Is it myth or reality that Iranians support the government’s policy of pursuing the enrichment of uranium that has brought the country severe sanctions and international isolation? In a country where the state controls all means of communications, and where anybody who challenges the state’s official narrative faces persecution, that’s not easy to find out. But citizens’ responses to a survey that appeared on the website of Iran’s state TV on Tuesday might be revealing.
Sixty-three percent of users said they favor suspending Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for a gradual lifting of international sanctions against Iran. Those results were registered by 8:30 p.m. Tehran time Tuesday. There was no estimate for the number of respondents.
Participants were offered three possible responses when asked, “What method do you prefer vis-à-vis the unilateral sanctions imposed against Iran by the West.” Aside from the 62 percent who favored suspension of enrichment, 19 percent chose “Retaliatory action by Iran to close the Hormuz Strait,” while 18 percent chose “Resistance against the unilateral sanctions in order to maintain the nuclear rights.”
This survey was published one day after Ebrahim Agha Mohammadi, a member of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, presented a bill to Parliament urging that members "block the Hormuz Strait in response to the sanctions by West." Such a measure would be a radical, highly confrontational response to sanctions. No action has yet been taken by lawmakers.
Iranians Shopping in Bazaar
A separate survey on the website of IRINN (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) asked viewers whether they support "the Iranian Parliament's decision to close the Hormuz Strait in response to the Western oil sanctions.” It might have been surprising for Iranian officials that until 9 p.m. Tehran time Tuesday, only 11 percent of participants said they approved of the closure of the Hormuz Strait by Iran, while 89 percent said they opposed it. Hardliners are testing public opinion on the drastic move—and the online results suggest Iranians have grown weary of the saber rattling.
It is not clear how many people participated in the IRINN survey. The IRINN website is one of the most frequently visited official sites in the country, with millions of monthly visitors. Once the results were reported by a number of opposition websites, IRINN took down the survey.
"Taking the survey down from the website indicates that what the Iranian television authorities expected was different from the results,” Ali Mazrouee, a reformist former member of Parliament told The Daily Beast.
Sociologist Hossein Ghazian, who spent three years in prison in 2002 after his Ayandeh Institute conducted a joint poll with the Gallup Organization on a number of issues—the collaboration alone landed the institute in trouble—said authorities did not expect the results of this poll to be so radically different from what they usually publicize. “When the news was published in different media, they took it down,” he said.
"These surveys are not reflective of public opinion, because those who go to news websites are educated individuals who are seeking the news, and, anyway, one cannot rely on Internet polls,” Ghazian said in a telephone interview. Nevertheless, he said, the results show that the middle class is unhappy with the government’s policy—and the authorities’ quick action in removing the survey shows their concern.
He added, “But the fact that the survey was removed from the website also says something about the Iranian government's claims about their inalienable right to enrichment, and that the Iranian people demand this, and that the enrichment must be continued under any circumstances, because they need to say that the Iranian people wish for the Iranian government to continue down this path.”
"Nuclear energy is our inalienable right" is a slogan repeatedly heard in public forums and gatherings where Iran's supreme leader or president gives speeches. For the past several years, the Islamic Republic's insistence on its right to nuclear energy persists amid daily reports of increasing human-rights violations in the country and mounting pressure on the Iranian nation, limiting their choices in their private lives.
“Americans are told they have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Karim Sadjadpour, Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Daily Beast. “Iranians are deprived freedom, but told that they have an inalienable right to enrich uranium. You can only insult your population’s intelligence for so long.”
First published in DailyBeast.com.
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