Riots Rock Tehran After Petrol Rationing Implemented

Iranians riot in reaction to petrol rationing by Kamin Mohammadi in London



Tehran's petrol stations were aflame with protests last night. Although petrol rations have been expected for a few months, with phase one starting ten days ago with government vehicles, their implementation sparked furious riots in which petrol stations were set on fire and a supermarket and bank also attacked.
Iranians were given only two hours' notice of the move that limits private drivers to 100 litres of fuel a month, hearing an announcement on the news. The rationing is due to last four months but may be extended to six. The total amount allowed to private vehicles in that time is 400 litres. The aim is to reduce Iran’s petrol subsidies which are colossal.

Despite its huge energy reserves, Iran lacks refining capacity and it imports about 40% of its petrol. The country has a large budget deficit largely caused by fuel subsidies. The inflation rate is currently estimated at 20-30%.

How the government handles the inevitable rising anger of its people remains to be seen. Iranians are, much like Americans, in love with their cars and therefore oil, and as the country with some of the largest oil reserves in the world and OPEC's number two oil producer, they feel access to cheap petrol is their birthright.

Most of Iran's modern history, with its multiplicity of revolutions, is soaked in oil. This commodity has brought Iran its riches – and most of its troubles. Leaders through the ages have attracted support by promising to distribute oil wealth fairly, most recently it was an election promise of president Ahmadinejad's. Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary rhetoric included images of oil wells in every back garden.

But so far the oil wealth has yet to be redistributed, though heavy government subsidies have given Iranians petrol so cheap that a litre cost less than a bottle of mineral water. But now that Iran feels under threat of sanctions and fears for an interruption in its petrol imports, the government is reigning in subsidies. Anger and frustration have already boiled over, as Iranians accuse the government of mishandling the move, with lack of information, adequate notice and failure to properly distribute the Smart Cards needed at petrol pumps.

Iran's public transport system is not extensive enough to pick up the slack and everyone is left wondering what they will do when they reach their petrol limit before the month is up. Perhaps they will all head downtown where there is already a reported brisk black market trade in Smart Cards...

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About Kamin Mohammadi

Kamin Mohammadi is an Iranian writer, journalist, broadcaster and commentator who lives in London where she moved after leaving Iran as a child. She specialises in writing about Iran, particularly modern society. She is passionate about bringing out the human elements of the stories we see, or more often don’t see, in the news. To this end she has published major pieces on the after effects of the Iran-Iraq war, drug addiction and AIDS in Iran, the innocent civilian victims of chemical bombardments, sexual politics and even the Iranian penchant for both devotion to religion and partying. She is currently writing a family memoir about Iran, to be published in 2009 by Bloomsbury and working on a cross-media project to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war. In the past she has written guide books and edited glossy magazines.

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