TEXT OF INTERVIEW
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose from almost total obscurity to become President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The international community has focused on Iran’s nuclear program. But commentator and author Reza Aslan says Iranians are focused on more basic issues.
REZA ASLAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated his more politically experienced presidential rivals by campaigning on a single platform: reforming Iran’s economy.
He promised to distribute oil revenues to the poor, make housing more affordable and root out corruption in the government. He said he’d provide more jobs and give the merchant class greater access to international markets.
It was a message with great appeal to Iranians, nearly 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line. But under his presidency, Iran’s economy has gone from bad to worse.
Unemployment has swelled to near record highs. Housing prices have soared, as have prices for meat and produce.
And foreign imports have dropped dramatically. At one point last year, the country’s stock market lost 25 percent of its value.
Dropping oil prices haven’t helped. Oil revenues account for more than 50 percent of Iran’s budget.
Faced with the almost total failure of his economic agenda, Ahmadinejad did what any politician in his position would do. He changed the subject.
He focused his presidency almost exclusively on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology, even though, according to Iran’s constitution, the President has no say in the country’s nuclear program.
The ruse didn’t work, and now Iranians are beginning to turn against their President.
Students protest his appearances and heckle his speeches. His political allies were soundly beaten in recent municipal elections. Not long ago, 150 government members signed an open letter criticizing his domestic policies. There is even talk in Iran of impeachment!
There is a lesson in all this: Sometimes, the best way to achieve regime change is to let internal politics take its course.
THOMAS: Reza Aslan is the author of “No God but God.”
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