While the U.S., Israel and Western Europe worry over Iran’s nuclear power ambitions, ordinary Iranians have a far more mundane matter to be concerned about: chickens.
A shortage of the delectable poultry has pushed the bird’s price so high that only Iran’s wealthy elite can afford to eat chicken meals (a staple in Persian cuisine).
The situation has become so dire, the country’s chief of police has urged television and film broadcasters against showing chickens or chicken meals on screen (lest it exacerbate the already-tense social chasms between rich and poor).
Ordinary Iranians are facing long food queues, spiraling inflation and the debilitating effects of Western sanctions on the country’s key oil sector (the EU’s oil embargo became effective on July 1).
Given this backdrop of privation and a worsening economy, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, the top man in Iran's law enforcement, warned that showing people eating chicken dinners on TV or films could spark social chaos.
They show chicken being eaten in movies while somebody might not be able to buy it, Ahmadi-Moghaddam told a conference of police officers in Tehran.
Films are now the windows of society, and some people observing this class gap might say that we will take knives and take our rights from the rich. [Iran's state broadcaster] IRIB should not be the shop window for showing all which is not accessible.
Ahmadi-Moghaddam’s pronouncements are not to be trifled with, for he has friends in extremely high places; in fact, he is the brother-in-law of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Thus, the humble chicken has become an unlikely symbol for Iran’s deepening economic malaise.
UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the price of a kilogram of chicken has tripled from last year to about 70,000 rials ($5.73) in Iran.
Part of that price hike can be attributed to a shortage of imported livestock feed (a victim of foreign economic sanctions). Other important foodstuffs, including meat, fruit and vegetables, have also endured sharp price increases.
As a result, Iranians are lining up to buy discounted chicken from government distribution centers -- sometimes they wait for up to 14 hours in searing heat, according to blogs.
But things will likely get even worse.
Yadollah Javani, the chief adviser to the representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that inflation could jump by 50 to 70 percent over the next six months, putting even more pressure on Ahmadinejad.
An unidentified Iranian man told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda of the mismanagement of the economy by the nation’s leaders.
“We have given up on buying chicken, he said. [Iranian leaders] have created so much poverty that we can barely buy potatoes. This year, chicken is banned from films, six months later, potatoes will be banned in films, and, by next year, there won’t be any bread.”
While the Iranian government seems to have no credible method of getting a handle on inflation and the harmful effects of sanctions, Tehran officials have already warned the media to refrain from reporting on the collapsing economy.
The situation regarding sanctions and other pressures, especially in economy ... requires more cooperation by the media so the country is not hurt, said Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini.
Chicken is a staple dish for Iranians, going back to ancient times.
When Reza Shah, the father of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was exiled from Iran by the British to South Africa, he ate nothing but plain rice and boiled chicken in his final years.