What I have learnt about Iran lately

  • Iran is not monolothic. The country is (weakly) democratic, has a (partially) independent press and a (moderately) autonomous judiciary. Dissent and criticism exist.
  • Iran is not entirely Shia. Nor even entirely Muslim. Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Buddhists and tens of millions of secularists live there.
  • Iran is the largest exporter of pistachios in the world.
  • Iran is a theocratic state but not a very good one. An imperfect separation of church and state persists – inconveniently for the Ayatollahs.
  • Iran is huge. Well over 70M people (a larger population than every European country except Germany).
  • Iran is nose job capital of the world. Per capita, cosmetic surgery is bigger than in the US.
  • Iran is not Arab. OK, you already knew this, but it’s worth remembering when looking for likely alliances in the region.
  • Iran is an ancient nation. The Persian civilisation is 6000 years old and hasn’t attacked another nation for hundreds. Its borders are among the most stable on the planet. Its people are very proud of all this.
  • Iran’s economy is not centrally-run. It’s an Islamic Republic, not a People’s Republic. Wealthy kids in Iran drive to the mall in their Lamborghinis and take cocaine. Working people struggle. Poor people die young.
  • Iran’s infrastructure is shot – nearly three decades of US sanctions mean they don’t have the expertise (or the materials) to build oil refineries. Iran is the largest exporter of natural gas and one of the largest exporters of crude oil in the region but imports nearly half of its petrol from refining states. Iranians hate this dependency.
  • Iran’s basic industries are decades out of date. Ordinary people drive around in cars based on a 1960s Hillman Hunter.
  • Iranians are big bloggers. Probably the biggest bloggers on earth, if measured by blogs-per-thousand-population.

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