Iran's lights are going out
- The country believed to have the world's third-largest oil reserves
is in the grip of power cuts a result of bad planning and
Iran's lights are going out
Tuesday September 02 2008
The cities of Iran are in darkness. For two hours at a time, from
the Gulf to the Caspian, the country believed to have the world's
third largest oil reserves doesn't have the electricity to power
homes, traffic lights, hospitals and the rest of civic life. There
are reports of deaths in hospitals in Tehran's swankiest
neighbourhoods, the traffic in Isfahan, Shiraz and the capital
grinds to a halt as traffic signals cease and in smaller towns there
are angry demonstrations.
The energy ministry's decision to publish "blackout timetables"
hasn't helped things and the official statistics a 32,000 mW grid
can't satisfy 34,000 mW needs don't wash. The lights are out in
Bandar Abbas on Iran's southern coast, in Sistan-Baluchestan towards
Afghanistan and Mazandaran towards Turkmenistan. A deputy energy
minister, Professor Mohammad Ahmadian has been replaced but
resignations over the issue are less to do with competence than
President Ahmadinejad juggling positions in his favour, ahead of
next year's presidential elections.
Perhaps Ahmadian paid the price of raising the spectre of a five-
fold increase in electricity prices. The free marketeers in the
government who see a bright future in membership of the World Trade
Organisation call for the government subsidy for domestic
electricity to be slashed.
The middle classes who quietly bear the irritation of two-hour
queues to fill up their cars at petrol stations occasionally rise
up. At much-publicised recitals of Persian music in Tehran, the
lights went out just as renowned world music star, Homayoun
Shajarian, got on stage. After thousands of people clapped in the
darkness, singing the "old" pre-revolution national anthem (even
women's voices could be heard and women are not allowed to sing in
public), the star's more famous father, Mohammad Reza Shajarian got
on stage and denounced the government. He said the interior ministry
was deliberately trying to stop Iranians from listening to the music
of their country. Visibly angry, the audience's mood was less
anticipation of complex, jazz-like permutations of Dastgahs on Dafs,
Tars, Tombaks, Setars, Kamanchehs, Neys, Tanburs, Santurs, and Uds
and more on political change.
It was the same at the concert of Iranian Kurd Shahram Nazeri,
incongruously held at one of the Shah's old palaces and where the
VIPs were police. The lights didn't go out but there was chaos after
the traffic lights of Tehran, sophisticated ones that tell drivers
how long they have to wait before they change, all dimmed.
It was bad enough in the cold winter when power cuts plagued 11
provinces and the National Iranian Gas Company warned Iranians to
moderate their consumption or face further cuts.
Ironically, the more environmentally-sound sources of energy -
hydroelectric plants - are causing some of the worst power cuts. The
reasons for the power cuts are endemic bad planning by a corrupt
elite as well as members of that elite siphoning off oil for export.
Those profits end up overseas with the trickle-down in Iran reaching
North Tehran BMW-dealerships and bootleggers.
Without electricity, the economy continues to self-destruct. In the
scorching heat, offices cannot operate without air-conditioners and
the little manufacturing done in Iran is threatened with even more
disasters. Making deals with China necessitated the opening up of
the Iranian market to cheap Chinese goods so at this rate the little
of it done at home will be destroyed.
Official inflation is near 30% and only the continued subsidy for
food allows many to live. Iran may look richer than every other
avowedly Muslim country on earth but it is teetering on the brink.
The only chink of light for the millionaire Mullahs is in what
President Vladimir Putin said, that South Ossetia so brutally bombed
by Georgians backed by Washington and Tel Aviv, 500 miles north of
Tehran, is a prelude to a U.S. attack on Iran to rig the U.S.
presidential elections. Nothing will unify Iranians behind their
government like a foreign attack, regardless of the hangings and
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