When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad campaigned for president two years ago, he promised Iranians that he would put the country’s oil wealth “on people’s tables.” Not only has he failed to make this or any of his economic pledges come to pass, he has stood at the helm of an economy so in shambles that the government was forced this week to impose gas rationing. As a result, even some people who once might have thought Ahmadinejad was “one of them” have spoken, with a vengeance.
The rationing announcement from the oil ministry ignited a powder keg of protest: enraged citizens throughout the country revolted by burning gas stations, looting government-owned businesses and rioting. Senior government officials, initially tried to play down the riots, but later had to admit to attacks on dozens of gas stations, government buildings, government banks, police vehicles, mass transit buses and chain stores. The chief of gas stations of Iran told the state-run media that nearly 30 percent of all gas stations in the country were destroyed or severely damaged. In addition to the capital, Tehran, angry people took to the streets in Arak, the holy city of Mashhad, Ilam, Shiraz, Yasouj and Ahmadinejad's hometown, Garmsar. Other provinces including Azerbaijan, Mazandaran, Khuzistan, Ardebil, Hamedan and Isfahan were scenes of protests and clashes with the police. In many parts of Tehran, according to news agencies, angry youths pelted police with stones and chanted: “Guns, tanks, fireworks, Ahmadinejad must be killed.”
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, broke his silence and said one of the most important tasks of the Judiciary is to "deal decisively, with no hesitation to teach a lesson to the violators of law." The regime has conceded that some arrests have been made in connection with the riots; however, many reports indicate that the detainees are in thousands. Some eyewitness accounts from Tehran and other cities indicate that government forces opened fire, killing a number of angry protesters.
The people of Iran, whose government is OPEC’s no. 2 crude oil producer and the world's fourth largest exporter, consider it their inalienable right to protest when they must now settle for about 26 gallons (U.S.) of gas a month.
Rationing makes it particularly difficult for many people who need multiple jobs to make ends meet and unemployed people who use their private cars as taxis to earn a living. Gasoline rationing has already accelerated inflation, a major problem in the country. Prices of dairy products have risen by as much as 25 percent over the past few days. In many areas of the country, housing prices have already gone up as much as 30 percent since the announcement of gasoline rationing just a few days ago.
One of the richest oil countries in the world, reduced to the desperate measure of gas rationing: What’s wrong with this picture?
In Tehran, incompetence and corruption reign supreme. Due to the regime’s failure to build an adequate oil industry infrastructure — it’s had 28 years to work on it — there are not enough refineries to produce gasoline for the country’s needs. Iran has therefore been buying gasoline on the world market, $5 billion worth a year, to meet the demand. Now, however, Iran simply can no longer afford it; the budget for 2007 gasoline imports is only $2.5 billion — hence the need for rationing. In a long-held effort to make gas affordable, the government also subsidizes gasoline, which for a long time had allowed drivers to buy it at about 34 cents (U.S.) a gallon. The price increases of this past week raised this price to about 42 cents per gallon, a price hike of 25 percent.
Ahmadinejad once declared that the Iranian people “are waiting" for the fundamentalists to serve them. The violent protests across the nation this week prove that the people are through with waiting. Ahmadinejad was blamed for dramatically raising housing and food prices in the past year, even before the gasoline rationing.
Most people hold the regime responsible for refusing to further subsidize gasoline, while spending huge sums of money on its nuclear program, funding various terrorist groups around the globe, financing an extensive network engaged in violence in Iraq and buying arms for its repressive Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.
Ahmadinejad’s confrontational acts and the regime’s refusal to halt its nuclear enrichment program have led to economic sanctions that are further crippling a poorly managed economy. While the Iranian president concentrates on bullying the West and portraying Iran as a self-sufficient land of stability and progress, his cities erupt in flames. For years, the truth about Iran has trickled out to largely deaf ears — the thousands of organized protests against the government that occur every year and the violent crackdown on the people and press that has followed in the wake of those demonstrations.
But this week the truth about Iran blazes across television screens around the world. Iran’s reality is not the story of people fighting for nuclear “rights” and blindly following a religious fundamentalist regime, but the story of a young, proud, educated population that will no longer settle for the increasingly oppressive and violent regime that rules it. The wave of violent crackdown on the population that started earlier this year did not help the regime to neutralize a population that increasingly is daring to confront the regime.
Tehran's ruling clerics try to portray themselves as stable, powerful and a regional superpower by funding terrorism around the globe, violently intervening in Iraq, sabotaging peace in the Middle East and pursuing an ambitious nuclear weapons program. However, the regime is indeed most vulnerable internally; Ahmadinejad's Achilles' heel is his own defiant population. For all its tragedy, the fire engulfing Iran is a clear signal that the Iranian people are demanding change.
The United States would do much better to abandon its old policy of indecisiveness, and, instead begin reaching out to the Iranian people and the organized opposition, whom the mullahs fear the most. A strong bipartisan voice in the United States Congress has already called to remove all restrictions against Tehran's opponents, including an end to the State Department's terrorist designation of Iran's largest and best organized opposition movement, the Mujahedin e-Khalq. The religious dictatorship that has ruled since 1979 has failed its people, its economy and its enormous potential as one of the wealthiest oil producers in the world. Today, Ahmadinejad’s empty promises are rising up to haunt him, in flames.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.