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Dispatch | Iranians May Vote, But Would They Fight?


17 Feb 2012 16:24Comments
13900929204412680_PhotoL.jpgListening to the word on the streets, in the cabs, and at the dentist's office.

[ first person ] Almost everybody I talk to is under financial pressure. Many contractors are owed money by the governmental organizations, but not the ones that are part of the "khodi" [us] crowd. The war fears have subsided somewhat, but people are still very stressed out. A business owner tells me that workers who voted for Ahmadinejad back in 2005 are now all outspoken critics of the regime. Some who are young enough to be drafted in the event of a war say they will refuse to pick up a gun.

I said to a friend that I think the upcoming vote for the Majles [on March 2] will have a very poor turnout, but he responded that, on the contrary, many will show up. I asked him why and he gave his brother's situation as an example. His brother is doing his medical service [mandatory after graduating medical school] by treating people in some small village in the middle of nowhere. He said when the time comes for him to apply for a license to open up a medical practice, they will check his shenasnameh [birth certificate, which is stamped as a voting record], and if he has not voted, they will not grant him the license. This was shocking, but not totally unexpected, to hear. Khamenei needs a good turnout for the elections, both to demonstrate the "legitimacy" of his rule and to "prove" that the opposition does not have vast support, and the regime is trying to do what it can to motivate the population to vote.

If you want to get an accurate feel for how the population views the current developments, you should ride a cab. The drivers of all the taxicabs I have ridden in this past month expressed their opposition to the regime and how it is dealing with America and handling the nuclear issue. If the monthly cash handouts [in lieu of subsidies that have been slashed on household food and energy] into people's bank accounts stop, there is a very good chance it will be the spark that brings people into the streets. [According to reports Thursday, the government was forced to borrow about $6 billion from the Central Bank to distribute the latest handouts.]

But walk down any street and the shops are full of goods, and there are plenty of shoppers. On the surface it comes across as normal, but when you talk to people, there is real anger, frustration, stress, and fear. Prices of imported items have doubled. A Nokia phone that was 52,000 tomans [$25 at the unofficial exchange rate and $43 at the official rate] two months ago is now 89,000 tomans. Business that was being conducted through postdated checks is no longer happening. Put cash on the table; otherwise, no deal. People I owe money to have started court proceedings, and their phone calls are getting uglier by the day. I was surprised to get a phone call from the accounting department of a hospital I owed money to, as I thought the last place there would be financial problems would be a hospital, but it is a private hospital and has hundreds of personnel. The caller was hysterical and screaming at me to pay up or else.

In general, I would say a majority have lost confidence in the government's ability to solve the domestic problems and feel that they should compromise with the West and get the nuclear issue settled. My own view is that there will not be a war, but the financial pressure will increase substantially and the average Iranian is going to really start suffering. The likelihood that this will cause the regime to compromise and deal with the demands of the West is very low, but the possibility that they buckle as a result of the groundswell of anger is palpable.

People also really got pissed off for having their email cut off for three days. What has got people upset, as well, is the feeling that their assets have lost half their value, as a result of the rial losing its value against the dollar. One dentist who I know sold an apartment at half its value in order to get the money out to his relatives, but then he found out that, instead of paying 200 rials for each dollar to make the transfer, he had to pay 1,000 rials, and on top of this he is running out of imported [dental] materials and is considering closing down. If the most minor military confrontation with the outside world takes place, it will make it impossible to sell property and that will be when the economy will be shaken hard, whereas at the moment those with money are snapping up bargains and even people with money outside of Iran are buying as they are getting huge discounts. The pressure to reach an agreement during the upcoming nuclear talks is tremendous and, hopefully, they will deal, but if they do not, then things will get much worse here.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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