February 21, 2016


Among Iranian Reformists, hope goes hand in hand with pragmatism (Jean Aziz, February 21, 2016, Al Monitor)

At first glance, Qom appears to be the Vatican City of Shiites to the first-time visitor. There are countless mosques, and various sermons simultaneously echo from different pulpits. In the main street, leading to Lady Fatima Masuma Shrine -- one of the largest Shiite shrines in Iran -- it seemed as if clerics were holding a massive protest. Hundreds of clerics wearing black and white turbans paced the streets and sidewalks while carrying their laptops, books and files. When asked about the crowd, Al-Monitor's guide and translator explained that we were approaching the Shiite seminary -- the most prominent in the world, besides that in Najaf in Iraq. The guide, a seminary student himself, told Al-Monitor that this seminary hosts around 45,000 clerics, including students, teachers and senior clerics.

At an office near the seminary, Al-Monitor met with a group of university lecturers who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their full names, and the names of their universities, not be disclosed.

Mohammad, a political science and international relations professor, was not really interested in Al-Monitor's questions about Shiism, religious authorities and traditions. Instead, as soon as the subject of Iran after the nuclear deal arose, he immediately said that his country "took too long to sign that deal. It could have done so 10 years ago at least. But former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevented this, which cost the country and pushed it to pay a useless price." His colleague, Mostafa, a professor of Islamic studies, told Al-Monitor, "Iran gained nothing from those strict policies. Instead, it suffered an economic blockade that made it regress for long years." He added, "When Iranians visit Turkey, they realize the vast difference in prosperity and development. Iran is currently trying to recover from the losses it suffered."

Indeed, the burden appears heavy. Hassan, an economics professor, told Al-Monitor, "There are around 8 million unemployed people in Iran ... which means that 10% of the population has no source of income. This is not a negligible figure, especially as 65,000 of the unemployed hold doctorates in various disciplines." Hassan further explained, "People paid the price for an ideological stance and wrong political priorities. For years, we have been asking our officials to reach an understanding with Washington to solve the local and regional problems. We would tell them how unreasonable it is to support parties outside Iran with money and supplies, while some Iranian regions have not been reconstructed following the damage caused by the Iranian-Iraqi war in the 1980s."

Posted by at February 21, 2016 5:28 PM