As an Iranian, times a lot it has happened that people ask my opinion about different issues in Iran, democracy, people’s political views, honor killing, life style, women’s rights, the role of women in family, people’s attitude about current regime, and things like these. Answering these questions is hard, as there is no such a thing as one Iran. Iran is a lot more of a diverse society compared to the countries in the Western Europe or North America. As a matter of fact, when I am asked about the women’s right in Iran, the answer to the question is different if I want to talk about Tehran and some other big cities than talking about rural area and smaller cities. The same in other issues I mentioned.
Then, it made me think of something very important, that there is not one Iran, but IranS. What I will try to bring into attention here is a problem common in understanding Iranian society; a problem ignoring it has furthered us from the reality of the country; it has led activists and politicians to act based on wrong conclusions. Iran is highly diverse; the country is not just the capital city called Tehran. To understand Iran totally, we need to take into consideration all the people in the country including people living in the rural area and smaller cities; if we do not pay attention to them, it does not mean that they do not exist, and does not make them ineffective.
In many ways, Iran is a diverse country; in terms of religion, ethnicity, language, value system, and regional differences. The focus of this writing, however, is Iran in terms of its regional differences. These differences have affected the country politically; different regions of Iran understand the country’s political situation in different ways. Policy of centralization has led people to think of Tehran as Iran; this is mainly because most of the facilities and opportunities are gathered in Tehran, and to a less extent some other big cities. What medias in the West report from Iran are mainly covering the news from Tehran, and in the best case some other cities like Esfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz, and Mashhad.
I have seen many writings and speeches in which politicians and journalists discuss the public attitude in Iran towards different issues, as the current regime in Iran, the west, Iran’s economy, and democracy. But as I mentioned before, there is not such a thing as one Iran; ignoring this fact is to simplify the subject and reaching conclusions do not disclose the reality of the country. Are the majority of Iranians against the current regime in the country? Is democracy and human rights the majority’s concern? These are all hard questions about a country in which there is not any official independent poll about these issues. Thus, it is difficult to talk about Iran in general or the majority’s understanding of certain issues. At best, we are talking about Tehran, and probably some other big cities.
Tehran is different from rest of the country. More than sixty percentages of the best universities of the country are located in Tehran, and the rest in some other big cities; all countrywide newspapers and books are published in Tehran; there are cities in which there is no bookstore, newspaper, and cinema; there are many rural areas without the Internet, and smaller cities in which Internet is a luxury. Moreover, most of the big businesses of the country, more than 40 percentages of Iran’s industry, and even more than that in terms of business opportunities are located in Tehran. All these together have made a very strong middle class living in Tehran and its suburbs; this class has a different approach towards politics; they are more aware of the situation of the country and its position in the world. This class is more politically concerned; they find the country’s problem from a political point of view; for them change in politics is the solution for most of the problems in the country, economic, cultural, or social. For this more financially stable class, there are some other things necessary for a happy life, including freedom and political participation. They are more or less supporting a more liberal form of government and a capitalist economy. We can also add people from other big cities mentioned above to this middle class living in Tehran.
People from rural area and smaller cities whose number is not small are different in some aspects; in terms of their prior concerns in their life and also their understanding of the situation of the country. The priority of their life is more to do with everyday life, ghame nan; to earn some money, to feed the family, or to build a more stable future in the case of their children. Freedom and political participation is not being seen as a priority. Not only their economic concerns are unlike the first group, but also the solution they are thinking of is mainly different. While one finds the solution in making the government smaller and also more freedom in politics and economy, the other one believes the solution in more government interfere in economy, and less corruption. People in the smaller provinces complain that the government control over the economy is not enough. In one word, while the middle class in Tehran and bigger cities support more of a capitalistic government with a liberal political system, the people in other parts of the country are more supportive of a much more socialistic economy.
Consequences of ignoring this section of the society are critical; the first one is the wrong assumptions about the situation in the country as recently one of the well-known political activists claimed that more than 92 percentage of the people in the country are against the current regime; it is mainly because Iran for us is Tehran and probably some other big cities we are more informed about. If these assumptions are supposed to be a guide for action, the actions based on them will be a failure.
A very important point, however, is the policies the regime has implemented facing this diversity; instead of ignoring it, the regime has tried to bring them in the game in its side these ignored sections of the society by the reformists and in general the opposition. The regime has been able to use these ignored people in different ways; these are people who have been always brought to ballot boxes, against the middle class that sometimes they participate and sometimes does not. The regime is always certain that has a fixed number of people who participate in the elections. They are also the people who are being gathered in demonstrations in order to show the public support for the regime.
However, the most important use of this people for the regime has been in its oppressive forces. The main oppressive machine of the regime is the Revolutionary Guard and its main force, Basij, a very big militia spread all around the country even in the small villages. It is possible to say that people are attracted in the Revolutionary Guard are mainly from the smaller cities, from the lower walk of the society; these are people who are helping the system to have a very functional oppressing machine. The ignorance of this section of the society is to the level that people could not believe that the police force used to oppress them on Tehran streets is Iranian; they were saying that they are from Lebanon.
While the conservative candidates talk about the economic shortcomings of the country, that the problem is the economy and corruption; ignoring an important part of the society the opposition announces a political development as its first priority, even for the economic situation of the country. Visiting the Iranian virtual world, you find everyone talks about politics, and seeing everything from a political point of view. It does not seem that Iranian virtual world represents the reality of the country totally, but part of it. Even though in the constitutional Revolution big cities were able to depose the king, in the present time the regime has been able to put those ignored part of the society against the progressive forces in the country; therefore it is not justified to ignore a group whic is used by the regime to affect the destination of the society to a large extent.
 They do not look at the corruption as a problem originates from the political system; they do not consider it systemic.
 Akbar Ganji, BBC Persian http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/tv/2010/07/100716_pargar_ptv_11.shtml