Iranians Cast Blame As U.S. Sanctions Hurt Iran's Economy

Jan 8, 2019
Originally published on January 8, 2019 8:13 am
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Iran's economy is struggling. U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil, banking and other sectors have tightened. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that Iranians blame the Trump administration but also their government and even themselves.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Thirty-year-old Elnaz moved to Tehran to work for an online recruitment agency, matching job seekers with companies looking for help. She agreed to an interview via Skype if her family name isn't used so she can speak freely. The first thing she noticed was a sharp drop in demand from the employer's side. Suddenly, it seemed hardly anyone was hiring.

ELNAZ: (Through interpreter) And on the applicant side, the demand kept going up - every day, more and more people with strong qualifications looking for jobs.

KENYON: Then one day, the agency closed her department. And Elnaz joined those unemployed people she'd been trying to help. She was forced to move back in with her parents and felt lucky to find another job with lower pay but, she hopes, more job security. The sanctions are back because President Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed them in a bid to get Tehran to negotiate a tougher agreement. Elnaz says the sanctions are a big part of the problem. But her own government is also partly responsible. At the end of the day, Elnaz says, it's no use blaming officials.

ELNAZ: (Through interpreter) Beyond all governments, I consider the Iranian people responsible. We don't strongly demand our rights. If we held our politicians more accountable, we'd have better conditions now.

KENYON: Another Iranian reached via Skype, Nima, had a job that included inspecting imported goods - household appliances, automotive parts or machinery. He thinks back to an earlier round of sanctions several years ago and says at that time, he doesn't remember imports being hit so hard.

NIMA: (Through interpreter) Whereas now the imports have decreased drastically to the extent that in the past nine months, I've barely had the same amount of work that I used to get in one month. So I would say there's been a 90 percent decline in the import of these products.

KENYON: Nima says food, clothing and housing all cost more. And of course, there are shortages. The government promised economic improvements. But Nima says there's no relief being felt on the street. Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says as the sanctions bite, efforts by the European Union to maintain the terms of the nuclear deal and keep trade going have bogged down. In part, that's due to issues on the European side. But Ansari says it's also because Tehran is wary of complying with Western standards on things like money laundering and cutting off funding for militant groups. He says a good example would be how the West views the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

ALI ANSARI: Hezbollah, you know, is defined as a terrorist organization. And the Americans, you know, will clearly oppose any money that's being transferred to various groups in Palestine or Hezbollah in Lebanon and so on and so forth. So the Iranians are very, very opposed to it. Funding all these shady groups in the Middle East, you know, will then come to light if they actually adhere to these deregulatory restrictions.

KENYON: Meanwhile, public protests that began in late 2017 continue. Nima, the customs expert, says he hasn't joined the street protests. And he knows anti-Iran hawks in the West would love to see the demonstrations grow. But when asked how long he can continue in these conditions, he sounds resigned.

NIMA: (Through interpreter) I already shut down my business. I closed in August. How long can I stand it? Like everyone else, it depends on how much money is in my bank account. When that's finished, I'll join the ones protesting in the street.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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