C&B Notes

Iranians Under Economic Fire

The political leadership’s mismanagement of the economy and the impact of sanctions due to the country’s nuclear ambitions have quickly and severely devalued Iran’s rial.  This disruption is having a profoundly negative impact on Iran’s citizens.  If not now, then sometime in the next twenty years, the people could rise up and replace the government.

For months, since the imposition of harsh, American-led sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s leaders have sworn they would never succumb to Western pressures, and they scoffed at the idea that the measures were having any serious impact. But after a week in which the Iranian currency, the rial, fell by a shocking 40 percent and protests began to rumble through the capital, no one is making light of the mounting costs of confrontation.

In the Iranian capital, all anyone can talk about is the rial, and how lives have been turned upside down in one terrible week.  Every elevator ride, office visit or quick run to the supermarket brings new gossip about the currency’s drop and a swirl of speculation about who is to blame.

“Better buy now,” one rice seller advised Abbas Sharabi, a retired factory guard, who had decided to buy 900 pounds of Iran’s most basic staple in order to feed his extended family for a year.  “As I was gathering my money, the man received a phone call,” said Mr. Sharabi, smoking cigarette after cigarette on Thursday while waiting for a bus.  “When he hung up he told me prices had just gone up by 10 percent.  Of course I paid.  God knows how much it will cost tomorrow.”

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Mr. Ahmadinejad attributed most of the rial’s weakness to currency speculators and the sanctions, saying that it is only natural that the currency should suffer when it is possible to sell oil only in small quantities and when it is hard to make international bank transfers.  His opponents say he is trying to avoid blame for his own mismanagement of the economy.  He even went so far as to threaten to quit.  “He has made a mess, and now he wants to leave us,” Ahmad said of the president.  But a passenger in the taxi named Mostafa interrupted.  “No,” he said, “most of our leaders are at fault, but they are trying to blame everything on Ahmadinejad.”

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Experts are divided about whether the crisis has been caused more by Tehran’s longtime mismanagement of the country’s economy or by the American-led sanctions, which have been imposed over Iran’s refusal to halt a nuclear program that the West suspects is a cover for developing weapons.  Whatever the cause, members of the once-vibrant middle class have turned into cynics, many of whom say they might be alive, but are not living.

For Maysam, the son of a man who was killed in the Iran-Iraq war, a decade of relative prosperity and technological innovations had enabled him to travel widely and had turned him into a prominent blogger and critic of the system that his father had died defending.  Instead of hoping to die on a battlefield, he had planned to run his own Internet start-up company.  But those dreams have been shattered.  “We can’t even think of the future, of tomorrow, the day after, or the next week,” Maysam said.  Foreign trips are out of the question, as even the price of a cup of coffee in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, or Istanbul — favorite destinations for Iranians — has tripled when calculated in rials.  Parents of the legions of Iranians studying abroad are calling their children back to Iran, as rents and college fees in countries like the Philippines and Malaysia have become unaffordable.