• 13 July 2012
  • Posted By Milad Jokar
  • discrimination, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Iran's Mash Donalds (Mash refers to Mashhadi or Mashtee--someone who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad)

If you’re an Iranian who wants to get the latest iPhone, iPad or Macbook, it may just be easier for you to purchase one in Iran than in the U.S.

Apple Store in Sa’dat Abad, Tehran

New pressures to “tighten the noose” on Iran through sanctions have indeed led to discrimination against Persian-speakers at Apple Stores.  One has to wonder how banning Iranians from having access to iPods on which they can listen to Rihanna’s latest hit (yes, Rihanna’s latest hit is available in Iran) will “change Iran’s behavior” concerning its uranium enrichment program.

But despite the sanctions and the draconian ways they’re being enforced, in Iran, iPhones are everywhere.  And the way they get to Iran, far from “squeezing the regime” actually benefits smugglers linked to the state and the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard).

To purchase the latest Apple products, Iranians just have to go to their local “Apple Store” in Iran. They can choose their items online or in person, and can definitely speak Farsi when purchasing an iPad without worrying about whether the salesperson will take their money.

Indeed, everything is available in Iran for a price. Many Iranians still walk down Africa Street, known as Jordan Street  before the revolution, in their Air Jordans, gel in their hair, while perusing DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies starring Will Smith, Matt Demon or Angelina Jolie on display by street vendors.

The Colonel in Iran serves "Kabaaby" Fried Chicken

U.S. sanctions also prohibit U.S. fast food companies from opening in Iran. It is unclear what is the logic of banning McDonalds in Iran and how denying Iranians the pleasures of true American junk food will stop Iran’s nuclear program.  And yet, while it’s always nice to enjoy a good khoreshte bamie or ghorme sabzi, Iranians can still skip rice and go to a good KFC (kabaaby Fried Chicken), Mash Donald’s (Mash refers to one who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad) or simply grab a coffee at Raees—featuring a mustachioed version of Starbucks mermaid—on Seoul Street in Tehran.

Because of sanctions, most of these stores are knockoffs. However, all the soft drinks, clothes,
phones and other electronic devices are authentic. These goods come into Iran through Dubai, Iraq, and the shores of the Persian Gulf, and supply the Iranian Bazaari (merchants and shop keepers) who sell these items openly in their stores.

The familiar Starbucks siren is nixed in favor of a mustachioed gentleman in the logo for Raees coffee shop

So if it is so easy for some Iranians to obtain all of these illicit American products, what is the problem? Sure, the sanctions are causing food prices to rise and are having a humanitarian impact among some Iranians, but there are still plenty of Iranians who seem to be doing fine, right?

Well, by making these items illegal, the sanctions empower the trafficking networks operated by official institutions— what Ahmadinejad calls “our smuggling brothers”, often directly linked to the IRGC.  They squeeze out legitimate businesses and punish law abiders.  It’s no wonder the sanctions are viewed as economic warfare on Iran’s middle class that help entrench the state.

Meanwhile, even as the IRGC benefits from the sanctions, other Iranian hardliners are not keen on the intrusion of Western goods and culture.  They have worked to ban such items, and appreciate the United State’s help in isolating Iranians from Western influence.

Zam Zam challenge: most Iranians prefer Coca Cola "original" over its competitor, Zam Zam Cola, named for the well located within the Sacred Mosque in Mecca

But at the end of the day Iranians just prefer Coca Cola “original” over Zam Zam Cola (named for the well located within the Sacred Mosque in Mecca).  So, on the one hand, the bazaari are banned from obtaining these items because of the U.S. government’s sanctions; and on the other hand they are banned from selling U.S. products by the Iranian government. Meanwhile, the IRGC benefits as the source for all of these illicit goods.  And ultimately ordinary Iranians get squeezed in the middle.

Iranians more and more are struggling under mismanagement of the economy and from unilateral sanctions that have devalued the Iranian currency; the purchase of all of these items, not to mention basic food goods, is indeed becoming much more expensive—and prohibitive for the middle class. Consequently, it is hard for the Iranian people not to increasingly be—at the very least—disappointed by this strategy of sanctions that have nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program.

Advocates of broad sanctions also don’t understand Iranian societal changes.  The Iranian population is one of the youngest in the world with almost 65 percent of its population below the age of 33. Before the 1979 revolution the population was approximately 30 million.  This number has more than doubled over the last 30 years to almost 79 million. The shift is very important because of the transition from a rural society to an urban one. The literacy rate is more than 80 percent.  And this post-revolutionary generation wants access to technology, Levi’s Jeans, the Internet, Lady Gaga and good pairs of Converse All Star model 2004 (the most popular model in Iran—and not because they’re nearly 10 years old).

Tehran's Africa Street--still known as Jordan Street

Western decision-makers who support a strategy of indiscriminate sanctions don’t understand Iran’ssocietal changes and how the sanctions are thwarting the progressive aspirations of Iran’s post-revolutionary generation.  They don’t realize how Iranian hardliners are not threatened by the prospect of hungry mobs, but instead view the consumption habits and worldly inclinations of their increasing young population as the greatest internal threat to the Islamic Republic.  Hardliners are more than happy to have help from the U.S. in banning these items, while at the same time skimming off the top when iPhones do inevitably reach Iran.

Funny how sanctions put these two governments that seem to hate each other on the same side when it comes to punishing ordinary Iranians.


Posted By Milad Jokar

    4 Responses to “Why Iran’s Hardliners Love the iPhone and McDonalds Sanctions”

  1. Shawn says:

    Dear NIAC, please write articles like this one again and again until the basics of it can be recited by heart by ordinary Americans, the same way that you informed the public about the dangerous consequences of war by repeatedly talking and writing about it. Most ordinary Americans can right away list at least 4 or 5 consequences of an attack on Iran. That wasn’t always the case. NIAC was instrumental in that in my view.

    Now it’s time to do the same thing on the sanctions issue, particularly by making the points made in the article above.

  2. Tommy says:

    This article is just freaking AWESOME! Very well put!

  3. Honorary IR says:

    Lady Gaga, Rihana & Hollywood movies are part of the gharbzaedgi culture and of no value to Iranian youth. What young Iranians need are employment, affordable housing, clean air and better government.

    • Frirus says:

      It’s true that what matters most for Iranians is unemployement and inflation. Same in the US, Canada and the EU with the economic crisis. Still, people in the West can have these problems and listen to music and watch movies, no?

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Sign the Petition


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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