Economic Sabotage

Iran announced this week that for the first time since the 1979 revolution, it would be opening a marathon race to foreign tourists.  No women, please:

“Unfortunately, women are not allowed to run this first limited edition”, said Mr Straten. “There are many (Iranian) women who like to run and we hope in the next edition we get the permission for women to run the marathon.” …

At present 15 Britons, 15 French men and two Canadians are among the 200 individuals from more than 35 countries who have registered for the event, which will be followed by a medal ceremony in Persepolis’ Apadana Palace, part of Darius the Great’s original design for his capital city.  Organisers are also holding a “Persian pasta party” on the eve of the marathon, accompanied by “live traditional music”….

Ms Dowlat Nowrouzi, the representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in the United Kingdom, said it was not surprising that women had no role in the marathon or similar events in Iran. “Subjugation of women is completely institutionalized”, she said, “Women are also barred from participating in many fields of sport in Iran, and they are even barred from attending stadiums as spectators.”

The ban on women coming alongside the attempt by Iran to open itself up just a little is a comic version of an often tragic process.  The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius marks a number of the Iranian-American hostages the regime has taken lately — a frequent subject of commentary here at IranTruth — and points out that it appears to be an effort by hard-liners within the regime to put a damper on the spirits of those who might want to bring Western technology and culture back home.

In particular, ties to the World Economic Forum are among the “charges” being brought against businessman Siamak Namazi.  As a “Young Global Leader,” Namazi did indeed have some ties to the World Economic Forum.  However, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had just blessed off on a gathering in Iran of these “Young Global Leaders” through his vice president for science and technology.  Now many will be afraid to come, as Rouhani is not in charge of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose secretive intelligence arm was behind Namazi’s kidnapping.  The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is in charge of the IRGC.  Khamenei has given explicit and public guidance to the IRGC to be on the lookout for possible “infiltration.” By publicly backing the IRGC’s “witch hunt,” Khamenei has made it far less likely that Iran’s economic opening will flower.

Similarly, Iran’s  Trade Promotion Organization of Iran has issued an expansive list of American goods that are forbidden from importation.  These do not include merely military technology, but also powerful cultural symbols of America including American cars, American brands of shaving cream or clothing, pool tables, or cigars.  Naturally one of the items banned is McDonald’s restaurants, as Khamenei fears American “sandwiches” as a tool of cultural change.

Iran is also cracking down on Christianity, associated with the West.  A Christmas day raid on a church resulted in nine people being arrested for practicing their faith on one of its holiest holidays.  Freedom of conscience is unknown in Iran, where only two ethnic minorities are allowed by law to be Christians.

The effect of this ratcheting oppression will be, as Ignatius points out, to derail much of the economic improvement that would have come with reintegration.  Giving the example of a group called iBridges, which had been considering startups in Iran, he notes that its Iranian-American members now doubt that they want to run the risk.  Like Namazi, they could end up in Evin prison — or simply disappeared, like Nizar Zakka.  Startups are risky enough when it is only your money on the line.