The Pew Research Center just released the results of polls taken in several Middle Eastern countries that reveal that large numbers of Muslims are concerned by Sunnia-Shia tensions in their country, with particular concern being expressed, not surprisingly, by Muslims in Lebanon. The most interesting part of the survey comes near the end:
Surveying in Iran presents special challenges, owing in part to U.S. government restrictions on the import and export of goods and services to and from the country. In conducting its survey of Iranian public opinion, Pew Research fully complied with the requirements mandated by the U.S. Government’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
If you are wondering how Pew complied with those requirements (I certainly am) then you’re not going to find it in the linked report from Pew. You’re just going to have to take their word that they complied somehow or other.
The problem is that OFAC has already said that conducting surveys in Iran constitutes the export of services to Iran and that it would not grant the required licenses for such surveys. And judging by the recent release of General License E creating a general license for certain limited types of surveys, OFAC still believes that conducting surveys in Iran constitutes an export of services to Iran requiring a license. Under General License E, the only surveys authorized are “surveys relating to human rights and democracy building.” I’m not quite sure how a survey in Iran that seeks to determine, inter alia, the extent to which Sunni and Shia believe in visiting shrines of Muslim saints can be said to relate to human rights or democracy building.
Since General License E does not seem to cover this survey, a specific license would be required instead. So I assume Pew must have applied for and received a license here, but I’m puzzled as to why they didn’t come out and say that directly rather than just provide a general assertion that they complied with all requirements.
Let me be clear, however, on one thing. I think it is silly for OFAC to say that conducting a survey in Iran for a report published in the United States constitutes an export of a service to Iran. Like most people, I am contacted frequently by people conducting surveys, generally when I’m sitting down to dinner and generally to ask me my views on some polarizing political topic. Frankly, I don’t see how they are providing any services to me by making these calls. Instead, the only service that they could normally provide is to leave me the heck alone and let me finish my dinner in peace. I tend to think that asking people on the streets of Tehran about their political and religious views is not any more of a service to them.