Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Tehran should fear the Iranian people, not the West | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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During the week’s slower days in Iran, Thursday and Friday (which are tantamount to the weekend there), the news did not attract much attention.

One of the top concerns was preparations to eat chelow kabob—everyone’s favorite meal—as families gather to sit down at the dining table. Unfortunately, not many families can afford this weekly meal as prices of meat, fruit and vegetables increased as a result of the sanctions.

During this very calm weekend, Iranian diplomats headed to Geneva to see if they could strike an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

On November 5, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told France 24 during his visit to France that some progress was achieved, although the negotiations failed to land a deal.

The Iranian diplomats, committed to maintaining complete secrecy, did not make any statements on the details of a potential deal for weeks since the first round of their meeting with the P5+1. The details that were leaked came from American officials who made statements to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

The report said that as part of the deal, Iran will halt uranium enrichment to the 20 percent level for six months and, in exchange, the US may unfreeze Iranian assets—that is, Iranian oil revenues held in banks in Japan, China and India.

Whatever the agreement that was discussed during these failed Geneva talks, it would have been a significant step for President Rouhani’s administration.

It’s interesting that people in Iran don’t have any opinions regarding the nuclear program and the details of the negotiations. What concerns them is whether it’s possible to get enough butter, chicken and eggs, and whether it’s possible to bring these goods to the market for lower prices.

It may surprise you to know that in May, Iran faced a national crisis due to a butter shortage. Apparently, 95 percent of it is imported. Butter disappeared from markets the minute sanctions were imposed on Iranian shipping companies. I was shocked and surprised when I heard people complain of the butter shortage for days. All the daily papers were full of news on butter shortage, as if this is more important than national news. They discussed the issue as if it is the most important of necessities.

Believe me, Iranians appear to be extremely upset if they have to live without butter, and they wouldn’t care if all nuclear facilities are shut down next week.

The middle-class Iranian citizens I have spoken to in Dubai were generally unhappy about the nuclear program. What worries them most is the high price they had to pay. Some are suspicious about the regime’s real aim. Some whispered in my ear saying: “They wanted to produce a nuclear bomb but they changed their minds. Do you know that?”

The people’s real opinion is completely different than the optimism on display on state-owned television channels.

If Iran currently intends to reach an agreement with the West and to stop part of its nuclear program, or if it is to be more transparent to prove its peaceful intentions, then this is due to its fears of rising public anger and not of the West’s threats.

He who knows the Iranians is aware that they will not protest against the nuclear program or against producing a nuclear bomb, or against anything that has to do with the government. When the Iranians’ stomachs are full, they don’t care about politics. But they may protest due to a shortage of butter or increase in egg prices.

When oil prices rose in June 2007, people set fire to gas stations and no one was capable of controlling the angry masses. You may ask about the reason the revolution erupted when most people’s stomachs were full and when there was no shortage of butter or cigarettes. Perhaps one of the reasons is that Ayatollah Khomeini promised he would spare the people electricity and water charges and to cash in their oil shares every other month. What an affluent life.

Perhaps the current supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, should take history into consideration and not his aspirations, as the threat of hungry people is more dangerous than the American administration’s threats which will always exist.