A Blog Written By Roozbeh Mirebrahimi
Newsha Tavakolian/Polaris, for The New York Times
TEHRAN, Sept. 4 — Rents are soaring, inflation hovers around 17 percent, and 10 million Iranians live below the poverty line. The police said they shut 20 barbershops for men in Tehran last week because they offered inappropriate hairstyles, and women have been banned from riding bicycles in many places, as a crackdown on social freedoms presses on.
For months now, average Iranians have endured economic hardships, political repression and international isolation as the nation’s top officials remained defiant over Iran’s nuclear program. But in a country whose leaders see national security, government stability and Islamic values as inextricably entwined, problems that usually would constitute threats to the leadership are instead viewed as an opportunity to secure its rule.
Paradoxically, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic missteps and the animosity generated in the West by his aggressive posture on the nuclear issue have helped Iran’s leaders hold back what they see as corrupting foreign influences, by increasing the country’s economic and political isolation, said economists, diplomats, political analysts, businessmen and clerics interviewed over the past two weeks.
Pressure from the West, including biting economic sanctions, over Iran’s nuclear program and its role in Iraq have also empowered those pushing the harder line.
“The leader is concerned that any effort to make the country more manageable will lead to reform and will undermine his authority,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economist and former government official of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The effort to keep Iran’s doors to the West sealed tight was on display on Sunday, when Mr. Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had developed 3,000 centrifuges and mocked the West for trying to press Iran to stop uranium enrichment and slow its nuclear program.