A boy washes soap off while taking a bath next to shacks in Moita, near Lisbon April 8, 2011.  REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

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    Hardship blunts Iranian interest in Arab protests

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    TEHRAN | Mon Apr 11, 2011 11:25am EDT

    TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's leaders say uprisings in the Arab world were inspired by its 1979 revolution, but most ordinary Iranians are too worn down by economic hardship to care about the export of their system of Islamic rule.

    "Our movement was suppressed and now we are just so busy with skyrocketing living costs after the removal of subsidies on fuel and food," said Abbas, a shopkeeper in downtown Tehran, who refused to give his last name.

    Customers in his small grocery store talk less of the Arab spring' uprisings that are reshaping geopolitics in the region, and more of the sudden price rise of items like cheese, eggs and fresh produce since subsidies were slashed at the end of the Persian year in March.

    A small television in Abbas's shop is constantly tuned to the state-run new channel where bloody images of suppressed protests in Bahrain are a regular feature as Tehran rails against the Sunni monarchy's actions against Shi'ite protesters.

    While not unmoved by the scenes of brother Muslims under the boot of Western-backed autocrats, most Iranians are more concerned about their own day-to-day problems than their government's jostling for influence in the changing Middle East.

    "How can people in the world be inspired by a revolution that happened 30 years ago and has always faced serious problems?" asked Youness, a 36-year-old hairdresser.

    Abbas, a supporter of the Green movement protests that were violently quashed after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, believes those demonstrations, the biggest since the Iranian revolution, showed the way for the Arab unrest.

    "The experience of street unrest that we had some two years ago is what people in the region are experiencing these days," he said.

    ECONOMIC PINCH

    But attempts to reignite Green protests in February were stifled by a huge police turnout, the death by shooting of two people during a February 14 protest, and the unofficial house arrest that has silenced the movement's leaders.

    Abbas does not believe the domino effect which has rippled across the region from Tunisia will lead to upheaval in Iran in the short term.

    "It will take some time to think and act on our political demands," he said.

    Some Iranians, even though they are feeling the economic pinch, nevertheless support the government's stance toward the events in the region.

    "Our independent policies and the religious democracy that we have in Iran could always be a role model for our neighboring states," said Abdollah Meshkat, a school teacher.

    The main concern for middle-income Iranians is economics, not geopolitics, especially since Ahmadinejad's subsidy cuts pushed up the price of gasoline seven-fold and had a similar impact on once lavishly subsidized gas and electricity.

     
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