The immediate aftermath of the 2009 Iranian election brought heated debate about whether the election was stolen or not. Six months on, while the general consensus is that it was a questionable vote, the debate has since morphed into a question of whether or not Mahmoud Amadinejad enjoys majority support.
Analysts in the past posited the idea of “two Irans” – akin to our own “two Americas” during our recent electoral cycle – where big city “urbanites” (usually associated with elite or privileged classes of Iranian society) were the predominant supporters of Mousavi and the “Green Wave”, pitted against rural (poorer) demographics that sided with Ahmadinejad. However, a recent polling article reveals that the Iranian regime may be losing the backing of some of its rural base.
Study Reveals Ahmadinejad Supporters in Rural Areas No Longer Back Him
…The two post-election polls showed that 39 percent of the youth and 23 percent of the older age group who had voted for Ahmadinejad now regretted their vote. The stated reasons for this: the raping, killing, and torture of young men and women who had participated in demonstrations after the June elections and the realization that Ahmadinejad was to blame for the economic situation.
…32 percent of the entire population live in such rural and small urban areas.
One young rural Mousavi supporter paints the picture of the growing frustration with Ahmadinejad and the regime in the rural and small town areas of Iran:
“Look, I am not educated and I don’t understand politics the way [an informed individual does]. This village has a population I think of around 8,000. My guess is Ahmadinejad got 50 percent of the votes. He is not as loved in the provinces, or at least here, as much as city folk think he is. I personally know three-hundred people from amongst friends, family, and acquaintances who voted for Moussavi. Now they say in our entire village only 43 people voted for him. Do they take me for a fool?”
Thus it seems that the government’s claims that the opposition is confined only to North Tehran’s urban elite may not actually be true. A recent NY Times article supports the idea that the regime is wrestling with factionalism even within and among the conservatives, especially on the issue of Ahmadinejad’s attempts to tackle costly subsidies.
But what does this all mean for us here in the US?
While Washington policy makers debate what to do with Iran, one Iranian baker suggests that things might not be so complicated:
“No one knows anything. You think Ahmadinejad is an economist?”
Superficially this means that Congressmen and women chomping at the bits to impose broad, blanket sanctions (e.g. IRPSA) in order to strain Ahmadinejad financially to come to the negotiating table. Realistically, this couldn’t be further from the truth, for as we have seen Ahmadinejad’s effort in stealing an election, he welcomes such sanctions to further centralize Iran’s economic structure, acquire a “legitimate excuse” to remove subsidies, and further deprive the Iranian people from having economic and moral means to stand against him.
Where there is “smart power” there is “smart sanctions”. If the U.S. wants to hurt Ahmadinejad and his cronies financially, it must be done where sanctions are focused and narrowed to the regime, while the Iranian people prosper economically and have the independent financial backing to pursue alternative political agendas. It doesn’t take a democracy fund, it is simple buy and sell, supply and demand, regulated capitalism. Iran’s private sector is the only surviving pillar that challenges the hard line conservatives. Even Iran’s richest family, the Rafsanjanis – who are involved politically as well – are on less than cordial terms with the hard liners. However, Rafsanjani and his technocrats are not enough, there needs to be a burgeoning private class in Iran to foment stronger left leaning, West-seeking private entrepreneurs that can outcompete Ahmadinejad and the IRGC, which they will if sanctions are lifted on the citizenry and enforced on the regime.
A burgeoning Iranian private sector allows for private businesses and countries that currently do business with Iran – looking at you Siemens, Nokia – to deal with non-aligned private businesses instead of the conservative IRGC. Would Ahmadinejad allow this? Of course! He’s seeking to turn the country around economically, but he wouldn’t recognize the political undertones that come with it. After all, he’s not an economist.