A facetious news item in the British Daily Telegraph, entitled “Chickens facing censorship in Iran”, reported that a senior security official “has warned that films depicting scenes of chicken dinners could provoke the underprivileged classes to attack the rich”!
This is not the first report to expose Tehran’s attempts to direct media attention away from the economic problems caused by inflation and the effects of international economic sanctions. A week ago, the Iranian Minister of Culture warned the media against focusing on the economic hardships faced by the people due to the impact of sanctions, requesting the media’s cooperation to not highlight the country’s suffering in this regard. Likewise, an opinion poll on uranium enrichment conducted by a television station was withdrawn after it emerged that the majority of respondents were in favor of halting uranium enrichment in order to avoid sanctions. The withdrawal of the opinion poll was justified on the grounds that the results had been tampered with or that the sample of respondents was not valid.
It is ironic that these reports about the difficulties the Iranian people are facing in their everyday lives coincide with statements about new missiles being tested, nuclear progress, threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, and foreign expansion – with the funding and financial burden that this entails – especially with regards to Syria.
These are bold statements, intended to instill a sense of pride and belief in the Iranian people, whereas the reality of living they face is quite different, and the difficulties are growing as a result of these policies, as the talk of missiles and nuclear capabilities contrasts with the people’s simple, fundamental requirements.
The Iranian case is nothing new and is frequent amongst medium-size countries. The case of Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser was the best example of this in our region, whereby the country’s external ambitions represent a drain on internal potential and resources. It may be possible to carry the burden of these ambitions for a time, but after that it becomes an expensive, cumbersome and problematic issue within the state itself. The applause of supporters and followers abroad will not bring the chicken to the table, and a study of history shows that at a certain point, even great empires discover that the toll of their expansionist ambitions is more than enough to cause a collapse from within.
There is no harm in a country seeking to maximize its potential and encouraging its people to be proud of its achievements, but it seems that the Middle East is plagued by a school of thought that believes this is to be achieved through missiles, weapons, foreign adventures and militias…which leads to a climate of tension, conflict and instability. Meanwhile, the rest of the world knows that progress and prestige stems from the economy first and foremost. Indicators such as economic and scientific progress, average per capita income, production capacity, and services, whether health, education and so on, are signs of a strong nation.
The indicators currently coming from Iran show that the economic sanctions, especially in the oil sector – the main source of the state’s income since taxes amount to less than 27 percent of revenue, have become a strain on the economy. However, as most of these sanctions are still in their infancy, they do not yet constitute the main burden on the state. It is certain that the cost of arming and funding programs to advance Iran’s external ambitions, or to support allied regimes such as Syria, is the main source of the current economic exhaustion, and sure enough it will also be the cause of overwhelming internal anger.