Iran is a very diverse and beautiful country.
A Westerner who visits Iran will often be treated with kindness and generosity. Don’t be surprised if people come up to you and want to practice their English. They are genuinely interested in where you come from and what you do. They will often offer to share food with you. Try the Azam Beryani wraps — they are delicious.
Iran is an oil- and mineral-rich country with sophisticated infrastructure, many local airlines and cheap petrol. It a cash society, with cash changers on every street.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Iran ranks 58 in healthcare and 93 in health-system performance. In 2016, Bloomberg News ranked Iran the 30th most efficient healthcare system, ahead of the United States and Brazil. More than 90 percent of the population has health insurance; Iran also has health tourism.
As of 2023, 89 percent of the Iranian adult population are literate, well ahead of the regional average of 62 percent. This rate increases to 97 percent among young adults (aged between 15 and 24), without any gender discrepancy. In 2008, the majority of students (63 percent) enrolled in Iranian universities were women. According to a UNESCO world survey, Iran has the highest female-to-male ratio at primary level of enrolment in the world among sovereign nations, with a girl-to-boy ratio of 1.22 : 1.00.
Let’s look at the reality of day-to-day life in Iran.
Every aspect of your life is controlled, including marriage, fashion, media, relationships, birth control, the internet, political candidates and all highly paid government jobs. Despite the educational statistics above, women make up less than 18 percent of the official workforce. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a fundamentalist Shiite Muslim, sets the rules. He is backed up by a powerful militia called the Revolutionary Guards, the religious judiciary, the Guidance Patrol (morality police), and a vast bureaucracy, all paid for by billions of dollars of oil revenue.
The 2022 killing of student Mahsa Amini, in police custody for wearing an “improper” hijab, resulted in 12 months of protests and riots.
How does the Iranian government view the world?
First, it exists on the periphery of an often-hostile Arab world, which happens to be mostly Sunni-majority countries with the exception being Iraq and Bahrain; Bahrain is majority Shia but ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Second, Iran is surrounded by a large number of nuclear-capable countries, such as Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India. Third, it is bordered by countries hosting American military bases, including Türkiye, Kuwait and Iraq.
Their relationship with America is violent and wrought. America arranged to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953. Since then, the U.S. has regularly imposed sanctions on Iran, to ostensibly to stop them from becoming a nuclear power. Ironically, Iran, in response, has become a highly specialized manufacturer of home-made drones and missiles.
Although some commentators suggest that Iran will directly attack America, it is highly unlikely. The Iranian military is about one-third the size of the U.S. military with a quarter of these forces being the Revolutionary Guard (Sepah). They are armed with aging Russian equipment and aircraft (with new Chinese jets on order). Ironically, their best navy ships are made in the U.S. and France. The real worry for Iranian rulers is that many young people are less religious, more middle class, and less supportive of the fundamentalist government — hence the need for the Sepah and the morality police.
The Iranian government will continue to use its proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis, to attack Israel and America. But many Americans fail to appreciate that even though these proxies readily take Iranian money, their goals are not the same.
Hezbollah and Hamas want to destroy Israel, and don’t have a direct conflict with America. The Houthis are at war with Saudi Arabia, who support Yemen. The Houthis and the Iranians embrace different denominations of Shiite Islam and consider each other heretics. Furthermore, Hamas are mainly minority Sunni Muslims and do not want to be controlled by Shiites.
So, what does the Iranian government want? They want to be the prominent country in the Arab world, with the other countries adopting their Twelver Shiʿah version of Islam. Unfortunately, it is not only Turkey and Saudi Arabia that oppose their ideals and overlordship, but also other countries in the Arab world, including Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco and Tunisia.
So, what do the people of Iran want? Unsurprisingly, they want what we all want — peace and freedom.
Patrick Drennan is a journalist based in New Zealand, with a degree in American history and economics.
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