An Algerian in Iran


Algerianna‘s recent posts on the upcoming elections in Algeria coincide with elections in two other countries which, I think, have the closest political landscapes to ours. Russia’s Putin is celebratinghis victory, and his “I am officially the Prime Minister but I am the real President” trick he played in the past four years could have been adopted by Bouteflika in 2009 had he not had that too big ego of his. And Iranian Ahmadinejad and his friends are apparently losing the legislative elections to a more conservative group. The fact all those conservative/less conservative/reformist wings belong to the same system under Khamenei‘s control remind me of Algeria and how the next elections might change the parliament political distribution but not the system.
So I am taking this opportunity to write about my visits to Iran. I’ve been to Tehran a few times and my last visit was over a year ago. It coincided with Ouyahia’s visit and also with the assassination of some Iranian scientists. It might be safe here to tell that I am not connected in any way to either events.

I lacked the time to go sight-seeing so this post will not add up to those many articles you could find on-line and which describe the beauty of the country. Also, as I am an Algeria-centric, I will only mention things which I could relate to Algeria. I will however discard some aspects, though very interesting, for anonymity reasons.

When an Algerian policeman saw the Iranian visas on my passport, he asked me which, between Algeria and Iran, was better. I replied kifkif. He didn’t like my answer and I had to say Algeria’s better before he let me go. And indeed, I do believe there are not so many differences between the two countries.

I felt like the people in Iran didn’t know much about Algeria, that remote part of the Arabstan, but they know the name and were curious about the country. I happily answered most of their questions.
A friend, with whom I spoke about the visits, told me Iran needed a president like Bouteflika. Someone who can be friends with everyone, locally and internationally. I think he’s right, calming down the international pressure on Iran would help this country go forward.

Administration:

My only contact with Iranian administration was at the airport to apply for the visa. It always went well except one time when the agent wanted to talk on the phone to my sponsor/host. It was 1:00am and I didn’t have the man’s mobile. The agent told me, “if he doesn’t answer you will take the next plane to your country” to which I replied, “fine” (Algerians are used to this behaviour from their own administration). He called nobody but still made me wait for 2 hours before he stamped my passport.

Food:

Every time I came back from Iran I knew my cholesterol and co. rates had increased for everywhere I went I was offered tea and all sorts of nuts/pistachios. I found their food very tasty despite it all being based on rice and kebab this or kebab that. But what I liked most was their soups which tasted like Algerian ones. I don’t know what happened to Zamzam cola but I only found Coca, Pepsi and Mirinda competing there. One thing struck me though, all those alcohol-free beers available everywhere I went.

Women:

You know you landed in Tehran when you hear the cabin crew informing female passengers that they have to cover their hair. The fast transformation that follows this message looked bizarre to me. Then I got used to it and to the reverse on the way out.
Compulsory scarf is what comes to mind when we think of Iran and its revolution. I therefore raised this topic with the Iranian women I met during my visits. The answer I got most often was that they’d take it off at the first opportunity.
Once, a woman told me she was attached to her scarf. Interestingly enough her scarf was covering all her head and not 1/10 of it like the rest. She complained about how difficult it was for her to find decent dresses. As we can see in Algeria, hidjab is sometimes a very tight jeans with tight… (I don’t know how these female garments are called). Anyways, she said everything in Tehran’s tight and she had to order her dresses at a dressmaker.
I noticed and smiled at the “made in China” I could read everywhere. Wherever and whoever you are, China’s there to manufacture everything for you.

Other than that, I didn’t find anything different vs. Algeria. More than 50% of the people I worked with were females and all had university degrees, and I could tell the most brilliant ones were females.

Culture/Education/History:

I said I didn’t have time to go sight-seeing but I visited some bookshops. The shops were packed with books and customers. Most books were in Persian but some were in English and Arabic. In one shop I found the English version of Orwell’s “the animal farm”, so it is not banned there. I haven’t seen the book in Algeria but I don’t think it’s banned, or is it? As a former physicist and relating to my current job I was impressed by the literature in Persian I could find on these topics. Similar subjects in Algeria are only treated in French…

Which brings me to the university. The people I met there kept complaining about how the educational system degraded and how tough it was to find highly skilled university graduates. They all blamed it on the obscurantist ayatollahs (the turbaned as they called them). But those young graduates I met, most being females, were interesting and well-qualified in their fields. So I do not know. It’s like those, at home, who blame our system’s decadence on the Arabization process, when other factors play a role too.

I felt the people very attached to their Persian heritage. Books and souvenirs from the pre-Islamic era can be found everywhere. It’s not like in Algeria where Pre-Islamic era is considered useless, when it is not the pre-1962 period that is not ditched altogether. Just to say that I felt the people proud about their heritage, and were very eager to share it with me.

Politics:

It’s interesting that I didn’t find anyone supporting Ahmadinejad. All blamed him and the revolution for everything. They complained about education and their students being less and less knowledgeable. Economy and corruption had a fair share in the complaints too. Nobody believed the press: once I showed my surprise at the many newspapers and magazines we can see in a newsagent’s shop, and I was told that they’re were all the same spreading the same lies. Made me think of Echourouk and Ennahar🙂

My other surprise was at how the older Iranians despised Khomeini and his revolution. They seemed all to regret the shah and tried to find excuses to explain whatever was blamed on him in the past.
While cursing the system, a taxi driver told me how he struggled to have a decent life and blamed it on their “pouvoir”. He said he visited the UAE a few times a year to smuggle perfumes and some other products…

Arab Iranian Spring:

At the restaurant, a young waiter asked me if Algeria offered good opportunities for the youths. He was ready to “yhrag” to Algeria had I answered positively. He told me he regretted that he didn’t apply for a Canadian visa during the unrest that followed  AhmadiNedjad/Mousavi ‘electoral’ battle.

Roads and transportation:

I don’t know how many accidents occur in Tehran every year but I can tell you that I was ready to die almost every time I wanted to cross the street. I believe Tehran could compete with some India biggest cities on this aspect and may even win. And once you cross and are still in one piece, there is the challenge of getting a taxi. Just like in Algeria, many taxi drivers will tell you “mashi triqi”, they say it in Farsi though🙂 so you’ll have to be patient or, if you are an adventurer, you could hail the faster and cheaper motorcycle taxi. It surprised me to see those men and women sitting behind the biker with their arms around him.
Speaking of taxis, it was funny to find out that, in Iran like in Algeria, you have to pay two to three folds the normal taxi fare when you leave the airport to the city…

At some occasions, as I wanted to remember a little of Algeria, I decided to take the bus in Tehran. If you know how buses are crowded in Algiers then multiply it by two and you’ll know what Tehran buses are like. The other difference is that females and males have separates areas. I wondered what couples and families did to travel together…

I forgot to mention their music (I attended two or three weddings) but I didn’t like it so better nkhelli el bir beghtah. And one last point, how do they do to have all this hair? I looked ridiculous with my haircut

9 thoughts on “An Algerian in Iran

  1. And this is Tehran, one can only guess what it is like in other parts of the country.
    You are right, Russia is the Godmother of Algeria – so many similar features politically, economically. Even the art of rigging elections, I think our leaders borrowed lots of tricks from the Kremlin.

    As for Iran, I once read an article in which the author admired Iran for its self-sufficiency and the fact it produces its own food. Is this right?

    Missing the Shah – that’s something! Like Algerians missing Boumediene or even the French colons! I think that it is a general tendency to only remember the positive things of an era though, like those Westerners who now miss the 50’s and remember it with fondness. It informs us on things people don’t like in the current situation more than it informs us on how great the missed era was.

    • This wiki page says, “Iranian government policy aims to reach self-sufficiency in food production and by 2007, Iran had attained 96 percent self-sufficiency in essential agricultural products.[1] But wastage in storing, processing, marketing and consumption of food products remained a concern.”

      What I found most appalling when comparing Algeria and Iran is how the revolutionary spirit decreased with time, esp. after the peoples’ expectations had been disappointed by the revolution leaders who made it to power.

      • That’s good! I wish Algeria had even 50% self-sufficiency in essential agricultural produce. No matter how bad the political situation may be in Iran, at least they have secured 96% of their food demand. I don’t know if Nature has had a big part to play here (big surfaces of agriculturable land, good rates of precipitation etc) or whether this is the result of a well-planned and executed policy, but if it is the latter, well done to them!

        I agree about your last paragraph, this is the most serious thing which Algeria suffers from at the moment and the dire lack of viable alternatives just accentuates the magnitude of the problem and the horrible consequences of the inevitable crash. It looks like Iran doesn’t suffer from the same risks as we do, despite all the negative points. They seem to have some production capability, even advanced technological one as well as a decent educational system, these are the main things I think. If they arrive at a workeable solution to appease their western opponents and somehow come up with good political reforms, they might well get back on track quite quickly. I guess they’re just unlucky to be a neighbour of Israel. The same couldn’t be said for us.

        • All I can say is the Iranians I saw, in state-owned and private companies alike, are hard workers. They are focused and have clear objectives. They were tough negotiators too.

          The embargo makes it harder for them and leads to higher corruption levels, but still they managed to have a very interesting industry relying on themselves and some “friends”.

  2. Merci pour le partage Mnarvi🙂
    Beau rĂ©sumĂ© et b’ssahtek. Un beau et grand pays rĂ©duit Ă  une seule et petite Ă©tiquette aujourd’hui : “nuclĂ©aire”…
    J’ai beaucoup apprĂ©ciĂ© un documentaire fait par Rageh Omaar, “Inside Iran”. Il nous a fait faire justement un tour en Iran, très intĂ©ressant… et tellement diffĂ©rent de ce qu’on a l’habitude de voir
    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/rageh-inside-iran/
    Juste une remarque Ă  propos de ce que tu as Ă©crit : “Books and souvenirs from the pre-Islamic era can be found everywhere. It’s not like in Algeria where Pre-Islamic era is considered useless”. Il faut aussi se souvenir que leur pĂ©riode prĂ©-islamique est leur pĂ©riode “prestigieuse”. C’Ă©tait un grand empire, une grande Histoire… rĂ©duit Ă  l’Ă©poque musulmane Ă  une “province” de l’Etat musulman. Nous c’Ă©tait plutot (au dĂ©but, je pense) en rĂ©action Ă  l’attitude colonialiste française venue restaurer l’Empire romain. La bĂŞtise et l’ignorance ont fait le reste…

    • De rien Oumelkheir🙂
      C’est justement triste de ne parler de l’Iran que pour ses ambitions pretendues a avoir l’arme nucleaire, mais beaucoup de monde en joue a l’exterieur comme a l’interieur…

      Concernant ton dernier commentaire, je ne sais pas trop. Il s’agit pour moi de ne pas ignorer ou effacer, ou au contraire exagerer une periode historique au depens d’une autre pour des raisons ideologiques ou politiques. Nous sommes le resultat de notre passe et nous construisons notre avenir, et ce n’est pas en reduisant notre histoire a 50 ou 182 ans que notre situation actuelle va s’ameliorer.

      PS: je ne connaissais pas le documentaire. Je vais le regarder des que possible inshallah. Merci!

  3. It’s funny how our rulers are excellent at emulating the shady political practices of the Russians. I wonder why they did not take a leaf out of their book and alternate power between the Prime Minister Ouyahia and president Bouteflika. Everyone knows that Putin stepped aside in 2008 and handed the rein to Medvedev knowing that he could come back in the next election.
    Putin did not want to change the constitution, which allows the president to serve no more than two consecutive terms. It would have been perceived as political shambles. I suppose the Russians care about their image after all!
    As for Iran, It is scary how similar to Algeria it is. The president and the Supreme Leader’s interests do not always meet and it appears that the president is struggling to gain more power. It is reminiscent of the ”clans of the pouvoir” that we have at home. It also looks like most Iranian presidents disapproved of the Supreme Leader’s increasing power and influence.
    Mnarvi DZ talked of nostalgia to the pre-Islamic revolution era. I think the embrace of nationalism has declined following the revolution and people want that back. They do not want their country to only be perceived as Islamic, because, let’s admit it, they had a great pre-Islamic civilization which should be preserved.

    • I guess Bouteflika and Ouyahia are not as good friends as Putin and Medvedev, and Boutef wouldn’t trust, and he’d be right, Ouyahia or those who support him. Plus, I think Bouteflika really believes he’s the only one who deserves to rule Algeria, and positions lower than the president are too… low for him.

      While I was in Iran, and it’s a feeling I got in several Muslim countries, I had a strange feeling when I wandered in a street with shops selling santa and xmas stuff and realised the presence of other religions. Our country is so monolithic that we have difficulty accepting and acknowledging differences, even when it’s about our own past which would different from our present.

    • Putin did not want to change the constitution, which allows the president to serve no more than two consecutive terms. It would have been perceived as political shambles. I suppose the Russians care about their image after all!

      You’re kidding, Bouteflika picked a nervous breakdown over the % they wanted to to give him in one of the elections on grounds that it was less than Zeroual ‘achieved’ (NG gave the reference in one of her comments). And you expect him to step down to Prime Minister shoes? lol There is nothing worse than our rulers, for all the defects of other systems and politicians, even the Rooskies (and God knows how corrupt Putin and his oligarch chums are), they all seem to have something which prevents them from being as ridiculous as our rulers who really don’t give a Monkey’s about anything, even their image, as long as they hang on to their koursi.

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