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Iran: A Model or a Warning?

Iran: A Model or a Warning?

Friday, 30 December, 2022 - 06:00
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

Have you wondered why so many Iranians have been marching against the Islamic Republic for more than three months?

Here are two answers:

1- “The current disturbances are caused because the American Great Satan is envious of the achievements of our Islamic Revolution,” says Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

2- “Today, the Islamic Republic is the world’s number one power. The outside world is not informed enough about our mind-boggling achievements,” says Friday Prayer Leader for Tehran Ayatollah Kazem Sadiqi.

Well, what are those achievements the world doesn’t know about?

There is no doubt that since the Khomeinist sect seized power some 43 years ago, Iran has undergone dramatic changes.

In 1977, on the eve of the revolution, Iran had a population of 38 million. The number today is approaching 88 million. In 1977, there were an estimated 35,000 Iranians living abroad. That number today is estimated at around 8 million.

In the decade that preceded the revolution, Iran experienced an annual economic growth rate averaging 7 percent. In the past four decades, however, that rate has averaged at around 3.5 percent. In the past decade the rate has been almost zero. According to Iranian official statistics Iran’s growth domestic product (GDP) per head has shrunk by 40 percent.

In the two decades preceding the revolution, the inflation rate in Iran was around 2.2 per annum. Since the revolution it has hovered around 20 percent, running at around 45 percent in 2022. In 1977, Iran’s foreign trade was spread among 72 nations. By 1990 80 percent of Iran’s foreign trade was with 23 countries. In 2022 over 56 percent of Iran’s trade was with only three countries: Iraq, the UAE and China.

Since the revolution the percentage of Iranians living below “absolute poverty” has increased from 7 percent in 1977 to 18.4 percent in 2022. At the same time the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. The rich have become 14 times richer than the poor compared to around 10 times in 2000.

The nation’s labor market has plunged from one crisis to another. The mullahs “suspended” the pre-revolution Labor Code, claiming they would introduce a new Islamic one which they have so far failed to do. As a result, some 60 percent of those in work lack standard unemployment and health insurance cover. Unemployment rate, estimated at around 4 percent in 1977 had risen to 12.5 percent in 2021, according to official figures. Unemployment rate for young men, however, was around 22 percent and for young women over 30 percent.

In the past four decades the number of people attending higher education has risen from one million in 1977 to over 2.1 million, an impressive jump but, in fact, stagnation when we remember that Iran’s population has more than doubled.

Also impressive is the fact that women represent more than 50 percent of those attending higher education. Yet, the figure becomes less impressive when we see that women’s active participation in national economy is one-fifth that of men with comparable education.

There are several areas in which the Iran is world number one.

According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) with over 150,000 highly-educated Iranians choosing exile each year, it is number one in the brain drain league.

It is also number-one, relative to population, in the number of executions each year.

Iran also claims top spots in the number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and foreign hostages.

Moreover, Iran is the only state to have been labeled “a sponsor of international terrorism” by more than 40 countries.

Apart from South Africa under Apartheid, Iran is also alone among UN member-state to be formally expelled from one of its committees.

According to Transparency International, Iran is one of the most corrupt regimes in the world, ranking 150 among 180 nations.

While life expectancy rose from 62 years in 1977 to 78.6 in 2021, Iran’s birth-rate has fallen from 6.24 percent to 2.15 percent with an accelerating trend that, according to official studies, could lead to a shrinking population by 2030.

Iran is also world number one in age difference between the general population and those running the government. While average age of Iranians was 31 in 2021, average age of rulers, those holding the top 5,000 civilian and military offices, works out at over 60.

The ruling elite, mainly consisting of Shiite clerics and military-security apparatchiki, is also less educated than the average urban Iranians.

Iranians are keenly aware of the fact that their ruling elite do not resemble them.

Compared with a snapshot of high officials meeting the “Supreme Guide”, a snapshot of Iranians in any of the nation’s 900 or so towns and cities would show sharp differences in appearance, clothing, body language and, if sound is added, even vocabulary and accents.

The sense of alienation is further strengthened by the fact that the average Iranian reads more books, sees more films, listens to more and more varied music, is more technologically literate, is far less religious, and enjoys art and culture more than the ruling elite.

More importantly, perhaps, the ruling elite consist largely of a network of around 200 families with clerical, military-security and bazaar backgrounds.

It may be that there is no other country where the ruling elite, a caste apart, is so unlike the people it dominates by force and propaganda.

A controversial study by a Tehran University professor also claims that the average IQ of the ruling elite is lower than that of average Iranians.

While there are many Iranians who achieve international distinction in art, literature, cinema, media, sciences and business, none of the top members of the ruling elite could offer a comparable resume.

Their military chiefs never won any battle, their politicians never solved any problems and their diplomats never turned a foe into a friend.

Interestingly, or rather sadly, the middle and lower echelons of this bizarre regime include many men and women with higher education, expertise and intellectual integrity who are systematically shut out of decision-making.

Ayatollah Khamenei believes or pretends that his regime is a model for “all nations”. The many Iranians now in open rebellion believe that it is a curse for their nation and a warning to others.

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