ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Iran: Un pays à l’isolement
by Chirin Yamini
Translated Sunday 29 January 2012, by Derek Hansonand reviewed by
The people’s sufferings are spreading dangerously.
The effects of sanctions and embargos are mostly felt by the common people. Ahmadinejad’s government pursues the same policies despite the West’s injunctions.
From our special correspondent in Tehran.
In Tehran’s great bazaar, crawling and majestic as ever, just as in the one in Tajrich on the mountainside, a foreigner will meet with friendly smiles and fraternal signs. But the shock comes right after, on finding that there is not one Western traveller, just a very few Africans, or Chinese. In two years everything has changed. Also troubling in the side-streets are beggars holding out their hands, and fugitive vendors in the oh-so- stylish underground. Iran, where it is now impossible to fly non-stop owing to the embargo on kerosene against Iran Air Company, is on the list of unsafe destinations. The French Foreign Affairs ministry has issued a communiqué warning that it was dangerous to visit Persia. So the war has already started, a “psychological war”, and an ill-advised one, against a state whose leaders supported a demonstration against the United Kingdom outside the UK embassy where British flags were burnt.
The tension, which has been building for eight years, suddenly grew worse last November 8. An IAAE (International Agency for Atomic Energy) report evoked the “possible military dimension” of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran denied it and invited the IAAE to come back. US President Obama and French President Sarkozy – there was a time when Paris did not automatically follow Washington; these days Paris pre-empts Washington’s demands – now demand an embargo, not just on the banks but also on Iran’s oil. Now Iran is OPEC’s second biggest oil exporter. Iran draws 80% (90 billion euro) of its foreign currencies from its oil sales. The European Union, where Iran exports 18% of its oil, to some countries’ great displeasure, feels constrained to agree to that measure despite its extraordinary consequences, of which none of the top officials seem to be aware.
Japan, one of those US allies that have kept close ties with Iran, seems to be resigned, but South Korea - both these countries import 10% of their oil consumption from Iran – is bent on resisting the injunction. Never before in the course of history have US pressures been so strong. Tehran has planned a retaliation. If the worst comes to the worst it will close the Ormuz Strait, the transit route for 40% of the world’s oil exports by sea, which Iran co-manages with Oman. “It’s ever so easy,” explained Mohammad Rea Rahimi, the vice-president. And to prove his point mentioned the Velayat 90 manoeuvres in the Gulf in late December. “We ask the other countries in the Persian Gulf to join us,” he said, pointing to the “intolerable” presence of the US army all over the region or nearly, and obviously ignoring that its “partners”, the monarchic dictatorships that enjoy the West’s unquestioning support, are in debt to the US. The closing of the Strait would immediately trigger a US military retaliation. We would be placed in the “logic of war”.
But no doubt Iran is not isolated. Chinese, Russians and Indians have replaced Westerners in the oil and gas sectors. Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who is rumoured to have lost the favour of the Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, keeps vaunting the “excellence” of Iran’s relations with Russia, China, Turkey, and Caucasian countries and many African and Latin-American countries. If Syria is going through a storm, Iran now has allies in Bagdad and Beirut. For Ahmadinedjad, setting relations with the West above any other is a “cliché”.
And then there is the “Islamic awakening” (Tehran will not call it the Arab Spring). In Tehran’s eyes the Islamic successes in Tunisia and Egypt are good omens. “Of course they will not model themselves on Iran,” Ahmadinedjad concedes. Gaddafi’s fall is a blessing in his opinion. Unlike the Western press, the Iranian press also mentions daily uprisings in Saud Arabia and in Bahrein. But it is more timid on Syria.
Already Iran, the Iranian people, are suffering from the sanctions. Wages do not rise proportionately to the galloping rate of inflation (+20%), the rial gets devalued by the week, while the minimum wage (250 euro) stagnates. There are few prospects for the Iranian youth who hunger after democracy, social justice and peace, and are remarkably well educated. “We are caught in a vice. The embargo, the prospect of a war frighten us. This regime is all in the service of the privileged people, who can make the best of it,” says Maliheh, a twenty-two-year-old female Art student .
Another defensive ploy used by the religious rulers is to prove that the embargo has a limited impact. Thus foreign investments in Iran have gone up by 124% in a year according to (unlikely) official figures. On December 21, it was Yalda night, the longest night, according to a millennial tradition from the ancient zoroastrian religion. Never had the State TV broadcast so many culinary recipes – with fruit if possible – and advice in order that Iranian families enjoy that precious time of reconciliation when everyone makes wishes…
Banned by the West, this country of 75 million inhabitants, exalts its culture, its roots, in order to conjure away a dull future. The general elections in March, in which the former “modernist” president Muhamad Khatami might stand as candidate, will also be a crucial day for the region.