On Friday, Iranian families will mark the winter solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year. Yalda festivities are usually a time to recite poems and feast on cured meats and fresh fruit, especially the pomegranate.
But this year sanctions have kept the precious fruit on vendors’ shelves – its price is out of reach for many grappling with the flailing economy.
In the northern Iranian city of Rasht, fruit vendor Farshid says families are unable to afford a decent quality of life or to spend money on recreation, manifested in their reluctance to buy fruit for the solstice.
“Yalda night is a time of the year we sell more, but this time, it seems that there’s no trace of increased sales. The prices are so high that people prefer to spend their Yalda night with only a watermelon. They don’t go on a lavish shopping spree for pomegranates,” he told Asia Times.
“I’m not sure if our authorities are aware of the situation or pretend that they don’t know anything about the prices.”
In taxis and bread lines, shopping centers and family gatherings, these days it is not uncommon to hear Iranians complaining about their decreasing purchasing power and worsening livelihoods.
Iran’s economy is going through a tumultuous period. With the United States tightening the noose and Tehran defiant and unwilling to negotiate, ordinary citizens are paying the price for a bitter political rivalry between two stubborn governments not ready for compromises.
Disappointment is the common denominator in their description of their living conditions. Despite claims by the authorities that people are resisting the pressure of the economic sanctions, the public is hit hard by Washington’s punitive measures against the country, and the national economy is suffering gravely.
In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal that was signed by Iran and six world powers and endorsed by the UN Security Council through Resolution 2231. Trump’s decision paved the way for the reinstatement of unilateral sanctions against Iran. All the sanctions that had been lifted as part of the nuclear deal snapped back into place.
Trump made it clear that countries doing business with Iran would not be doing business with the United States. The stated goal of the Trump administration was to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero through a “maximum pressure” strategy, aimed at coercing Iran into capitulation and negotiating a new deal.
The US apparently does not have a tangible alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the Iran deal. Senior officials speak vaguely of the need for Iran to behave like a “normal country” and the administration is obviously displeased with Iran’s “malign influence” in the region.
However, aside from the grueling sanctions that will certainly strangle Iran’s economy, the US under Trump does not appear to have a clear vision for its future interactions with the Islamic republic.
In recent remarks, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif acknowledged that US sanctions hurt the average citizen, but he said they will not lead to a change of policy. Iranian officials say they will not negotiate with the United States under the shadow of sanctions and political pressure.
Not even carpets
The US sanctions against Iran target the country’s oil, banking, shipping, aviation and insurance sectors and are aimed at paralyzing the oil-rich nation’s economy. They are so all-encompassing and extensive that they even include restrictions on Iran’s carpet industry.
According to Trump, these sanctions are the most stringent ever instituted by the United States. The first round of sanctions was introduced on August 7 and the second phase of the sanctions went into motion on November 5.
In the first round of sanctions in August, limitations on Iran’s acquisition of US dollars, Iranian trade in gold and other precious metals and the purchase or sale of Iranian rials outside Iran were put in place.
In the second round of sanctions, buying oil or any petrol-based product from Iran was banned; some 200 people and vessels connected to Iran’s shipping lines were sanctioned; transactions by foreign finance organizations with 50 Iranian banks, including the Central Bank of Iran, were declared forbidden; and 67 aircraft belonging to Iranian airliners and 23 people and organizations linked to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran were put on the US Department of Treasury’s blacklist.
All of these penalties imposed by the United States, coupled with mismanagement on behalf of the authorities and widespread corruption, have rendered the Iranian economy ailing and its prospects unpromising.
The national currency, the rial, has strikingly lost its value against the US dollar, at times trading at about 190,000 rials per dollar, and the price of consumer goods, food and medicine has soared to incredible levels.
Can’t afford a fridge
An optometrist in Rasht, which sits along the Caspian Sea, is unhappy about how the sanctions have impacted her enterprise.
“The number of patients has been halved. People’s purchasing power has declined unimaginably. The optical lenses that could be bought for 200,000 rials are now 800,000 rials. High-quality lenses and spectacles are not imported anymore and those existing in the market are offered for horrible prices,” she told Asia Times.
Hyperinflation and the inability of families to secure a decent living constitute the basis for many of the Iranian people’s grievances. They blame the current economic chaos on the government in Tehran and the US sanctions alike.
Shohreh Rahimizadeh is a teacher and school principal with an infant child. She says her lifestyle and her investment in her child have been hugely affected as a result of the sanctions and the economic turmoil engulfing the country.
“My income and that of my husband hasn’t changed significantly since last year, but the prices have jumped unbelievably. The diapers I used to buy at 210,000 rials per package are now 580,000 rials. Baby milk that I could buy for around 160,000 rials is now sold for 210,000 rials,” she said.
Rahimizadeh said she had saved 100 million rials last year with the goal of buying a new refrigerator to replace her old, broken one. The price for the same item is now 350 million rials and she cannot afford it.