July 16, 2010


The Iranian Regime's Numbered Days (Melik Kaylan, 07.16.10, Forbes)

First, the United Arab Emirates has chosen, in effect, to back sanctions by freezing 41 top regime bank accounts and is boarding ships with suspicious cargo bound for Iran. The UAE was hitherto a leading port for goods being smuggled into Iran and a top beneficiary of off-shore Iranian bank accounts. The pressure is now on Dubai to follow suit.

Second, the Bazaaris in Tehran and other major cities have gone on strike. This could topple the regime entirely on its own. The Bazaaris, Iran's highly conservative merchant class, the backbone of the retail and wholesale economy, were the pivotal force in collapsing the Shah's rule. As Iranian commentators have observed down the years, once the Bazaaris turned, the Shah's days were numbered. Now they've turned against Ahmadinejad's government.

The trouble began when Tehran announced on July 6 a 70% tax hike on the Bazaari merchants. They immediately went on strike and the tax authorities backed down. But the strikes have not stopped. Instead they have spread to other major cities such as Tabriz and Isfahan. On Monday and Tuesday of this week the government suddenly declared a “general holiday” due, it claimed, to the hot weather. In reality, state officials panicked in the face of a growing national strike of Bazaaris and wanted quiet time to force guild and community leaders back to work. Thus far they have not succeeded.

The Bazaaris are a bellwether of the economy and the national mood. They have been staunch supporters of the Islamic Revolution when it was run doctrinally by the Mullahs before the Revolutionary Guards became the primary center of power. They consider the new ruling elite to be outside the law, bad for business and bad for the country. Their defection is a great blow to the regime against whom they now represent a genuine existential threat, not least because of their oddly influential urban locations: the warren of enclosed spaces they traditionally occupy at the heart of Iranian cities. It's in exactly such places that conspiracies grow unhindered into demonstrations and movements and spill fully grown out into city streets. That's what happened in the Shah's time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 16, 2010 5:15 PM
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