Flashdance RELOADED (Original Mix)
While the West continues to be gripped by paranoiah over Muslim demographics the style of this video, the fundamental fact about the demographics of the Middle East is this: Over the last few years the two biggest non Arab nations of the Middle East, Turkey and Iran, have gone sub replacement.
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the nineth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?
Mahmoud Darwish - I am an Arab (Identity Card)
Source: Wikipedia (Sourced from the The CIA World Factbook)
Those Arab nations who were late comers to the trend have been more than making up for their late arrival during the last decade. In the span of eight years the mothership of Sunni fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia, has sustained a massive decline in its fertility rate from 6.30 to 3.89. Another decade like this one and the Saudis will be almost living in Europe in demographic terms. In the West Bank the fertility rate has collapsed from 5.02 to 3.31 while in Syria it's down from 4.06 to 3.21.
The Great Middle East Population Explosion is basically over. To be sure, it will take many countries of the region another decade to get near replacement or sub replacement. The population will keep surging for a while before the population growth grinds to a complete halt within the next 20-30 years, but this expansion will be driven mostly by the demographics of the past. It has little basis in the current demographic reality. Beyond a few exceptions such as Yemen, Arab birth rates are plummeting all around the Middle East.
Social and economic implications of this are obvious and nobody could put it any better than a recent article in the Foreign Policy. Rejecting a very popular liberal myth, the authors have a very succinct way to put it:
Low birthrates aren't the result of economic growth and political stability; they're a prerequisite (!!!).
Source: Foreign Policy
Anyway, this post is about Iran and what's relevant here is this: For a long time Iran was a trend setter in the Middle East. Its Islamic Revolution signaled the beginning of a tremendous mess that rapidly consumed the entire region and beyond. Similarly, when it comes to the demographic transition in the region, Iran may have joined the party with a certain delay, but it quickly became the symbol and leader of this transition. And this fact is heavily loaded with consequences for the future and I am talking here about a very near future. To see this it's enough to take a look at some data for Iran presented in the same CIA World Factbook.
The CIA Factbook gives the following estimates for the key demographic indicators of Iran in 2009.
Population growth rate:
0.883% (2009 est.)
0-14 years: 21.7%
15-64 years: 72.9%
65 years and over: 5.4%
17.17 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Total fertility rate:
1.71 children born/woman (2009 est.)
urban population: 68% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 2.1% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Source: CIA World Factbook - Iran
The first thing that calls attention is that population growth has gone below 1%. For comparison it's 4% in Yemen where the population doubles itself every 20 years. This is the difference between the new Middle East and the old one still living in the era of the Great Population Explosion. Besides having fallen below 1%, the population growth is decelerating. At 1.71 children per woman, the total fertility rate is well below the replacement level. In Nordic countries of Europe women have more children these days than in this fundamentalist Sharia state. So even with this paltry less than 1%, the population growth has still a lot of ground to cover to catch up, or better to catch down, with this deeply sub replacement fertility rate. Basically, population growth has ceased to be a factor in Iran in any way.
Syria is now chronically teetering on the brink of collapse overwhelmed by the impact of its out of control demographics, but Iran is a very different story. Within the next few years the workforce will start stabilizing with the stream of new workers entering the market shrinking. At this point even modest economic growth will be enough to reduce Iran's currently massive unemployment with far reaching consequences. Basically, Iran is teeming with young adults. This is the best time for the Persians to stage economic miracles and go to wars. The country's demographic profile is generally excellent. This will not continue forever, however, as the population is rapidly aging. The demographic dividend will probably be at its peak approaching 2020 and will start disappearing since then. This casts a certain doubt on the country's ability to make it into the ranks of the first world before Iran's deteriorating demographics turn into a serious impediment for economic growth and development. Basically much of the Middle East seems poised to repeat the story of Eastern Europe. It will experience a Western style demographic meltdown before achieving a Western like prosperity. But this future is still far away. What matters in the short term is that Iran is soon to experience an almost overnight relief from the demographic nightmares of its past. It's probably impossible to have any serious discussion of these matters without considering how the demographic shift is affecting the ethnic composition of the country. However, given that I am too lazy to start mining demographic data for Iran's minorities, I would limit myself to saying this: The Persians are already hardly even a half of the population. I have little doubt that the share of minorities such as the Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds and for sure Baluchis is rising.
Basically Iran is becoming a nation of minorities. However, the implications of this fact are not as dramatic as they may appear. For Iran to survive this transformation intact, the crucial axis is the one between the Persians and the Azeris. Accounting for a quarter of the population, the Azeris in Iran are probably better integrated than any other minority in the Middle East. It's very telling that the two main protagonists of the current drama, the Supreme Leader and Mousawi, are both ethnic Azeris. Basically, the Persians count with an uninterrupted historical, cultural and linguistic continuity, probably without parallels elsewhere in the Middle East and, yet, in many ways Iran is a truly national and not ethnic state. The Persians were running empires in the region long before any Turks and Arabs made their appearance on the stage of history and modern Iran is a heir to this massive historical legacy. The presence of an independent Azeri state across the border is without a doubt a recipe for troubles in the future. However, Azerbaijan in its current configuration is not a very inspiring state and the Persians seem to possess enough skills and tact to make the possibility of disintegration of the country a very tentative one.
Anyway, as the transition to two child families seems to be almost complete in Tehran and other big cities with the countryside closely trailing them, the demographic revolution's most important impact is going to be cultural. Here is coming a new generation and a very different one. Probably every next generation is different, but this one will be truly so. Grown up in small families of the post demographic boom era, it will be more spoiled, selfish and individualist. It will be also more urban, much better educated and generally more invested in. It will be also a more critical and skeptical generation. One is tempted to say this generation will be more intelligent. And this generation may want more. It may want a change... many changes... some of them very radical ones. The idea of direct elections of the Supreme Leader may fail to placate this generation. It may want to have no Supreme Leader at all. The regime may find the new generation posing more danger for its survival than all USA aircraft carriers together.
The CIA Factbook data also points to another interesting trend very important for survival, or better non-survival, of the current system. Iran is an urban society with about 70% of the population being urban dwellers. The rate of urban migration remains high and it's bound to at least remain the same and maybe even to accelerate in the very near future. Iran is projected to become one of the countries worst affected by global warming with thousands of farmers and villagers about to leave their homes and start making their way to Tehran and other urban centers where they will be exposed to the influences of life in a big city. Rural areas until now served as one of the pillars of the regime. Ahmalalah and his friends may be blissfully unaware of this fact, but a ruthless combination of the demographic shift and global warming is about to soon reduce one of their main constituencies to a fraction of the overall population. The resultant vector of the demographic factors points to a dramatic transformation of the country at some point before the end of the next decade. The employment situation should improve driving up wages and living standards, prosperity should start spreading across the country. But this is on condition that no major breakthrough in alternative energies knocks the bottom out of the oil market. The population should grow more urban and more educated. It will be ruled by a regime that is bound to look increasingly anachronistic and out of step with the rest of the country.
The regime is already showing cracks and divisions all over and occasionally appears unsure about itself and its purpose. However, this process is balanced out by the military wing of the regime and repressive structures, namely the Revolutionary Guard and Baseej, getting out of control and virtually taking over the country. A death or departure of the Supreme Leader may become a milestone event and trigger another confrontation within the ruling elite. In short, uncertain future, but the hope is still there, for a nation that 30 years ago looked so poised to become the gem of the Middle East.
Anousheh Khalili - O my Lord
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