Tehran should fear the Iranian people, not the West

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

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During the week’s slower days in Iran, Thursday and Friday (which are tantamount to the weekend there), the news did not attract much attention.

One of the top concerns was preparations to eat Chelow Kabab - everyone's favorite meal as families gather to sit down at the dining table. Unfortunately, not many families can afford this weekly meal as prices of meat, vegetables and fruits increased as a result of the imposed sanctions.

During this very calm weekend, Iranian diplomats headed to Geneva to see if they could strike an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

The people's real opinion is completely different than the optimistic hopes announced via state-owned television channels.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

On Nov. 5, Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif told France 24 during his visit to France that some progress was achieved, although the negotiations failed to land a deal.

The Iranian diplomats who commit to complete secrecy did not make any statements on the details of a potential deal for weeks since the first round of their meeting with the P5+1. The details that were leaked came from American officials who made statements to the New York Times on condition of anonymity.

The report said that as part of the deal, Iran will halt uranium enrichment to the 20 percent level for six months and in exchange, the U.S. may unfreeze Iranian assets - that is Iranian oil revenues in banks in Japan, China and India.

Whatever the agreement that was discussed during these failed Geneva talks, it would have been a significant step for President Rowhani's administration.

It's interesting to know that people in Iran don't have any opinions regarding the nuclear program and the negotiations' details. What concerns them is whether its' possible to have enough butter, chicken and eggs and whether it's possible to bring these goods to the market for lower prices.

Butter fingers

It may surprise you to know that in May, Iran faced a national crisis due to a butter shortage. Apparently, 95% of the butter consumed is imported. Butter disappeared from markets the minute sanctions were imposed on Iranian shipping companies. I was shocked and surprised when I heard people complain of butter shortage for days. All dailies were full of news on butter shortage as if this is more important than national news. They discussed the issue as if it's the people’s most important of necessities.

Believe me, the Iranians may be extremely upset if they have to live without butter and they wouldn't care if all nuclear facilities are shut down next week!

The Middle-class Iranian citizens I have spoken to in Dubai were generally unhappy about the nuclear program. What worries them most is the high price they had to pay. Some are suspicious about the regime's real aim. Some whispered in my ear saying: "They wanted to produce a nuclear bomb but they changed their minds. Do you know that?"

The people's real opinion is completely different than the optimistic hopes announced via state-owned television channels.

If Iran currently intends to reach an agreement with the West and to stop part of its nuclear program or if it has more transparency to prove its peaceful intentions, then this is due to its fears of rising public anger and not of the West's threats. Rowhani, who was chief of nuclear negotiators in 2003, has the same chance, as his team must now lead negotiations towards reaching the agreement aspired for years.

He who knows the Iranians is aware of the truth that they will not protest against the nuclear program or against producing a nuclear bomb or against anything that has to do with the government. When the Iranians' stomachs are full, they don't care about politics. But they may protest due to a shortage of butter or increase of egg prices.

When oil prices rose in June 2007, people set fire to gas stations and no one was capable of controlling the angry masses. You may ask about the reason the revolution erupted when most people's stomachs were full and when there was no shortage of butter and Winston cigarettes. Perhaps one of the reasons is that Ayatollah Khomeini had promised he would spare the people of electricity and water expenses and to cash in their oil shares every other month. What an affluent life!

Perhaps the supreme guide should take history into consideration and not his aspirations, as the threat of hungry people is more dangerous than the American administration's threats which will always exist.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 9, 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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