George Bush, in his annual state of the union address, highlighted so-called Iranian-backed extremism in the Middle East.
The reality in Iran, however, is rarely examined by the mainstream media. Noted Iranian writer Nasrin Alavi, now based in London, argues that Ahmadinejad’s regime is decreasing in popularity due to its economic failures and overblown rhetoric:
The disillusion with the United States among many Iranians has meant that the hopes and energies for change are increasingly grounded in the domestic troubles of the regime. The people’s frustrations with the government’s economic mismanagement are rising at a moment when an important electoral test – elections to the 290-seat majlis (parliament) on 14 March 2008 – is approaching.
In routine circumstances, the leadership of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters would at such a time seek to heighten the confrontational rhetoric against the US, mobilising nationalist sentiment against revolutionary Iran’s number-one enemy. On this occasion, the tactic may be less effective, for two reasons.
First, the US’s national intelligence estimate (NIE) published on 3 December 2007 controverted the White House’s portrayal of the alleged Iranian nuclear peril, thus going a little way to defuse tension and undermine the portrayal by Iranian authorities (and in particular by Ahmadinejad himself) of an immediate threat from the US (see “Iran: the uses of intelligence“, 6 December 2007). Second, most Iranian citizens are so hard-pressed by their daily circumstances that their concern is not with foreign policy or how their country’s nuclear-energy programme is perceived, but with their economic condition and how to improve it.
This is bad news for the president. Ahmadinejad had campaigned for the presidency in June 2005 on an economic platform, and won power by tapping into the vein of popular anger against corruption and cronyism and promising to create jobs and security for Iran’s poor and deprived. In the middle of his third year in office, the hopes he raised have largely dissipated: the government has introduced petrol rationing, and there has been disruption in gas supplies and more than sixty deaths amid a spell of severely cold weather – all this in the country that is the fourth-largest oil producer in the world, and has the second-largest natural-gas resources.
None of this suggests that a greater reformist period is coming, Alavi writes, but rather a new governing order.