Wilson Center Event Examines Iran's Domestic and International Relations

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The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a Sept. 30 event titled "Iran: Turmoil at Home, Assertiveness Abroad?" The first of two panels addressed Iran's economy, educational system and internal political struggles, while the second addressed Iran's nuclear ambitions and its relations with the Gulf nations. The domestic panel was moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American director of the Wilson Center's Middle East program who was imprisoned by the Iranian regime for more than 110 days in 2007. Wilson Center scholar and journalist Robin Wright moderated the panel on Iran's international relations.

Analyzing Iran's domestic politics, Shaul Bakhash, professor of history at George Mason University-and an Iranian-born Jew who is married to Esfandiari-observed that Iran's political leaders increasingly are resorting to authoritarian practices. In the wake of the contested 2009 presidential elections, he said, a growing number of individuals are being charged with partaking in conspiracies designed to destabilize the Tehran government. The Iranian regime is disparagingly referring to these reformers as the "seditionist current," Bakhash added.

Moreover, he noted, there is growing conflict within Iran's ruling elite. Some, such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have frequently been referred to as the "deviationist current" by the more conservative elements within Iran. Accusing these "deviationists" of "religious unorthodoxy" and financial corruption, Bakhash noted that figures such as Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuse these individuals of straying from the principles of the Islamic revolution.

Bijan Khajehpour, managing partner of Atieh International, described the Iranian economy as being "sick." Khajehpour, who was imprisoned for three months in 2009, in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election, noted that while Iran's economy is experiencing 3 percent annual growth, unemployment and inflation are rising. He cited as the most significant factor contributing to inflation the government's failed subsidy reforms. Rather than equally distributing money between the lowest income class, industries, and the treasury, Khajehpour explained, the subsidies have gone disproportionately to the lower class, causing the prices of commodities to rise. He also identified rampant corruption in the awarding of new business contracts as an important explanation as to why Iran's economy is lagging.

Analyzing the impact that sanctions have had on the Iranian economy, Khajehpour noted that they have resulted in a lack of foreign investment in the country and in the annual loss of approximately $10 billion in imports. Additionally, Khajehpour noted that sanctions have made it increasingly difficult for Iran to receive funds from its oil exports.

In the opinion of Roberto Toscano, a former Italian ambassador to Iran, the Iranian regime is attempting to use the classroom to promote the ideals of the 1979 revolution. …