Iran: Heading for 'Persian Spring'?

World and We
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia's “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.
Iran: Heading for 'Persian Spring'?
While a military option for resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis is still on the table, Western strategists have ...

While a military option for resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis is still on the table, Western strategists have probably found what they believe to be a non-combat weapon to defeat the Iranian regime: bloodless, cost-cutting and effective.

The name of the game is “Persian Spring”: a Middle East-type revolution for Iran. If made a reality, it will add to the long list of mutinies and uprisings of the so-called “Arab spring”: the movements of public discontent that have plagued the region in the last two years, toppling some Arab rulers and making others tremble.

After months of hectic efforts by the Iranian government not to let the situation in the country get out of control and seemingly to effectively  withstand Western sanctions, Iranians woke up to discover that sanctions are too heavy burden to carry. It took just few weeks for the Iranian national currency – the rial, to lose 40 percent of its value against the dollar by the beginning of October.

The development, never seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution, paralyzed the local currency market and made folks storm currency exchange outlets to off-load bunches of de-valued rials and buy greenbacks. Panic, anger and despair lead to an outburst of chaotic riots outside Tehran’s main bazaar and in other places – the first street protests after a three year lull (the last time the country was rocked by riots was June 2009, when opponents of President Ahmadinejad protested his re-election, which ends next year). The police arrested trouble-makers and quickly restored law and order, but the main question is – for how long?

The nose diving currency and spiraling inflation is, in fact, a bad omen. Not only in Iran – everywhere in the trouble spots of the world. It is not only about a faltering economy – it is about how the nation feels about itself, whether it is confident in its future and, finally, whether it trusts the authorities. A devalued currency is like dead fish on the surface of the water: when you see it you realize that the river is poisoned, polluted. Not only does it smell bad – you start feeling bad, depressed, mentally ill. This is what natural disasters do to the human mind.

In a way, something similar to what is happening with the Iranian economy we experienced here in Russia during the default of August 1998, at the end of President Yeltsin’s rule. I remember how the rouble-dollar rate was changing four times a day and we rushed to buy rice, sugar, flour and vegetable oil in the morning, as by the evening the prices for basic foodstuff and commodities could have been two-three times higher. What happened after that is well known:  Boris Yeltsin ended his presidency next year with a popularity rating of 6 percent, announcing his resignation and naming Vladimir Putin his successor. Luckily, we have avoided further upheaval and the collapse of the state, but the danger was real.

Iran’s current position is much worse in many ways. Russia was never under crippling sanctions, like today’s Iran, and after the collapse of the USSR there was no more point for the West to rock the boat. Probably, they were interested in seeing Russia weak and agreeing on all matters, but not weak to the extent it will slide into chaos and won’t be able to control its nukes.  
For the Iranian regime, which is seen by the West as an “evil empire”, the way the Soviet Union was described by Ronald Reagan, the situation is different. “Carthago delendum esse, Carthage must be destroyed." The famous Latin adage, ascribed to the renowned Roman statesman Cato Major is the motto of the 21st Century Western policy towards Iran. While they are saying: “We will never tolerate mullahs with nukes”, they want neither Iranian nukes nor mullahs in power.

However, a war with Iran is a highly expensive and risky venture in many ways, “Persian spring” – a velvet revolution, instigated from outside is seen as a scenario, becoming more and more popular. Here is a Bloomberg comment on the issue: “Amid the usual hyperbolic conspiracy theories, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said something incisive in a televised address last week: that the West is waging economic “war” against Iran. He’s right, and the Iranian rial’s death spiral is the first clear sign that we’re on a path to victory”.

So, as the ship of the Iranian economy has met an iceberg of sanctions the question is, how long it will be able to keep afloat with all the damage before sinking like another Titanic. The situation is pretty serious, if not critical: Iranian foreign-currency reserves were estimated at some $110 billion at the end of 2011. However, after the EU imposed its oil embargo from July, 1, oil revenue is down by about $15 billion a quarter.  According to the reports, oil exports are at 1 million barrels a day, down from 2.2 million last year. So, by making an easy calculation you can figure it out yourself.

In the meantime, the growing feeling that “we’re on a path to victory” makes the West tighten the screws even more. It is reported that EU foreign ministers at their meeting in Brussels on October, 15 will endorse a new package of sanctions, which will have a suffocating effect. This time it will be a ban on the sale of Iranian gas to Europe and other measures targeting the energy sector and financial institutions. The agenda of “Persian Spring” was coined by Britain's Defense Secretary Philip Hammond in his recent interview with The Observer: “The world should tighten the squeeze on Iran over its "mad" nuclear plans to the point where the regime's survival is threatened by its own people”.

What is striking is that the person, who at this point, for the first time, openly argued such policy of a regime change, was the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. "The sanctions have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine,", says  Ban Ki-moon in a report, circulated last Friday. Mr. Secretary General argues that it is Iranian people who became the first victims of sanctions – not Iranian elite.

However, who is going to follow is warning?

Remember: Carthago delendum esse, Carthage must be destroyed.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.