Not the season to be merry in Tehran

By Claude Salhani

It is sad to see a country, such as Iran, rich in mineral resources, having a capable workforce and a cultured middle class and, yet, a large portion of the people struggle just to keep their heads above water, financially speaking.

When the cost of diapers for a baby hovers around $24 a packet, you know something is not right.

When the price of petrol doubles overnight and residents turn the streets into battle zones, you know something is not right.

When authorities arrest people by the thousands, possibly executing some, you definitely know something is not right.

For that regrettable state of affairs Iranians can thank the mullahs who control the day-to-day issues that touch the people of Iran.

The clergy controls every aspect of government, including monitoring the internet. In their ever-so-fine wisdom, ruling mullahs have final say over the country’s involvement in the region’s domestic policies. Ergo, Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and in the Palestinian territories, where it funds Islamist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The government of the Islamic revolution has allocated tens of millions of dollars in trying to impress and impose its policies in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and the West Bank.

Not to mention the infiltration of Iranian intelligence agents in the rest of the world, including Western Europe and the nuclear issue that has triggered economic sanctions.

In so doing the mullahs gained some friends, a few, on whom they can call on for favours, as with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. If they have gained some friends, they have irritated many more people, not least of which are the Americans.

Iranians are beginning to question the logic of propping up proxy groups around the region when their citizens go hungry or broke, just trying to buy diapers for a baby.

After Iranian years of squandering huge sums of money, the disenchantment of the regular people is being heard throughout the country in mass protests in the streets of Tehran and cities around the country.

To say that the Iranian leadership and its proxies are in dire straits is not overstating the situation.

The government has overstretched its resources by supporting the Syrian regime in the civil war, financing and arming proxies in Lebanon and Iraq. Hezbollah is unable to pay its fighters because funds from Tehran have not come through. The shrinking budgets of Hezbollah’s military and propaganda operations are causing many defections from its ranks.

For Iran, Iraq is maybe an investment in the future control of a rich country’s destiny but this strategy is badly backfiring and earning Tehran’s leading supporters in Baghdad new sanctions.

Iranians got involved in Iraq believing they were expanding their influence there but they became so involved that the welcome mat has been removed with prejudice.

In Iraq, Iranian militias kidnapped protesters and shot them at will, believing this could solve the problem of young demonstrators demanding a say in the way they are governed. That approach seems to be breeding a new generation of enemies, this time among Iraqi Shias.

Protesters are not about to stop the demonstrations whether in Iraq or in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah faces a rude awakening as protesters who have taken to the streets for two months do not seem to fear threats from the Party of God.

The narrative used to describe Hezbollah as part of the resistance to Israel has outlived its purpose. It cannot shield it from protests the people in Lebanon participate in daily. Not even Lebanon’s Shia community is convinced anymore by Hezbollah’s promises of distribution of spoils and benefits. Shias, as well as Sunnis and Christians, see such sectarian handouts as part of a corrupt system that must go.

Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.

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