Movement and present themselves as the "secular democratic alternative." They are neither democrats, nor do they represent an alternative, as they have no popular base within Iran.
Those who are true supporters of democracy and the Green Movement in Iran say no to economic sanctions, no to war and the threat of war, and support the movement and its leaders in Iran who have also rejected economic sanctions and war.
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