It's the economy, stupid. No, correct that.
It's the demography, stupid. No...
Beginning in the 1970's and continuing through the 1980's, the Islamic Republic of Iran underwent an unprecedented period of high fertility rates coupled with fast-falling mortality rates. This phenomenon has contributed to the creation of a 'youth bulge'. With half of Iran's population currently under the age of twenty-five, and, only five percent of the countries population over the age of sixty-five, Iran's fast-growing yet rigid economy is failing to create the number of employment opportunities necessary to satisfy this potentially revolutionary sub-sect of society.
The greater Middle East is experiencing similar challenges, with the regions youth unemployment rate at twenty-five percent, and with first-time job seekers, aged between 15-24, accounting for more than fifty-percent of the regions unemployed.
What does this mean for Iran's society? And moreover, how should policy-makers take into account these circumstances when formulating the world's approach to Iran's nuclear weapons program?
Currently, Iran's labor force is growing at a rate of 3.4% annually, which translates into 1.2 million new Iranian youths entering the workforce every year. Concurrently, Iran only yields 300,000 newly minted retirees every year, which means hundreds of thousands of additional jobs need to be created annually in order to accommodate the 'youth bulge'.
Young people with university or vocational degrees face severe difficulties in securing employment, even in the public-sector, where long queues have created circumstances where the duration an Iranian youth entering the job market waits for employment can still be measured in years.
Politics in Iran, like everywhere else, is local. Contrary to the blusterous public international image that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cultivated for himself, his campaign platform was almost universally centered around the economic concerns of lower, and lower middle-class Iranians. A quiet yet discernible dissatisfaction with the failures of Ahmadinejad's economic platform has been percolating through the all-powerful markets of South Teharan; ground zero for Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979.
With increasing unemployment, rampant inflation, and local clerics openly speaking out against Ahmadinejad's failed economic policies; this 'youth bulge' is set to pop. The youth of Iran today are more sympathetic towards western values and culture than their conservative predecessors. Younger, hipper north Tehran has become synonymous with all that is western; even gaining designation as the worlds capital for plastic surgery (yes, beating out Los Angeles).
We do not yet know the full-extent of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Do I think Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program? Yes. Do I take President Ahmadinejad's threats toward Israel seriously? Absolutely. Do I believe they are close to producing a nuclear weapon? No. There is no evidence to suggest the completion of the uranium enrichment process is imminent, let alone the development of a delivery system for the weapon itself.
For this reason, the international community should continue on its current course of increasingly tough economic sanctions against the Iranian regime.
With fifty-percent of the country set to enter a stagnating work force within the next five to ten years, Iran's unemployment rate is sure to experience a 'bulge' of its own. This will only lead to increased frustration and resentment toward the failed policies of a government and regime that have squandered hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue.
Iranians, unlike their Arab counterparts, are known as people of action. History has already proven this.
Let the revolution begin.