• 20 June 2011
  • Posted By Sahar Fahimi
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iranian Youth, Sanctions, UN

On June 15, 2011, Akbar Ganji published an article,”The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look,” on BBC Persian, examining the economy of Iran and the effects of the international sanctions on it. NIAC’s Ali Tayebi and Sahar Fahimi have translated this article from Ganji’s original pen, Persian, to English.  This is the second half of the article; the first half is here.

The worst possible situation

Ayatollah Khamenei will never accept to retreat in Iran nuclear project. His policy in the Middle East and North Africa to support the extremist activities and calling the ongoing changes across the region “Islamic Revolution” soured the anti-Iran atmosphere, and put Persian Gulf countries in an confrontational position with Iran.

In this situation, what option remains for the Western countries other than increasing political and economic sanctions?

Let us assume that the western countries succeed in sanctioning all Iranian banks. Let us assume that this sanction also includes Iran’s fuel, and Iran is put in a situation similar to Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s era. In this case, the unemployment rate in Iran will increase by millions, poverty will be expanded all over the country and the middle class will merge into the lower class. Tens of thousands of children and the elderly will lose their lives.

Would this situation lead to protests or cause a revolution? Thousands of different issues could lead to the collapse of the totalitarian religious regime, however, no one can predict that increasing unemployment and poverty will cause protests or spark a revolution. Consider Iraq, the toughest economic sanctions in ten years destroyed the Iraqi society, but did not hurt Saddam’s regime and at the end he stepped down only by military attack and invasion.

In the same situation, as long as the regime has power and intention to systemically crackdown any protests and critique, it will continue to survive. Decline in any of these two factors is a prerequisite for regime change.

A regime that can and yearns to remain in power by a broad crackdown, will sustain until these factors have changed.

Economy and Collapse

Still, some people believe that economy is a determining factor. They imagine that the economic infrastructure forms political, philosophical, moral, and ideological superstructures. Karl Marx in preface of his book, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, says: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”

There are four levels in Marx’s theory: 1) Production forces, 2) production relations, 3) laws and political institutions, 4) consciousness forms.  The blue-collar class becomes poorer every day until they reach class-consciousness, and finally, they tear down the Bourgeoisie by a brutal revolution. In Marx’s theory, the economic situation of the blue-collar class must become increasingly worse in order to have a revolutionary evolution and collapse.

Antonio Gramsci tried to correct this model. According to him, superstructures play an important role in creating public awareness. Hegemony and organized satisfaction, as a process that obedience will come without being solicited, are some of the issues that Marx calls superstructure.

Regimes with ideological superstructure are not the only ones who create satisfaction; opposition groups can also use the same formula to create values in superstructures in order to mobilize people against the existing situation.

In a reclining economy, securing their own well being and enduring the tough times become the crucial issues for people. Poor people work day and night to earn enough money to survive. For them, democracy, freedom, and human rights are considered luxury and unnecessary goods.

If we look at regime change experiences, poverty and unemployment do not play an important role; to the contrary, a nation enters a period of fast economic growth and the public’s monetary situation slightly improves, ‘revolution of expectations’ happens. A dictatorship cannot address raising expectations in a fast growing economy. Revolutions happen because of raising expectations in a proper economic growth or in a situation that after a long period of growth a country experiences a short period of setback.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the main theorist of this approach, writes about the French Revolution and mentions that surprisingly this revolution happened when the country was not in economic recession or brutal repression. More importantly, those parts of France that had better quality of life were the centers of emerging revolutionary movements.

According to him, ‘a change happened thirty or forty years prior to the revolution’. Economic growth escalated, no one satisfied with his share, and everyone was looking to improve his/her situation.

In his belief, a decline in the regime’s power and intent on protest crackdowns is a prerequisite in order for a revolution to take place.

After studying the American, French, Russian, and English revolutions, Crane Brinton came to the same conclusion as de Tocqueville. He argues that revolutions “were clearly not born in economically retrograde societies; on the contrary, they took place in economically progressive societies, in spite of short term cyclic variations.”

Many French and Russian protests followed long famine and hunger episodes, but none of them lead to a revolution. James Davies also support this fact, he mentions: “Enduring poverty is far from a revolution motivator, it lead to concern for one’s self and family at best, and resignation or mute despair at worst.”

Iran’s 1979 revolution also confirms this theory. Between 1960 and 1978, Iran had a very proper economic growth rate (5-17 percent). Average economic growth rate in this 17 year period was 10.5 percent. In the year that the revolution happened, Iran experienced 17 percent economic growth rate.

There is another supportive indicator of this theory; the GDP per capita (the approximate value of the total goods and services produced per person in a nation) is an indicator that provides an accurate picture of the welfare of a country’s citizens.

From 1959 to 1976, Iran GDP per capita increased from 2 million Rial to 7.2 million Rial. It means in 17 year, Iran experienced 360 percent increase in its GDP per capita, which shows that Iranians’ welfare substantially improved in this era. The 1979 Revolution happened in this context, and the fact is after 32 years Iran has just reached the same GDP per capita that it had in 1976.

Totalitarian Regime, the Main Problem

The main problem of our society is the existence of a totalitarian regime and the transition to a democratic regime committed to freedom and human rights. If we accept this fact, based on what has been discussed before, an economic crisis will marginalize the process of transition to democracy by wiping out the middle class, as the main player in this process. Humans primarily seek their essential needs such as food, clothes, and shelter, and only in next steps do they chase their ideals. Even if someone is looking for the regime change, he or she should know that poverty does not lead to a revolution and collapse of the regime. Therefore, we should worry about the existing situation becoming increasingly worse.

The worst-case scenario for Iran would be if the crippling sanctions pass. A period of repression and brutal crackdown will follow, if an economy that is already trapped in the hands of domestic insipience and structural problems is faced with disabling sanctions.

In the past three decades, Iran’s society has experienced moral deterioration, especially in terms of trust; and in this situation, we will observe the collapse of its social capital from inside and outside.

Economic sanctions alone, cannot lead to a regime change. If the main goal and idea for some of the supportive political groups is overthrowing the Islamic Republic and a regime change in Iran, the failure of sanctions will lead to welcoming military action.

Similar to Libya, justification for war can be provided, but Iran is not a small country like Libya. Furthermore, nonstop bombing Libya by Western countries has not forced Gaddafi to step down yet. Based on UN reports, both sides of the war, Gaddafi and the oppositions, have committed war crimes. However, the western world has supported one side. If Iran is faced with the same situation, Iran and Iranians will be destroyed. We want democracy and human rights for Iran and Iranians, not ruins for a nation and citizens who are awaiting death.

There is no reason for Iran’s religious dictatorship to withdraw and accept the request for democratization of its political structure and society. If people do not gain strength through multiple diverse organizations, if social mobilization does not happen, if unfair/unethical/immoral laws and regulations are not disputed and publically disobeyed, if balance of power is not forced this way and the officials do not start dialogue with the opposition, if a compromise is not reached and open elections (meaning elections that will transfer the power from the officials to the people) are not held, if the oppressors are not forgiven (forgiven but not forgotten); a peaceful transition to a democratic regime, committed to freedom and human rights, will swiftly become a mirage. Perhaps the words of the mystics who “offer heavens as an excuse” are true, but democracy is given to a “price”, not an “excuse”.

Posted By Sahar Fahimi

    One Response to “Akbar Ganji: “The Worst Scenario for Iran: A Different Look” (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Good grief, what an extremist perspective.

    There are a number of problems with this narrative. For example, Iran has provided a number of compromises in addressing the nuclear dispute and has even signalled it’s willingness to set it aside for a security guarantee. The West ignores these overtures. So it’s unreasonable for the Iranians to consider surrender, as this writer advocates.

    There are other problems with this, too, such as the use of the term “totalitarian” which really doesn’t fit when describing the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    But this sort of thing is not new; in fact it’s expected of self-exiled Iranians.

    Regime change/sedition: this is the name of their game, and the Iranian authrorities recognize it as such. In this, at least this writer is being honest about his intentions.

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
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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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