On Feb. 28, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boldly declared, "Iran is among the few countries in the world where no one goes to bed hungry." It's hardly the first grandiose claim the Iranian president has made about the state of the Iranian economy. He recently announced that unemployment would be eradicated in two years. And the president defiantly insisted last November that Iran's economy is booming, despite international sanctions.
These sorts of hubristic pronouncements once made Ahmadinejad popular among his base of lower-working-class supporters, who benefited from government handouts. But these days, the president's exaggerations are running up against economic reality: For the average Iranian, times are tough. The country's economy is weak, unemployment has skyrocketed to 14.6 percent officially (real numbers are surely higher), and inflation is creeping up as the government cuts subsidies on energy, food, and other consumer goods. So stark is the contrast between the government line and reality that, for the first time, Ahmadinejad's perpetual optimism is losing -- rather than winning -- supporters.
The president's claim about hunger in Iran went down particularly poorly with his base among the lower class. The next day, on March 1, when Ahmadinejad delivered a speech in the industrial city of Khorramabad, whose working-class population once warmly embraced him, he found the mood rather cold. A sign held up above the crowd read, "We the workers of Parsilon [a factory] are hungry." Another sign in the crowd read, "Swear to God, we've come to a breaking point from all the discrimination and injustice."