Middle Israel: Letter to an unhappy Iranian

Your leaders can rob, jail, and also kill you, but they can’t bury the truth you will read here about what they did to your job, your money, your dignity and hope.

A man walks past Azadi Tower (Liberty Tower) in Azadi Square in Tehran, Iran, January 17, 2016. (photo credit: RAHEB HOMAVANDI/TIMA VIA REUTERS)
A man walks past Azadi Tower (Liberty Tower) in Azadi Square in Tehran, Iran, January 17, 2016.
It took a mere six months.
As warned here when protests last swept your country, Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari’s announcement at the time “Today, I can say, is the end of this sedition” was as reliable as the statement by the shah’s prime minister Jamshid Amouzegar in summer 1978 that “the crisis is over.”
Now as then, “sedition” and “crisis” resumed quickly, and your leaders cannot undo them, unless they betray their principles, their interests and their instincts.
Their principles prevent them from delivering the treatment your economy demands. Their interests demand that the privileged class they serve come before, and instead, of you. And in their instincts, they are afraid that if power passes from them to you, you will do to them what they did to the shah.
That is what lurked behind unelected Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s order to the courts this week to “confront those out to destabilize the economy.”
The currency traders who keep raising your exchange rate – from 40,000 riyals to a dollar last fall to 92,000 this week – are not the cause of your economic crisis, as he insinuates. They are its result. The cause is he.
THE AYATOLLAHS deliberately addicted your economy to oil exports and thus robbed your future.
They could have used your petrodollars to diversify your economy and industrialize your society and thus create the jobs, dignity, mobility and hope that you now crave.
Alas, what would have been good for you would have been bad for your rulers. Free inflows of foreign capital, an apolitical banking industry, a dominant private sector, and the completion of the industrial revolution launched by the shah in the 1960s would have risked their grip on power.
The opportunities, meritocracy, mobility and income that your economic empowerment would have spawned would have encouraged millions of citizens like you to be culturally open, religiously critical and politically thirsty. Paralyzing you politically demanded keeping you economically chained while your leaders clutched, misused, abused and also stole your oil wells’ easy money.
Your spiraling inflation is the result of this fear of economic freedom, since the shortages from which you now suffer begin not with today’s sanctions but with yesterday’s choking of the middle class and pampering – with antieconomic subsidies – of the undereducated, in order to buy their political loyalty.
It’s a well-known autocratic formula, and it could last only that long.
The only way to end all this is to liberalize your economy by ceasing to print money; removing clerics and politicians from monetary policy; cutting spending; shrinking the public sector; easing capital restrictions, currency controls and import duties; selling state assets not to the regime’s darlings but to the public; and dismantling the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ economic empire, which wins tenders uncontested and employs cronies at the expense of able university graduates who lack connections.
Although these measures are so obviously imperative, your leaders resist such economic surgery because they fear that economic freedom will spread to other freedoms and ultimately inspire the regime’s demise.
This economic betrayal is besides the recklessness of the imperial project your leaders have launched without ever consulting, or even just properly informing, you and all other ordinary citizens.
YOUR COUNTRY last tried to expand westward 1,400 years ago, when your forebears were led by the Sassanid dynasty. It began spectacularly and ended catastrophically.
Persia’s initial routing of Byzantine armies and its invasions of today’s Syria, Turkey and Egypt ended with the emergence of the Arab armies that first pushed your forebears back into historic Persia, then invaded it, then unseated its leaders, and finally replaced its religion.
Now your leaders have sent your troops and treasure galloping through the horizon in order to insert you between the Syrian, Lebanese, Saudi and Yemeni descendants of the same Arabs, and the Russian successors of the same Byzantines.
It is an imperial escapade much like your ancestors’, and it will end no better.
Like the Soviet Union in its time, your leaders are trying to export their revolution. The Soviet missionary zeal sparked by the 1917 revolution quickly morphed into brutal imperialism. Ultimately, it made Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Romanians and millions of other Europeans hate the Soviet intrusion’s gospel, and even more so its bearers.
You have been led down the same path. Millions of displaced, dispossessed, maimed and bereaved Syrians and Yemenis now see in your county a major cause of their devastations. Your leaders made them, and hundreds of millions of other Sunnis, hate you. What for?
This is besides the fact that your leaders have marched into a geopolitical wall and a military trap.
Politically, the ayatollahs have taken on Russia by eying the same Syrian coastline that is Russia’s imperial quest. Your leaders may be pious and Russia may be heathen, but your country, like most others, is in no position to provoke this mighty power.
Militarily, your leaders have provoked Israel by casting in Syria a network of militias, while leaving them exposed to attack, since they lack air power and inhabit flatlands. Even so, your leaders last month had them fire missiles at our northern border, 500 kilometers away from your homeland.
The result, a massive attack by Israeli jets on your units’ Syrian deployment, would never have occurred had your leaders focused on bettering your lives rather than threatening ours.
We Jews recall vividly two biblical Persians: One was King Cyrus, a paragon of tolerance who restored our nation to the homeland from which it had been expelled; the other was Haman, King Ahasuerus’s prime minister who plotted a decree “to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women.”
Who in today’s Iran are Haman’s successors – we know. Who in today’s Iran are Cyrus’s successors – we don’t know.
Do you?