Mullahs think from their balls and when put into government, you lose everything. For the amount of money Iran spent on enriching uranium for non exisitent power plant, it could have built 60 refieners to cater every petroleum product it needs, create a massive job market, earn revenues from export and break free from forigen oil dependence.
Enrich Oil, Not Uranium!
Amir Taheri, Arab News
Source: Enrich Oil, Not Uranium!
After nights of rioting, Tehran looks like a war-torn city dotted with charred carcasses of cars and buses and the still smoldering remains of gas stations. Security checkpoints are everywhere while heavily armed soldiers guard public edifices and government buildings.
The riots were provoked by a government decision to increase the price of gasoline (petrol) for private automobiles from four US cents to six.
It is against that background that a little known ayatollah of Qom, the Iranian “holy city,” issues a fatwa, calling for the “Islamic execution” of the man who took the decision to raise gasoline prices. A few months later, the fatwa is executed and the man condemned by the ayatollah is murdered by a five-man “Islamic” hit squad.
Those who have seen television footage of rioting in Tehran and dozens of other Iranian cities this week would find the above sketch familiar. The sketch, however, portrays what happened in 1964, when Prime Minister Hassan-Ali Mansour raised the price of gasoline, and was sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa.
The uncanny similarity between the 1964 riots and those now shaking Iran is all the more significant because the very men who led those riots and later killed Mansour are now in power in Tehran in the framework of the Islamic republic. It is also telling that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took the decision to end gas subsidies and impose rationing, has used precisely the same arguments that Prime Minister Mansour did in his time.
Mansour had argued that it was absurd to sell gasoline at below production cost, especially at a time that Iran could not balance its government budget. The argument is even stronger today because the Islamic republic is importing more than 40 percent of the refined petroleum products it consumes.
If current consumption growth rates continue, by 2010 the Islamic republic would be spending almost half of its oil revenues on imported gasoline that is then sold in Iran at below-cost prices.
Are we witnessing one of those rare cases when history seems to be repeating itself?
Not necessarily. The Shah’s regime under which Mansour had become prime minister was of the type that politologues call “soft dictatorship”. It had no stomach for crushing street riots and dealing with opponents through mass executions. This is why it took only four days of rioting, in which Tehran University students joined striking workers, for the Mansour government to buckle under and restore the subsidies. All the 97 people arrested were released without charge and the government agreed to compensate those whose properties had been destroyed by the rioters.
The Khomeinist regime belongs to a different category, that of “hard dictatorships.” It has no qualms about crushing opponents with mass arrests and executions.
It has declared a state of emergency in Tehran and 21 other cities, and arrested large numbers of protestors. Thus, few analysts expect the current riots to force Ahmadinejad into a retreat.
And, yet, I have a feeling that Ahmadinejad would be forced into a retreat. There are several reasons why he might do so.
First, with elections for the Islamic Consultative Majlis (Parliament) just months away, many members might not wish to risk their seats by finalizing the president’s plan.
Elections in the Islamic republic have never been free in the sense that they are in democratic countries. Nevertheless, Islamic republic elections provide a framework for rival factions within the regime to compete for power.
As things stand today, factions opposed to Ahmadinejad, including some of his former allies, are trying to exploit the gasoline price issue as a theme with which to energize their support base within the Khomeinist movement. One faction led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, a businessman-mullah reputed to be the richest man in Iran, has denounced the gasoline rationing decision as “ill-timed and unnecessary.” Another faction, led by Mahdi Karrubi, another mullah with business interests, has extended its criticism to the whole of Ahmadinejad’s economic policy.
Secondly, the gasoline issue exposes some of the key contradictions of Ahmadinejad’s populist posture. Here is a man who travels around the country promising to put “the oil money on every family’s dinner table,” and yet is, in effect, withdrawing more than $4 billion in subsidies that help millions of poor Iranians.
Ahmadinejad is leading the country into what could be a long and dangerous conflict with the United Nations over the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions by describing uranium enrichment as a “ vital national priority.” And, yet, a country that has the world’s largest oil reserves and second biggest deposits of natural gas cannot meet the needs of its own people for refined petroleum products.
One of the slogans shouted in Tehran during this week’s riots put it neatly: “Enrich oil, not uranium!”
The absurdity of the situation becomes more apparent when Iranians recall that their country is being pushed toward war because Ahmadinejad wants to enrich uranium for nonexistent nuclear power stations. The first Iranian nuclear power station is scheduled to become operational toward the end of 2008. Even then, all the fuel it would need for 37 years after which it would have to be de-commissioned, is already guaranteed by Russia that is building it.
The Iranian market could quickly absorb an additional one million barrels of refined petroleum products each day. But there is no market for enriched uranium in Iran, unless, of course, the Islamic republic wants to produce nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad’s offer of selling Iranian enriched uranium to countries with nuclear power stations, including the US, might indicate his sense of humor. But it has angered many Iranians who have to spend hours in endless queues to secure a bucket of gasoline. The Islamic republic has spent an estimated $2.5 billion on its uranium enrichment program. As a group of Ahmadinejad’s critics pointed out in an open letter last month, with the money spent on uranium enrichment Iran could have built more than 60 oil refineries, catering for all of its needs in gasoline and other petroleum products.