|"Please do not touch, very expensive," the signs reads.|
As an Iranian-American, I’ve visited Iran numerous times in my life-time. Some of my fondest memories take place in the hubs of the country: the bazaars. It’s in these busy and lively marketplaces where gossip and news are exchanged and where one could buy everything from fruits and meat to gold and not-so-authentic Rolex watches. During my last visit, in December of 2011, the bazaars were bustling with crowds and activities as much as ever. However, what differed from my previous visits were the numbers on the price signs that at first glance I thought had 3 or so extra digits by mistake and the sense of panic and frustration that resonated with shoppers and shop keepers alike. This is just a small glimpse as to how the Iranian economic sanctions have negatively affected the average people of Iran.
The United States and other Western powers have implemented economic sanctions against Iran in attempt to deter the country from developing its nuclear program. Tehran remains insistent that their nuclear program is designed solely for peaceful energy purposes, but the U.S. is convinced that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran include a ban on arms, aircraft, and repair trade, a complete economic embargo, a ban on all Iranian imports and sanctions on Iranian financial institutions and companies doing business with Iran.
The effects of the sanction have rippled across Iran’s entire economy. Inflation is at an all-time high, hovering at about 20%. Iran’s currency, the rial, has been devalued by nearly 50% and prices for food staples and other commodities have risen within a year up to 78%. The sanctions have also affected trade in medical technology. In some Iranian hospitals for instance, cancer patients go without radiology treatment. In January of 2012, the dollar had appreciated 75% against the rial, meaning you can buy about 20,000 rials with one dollar. Unless you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, many goods that were once imported into the country are no longer accessible.
Unfortunately, it is the middle and low-class that is most heavily burdened with the affects of the Western sanctions, not the political elites in the top-class that the sanctions are allegedly designed to target. If anything, some wealthy Iranians are even profiting from the staggering inflation and plunging national currency. Wealthy insiders can buy dollars at the governmental rate and then sell them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market. No, it is the ordinary Iranian citizens, those who hold no influence on Iran’s nuclear policy, that are truly experiencing the crippled economy. They are the ones, not governmental officials, who have to sacrifice red meat from their diet, close down their family business, or pick up a second job just to make ends-meet. I remember one elderly man at an orange stand in Tehran exclaiming that fruit is a luxury that he can no longer afford.
To say that the sanctions are the sole cause of the economic crisis in Iran would be an unfair and inaccurate claim. Plenty of the Iranian people’s sufferings are a result of their own government’s intrusive policies and limits on economic freedom. Yet, to hope that the Iranians, with their frustration and desperation over their dire economic state, will rise and lead a revolt against the Iranian government is wishful thinking. The recent series of protests in 2009, known as the Green Movement, though a powerful and phenomenal mobilization of the Iranian people, was nonetheless ineffective in causing regime change. During my last visit, I asked people from throughout Tehran what the prospects of another revolution were. The responses I received were always grim. Too much blood was lost and too many arrests were made was the almost universal response. The Iranians aren’t ready to have their hopes crushed again. But I digress…
I hope by writing this blog post to raise awareness on the damage that the economic sanctions have on the lives of innocent Iranians, but I also hope to raise awareness on an issue that extends further from the bazaars of Tehran. Nuclear weapons, since their existence, have brought more harm to our world than protection. Some have felt the damage that a nuclear weapon can inflict directly, like those who experienced the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, while others are forced to suffer the economic consequences from governmental policies on nuclear power. Today, those people are Iranians. Who will be the victim of nuclear weapons tomorrow?