July 9, 2005


For Iranians, It Was the Economy, Stupid (Reza Aslan, July 3, 2005, LA Times)

Anyone struggling to understand how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the obscure, hard-line mayor of Tehran who had never before run for office, who spent almost no money on his campaign for president and who barely registered in preelection polls — could have steamrolled former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the enormously powerful political moderate and overwhelmingly favored technocrat, should ask my cousin Karim.

Karim, a 30-year-old engineer from Tehran with a wife, two kids and his own software business, is a member of the city's disproportionately large and technologically savvy middle class. But although in the U.S. the term middle class implies a level of financial comfort and security, Karim enjoys neither of these. Like the rest of Tehran's young and highly educated populace, Karim is forced to wade through an utterly collapsed economy by performing menial jobs. Besides running his software business, he works some nights as an unlicensed cab driver; he helps raise chickens on his aunt's farm; he hires himself out as a tour guide and translator; and, if he's lucky, he sometimes sells American contraband — compact discs, DVDs, designer purses — out of the trunk of his car.

For his life of toil and struggle, Karim naturally blames Iran's clerical regime, which holds all the power and, increasingly, all the wealth in the country. In fact, like many Iranians, he dreams of one day dragging the clerics out of the government by their beards and trampling on their bodies in the streets. But first, he has to figure out a way to feed his family. And that is why he voted for Ahmadinejad.

Despite the shrill rhetoric coming from Washington, where officials are now wasting their time trying to determine whether the incoming Iranian president was or was not a radical student hostage taker 26 years ago, Ahmadinejad did not win because of widespread fraud or because reform-minded voters boycotted the elections (though both played small roles). He won because most Iranians, especially younger voters like Karim who are the natural constituency of the reform movement, saw him as the only candidate willing to talk about what nearly everyone in Iran — regardless of class, degree of piety or political affiliation — is most concerned about: massive inflation, high unemployment and soaring housing prices.

While Rafsanjani and the other half-dozen or so presidential candidates stumbled over each other with promises of social reform and rapprochement with the West, Ahmadinejad promised to stop corruption in the government, distribute aid to the outlying provinces, promote healthcare, raise the minimum wage and help the young with home and business loans.

And the good thing is there's no theocratic way to fix the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 9, 2005 8:37 AM

We'll see if Mr. Ahmadinejed deserves his reputation as a clever politician. He has a wonderful opportunity. Again, like Nixon to China.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 9, 2005 9:22 PM

This is like the article in their ideological running mate the NYTimes last week that tried to analyze the Iranian Election as if it had occurred in a free country that ran honest elections.

Folks, very few people voted in the election, which was, BTW, rigged. Analyzing it is a waste of time.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 9, 2005 10:10 PM