Saturday, July 10, 2010

RFE: Tehran Bazaar Dispute May Herald New Regime Crackdown

H/T Iran News... Robert Tait writes,
If ever an institution typified the blend of social and religious conservatism wrapped up in Iran's Islamic Revolution, it is the Tehran bazaar -- home to an array of carpet sellers, textile traders, and food merchants instinctively suspicious of the alien values of Western commerce.

Yet now this sprawling "city within a city" -- which is also home to several mosques, in keeping with its close ties to the Islamic clergy -- is in open revolt against President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as he tries to impose swingeing tax rises to compensate for budget shortfalls.

This week, the bazaar -- situated on the southern tip of Tehran's vast city center -- forced the government to backtrack on a plan to increase income tax on traders by 70 percent after many vendors closed their doors, slowing trade to a crawl and prompting the authorities to dispatch security forces.

After gold and jewelry stores closed on July 6, traders throughout the bustling market followed suit. A hastily arranged meeting between merchants and Finance Ministry officials was followed by an announcement that measures to collect the new tax would be "suspended" until "necessary guidelines are issued." In the meantime, taxes would remain at their current levels of between 6 and 15 percent -- thus depriving the government of an estimated $20 billion it hoped to raise in revenues.
But following the ongoing rift with former establishment figures like Rafsanjani and Mir Hossein Musavi over Ahmadineajd's 2009 presidential election, alienating it has huge symbolic importance and will leave Ahmadinejad politically isolated, Assadi believes.

"It means that sociologically, the institutions you would expect to be supportive of the government of Ahmadinejad are against it," he said. "Sociologically there is a big change. Institutions that are supposed to be supportive of the Islamic republic of Iran, they are more and more against it."

While that may render the government politically weaker, it is also likely to make it more ruthless, Assadi added.

"The bazaar is symbolically very significant, so Ahmadinejad is highly isolated," he argued. "Unfortunately one of the outcomes of that isolation is that, to keep the government in power, the Pasdaran are going to increase repression and control over the society."
I hope the Administration is watching and doesn't bungle supporting a Green Revolution against an increasingly more ruthless and desperate regime. The alternatives to that revolution are dreadful.

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