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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Far larger than its leaders

Last Updated: October 10, 2009

August 04, 2009

Gives a very good idea about how Iran's economy is structured....

Iran’s problems are far larger than its leaders

Last Updated: August 03. 2009

. . .

Instead of establishing its legitimacy by fostering economic opportunity and growth for all, the Islamic Republic’s economic system rewards those who profess unconditional attachment to the tenets of the Revolution. Through their social organisations and business interests, the Revolutionary Guards and its thuggish internal wing, the Bassiji force, command the unquestioned loyalty of no less than five million people, an ideological core that will blindly follow Mr Khamenei’s commands. The Revolutionary Guards operate tax-free businesses and do not hesitate to exert intimidation to displace their competitors. A few years ago, their tanks even rolled on the tarmac of the new Tehran airport because it was to be operated by a competing Turkish consortium. If one is to include government employees that can easily be intimidated and their families, nearly 20 million Iranians are dependent on the government for income.

The bonyads, or religious foundations, are the country’s key economic players. They control as much as 40 per cent of the country’s economy, but their books are kept secret and they report to the country’s clerical establishment uniquely. Leaving such little transparency and little room for private initiative and entrepreneurship is no way to build an economy for the future. The growing number of young Iranians in the workforce compete for too few government jobs and their benefits while the unemployment rate hovers near 20 per cent. No wonder so many Iranians vote with their feet against their nation’s policies, applying for European, Canadian or American visas.

. . .

Source: National (UAE)

October 10, 2009

Do you wanna revolution?

According to the New York Times, Iran's Parliament started an investigation into the nation's telecom monopoly's takeover by a company affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard. This one follows a similar inquiry into a $2 billion worth deal by means of which another company affiliated with the Baseej militia has acquired in August what is reported as the largest lead and zinc mine in the Middle East. And on top of this, reports the New York Times, there are talks about transforming the Baseej into a full time force.

In the wake of the Green Revolution, some analysts have been speculating about a possible takeover of the state by some sort of a joint military clerical rule led by the Revolutionary Guard. Ahmadinejad has reportedly promoted dozens of former Guard commanders to high administrative posts and let firms affiliated with the Guard to take over key economic installations under the cover of what was supposed to be a privatization campaign. The Guard's acquisition spree that followed the collapse of the Green Revolution generally confirms this suspicion and can make fans of revolutions in general, and green revolutions in particular, somewhat disheartened at the reduced prospect of regime change by means of a popular uprising. However, while this seems to be a very reasonable and pragmatic assessment of the situation, it's not that clear that what the regime is currently trying to do makes sense in practical terms.

For starters, to let the Guard into the economy means to expose it even more to corruption and ineffectiveness that are the defining characteristics of Iran's social and economic system. Making the Guard the biggest employer may also set it on a collision course with the population given the chronic state of massive unemployment and floor level wages of Iran's economy. Clearly, the Guard is at its best as a professional fighting force acting as an outsider during political turmoils such as the last one. Transforming Iran into a police state and making the Guard part of this corrupt and messy system is a double edge sword that can destroy both the last bits of the Guard's reputation and the motivation of its rank and file members.

The thing is that Iran is a different society than it was 20 years ago and no amount of repressions can change this. Highly televised forced confessions by dozens of members of the so called opposition (the opposition seems to be packed with people who under Khomeini were the revolution's flesh and blood) could make a lot of sense a few decades ago when the regime was capable of eliminating people by thousands, but this is no smart thing to do under the present system that can't do away with accusations of torture and mistreatment even within its own media. Extracting forced confessions from so many people is no good if you then leave them around to share their horror stories with the media. Iran's standing, even in the Shia world, seems to have already taken a blow from which it can't recover and the mismanaged crackdown on the opposition is bound to wreck it even further as time goes by. In fact, it looks as if the regime is struggling to internalize the fact that neither itself, nor the country it's running, are any longer what they used to be. By its basic instinct, the regime is leaning to harsh and uncompromising methods, but it's lacking the teeth to implement them thoroughly enough.

The idea of transforming the Baseej into a regular force may also prove to be self defeating in the long run. One can argue that if the Shah would have had some equivalent of the Baseej, the monarchy would have been still around today. The Baseej effectiveness stems in part from its being a kind of volunteers driven militia. During the Green Revolution regular police forces were frequently reported as vacillating or plainly sympathizing with the protesters. The Baseej moved in and their "irregularity" was revealed as a big advantage both in terms of their zeal and motivation, and unrestrained violence they used against the protesters. The fact that many Baseej were highly motivated volunteers from inside the ordinary population should have had an added benefit of them having at times better information than professional security services. And this they have put to good use when mopping up protesters and during overnight raids on their homes. To transform the Guard into a state within a state, or to structure the Baseej as a regular force may deprive them of the very same qualities that make them so valuable for the regime.

Actually, the very fact that the Parliament is running inquiries into the Guard's latest acquisitions indicates that while the system is busy attempting to devour its disillusioned creators, it's plainly struggling to get hold of itself. So not everything is yet lost for the opposition. As a wise (crazy) man said: If you will it, it is no legend. Translated to Persian it roughly reads as: If you wanna revolution, you may eventually get one.

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