Iran heading for revolution?

I was having coffee with friends a few weeks ago when one of them asked me if I thought the U.S. should launch a military attack on Iran.

I said that I thought they shouldn’t, for several reasons:

  • Between Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and all of its domestic political and economic issues, the U.S. already has enough problems on its plate;
  • The devil we know (a stable and containable Iran, albeit with a distateful regime) is better than the devil we don’t know (e.g., one of the region’s largest and most powerful countries spinning out of control);
  • It would be better to engage reformists within Iran, as reforms would work better coming from Iranians than from outsiders.

Not to mention that war should be the last resort, after all other options have been exhausted.

Following the latest news from Iran, I might have spoken too soon about stability in Iran, as this quality seems to be disappearing. At the same time, the uprising of Iranians against their own regime carries with it the hope of meaningful changes without the use of force. It was what I hoped for in point #3 above.

Looking at some of the demographics about Iran, the country appears to have some of the characteristics of a country heading for a revolution:

1. Population: All other factors being equal, countries with smaller populations tend to be more stable than larger ones. Smaller countries are less vulnerable to being dominated by cliques who went to school together (think about the disproportionate influence that Harvard and Yale grads have in the U.S., that Oxford and Cambridge grads have in the U.K., and that the énarques — the alumni of the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration — have in France). Smaller countries also lack the population base required to support hardline groups in their efforts to create a feedback loop — a network of think-tanks, lobbyists, media outlets and news sources that allow the true believers to immerse themselves in their own views.

Iran, with a population of 66 million, is a large country, and was thus vulnerable to becoming victim to a sheltered political and religious elite who lived in a proverbial ivory tower.

2. Youth: More than one-half of Iran’s population is under the age of 30, with a median age of 27 years. Not only does it give the country a large population of people with a lot of energy to burn; it also means that most of the population presumably now use the rest of the world as the point of reference when thinking about life under their system of government — references to what things were like before the Shah was overthrown in 1979 are irrelevant.

3. Urbanization: For the years 2005-10, Iran’s rate of urbanization is projected to increase by 2.1 percent per year. The small towns and rural areas where the ruling authorities get the bulk of their support are home to a smaller and smaller share of the population. The cities, which as in Canada tend to be more liberal than the rural areas, are gaining population.

4. A fairly high GDP per capita: At $12,800 (U.S.) per capita, Iran has the world’s 87th highest per capita GDP. Not that great, admittedly. However, strong economic growth in recent years has created rising expectations, and increased productivity has left people with more time on their hands. (A 12 percent unemployment rate, undoubtedly higher among the restless youth, won’t do much for the incumbent regime.)

5. Corruption: Transparency International gave Iran a 2.4 on its 10-point freedom from corruption scale last year — the same as it gave Cameroon, The Philippines and Yemen, and a heck of a long way below first-prize winners Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand. In fact, Iran’s score has been steadily deteriorating over the past six years. Corruption breeds resentment and reduces economic well-being — and that makes people crabby.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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