Gasoline rationing sparks outrage in Iran

gasoline riots.JPG

After President Ahmadinejad’s gasoline rationing plan provoked rioting throughout Iran last week (including the burning of service stations), the government has finally responded to the public outrage– by warning journalists not to report on it.

Iranian and Western media report that the official warning came a day after the government announced the introduction of gas rationing on state television on June 26 just a few hours before it went into effect.
The website reported that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council reacted by ordering media to abstain from reporting on the damage, fires, and casualties that may have resulted from the protests over the rationing plan.
A reporter from the daily “Shargh” told Radio Farda that journalists have been told not to talk to foreign media about the rationing situation and other related issues.

The New York Times suggests the decision to ration is based on the regime’s fear of sanctions if Iran continues its nuclear program. Despite its massive oil production, a poor refining capacity requires Iran to import about 40 percent of its gasoline.

“Iran’s dependence on imported gasoline has been a focus of international debate over future sanctions,” according to the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultant. “Rationing will reduce Iran’s vulnerability, and Iran’s leadership explicitly mentioned this goal in commenting on the measure,” it said.

Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political analyst in Tehran, said, “The high gasoline consumption has made Iran very vulnerable, and this is a security decision now.”

“We are importing gasoline from 16 different countries,” he said. “The country would be on the verge of collapse if they suddenly decide not to sell us gasoline. The government has to find a way to lower the consumption.”

Gasoline is highly subsidized in Iran, although the price increased slightly last month. Apparently the government decided rationing would provoke less anger than another price hike, but there was plenty of anger nonetheless.

Under the rationing plan, private cars are allowed 26 gallons a month and taxis are permitted 211 gallons a month.

But many low-income Iranians use their private cars as taxis to make ends meet.

The Times reports:

Mr. Ahmadinejad is facing growing discontent over his economic policies and is being blamed for failing to deliver on his promises to improve the economy. He suffered a setback last December when he lost local elections, and he faces crucial parliamentary elections in March.

“The government will have to back down or face consequences,” said Ehsan Mohammadi, 32, who uses his motorcycle to work as a delivery man. “There are many people like me, and we cannot support our families with rationed gasoline.”

And while drivers wait in endless lines for their meager supplies of gasoline, they may start wondering why the same government can afford to keep Hamas, Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq so well-supplied.

Now if there is one thing I hope virtually every Harry’s Place reader can agree on, it is that it would be a good thing if the Iranian people, as non-violently as possible, overthrew their repressive, theocratic regime and replaced it with a more democratic and secular government. I can’t think of any single event that would be more of a body blow to extreme Islamism worldwide.

So a genuine question, which I’ve raised here in various forms before: what is the best way to help the Iranian people get rid of a regime which an overwhelming majority are clearly fed up with?

Would an effort to cut off gasoline supplies from the outside help to topple the regime? Or would it backfire and cause Iranians to rally to the support of their government?

Update: Paul Kersey, who recently visited Iran, has some interesting thoughts in the comments.

Further update: Comrade Chavez is coming to the rescue.