• 22 December 2010
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • Events in Iran, Sanctions

Engineering Economic Suffering

After hearing Ahmadinejad’s announcement on Sunday of the first phase of subsidy cuts, the world is watching and waiting to see what will come out of eliminating 30 year-old oil subsidies for Iranian citizens. With economic sanctions already taking a toll and the beginning of cuts on subsidies coming into effect, ordinary Iranians continue to bear the brunt of US pressure and Iran’s economic mismanagement.

Ahmadinejad claims that cutting oil subsidies will help the ailing Iranian economy. Given Iran’s already high rate of inflation – estimated to be around 20 percent – the Iranian government’s latest move could spark even more inflation and carries significant economic risk.

According to Tehran Bureau, the subsidy cuts are already causing a ripple effect on prices of goods and services:

“The price of electricity has tripled from 0.75 cents/KWh to 2.2 cents/KWh. The price of water has similarly increased by a factor of three. The price of natural gas for home heating and cooking has increased by a factor of four, and for vehicle fuel by a factor of ten. The price of flour has increased by a factor of 40.”

But before proponents of “crippling” Iran’s economy begin dancing in the streets, they should consider two factors.

First, while Ahmadinejad emphasizes that subsidy cuts are about distributing Iran’s economic wealth in a more equitable way, there is clearly another issue at hand: the subsidies have been a cancer in Iran’s budget for years.

As the USIP’s Iran Primer on “The Subsidies Conundrum” explains:

“Subsidies have been costly. They were estimated to eat up around 25 percent of Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) of $335 billion in 2009. Subsidies for energy products alone accounted for 10 percent of Iran’s GDP in 2010, according to the World Bank.”

The Iranian government has attempted to cut the subsidies multiple times, but always been rebuffed by popular pressure.  But as GWU Professor Hossein Askari and NIAC President Trita Parsi warned in a New York Times op-ed from last year, the sanctions appear to be “throwing Ahmadinejad a lifeline” by providing him with the political cover to cut the subsidies and remove this cancer.  It is no accident that Ahmadinejad finally succeeded in cutting subsidies after the sanctions on refined petroleum were imposed.

Secondly, the response to the price shocks that have resulted from the subsidy cuts has been calm so far.  Jason Rezaian at the Global Post writes, “Despite steep price increases for everything from bread to gasoline, the Iranian public here has so far remained relatively calm,” though he cautions that “the impact of some of the price hikes, such as electricity and water, won’t be felt for weeks.”

William Yong at the New York Times echoes this point:

“Seemingly unaffected by a sharp increase in gasoline prices that went into effect at midnight on Sunday, drivers jammed the streets here on Monday after the government lifted traffic restrictions aimed at reducing severe air pollution.”

Compare this to one year ago when thousands of protesters turned out during Ashura to demonstrate against the injustices in the aftermath of the June elections – despite the massive presence of the riot police and basij.  US policymakers like freshman Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) who want Washington to engineer economic suffering so that ordinary Iranians revolt against their government should take notice. Iranians were on the streets protesting last year not because of economic hardship but to fight for their right to basic civil liberties.  Perhaps it is difficult for ordinary Iranian citizens to think about the prospects of improving civil liberties when they are being squeezed from all sides and can’t even provide a simple noon-o-panir (bread and cheese) for their families.

As Askari and Parsi pointed out last year, sanctions proponents who “believe that increased economic pressure would cause Iranians to revolt against their unpopular rulers,” were engaging in “a fundamental misreading of the psychology of an embargoed people.”

Posted By Lily Samimi

    One Response to “Engineering Economic Suffering”

  1. Pirouz says:

    First of all, multiple polls show that a majority of Iranians inside Iran support their government, and four independent polls actually mirror the official results of the 2009 election:



    Second, according to a WPO poll, a majority of Iranians inside Iran are more supportive of measures aimed at enhancing national security than they are civil liberties.

    Third, according to the IPI poll, a solid majority of Iranians inside Iran support the law enforcement crackdown following the 2009 election (such as the Ashura rioting in Tehran last year).

    It is evident that NIAC is supporting vocal minority positions held by Iranians inside Iran, numbering roughly around 30% of Iran’s electorate. Put another way, it is supporting positions and viewpoints that are at odds with the majority of Iranians inside Iran, roughly 60% of the electorate.

    Please take this into consideration when advocating on behalf of “the Iranian people.”

    Let it be known that if the Ahmadinejad administration is successful with this economic reform–performed in the midst of being a target of economic warfare–it will be the country’s biggest accomplishment since the military’s liberation of Khuzestan during the war, or even the popularly attained sovereign independence achieved by the revolution itself.

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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