Friday, August 31, 2007

Interview 4: It's the Economy, Stupid


Mountain Steps of Tehran
Originally uploaded by iRAN Project :: By Mahdi Ayat.


On Tuesday, I spoke with a European business consultant who has worked in Iran. My original plan was to follow up on the interview I did with Gary Sick by getting a businessman's perspective on negotiating in Iran. Our conversation really centered on Iran's economy, and I am excerpting a portion of that here in this blog.

On housing:

My wife had a house near the airport, and we went to a real agency to list it. They said that the most we could hope for was 900,000 tumans [approx. $970] a square meter. When we left, we told the taxi driver this. He took our number and the next day we had several offers for a lot more. We sold it for 1,300,000 tumans [$1,400] a square meter. It took just three hours to sell the apartment. On top of that we sold 90% of the furniture to the woman who bought the apartment.

Did you pay the taxi driver a finder's fee?

Unfortunately, we never saw him again.

The price to buy a house has gone up 60% during the past year. Last year, the price of concrete nearly doubled. The government estimates that Iran is several million homes short and still every year there are 800,000 new families formed. So the high costs of housing will be around in Iran for a long time to come.

I guess that is how people make so much money from housing.

The people making a fortune are people who are already rich. You have to be able to self-finance or you have to get a loan in Europe or the US. The cost of financing in Iran is 17%. That is high.

Prices were going up 30% per year
in the years before. To finance construction, many people who build sell the apartments before the building is finished; this means that they do not cash in on the increase in value in the housing market.

To make money, you have to have the cash to pre-finance for a couple of years. Of course permissions cost a lot of money.

On Gasoline Rationing

My sister-in-law tells me that the traffic is still terrible in Tehran even with the gasoline rationing.

Yes, you can always find someone selling usage of a card. The cards are a disaster. A friend bought a car and took it to the gas station and then found out there was no gasoline left on the card. Many people are discovering that the cards for their new cars are empty - if they get the card together with the new car at all. And yesterday [Monday] they discovered a pipeline in the south that was being used to smuggle gasoline out of the country directly to waiting tankers.

They really need to bring the price of gasoline up to market prices. The amount of smuggling is ridiculous.

Yes, especially when you consider that approx. 1/3 state of the state budget is going for subsidizing gasoline.

I wonder who is pocketing the money from the smuggling.

I don't know.

On Sanctions:

It seems that Iran does not even need any sanctions. They are doing a good job of destroying their own economy.

Oh no, sanctions are hurting industry. Not the official sanctions, but the hidden ones, the sanctions that are not official yet. For example talking to the Dresdner Bank or the Deutsche Bank and forcing them not to invest in Iran or doing business with any Iranian company or private person. Now there is no bank in Europe that will issue a bank guarantee to European companies that want to invest in Iran. We can no longer get guarantees for RFPs [requests for proposal].

NPC [National Petroleum Company of Iran] can hardly finance any projects anymore. This is especially after they cancelled a contract with Linde AG for approx. 1 billion dollars

For new projects they do not get western finance, and they do not get foreign companies to invest. This is a disaster for Iran's industry. For instance in the gas fields that they share with Qatar, they do not have the technology installed yet to extract the gas and difficulties to finance new investments. So Qatar is taking much more gas out of the fields than Iran, as a result they are losing money and resources there.

I talked to a finance manager from one of the oil companies, and he told me that the problem is that there is no set economic policy. Every time a new president comes economic policy changes.


That is not the problem. The problem is not the policy but the fact that they do not understand even basic economics at all.

It's really bad. They had some funny things like underestimating their need for phosphates. They said, oh we can produce enough of it ourselves. This is necessary for the production of eggs. So there were fewer eggs and the price went up 40% as a result.

You see, it is not using economics understanding at all. How can you run a country if all the managers are political? They often have no clue about the industry, and on top of that, in 2, 3 years they are gone. There is no incentive to manage well. Good, bad… it makes no difference at all to them. They know they will be gone before anybody can see the results of their decisions.

That probably leads to corruption as well.


Corruption is not the point. We did not find any direct corruption with our projects. I have heard different from other companies, but no one ever approached us. No one ever asked us for an extra percentage or any payment. We did not experience this. This is not the main problem. Of course, you have to pay extra for permissions - either to get "exemptions" or to speed up the process. Then you must pay everybody. This is especially true of construction sites where the police get payments every night. They literally come by every night to say that they need money not to respond to neighbor's complaints about noise. It costs about 10 euros a night.

The major problems in Iran are the missing long-term thinking, no global understanding, and a lack of understanding of economics.

...

If this interests you, you might want to read other posts on Iran's economy:

On Iran's economy

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Interview 3: Gary Sick talks about negotiating with Iran

This is a long post, but I learned so much from my interview with Gary Sick, and I am certain my readers will also be interested.

Gary Sick served on the National Security Council under three U.S. presidents: Ford, Carter, and Reagan. He was the principal White House aide on Iran during the time of the Iranian Revolution.


I met Gary Sick for a couple of seconds when Kamran had an assignment to photograph him for an article about the “October Surprise.”(1)
We went to his New York apartment, photographed him outside, and left. He probably does not even remember, but I do.

Gary Sick was in the Carter administration during the taking of the American embassy by revolutionary Iranian students. His discussion of that time, the difficulty of the negotiations, and the analysis of steps, missteps, and surprises is compelling and concise. He was gracious enough to lend me some of his time for an interview. That interview is for the book I am writing about Iran.

With his permission, here are some excerpts from that interview. (All emphasis mine)

You were involved with Iran during a particularly confusing moment. Americans had been taken hostage in their embassy by revolutionary students, and no one was really sure who was in charge. How did this effect negotiations?

It was absolutely the centerpiece of our negotiation efforts. Iran was still in the revolutionary process. There was no real power center. Khomeini was certainly a power center, but he was in the shadows during the early days; his words were important, but he did not exert overt control. I think that was the way he wanted it at the time.

We had no one to negotiate with. We talked to various contacts we had, talked to various power centers, we just had to hope that we could get some word in. Eventually this worked, and we did make contact. We found Bani Sadr and Ghotbzadeh who were the president and the foreign minister at the time, but who turned out not to have any real power. We reached an agreement with them, but it was shut down by Khomeini who ultimately fired Bani Sadr.

Today it may be difficult to deal with Iran, but you know who the power centers are: negotiations have to start with Khamenei, of course, but take into account the majles [Parliament], the office of the presidency, Rafsanjani, and the bazaar, among others.

In Iran, most decisions are consensus decisions, made by a group of power centers.

Negotiating with dictatorships is easy.
In dictatorships, you know exactly who to talk with and where the power is. In Iran this is not true at all. There are many power centers, and those power centers can be opaque. Iranians often use this to their advantage in negotiations.

...


What about the personal style of a negotiation?

Iranians seem to think they have an extra negotiation gene, a bargaining gene, one that is peculiar to Iran and a source of great pride. The Iranians I dealt with seem to think they can outwit, out-bargain anyone,
and they take great pride in this. This is another way that Americans and Iranians really differ. Americans do not grow up thinking their success or personal identity is determined by how well they bargain or that they can out-bargain or outwit anyone. It's just not part of our culture or our upbringing. It certainly is not a source of national pride.

As a result, Americans put into negotiations with Iranians are often at a disadvantage.

...

Iranians report that they feel that the West would like to trick them into agreements that end up making them feel cheated. Where do you think this feeling comes from? Do you have any ideas about what is needed to gain the trust of Iranians when negotiating?

The West did try to take advantage of Iran, there are no two ways about that. Look at the British oil deal, which gave an unfair advantage to the British and unfair terms to the Iranians. Look at the great powers kicking out the shah's father. Iranians earned their right to suspicion and paranoia.

That overall sense of grievance, prevalent in Iran and throughout the Middle East in general, that sense that Muslims are discriminated against,humiliated, badly regarded, again repeatedly humiliated in political terms: that grievance runs through the Middle East very strongly. These grievances are important to understanding the rise of political Islam. And it is not totally wrong. It is true that many of these countries have been victimized, but many also acknowledge they have assisted in that victimization. Their own governments have been terrible in promoting and protecting the self-interest of their citizens. They have failed at creating governments that can compete in the global marketplace of ideas. I meet people from the region all the time who desperately want to see better governance. They want better governance.

At least one of the factors that led to these humiliations is that they have been victimized by the rest of the world who portray them as backwards and incompetent and dangerous. This is an idea that they sometimes play into as well: Arabs and Iranians. An example of this is the discussion that occurred in the Arab world after 9/11. Arabs -- and I am talking about educated sources: magazine editors, intellectuals, professors -- claimed that Arabs could not carry out this type of operation. They argued that Arabs are completely inadequate to the task: it was just too complicated. Arabs were too incompetent and that is why the Mossad or CIA or some other organization had to have been responsible for 9/11. This was a serious argument We could not carry out something that big, many Arabs said.

The dilemma, which includes Iran, is that they are aware of their own shortcomings and how these shortcomings make them vulnerable, but they do not know how to address them.

....

When I was in Iran, most of the processes (both private & public) seemed paralyzed by a general fear/inability to make decisions. Is this also the case at the diplomatic level? Overall, how do you view the Iranian government's decision-making process? What kind of influence do the IR's negotiators have?

Iran is not a decisive culture. This is another contrast between Americans and Iranians. Americans, because of their move West and taking all these big decisions, well this has made it a decisive culture. Americans take big decisions and the responsibility for these decisions. Iranians do not have this same culture. And part of this is because the US history has been that we are rich and growing. Even if we make a mistake we can recover form it. You know what Churchill said, "The Americans always do the right thing...after trying all the other alternatives." Well, once we've tried everything else, we eventually find the right way.

We can make mistakes and get,away with it. In the US we believe that ultimately our strength will get us to a point where we can recover from anything, whether this is really still the case or not is unclear.

In Iran they have a sense that they are living a lot closer to the breaking point. Mistakes made can destroy their lives and even their country.

That does not mean that they do not make decisions. They do make decisions. For example, I believe that Iran has an actual nuclear policy. It's a real policy and they are pursuing it.

When the US decided that preemption was the new policy, the Bush administration immediately published a policy paper announcing preemption as a permanent addition to US national strategy. Iranians on the contrary do not announce their policies. They do not wave a banner and say "This is our policy, come and read it." They are more subtle and indirect.

One of the best descriptions I heard to describe this is that America is a football culture: it's all about confrontation and open head-to-head competition. Iran is more of a chess culture that proceeds with a subtlety of moves. They are always thinking three steps ahead, trying to make the opponent look foolish, trapping somebody so that they think you are doing one thing when you are really doing another.

This is a great source of misunderstanding between us.
Iranians think that we do not mean what we say, that there must be something else behind our words. For out part, Ahmadinejad makes a statement and we think that statement is the policy.

...

Many people talk about taarof (The Iranian system of manners) and taqieh (a doctrine which permits Shia to lie in order to survive persecution) when they talk about dealing with Iranians. How important do you see these aspects of Iranian culture?

Elements. I don't think that Iran or even Muslims or Middle Easterners are the only people who lie or dissemble or pretend to do one thing when they want to do another. From what I understand about our current dealings with Iran: a lot of what we are doing is pretending to be bigger, stronger and more dangerous than we really are. That kind of dissembling is something we do as well. It's just something we don't do very well. Iran is also trying to make us believe that they are bigger and stronger than they actually are.

Iranians just have more experience and skill
at dissembling than we do.

I do have this worry: because of their bargaining gene, Iranians always feel that they can get another 2 or 3 percent, so they always go for more. When they get an offer that meets 90% of their terms, they think that maybe they can get 93%. In the end this kind of negotiation means that they may lose the whole thing. Squeezing everything out of your opponent may backfire.

And it is not just Iran that does this. I've watched the US negotiate or not negotiate with Iran on the nuclear issue for the past 15 years. The kind of deal we could have gotten in 1990 or 91 would look so good to us now, but we wanted more.

We lost 50% of the game, yet we are still maintaining an all or nothing approach to the negotiations.

With regard to Iran...look at what they've done with foreign investment from oil companies. They need the foreign investment, but they squeezed so hard and drove such a hard bargain, that many companies said that it just is not worth it. Why should we do this? We've lost all of our profit margin in negotiations, we'll make ourselves unpopular with the US, who needs it? They walked away. Oil executives told me that the Iranians would negotiate vigorously and endlessly. Negotiate and negotiate and negotiate. When they thought that an agreement had been reached, it would start all over again. Finally Western companies said forget about it; it's just not worth it. They want to be there, but it is not possible. Iran is paying a very high price for this.

Iran has done great damage to its own interests by over negotiating.

There is some worry that the same is true with their nuclear policy with the whole inalienable right rhetoric. Insisting on the right to do something stupid, might not be best policy in the end. It seems that there are some in Iran who care more about the principle at stake than having a functioning nuclear program.




(1)

October Surprise refers to a controversial book that Gary Sick wrote after serving on the National Security Council under Ford, Carter, and Reagan. The book documents evidence of secret negotiations between the Reagan campaign and the revolutionary clerics in Iran that ultimately led to a nefarious arms deal involving the Nicaraguan contras, Israelis, and revolutionary clerics in Iran. It is not the only book or article that Sick has written about Iran, he is also the author of the influential All Fall Down: America’s Fateful Encounter with Iran and many articles.

back to text

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Before last night, the last time I attended a big public event was Ashura in Iran. Ashura commemorates the death of Mohammad's grandson in battle. The commemoration of this holiday is the at the heart of the differences between the Shia and the Sunni Muslims.

Last night I went to hear Parliament/Funkadelic (without George Clinton, unfortunately)at the Sweet Corn festival. (For people unfamiliar with Parliament/Funkadelic... well I just do not know what to say...) Here I was, with people lifting their fists in the air and chanting in unison: "We Got da funk..." I could not help thinking that there are many similarities between rock concert and Ashura in Iran: humans need group celebration; the experience of chanting and moving in unison. We want to mingle with our friends among strangers doing the same. It's the way we remember that we are not alone in the world.

I feel best about my fellow Americans when I see them celebrate something trivial like funk or an outdoor movie or big hair... Otherwise we are such strangers to each other. Just strangers...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Esfandiari freed

From The Washington Post:
"I'm delighted that she's finally out of Evin Prison. We look forward to her being able to come home without delay," said Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, a George Mason University professor.

"They accepted her mother's apartment for bail, which means there are charges against her. But I'm hoping that they will give her passport and let her come home as soon as possible. She's now far from her family and grandchildren nearly eight months and it is time that they allowed her to come home," he said.


I'm happy too. Note that Esfandiari's mother had to put up her house as bail. This is the case time and time again. It is one way that the regime retains control over its middle class population. The family's financial security is held hostage. It is such a brilliant form of repression! A child (and we are all children for a long time) with no property in Iran must always consider that their parent's property may be confiscated. Thus imagined and real dissidence is both punished and prevented. Problems occur when imagined lines are crossed as in the case of Haleh Esfandiari.

I also would like to note that I like the way the Bush administration refers to both Esfanriari and Tajhbaksh as Americans. That's what the US does best: turn immigrants into Americans. Others may argue this point, but as the grandchild of immigrants, I've seen the process in action as flawed as it is.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another interview with me: the friendly American

نگاه یک بلاگر آمریکایی به ایران

آرش البرزی

توری اگرمان بلاگر آمریکایی به مدت چهار سال در ایران زندگی کرده و در بلاگ خود به نام «نگاه از ایران»، در مورد جامعه و زندگی روزمره در ایران نوشته است. توری اگرمان اخیرا از ایران خارج شده و همراه شوهر ایرانی تبار خود، یک کتاب عکس به «نام نگاه از ایران» را به چاپ رسانده است.

با خانم اگرمان در مورد مسایل مختلف از جمله «بلاگیدن» در ایران، کتاب جدید او و احساس یک آمریکایی در ایران، گفت و گو کرده ایم.


Read the full text at Radio Farda

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Translated into Persian

The article in the German paper was translated into Persian by Radio Zamaneh:


روزنامه‌ی آلمانی «زود دویچه تسایتونگ» در شماره‌ی روز پنج‌شنبه‌ گزارشی دارد از یک زن ِ آمریکایی و همسر ایرانی‌اش که چهار سال در ایران بودند و در وبلاگ‌شان علیه‌ کلیشه‌های رایج در غرب می‌نوشتند. ترجمه‌ی این گزارش را می‌خوانی


Read the full translation at Radio Zamaneh

Friday, August 17, 2007

Read about us in German...

Sueddeutsche.de has an interview with us. So Wilkommen Willkommen to our German readers!

If you are new to this blog, I have a few old posts to recommend.

(Don't forget to buy our photo book or pick up a t-shirt)



I think the most interesting posts about adjusting to life in Iran are from the first year. After that, things get just a bit too normal for me.

From 2003:

Kamran's first post from Iran: Arak

Our first trip to Darband (or was it Derakeh): Iranland

Our first post on Taxis from Kamran (scroll down until you see the title: Taxi Driver)

The Women's Party


When Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Prize: An Oscar for Iran Iran

Watching young women sell drugs in front of a hospital: A Night Out

A fascination with foreigners: Kharigi

2004

Kamran's sister tries to convince her son to meet a woman for an arranged marriage

Election Posters

2005

Big year! Elections and death...

Cowboy Campaigning in Iran

The New President

The death of one of my most cherished friends, Kamran's sister, a woman I still miss every day: Mourning


Tips for Journalists visiting Iran


A taste of doom: Snow

A rant against the health care system: Home care, health care, and corruption

2006

A trip to visit the Qashqai (a nomadic group in Iran) and a surprise wedding: Wedding Bells

Part 2 of a travel report on a trip that took us from Tehran to Yazd: Next to Natanz

Casting ballots in Tehran: elections in Tehran

2007

The many ways people find to leave Iran: Leaving Iran
I heart Iran:
A post British sailor crisis post

Hejab Crackdown: the beginning of the crackdown on women's dress

If you find others that you like, let me know.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bill Kristol Makes Me Apoplectic



I popped a vein in my forehead last night watching the interview with Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.

AAAAHHH! I am not even well-informed about Iraq, but it seems to me that the rhetoric of the American supporters of the war seems to be echoing the rhetoric that has justified the oppression of the Shia by the Sunni in Iraq. Shia are inferior and Iranian.

Kristol framed the bad guys as the Shia militia and Al Qaeda and the good guys as the Iraqi insuregents who are now turning against Al Qaeda. He is perpetuating the myth that Iraqis are (a)not Shia and (b)not responsible for any of the violence in their country. This argument reinforces our unbelievable ignorance of the differences between the Shia and the Sunni along with subtly regulating the Shia to non-Iraqi status. It does nothing to educate us. It also buys in to the claim that the Iranians and Al Qaeda -- 2 outside forces -- are responsible for the destabilization of Iraq. While I do think both have been destructive forces, certainly their influence in Iraq is vastly overstated. This argument does nothing to call to question the common use of Iran as the bogeyman along with the Iraqi-Sunni notion that the majority Shia population are "Iranians".

Maybe Bill Kristol should be reading Abu Aardvark:

Sure, some insurgent groups have been willing to take American weapons in order to rout their local rivals and to beef up their capabilities in advance of an anticipated showdown with the Shia militias (and Iraqi government) when the Americans finally leave. I long ago pointed out the real grievances that these groups had against an over-aggressive al-Qaeda (Islamic State of Iraq) muscling in on their territory, and I have no doubts that the strategy of arming 'former' insurgents and Sunni tribes is having some effect at the local level. But this has little to do with the insurgency's overarching strategy or its views of either the American presence or the current Iraqi government. Listen to what the leaders of the insurgency groups actually say, not to what American spokesmen project upon them: the major insurgency factions remain committed to fighting until the Americans withdraw and the current political system is revised.


Oh yeah, and war with Iran is not a bad idea. Yep, Kristol said that. See for yourself.

It's a bad idea, people.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Interview 2: Covering the Iranian Blogosphere

Interview with Hamid Tehrani:

Hamid Tehrani is the Persian Editor of Harvard Global Voices. He is the founder of “Sounds Iranian,” a community for researchers on Iranian blogs. He has published widely in various Persian, English, French, and Italian magazines.

For years, I have depended on Global Voices to give me a window into the world of Iranian bloggers. Even though I can speak Farsi, it takes me about one-day to read a page. So I have to thank you for that. That said, I am more interested in your story. Why did you choose to leave Iran?



Thanks for your kind comment on GV.I have left Iran because simply, like millions of Iranians , I would like to live in an open society or in a place where you can have more freedom than Iran. I have done my studies in Political Sciences in Europe (MA) and I have been active in anti racist movements in Europe.

You write on Persian Impediment that:
"Failure of Islamic Republic to control Iranian society can not be considered as a sign of tolerance but its inability to sustain its repressive policies." From your review of the Iranian blogosphere, do you see any evidence of an increase in repression in Iran since Ahmadinejad took office? If yes, how does that manifest itself? If no, are we simply seeing an increase in attention paid to Iran?


Yes. Absolutely. By reading Iranian blogosphere you can see information about jailed worker activists, students, women activists and intellectuals. By reading news sites such as BBC Persian or even Iran based reformists ones you can find out that the situation has become really bad in the country. A recent example is the story about student activists who got jailed and say that they were tortured. American-Iranian scholars such as Haleh Esfandyari or Kian Tajbakhsh are in jail and have no access to lawyers. I believe the same violations happened during Khatami's period too but now it really worse. Nothing comparable.

Ordinary citizens are under pressure about what they wear or so on. I think the key point is that Ahmadinejad has promised to bring back Iran to first years of revolution.

3. I know that Ahmadinejad promised a return to the values of the revolution, but I never got the sense that the current crackdown was what he had in mind. Do Iranian bloggers think that he is directly responsible for the changes? Or is there a sense that other forces are at work?

I think, according to what I have read so far, many believe that there is a conservative or military force behind the repression and Ahmadinejad is one of these people. Some talk about Ayatollah Mesbah, Shariatmedari, Keyhan's editor and so on. Ahmadinejad is another "brick in the wall."

On a different note, many immigrants from Islamic countries have difficulties being accepted into European society. Have you found this to be difficult?


Yes. I think racism is a fact in Europe but it really depends on countries too. Things get worse after 11 September, London and Madrid bombings. Many say that Moslems do not want to be involved in western societies but when westerners reject them, they do not have many options.

What do you miss most about Iran?


What missed? family and friends. Last time that I was in Iran I got really shocked to learn about some of my friends who got addicted to drugs. I remember somebody told me "Thank God I am not get trapped by drugs...I just consume my Opium!!"

Which blogs or websites do you enjoy the most?

There are many! Jomhour, Abthai, Kamangir, View from Iran, Faryade Bi Seda, Iranian Truth, Kosoof, and Forever under construction.

Sites: Global voices, BBC, CNN, Guardian and Huffington Post.

UPDATE:

When I was posting the interview, I realized that I wanted more information from Mr. Tehrani, so I asked three more questions. Here are his responses:

1. Can you tell us a little more about your work with anti-racist movements in Europe?



I have been involved in different classic activities such as getting signatures for petitions,organizing conferences,participating in demonstrations and making a cultural bridge.

2. What kind of effect do you think the Iranian blogosphere has on Iranian society? and outside of Iran?



Inside the country, it plays a very important role in informing people,in organizing events such as strikes or demonstrations and helps discussion.I remember a martyrdom seeker who asked several bloggers to share their ideas about martyrdom. These kinds of discussions do not happen in the non virtual world.

For people outside Iran, it is a great dynamic bridge.

3. Who do you think is reading the Iranian and "about Iran" blogs outside of Iran?

Everybody who is interested about Iran can not ignore blogs.From NGOs to governments, from academics to artists. There are blogs for any taste!

Monday, August 06, 2007

One step forward, five steps back

A post from Kamran:

He was sitting in front of me telling me how relaxed I look. "Last time I saw you, you were so worried", he said.

This friend of mine normally would never listen to news from Iran, but he told me, "Every time I heard news about Iran, I would just stop doing whatever I was doing and would yell Sshh, Sshh to my wife so I could hear the news". He also could not imagine that I would take Tori to Iran. Taking an American-Jew to Iran is something. "BEN JE GEK"? which means ARE YOU CRAZY?

He had hundreds of questions about living in Iran, which I could not answer in the short early Friday afternoon lunch appointment. His most amazing comment was still in my head even after couple of days. He said, "It sounds to me that Iran is taking one step forward and 5 steps backwards".

When I left to get some fresh fish for Sushi on my wobbly bike I was still looking for a response to his comment.

I am amazed at how much Iran has progressed in the last 28 years. Iranians who visit Iran for first time after the revolution of 1979 are shocked by how Iran is at least visually changed. They all know if we had a democratic government where the people could use all of resources that Iran has to enjoy, we would have a wonderful and modern society.

For me the most important reason that I can imagine at this point to explain why Iran is taking one step forward and 5 back is that Iran almost never ever had a democratic movement/government/ or institutions.

In the history of Iran you can always find people who think they know better what is best for the rest of Iranians. We have been always been looking for leaders who will fix our nation's problems and not developing institutions that could be the center of change and developments.

During my sushi dinner with the son of my best Dutch friend who came to Iran as a boy when he was 16 and left Iran as a man after 3 months of staying there, we both agreed that Iranians who live in Iran are amazing and we could not believe how they can survive there.

My young friend’s rite of passage to manhood is an interesting story: on the afternoon of his last night in Iran, we went to many shops to get him an 80gb hard drive for his computer back home. It was a cold winter day 2 years ago, we both were in good moods. He was ready to leave Iran. He told me that the first thing he would do would be to have a beer and drink it in public.

That night we had a good dinner and after watching a couple of hours of movies I took him to the airport and waited until he got his boarding pass. When I returned to home, Tori took the telephone out of the wall since the next day was a holiday, and we went to bed thinking, Oh man we are so happy he had a good time and that he left safe.

Two hours later he came back and looked awful, it turned out that he had a visa for only one month that he could use within 3 months, instead of a visa for 3 months that he could use within one month. It was very clear, but almost everybody who looked at his passport missed it. So we had to go to court. He wanted to get out ASAP. He had had a bad night. Looking at the video interview I made of him minutes after he came back in the house, I can only see how desperate he was to get f**k out of Iran.

Next morning after visiting two different government offices in two different sides of the city and seeing 17 different people (because I decided not to give any money to get the work done) we finally landed in the court room right before offices were closed.

After explaining everything to the weird looking massive judge, Kian (Persian name that he chose for him self in Iran) got permission to leave Iran within two days.

During all this time Kian was asking me so many times what was going on. Since I paid no money, I had to walk 4 floors more than 20 times and the only time I could keep Kian quiet was when he asked me "What is the judge saying?" and I told him that he is saying that you have to go to the army and serve 2 years. After he come down from being so panicked, he asked me, "How can you guys stay here"?

"This is a mad house". Kian told me.

Kian became a man in that one day. His parents were surprised to see how much he was changed in 3 months. So Iranians are supermen.

Last night after having lovely sushi and couple of beers with Kian, he agreed that we Iranians should have better lives in Iran.

I also found out that Kian's family (still very good friends of mine) see that video I took the night of his ill-fated visa snafu very often. Kian is still very angry with me because I could not stop laughing during that interview with him.

That day in Tehran I became 10 years older. Everybody I knew was surprised that I could get all of that paperwork done in one day. I could never forget Erna, Kian's mother, telling me “Don't worry, this is good for him”.

For the past 4 years I had always many different plans for when things would get nasty. Since everybody could also think of my plan A, I had to have plan B, plan C, and finally plan D.

Not having all those plans and not living in Iran, I would say my friend was right. I am relaxed, I am happy; I am free, but I am still looking for answers to my friend’s questions, particularly, why Iran takes one step forward and 5 back? Any ideas?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Collapsing bridges

Every time I got stuck in traffic in Tehran (which was every day...), I worried about overpasses collapsing. I counted myself lucky to escape without major highway injury. Then, the bridge in Minneapolis collapses.

Tell me if these spots in Tehran don't make you nervous too...




1. The bridge overlooking the Down with America mural



2. The Modaress-Sadr entry

3. Mirdamad over Jordan.

4. Shariati over Hemmat

Eek!

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