Iran's '79 Revolution Has Gone Awry; Economic Woes Plague Country under mullahs.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: MIDDLE EAST)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 28, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Iran's '79 Revolution Has Gone Awry; Economic Woes Plague Country under mullahs.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: MIDDLE EAST)


Byline: Borzou Daragahi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

TEHRAN - The sprawling bazaar in the southern part of this city is where opposition to Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last Iranian monarch, sparked the Islamic revolution in 1979. The bazaar merchants opposed the shah's permissive culture and favored a government of religious clerics or mullahs.

But it was the shah's economic policies that ignited the revolution. Merchants were outraged by his attempts to open Iran's economy to the global market and foreign competition.

Now, some of those same people who toppled the shah are desperately trying to pull Iran's economy into the 21st century.

That's because many of the major policies the mullahs initiated since the 1979 revolution have failed. But the government may not be able to improve its economy without dismantling the revolution that put it in power.

The country's economic problems are broad, deep and numerous. Everyone complains about not being able to make ends meet. According to government statistics, the average family earns $3,125 a year; but spends $600 more than that.

More palpably, Iranians eat 20 percent less food and 30 percent less meat than they did 10 years ago.

Hassan Fallahi, a taxi driver from southern Tehran with five children. says times have gotten tougher and tougher.

"A kilogram of meat that cost $2 last year costs $3 this year," he said. "Foodstuffs have gotten more expensive, clothes have gotten more expensive. But your salary stays the same."

After the revolution, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urged Iranians to bear many children. Go forth, he said, and breed a new Islamic order.

Well, they did. Now Iran faces a huge demographic crisis: 800,000 to 1.2 million new jobs are needed every year for people entering the job market.

But the country can only create 400,000 jobs in a good year. The official unemployment rate is at 13 percent, but most independent analysts peg it at 20 percent. One minister recently called unemployment a national threat.

Mohammed Hussein Adib, an Iranian economist, predicts unemployment could rise to 30 percent in the next four years. "The biggest challenge for Iran might be finding enough sidewalks for aimless young men to mill about upon," he joked.

The mullahs taught illiterate people to read and put universities in every small town. The result has been an educated youth with high ambitions but few opportunities. Unless they go abroad. Since the mullahs took charge of Iran, they have tried to impose seventh-century religious values on the population. They banned pop music, alcohol, discos and many forms of modern entertainment.

So the modern-minded are leaving. Late last year the International Monetary Fund named Iran the world's No. 1 victim of brain drain, with 150,000 to 180,000 of the country's best educated moving out each year to contribute their talents to the West.

In managing the private sector, the government has fared even worse.

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