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A return to Iran

Published Apr 22, 2006 12:02 AM

Ardeshir Ommani
WW photo: John Catalinotto

The following is based on a talk April 14 by Ardeshir Ommani, who had just returned from a 25-day-long visit to Iran. It was his first visit to the country of his birth in 25 years.

Iran today “is a work in progress.” In the city of Esfahan, for example, with a population of 4 million and about 2 million Iranian tourists from other parts of the country, visiting during the Iranian New Year (Norooz) at the start of Spring, one could feel the tremendous energy and vigorous economic activities in such sectors as housing construction, road building, tourism, transportation, entertainment and trade. The huge number of private cars, taxis, and buses made traffic almost unmanageable.

After more than 50 years of the Pahlavi Dynasty—father and son—that was ended by the 1979 Revolution, more than 50 percent of the Iranian families did not enjoy the taste of running water in their homes. This lack gave rise to a multitude of diseases, including diarrhea and trachoma. In our recent journey, I found out that throughout the entire country, including the most remote villages, families had running water at home and most homes are connected to the city sewer system.

The same with electricity: the streets of all cities and the main roads are brightly lit. The light poles of the electric lines run everywhere. Traveling along the highway between Esfahan and Shiraz, we were surprised to see workers with water trucks busily cleaning the dust and soot off the road signs and light reflectors to ensure safety of the travelers. What a change from 25 years ago!

Each family in the smaller rural farming village of Saman has a refrigerator. Some have clothes washers and dryers. Almost all have televisions. The living space per person seemed greater than in some New York apartments. What was very pleasant to see were the clean streets and sidewalks, especially in Esfahan and Shiraz. Even in Tehran, a city known for its crowdedness (with a population about 10 million) the main streets were swept cleaner than many streets in the crowded cities in the U.S.

One more impressive quality that cannot be purchased at any price was the hospitality and the kindness of the people of Iran.


Iran now produces 300,000 cars annually, with 12 different models completely manufactured and assembled inside Iran, for both domestic consumption and export to neighboring countries. The country also produces trucks, and construction equipment, including flatbeds for moving heavy equipment.

The road network is extensive, with more than 31,800 miles of paved roads and motorways. The two highways, the A1 and A2, link the Iraqi and Pakistani borders and Afghan and Turkish frontiers. Iran Air runs services to Ahwaz, Esfahan, Kish, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, and Zahedan and other major cities. Bus service is widespread, inexpensive and comfortable.

In comparison to the period before the 1979 Revolution, the roads were greatly extended across the country into 50,000 villages and are wide, smooth and well constructed.

A new subway system, called the Metro, is under construction in Esfahan (to be operational in two years). Railway services are expanding to link Esfahan, Shiraz, Teheran and other cities. Huge openings in the face of the mountains, with earthmoving equipment parked outside, were signs of this expansion.

Impact of U.S. threats

You may want to know the kind of impact the U.S. government and its European allies’ dual strategy—threat of regime change and calling for referral of Iran to the United Nations Security Council—has had on the attitudes of the general population inside Iran, especially with regard to Iran’s right to research and development of nuclear energy.

The threats of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and its relevant infrastructure by the U.S. and/or Israel and/or invading the country, along with the illegitimate opposition’s call for “regime change” drive the general population closer to the position of the Iranian government. It also has forced the opposition in the U.S. to the Iranian government to announce that it too is against the U.S. agenda of de-stabilizing Iran through the use of sanctions, embargo or dismemberment of the country.

Voice of America and Radio Farda programming is primarily directed at youth, depicting life in America with worry-free love songs, long-haired, scantily clad women being wooed by handsome Iranian men, imaged in very Western cultural garb. Its aim is clearly to seduce the youngsters into believing this fantasy life of love, sexy dancing, flashy cars, clubs and “freedom” American-style is what life is like outside of Iran.

Naturally, among the factors influencing the quality of life, the order of priorities varies among different social classes. For a great majority of working class women and men, the issues of healthcare, education and employment take priorities over dress codes.

Education, literacy and healthcare

Dr. Hadi Azadpour, whose roots are in the Ghashghaee tribe in Fars Province and who now is a general physician working in the main hospital of Movdasht, was eager to point out that many members of his own family and the other tribal communities in that area have achieved higher education degrees. Furthermore, they hold leadership positions in the schools and healthcare systems.

The national policies are aimed at preventing illiteracy, promoting basic education, developing continuing education, and establishing adult educational programs. These policies are to serve the continuing promotion of education and quality of the labor force.

According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, the National Literacy Policy goals of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) for the year 2005 are to obtain a total adult literacy rate of 85.2 percent, up from the 2000 figure of 76.0 percent; for women, the goal is 82.5 percent and for men 87.7 percent.

The most recent statistics show that in 2004-2005, some 15 million students are enrolled in the Iranian schools. Out of this total, 7.4 million were female, and 7.9 million were male.

According to statistics available for the year 2004, the level of enrollment in universities reached 2.1 million students, of whom 54 percent were women. This figure strongly challenges the notion put forward by some opposition groups that the women of Iran are debilitated in their educational performance and social status in Iran.

Healthcare is provided to all children, pre-natal care to pregnant women and care to senior citizens, all at no cost. Teams of nurses and doctors and primary healthcare personnel regularly visit the rural clinics, ensuring that the local municipalities properly provide services.

Last, but not the least important, the government gives subsidies towards some of the essential food items, such as milk, rice and flour.