Iran is an enigma to most of us in the West. It is not a democracy, a dictatorship, a Chinese-style one party state or a monarchy; the term normally used is “theocracy”, (although that implies something akin to the Vatican City rather than the reality of the situation) that appears to make highly irrational almost schizophrenic decisions. It is a state that appears to suffer from paranoia, both about the West and Israel, (although when consideration is given to the previous activities of the British and American governments in its affairs and Israel’s threats to bomb its nuclear facilities, the paranoia becomes slightly more understandable) which has threatened to “drive the Zionists into the sea”. It is a major oil producer, but little of the wealth generated has gone into building modern industry, spent instead on a ruinous war with Iraq, albeit a war they did not start, sponsoring overseas “revolutionary Islamic” movements such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, its own security structures and a nuclear programme. Compare the economic progress that China has made during the last 20 years. Like many countries in the middle east, it has an extremely high birth rate, with more than two-thirds of the population under 30, and the population having quadrupled over the last 60 years, reaching 75 million and set to rise to 105 million by 2050. It also suffers from the other great problem of the middle east, a lack of water. I saw this article today on protests in Iran about a salt water lake drying up – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14780708 – a serious issue in itself, but more seriously it reflects the increasing desertification of the country; a country where thousands of villages have been abandoned due to the advancing deserts.
So we have a country with an exploding birth rate, a paranoia (somewhat justified) regarding the intentions of the West and Israel, a strange government that no one really understands, a stalled economy, advancing deserts, a lack of water and a nuclear weapons programme. This is not a good combination.