Last night, after the government gave just two hours notice that private motorists would be rationed to just 100 litres of petrol a month, increasing tensions in Iran over the failure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deliver on promises of greater prosperity exploded in violence. Drivers attacked petrol stations across the Iranian capital, Tehran, resulting in three people being killed.
Before anyone thinks that protestors chanting "Guns, fireworks, tanks, Ahmadinejad should be killed" means that the hard-line Iranian government is about to be toppled in a "velvet" or "orange revolution," it should be recalled that even threats of "Death to America! Death to Britain!" need to be understood in their cultural context. Moreover, even angry fuel protests in this country in September 2000 (when the price of petrol was a mere 81p per litre) had no apparent effect on the result of the subsequent election and later fuel protests in 2005 had even less of an impact.
Although an oil-rich country, Iran lacks the capacity to refine its crude oil, forcing it to import about 40% of its petrol. The fuel rationing is a measure to restrict its consumption, as the government sells petrol at about a fifth of its real cost but fears possible UN sanctions over its nuclear program.