Iran protests show Ahmadinejad popularity fizzles
by Timothy J.A. Passmore
Oct 05, 2012 | 1026 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An overwhelming majority of rural white Americans would rather vote for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than Barack Obama. Or at least, this is what was published by the leading Iranian news service Fars last Friday.

It turns out that in an unfortunate oversight, the organization had republished word-for-word an article taken from the spoof news website, The Onion. It seems that Fars is just the latest in a number upon whom The Onion’s satire is completely lost. It also seems, as one would suspect, that the Iranian leader is not nearly as popular with Americans as the humorous article suggests.

While this media gaffe is relatively innocuous, it comes at a time when Ahmadinejad should be worried about his popularity ratings; not in the United States but rather at home. A burgeoning opposition to the president was given a further boost this week, as reports announced the huge decrease in value of Iran’s currency, the rial. Thought to be largely the result of economic sanctions placed on the country, traders, money lenders and business owners took to the streets in furor, resulting in violent clashes with the police.

Iran’s economy has been virtually crippled due largely to the sanctions imposed by a number of Western nations, and most crucially the United States; a response to Ahmadinejad’s refusal to cooperate over Iran’s nuclear program. Measures taken include a European embargo on Iranian oil, and President Obama’s 2011 law threatening action against any company that deals with the Iranian Central Bank. In the last seven days alone the rial’s value has dropped by 25 percent, and by 80 percent since 2011, with the freefall showing no signs of slowing. Iran is now facing an economic crisis akin to that in Europe, with citizens scrambling for gold and foreign currencies as they lose faith in the falling rial.

The protests bring attention to some of the tremendous misperceptions of Iranian society. For one thing, Ahmadinejad is far from an authoritarian leader with unchecked control. Currently serving his second consecutive term, the president will leave office in 2013, constitutionally prohibited from serving a third term. It would also be false to assume that Ahmadinejad’s animosity toward Israel is shared by the majority of the Iranian people, as well as the desire to possess nuclear weapons. Hard-working Iranians are reeling as they struggle to afford everyday staples, run their businesses or find jobs. War with the United States, a looming and unfortunate possibility, would serve only to bring further misery to the Iranian people.

Hence, Ahmadinejad has seen rising opposition and tumbling popularity in recent years. Many maintain that he was not the people’s true choice in the 2009 election, while the alleged winner, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has remained on house arrest since the election. In short, Iranians are growing tired of the president’s bravado toward the West and his mismanagement of the economy. It would truly be a shame for the people to suffer in a military confrontation with Israel or the United States, should that come before Ahmadinejad’s term of office ends next August.

Of course, this is not to suggest that the West should not continue to press Ahmadinejad over Iran’s nuclear program. Nor does it mean his replacement will not seek to develop nuclear weapons.

The sanctions, while greatly unfortunate for the people, have had the desired effect for the West, forcing Ahmadinejad’s people against him rather than pushing the nation to the brink and fomenting war. The United States should seek all means of remediation before resorting to another war, much less draw Israel into a military confrontation (a likely result, which alone would have immeasurable consequences).

The next year will be crucial for this situation with a lot riding on who becomes the next U.S. president, as well as how Iran deals with the economic crisis. Also important is whether or not Ahmadinejad decides to act on behalf of the people rather than Iran’s global power position.

Iran could become a success story, a much-preferred outcome to what could lie in store if relations with the West don’t improve quickly.