Focus on Iran - an interview with Victor Vahidi Motti (WFSF)

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Ideological clashes on refugees, immigrants, Islam, Grexit, Brexit, climate change, the rise of emerging economies reveal that scare-mongering, as opposed to reasoned debate, has become a distinctive feature of Euro-American social and political debates in which poll after poll shows that trust and confidence in politicians and institutions are at an all-time low.
A polarised climate (institutionalists vs. insurrectionists) with hard to predict outcomes has become the norm, with growing protest movements on the left (Syriza, Podemos, Bernie Sanders), on the right (UKIP, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, etc.), or on either side (Movimento 5 Stelle), railing against massive concentrations of power and wealth.

Elsewhere, peoples and nations are pushing for more, rather than less, integration, and for a multipolar concert of powers.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is about to admit two very large countries like India and Pakistan. It will account for around 40 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of global production.

Addressing an economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 17, Vladimir Putin has announced that the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will most likely become part of a larger integration entity and common market, a “Greater Eurasia” which will include partners such as China, India, Pakistan, Iran (currently an SCO observer), and the former Soviet Central Asian republics (CIS), laying the foundation for the integration of the EEU with the China-led New Silk Road initiative (One Road, One Belt).

Israel and Palestine, together with some 40 other nations, have already expressed their desire to create a free trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Union.

Among the coinciding interests of these countries: transportation, energy, the environment, public health, science and technology, tourism and the protection and promotion of cultural and natural heritages, peace, contrasting drug trafficking, extremism and terrorism, and reviving the Silk Road.

rsz 1rsz close up mottiWithin this emerging framework and market Iran will resume the historic role as a crossroads for trade and cultural cooperation between East and West and we are pleased to introduce our new Iranian partner, Victor Vahidi Motti, through the following interview.

During a joint press conference with Matteo Renzi held in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani thanked Italy for a constructive role in the nuclear deal and for developing cultural and business ties with post-sanctions Iran in spite of major concerns on the part of the banking industry. What is the Iranian attitude towards Italy? In what way Italian private and public investment and trade could positively affect our relationships?

The attitude of Iranian people and officials toward Italy is generally positive. The fact that Italy was not part of the 5+1 who pressed Iran to unroll its nuclear program is very important. And unlike other colonial powers of Europe you can hardly find any trace of Italian-backed interference or atrocities in Iranian history.
There is a well-established awareness of Italian brands and people see Italy as a country of fine art and creativity.
Even though Italy enjoys a very good reputation with respect to its people and products and services among Iranians, I need to point out that what could determine the mutual relationship will be agility, flexibilty and cost effectiveness in a highly competitive market.
Another important difficulty might be the language barrier, because very few educated people in Iran speak Italian.
Apart from this you can find quite a number of similarities between the two cultures, social structures, ways of doing business and, to some extent, the role of religion and politics in people’s everyday life.

Arab and Israeli leaders are making “pilgrimages” to Moscow to see Vladimir Putin these days, instead of visiting the White House. Is that a sign that a major geopolitical upheaval is taking place in the Middle East?

The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran has ordered not to use the term Middle East because it implies that the centre of the globe is Europe, and more specifically Britain whose foreign office coined this neologism during the colonial era of its empire.
For four years in Iran we have been using the expression “Western Asia” instead, to challenge this notion of dividing the Earth geography based on the centrality of the UK and Europe.
This very critical and somehow postmodern approach to geopolitics might answer part of your question here.
Another important issue is that Obama administration has clearly pursued a disengagement policy toward this region and there might be three reasons for this. First less dependence on oil, second avoiding imperial over stretch, and third a better preparedness for the military rise of China in the next few decades.
As far as Israel is concerned it should be obvious because the Obama administration is not very much in alignment or agreement with Israel’s current prime minister and this might change after the presidential election in 2016.
As for the Arabs, this might be also related to the fact that Iran and the US are clearly on the path of rapprochement: picturing Iran and US ministers together was until very recently a political taboo, and this makes them anxious about who will provide protection against a rising Iran influence.

rsz mottis presentationIgor Sechin, the Executive Chairman of Rosneft, has recently declared that OPEC is terminally ill. Do you agree with his assessment? What could the main consequences be for the oil market, for Iran and for Europe?

I tend to bet on the rise of the renewable energy sector and frame the decisions by Saudi Arabia to keep the production level in OPEC a reasonable strategy. The oil era will not be over once oil is over but when much better and less polluting and clean sources of energy will be available. Therefore turning all the remaining reserves into money and invest it in other more productive sectors and better financial performances is understandable. This makes even more sense if you take a look at the motto of the 2030 vision of Saudi Arabia which aims to become a leading investment power in the global capital markets through its sovereign fund. It is more critical to watch the role of gas exporting countries like Russia, Qatar, and Iran. I firmly believe that, when asked, most executive managers in oil industry would tend to underestimate the impact of the shift towards more sustainable models of growth, which also includes the planning for car free zones and electrical vehicles.

An April 2016 EU-wide survey shows that 64% of Europeans would vote in favour of an unconditional basic income, something that has already been introduced in Iran in 2010. Is it working?

I am not sure how the basic income proposal has been framed in the poll you mention. Even though people in Switzerland didn’t vote in favour of it recently I think this proposal is related to the fact that artificial intelligence, or Industry 4.0, is threatening to bring mass unemployment very soon in the future across the world.
What was introduced in Iran is not related to the technological unemployment at all but was merely a smart way to substitute the utility, in particular energy, subsidies in order to change the extravagant consumption of Iranians of, for example, gasoline which is priced at almost one sixth per litre of what you pay at pumps in Italy.
A problem and burden for the administration in Iran is to avoid budget deficit given the plunge of oil price since 2014 and you have to note that this vast amount of monthly cash subsidies paid to the households is gradually drying up.
The amount of cash smart subsidies which is around only 11 euro per month per person can hardly be regarded as a basic income in a country suffering from recession and weak growth rates. Even stranger is the fact that despite the call of the central administration for voluntary waiving of this so called “smart subsidies” in favour of the poorer citizens, the well-to-do middle class households have not waived this right to receive cash and the administration and the parliament are working together to pass laws to better classify them and remove the more affluent people from the list of cash recipients.

Iran has 19 World Heritage sites but in 2012 was ranked 147th in the world in terms of travel and tourism’s direct contribution to GDP. The government aims to attract 20 million visitors a year by 2025 (they are now around four million). Is the future of the Iranian tourism industry so bright?

In principle yes, it is very bright. However, the sanctions and the isolation from the outside world have largely contributed to a distance from the normal standards in the hotel industry and other related businesses throughout the tourism value chain. Iran needs enormous investment both in the hard infrastructure and soft professions. By infrastructure I mean airports, transportation, and accommodation, and travel planning in particular via digital channels, which are in a relatively poor state. And by soft professions I mean content generation to enhance the brand of Iranian attractions to potential visitors. Also critical here will be supporting laws and regulations. For instance, waiving visa for entry or airport visa is a key strategy designed and implemented recently. Today citizens of almost 180 countries are able to travel to Iran without visa application and this is a huge positive change given the fact that authorities are generally concerned about the misuse of easy travel to country as a cover for trouble makers and abetment of plots against the political stability and national security.

rsz motti trentoIran plays a leading role in the fields of culture, research and even contemporary art in Western Asia. Should we expect the country to become a hub in the region and perhaps the whole Muslim world, a catalyst for initiatives for social progress in MENA countries and Central Asia? Is an Iran-centred reformation of Islam a plausible scenario?

I am not sure about the plausibility of Iran leading the Muslim world because the majority of Iranians are adherent of Shiia Islam as opposed to Sunni Islam.
The difference can sometimes become and has already been as much bloody as you can read in the history of North Ireland and the conflict between Protestants and Catholics. The plausible scenario that comes to my mind might be that the Sufi version of Islam, currently mostly silenced, will take deep root in the Muslim world again and find widespread approval and practice throughout the region. In such a scenario countries like Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan can take a leading role together given their rich and diverse heritage of mystic interpretation of the religion.

In modern day Iran there are also philosophers and young insightful scholars like Sherwin Vakili who is deeply inspired by the wise Persian traditions and is building, promoting, educating, and implementing an integral theory called Zurvan, after the ancient Persian god of time, in order to shed a holistic and scientific light on the complex systematic integration of cultural, psychological, social, and biological levels of self. According to him, and I would say within a critical realism school, to build a new identity all selves in Iran should aim to maximize the core quantified variables like power of institutions in their social networks, brain reward system of their cognitive consciousness, health and survival of their bodies, and eventually cultural meanings, their character and ethical life style.

With an ever-expanding influence across Western and Central Asia, the Iranian élites appear to be bent on somehow reviving the glories of the Persian Empire, this time through soft diplomatic means. Is that a fair assessment of their goals?

With all that said, however, you cannot count on the survival and growth of the social institutions. The scenario you bring up as the reviving of the glories of the Persian Empire can only happen after the rise of individual champions who are role models for the whole of society; very much like when this land and its civilization was the vibrant home to leading figures who changed the world for better alternative futures.


Tags: Iran, Victor Motti, Nuova Via della Seta, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Vladimir Putin, Greater Eurasia, Eurasian Economic Union, Iranian market, OPEC, unconditional basic income, Iranian tourism industry, Sufism, Persian civilization, alternative futures


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