People in Iran have become used to being told what’s good for them and what’s not or what to wear and what to eat. Ordinary Iranian citizens have become used to interferences in their daily affairs, even when it comes to the question of how many children each family should ideally have.
When the revolution won, 34 years ago, Iran’s population was around 30 million. The current population is more than 75 million. Ayatollah Khamenei thinks that the country has the ability to contain around 150 million. Based on Ayatollah Khamenei’s evaluation, the old plan on regulating citizens has been suspended, and there will be no scientific studies that aim to prevent pregnancy. Khamenei wants each family to have at least three children.
Iran is the second country, after China, to interfere in the life of its people and tell them what to do and what to avoid. There are other countries, of course, which attempt to increase their population and encourage their citizens to have children by, for example, providing financial incentives and granting women long maternity leaves. These countries however don’t add to this orientation a religious aspect in order to impose it on people.
Many Iranians were surprised when they heard the orders of Ayatollah Khamenei – Iran’s supreme leader - to suspend applying the old family regulatory plan. These orders have pushed several clinics and family planning consultancies to stop aiding women who desire to prevent pregnancy.
The Iranian people’s point of view
Iranian websites are full of jokes about these new commands which are relevant to the family’s most private affairs. People are mockingly wondering whether Ayatollah Khamenei also wants them to die at an early age or whether he thinks they are breathing too much and thus have to wear masks to get this under control.
Iran is the second country, after China, to interfere in the life of its people and tell them what to do and what to avoidCamelia Entekhabi-Fard
This issue has also stirred more controversy linked to the difficulties which Iranians face with regards to providing for their families. Iranians have dealt logically with the tough economic circumstances. They have less children in order to better provide for them. Iranians are also currently wondering - more than they ever have - what the point of all the suffering they’ve been through for the sake of the nuclear program is. They are also wondering whether the upcoming solution for the nuclear issue is worth all the sacrifices they made.
Iran is a country rich in natural resources but the sanctions and the lack of investments have greatly decreased the chances of benefitting from these resources. Even the most optimistic of observers expect that Iran - after becoming open to the West - will need many years to properly start benefitting from its resources. Sanctions have greatly harmed the Iranian energy sector. Plenty of work, effort and openness is required for this sector to regain its former strength.
The Iranian regime’s manner of issuing strict orders, some of which are linked to the citizens’ most private affairs, obstructs the achievement of real harmony between the people and the ruling class. There has been endless war and a confrontation between the people and the regime ever since the revolution’s beginning. This pushed many Iranians to leave the country and seek refuge in several Western countries.
The international community may begin to accept the Iranian regime on the condition that the latter stops interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, particularly of regional countries, and on condition that an agreement and a solution are reached regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This openness towards the West has made Iranians hope that their government will limit its interferences in their private affairs and grant them more of the freedoms they are demanding.
Although extremists in Iran are obstructing the government’s desire to break the ice and cancel out the slogan “death to America,” I can say that most Iranians dream of visiting America at least once in their lives. All Iranians, including students and members of the diplomatic mission at the U.N., went to the U.S. after the revolution make sure that their children were born in the U.S. to get American passports.
The new Iranian administration must work on being open towards its people as much as it’s working to be open towards the West. It should do this sooner rather than later. If the gap between the regime and the people remains, no Iranian administration will be able to achieve its people’s aspirations and fully exploit the country’s resources.
This article was first published in al-Watan on Oct. 24, 2013.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard
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