Ordinary Iranians unafraid to criticize their own government

Larry Cohler-Esses (from The Forward), “the first journalist from a Jewish, pro-Israel (if not always pro-Israel government) publication to be granted a journalist’s visa since the 1979 Revolution,” writes: Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel; their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle. Official government statistics estimate the unemployment in Iran at around 10%. But unofficial sources estimate it as twice that — and this in a context in which only 36% of the population participates in the workforce. An estimated 150,000 Iranians with college educations leave the country yearly.

But among ordinary Iranians the sense that something is now opening up in the country is pervasive. It began with the election of the reformist presidential candidate Rouhani in 2012, long before the recently negotiated nuclear agreement introduced the prospect of crippling sanctions being lifted. And the impact of this mood on people’s willingness to speak out is clear.

In Iran today, freedom of the press remains a dream. But freedom of tongue has been set loose. I was repeatedly struck by the willingness of Iranians to offer sharp, even withering criticisms of their government on the record, sometimes even happy to be filmed doing so.

“The people of Iran want in some way to show the world that what’s going on in the last years is not the will of the Iranian people but of the Iranian government,” Nader Qaderi told me as I filmed him with my phone outside his butcher shop in North Tehran’s Tajrish Market. A small crowd looked on as we talked. “We have no hostility against Israel,” he stressed.

Asked about prospects for the international nuclear agreement, which is coming under angry fire in Iran no less than in the United States, Qaderi told me: “I think it will be implemented. But there will be no improvement for the Iranian people. Our main concern now is freedom! I think what we need most of all now is political intelligence. People have no clear idea of what they want. This is the real struggle.” [Continue reading…]

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