Sunday, May 27, 2007

Iran... just what you would expect...


Keivan is on the phone with a friend: "The Iranian government needs no excuse to arrest people. They say that the money from foreign governments is bringing activists into danger. But the truth is that they do not need an excuse to close down ngos and arrest activists."

Well... it is a distressing time in Iran. The past few months have been the worst time for me in Iran. It was the first time in our almost four years there that we saw life in Iran the way that people outside the country sometimes imagine it: as repressive and oppressive. The night before we left for vacation we had kebab in a teahouse north of Tehran. When we left, we ran into a huge roadblock manned by fresh-faced religious police who all looked about 16 years old. They stopped every car looking for alcohol and infringements on morality. People we know have been arrested. Others have heard rumors of their own impending arrest. (These people are not even activists!)

A dear friend who is a teacher complained of rumors in the teaching community of a second "cultural revolution." "I survived the first," she told me, "because I am small, and I could hide so well, but many of my friends were executed."

Young people may dismiss these fears and do dismiss them, but for the middle-aged and older, the current patterns of behavior are distressingly reminiscent of more repressive times.

I leave you with this quote from Shaul Bakhash's article about his wife Haleh Esfandiari.

When Haleh was initially prevented from leaving Iran and the interrogations began, it was principally at my insistence that we did not "go public." Repeatedly I was told by those who supposedly understand the inner workings of Iran: "Don't worry; it's only an interrogation; once they have finished with their questions, they will let her go."

Once Haleh was arrested, however, silence was no longer an option. It is preposterous that she is accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government by organizing conferences and encouraging dialogue between Iranians and Americans. The Wilson Center issued a fact sheet; Lee Hamilton, its president and director, held a news conference; and I began to speak openly about Haleh's frightening predicament.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


May 22, 2007

"People are really nervous," a friend told us. "They are calling each other every few hours to make sure that one of them has not been arrested."

We know. We were busy calling one of our friends regularly to make sure that she was still sleeping in her own bed.

So what do people in Iran do when they are worried about being arrested? Here's the drill:
1. Sell all the alcohol.
2. Backup everything on the computer and then reformat the hard drives.
3. Call people with connections to find out if they can verify any rumors.
4. Carry an extra toothbrush everywhere.
5. Don't answer the door for unexpected visitors.
6. Wait.

We are on holiday now. Planning for our trip was kind of a nightmare. Since the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari and the crackdown on hejab, many of our friends have been nervous. Keivan received some veiled warnings. Another heard rumors of her impending arrest from family friends living abroad. (Neither were arrested btw) We decided to stop blogging for a while and keep a low profile.

But now we are on vacation, and oh how great the world is. So goodbye to Iran for a bit and hello world! Feeling very safe and sound.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Rationing, subsidies, and other economic problems

‎“How much money do you think Iran makes off of oil sales?” Keivan asked me. ‎

‎“I don’t know… $16 billion?”‎

‎“Actually, $40 billion. ‎They spend $16 billion on gasoline subsidies.”‎

‎“That’s a lot.”‎

The thing is, the proposed rationing idea sucks. ‎

In the rationing card scheme, each car receives a rationing card. This means that ‎owning more cars means receiving more subsidized petrol, not less. It’s a bad idea all ‎around. There is no reward for real conservation. It simply continues to reward the ‎wiley and the wealthy. The wealthy because they have more cars and cars that get ‎better mileage and the wiley because buying up old gas-guzzling paykans means ‎getting more cheap gasoline.‎

Iran does need price reform. Rationing, however, is a recipe for disaster. Instead, the ‎price should go up, contracts should be renegotiated, and salaries should also increase. ‎
The price of gas will make everything more expensive. The price of doing nothing, ‎however, increases every year.‎

That said, I cannot believe that the card will go into effect this year. There is still ‎hearty debate in Iran’s parliament and there is fear of disrupting the economy further ‎right now.‎


Iranian Energy Subsidies

If you want to read lots and lots about energy policy click ‎here: Sacrificing Our Children to the 'Corn God'‎

Intelligent Analysis ‎about Iran

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gas Rationing, Benzine Cards (Part 1)

Gasoline in Iran is heavily subsidized. It costs less than 10 cents a liter. For years, there have been rumors of rationing to control the rampant use of gasoline and to help normalize the economy. All I can say is that it is more complicated than that. Let me start with my predictions for the effects on poor men and women:

Taxi driving is, in many ways, the male equivalent of prostitution in Iran. A man can make a few bucks a day driving around an old Paykan (9 miles to the gallon) or someone else’s newer car. The point is, these men are operating under the radar. They do not have official taxi licenses even though they may work for official taxi agencies. My local taxi agency employs only two people who have official taxi licenses.

Rumor has it that the official drivers will get an extra ration. This same rumor says that individual car owners will get 3 liters of gasoline a day (that won’t even take the Paykan 10 miles.) “I will be retiring when the rationing begins,” my driver told me yesterday. “I am tired anyway. I’ll go to Shomal and spend my days with my wife. The younger men are really in a bad way though. They don’t know what will happen to them when rationing begins.”

“They don’t have official licenses?”

“Only two of them do.”

So what will happen? This will be a disaster for poor women who, I predict, will be forced out onto the streets by the rationing. One of my friends told me about overhearing this conversation in an apartment building in one of Tehran’s poorest neighborhoods:

“The landlord is coming today for the rent,” a man called out to his 15-year old daughter. “I don’t care how you get it. Don’t come back here until you have the money.”

What do you think, will there be more of these conversations post-rationing or fewer?

Some Links:
Iran considers gas rationing

Iran to start gas rationing

Gasoline smart card delay

NOTE: I have cross-posted this at Mideast Youth. If you have comments, please leave them there.