The Other 99%

Early on a February morning, a downtown marketplace comes to life.  Stores open for business, and shoppers move from vendor to vendor.  Despite the normalcy of the hustle and bustle, a river of uncertainty and concern courses through the marketplace and, to a larger extent, the entire country.  Why are prices going up while my salary remains the same?  Will I have enough to feed my family?  Why is my nation’s currency shrinking in value?

For many, this story is all too familiar.  Is it a snapshot of life in New York City, Los Angeles, or anywhere else across the United States?  While it certainly could be, the above narrative is actually a glimpse of life for every day citizens in Tehran and across the nation of Iran.

Its easy to forget the toll that the U.N., European Union, and American sanctions have on the average citizen of Iran.  Despite the legitimate impact the sanctions have had on Iran’s nuclear program, their effect on Iran’s overall economy, and its population, is often lost in translation.

Ironically, many Iranians are turning to American currency as the value of Iran’s Rial continues to plummet.  Sensing growing distrust, the Iranian regime has increased the exchange rate and sent undercover police into the streets to monitor illegal currency exchange.

“Am I afraid of the police? Sure, but I need the money,” said Hamid, a construction engineer, “Food prices are going up, and my salary is not enough.”

There is a growing resentment amongst some Iranians who claim that ordinary citizens suffer the most each time a fresh round of sanctions are handed down while “those at the top” suffer nothing, and in some cases, benefit.  However, many Iranians have expressed growing frustration with the West as they increasingly feel the economic pinch.

“So you kill the pistachio trade in Iran,” one businessman said. “How does that stop nuclear enrichment?”

Arguably, the West’s intentions are to stir up anti-government sentiment amongst the middle class, but in such a closed society will the sanctions backfire and cause Iranians to resent the West even more?  With the middle class bearing the lion’s share of the economic burden, is American, European, and U.N. policy having any pronounced effect on the Iranian nuclear program?  What else can be done to deter or halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions without alienating its population?

For more:

Iran’s Middle Class on Edge and World Presses In

2 comments

  1. Though this may sound crass, given the severity of the situation, I wholeheartedly support the strict sanctions imposed on Iran despite the resulting economic burden on the Iranian middle class. Strong, viable measures must be taken to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran poses an extreme threat to global stability. Consequently, the international community must take significant actions in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in spite of certain consequences.

    Nevertheless, I agree that the harmful consequences to those undeserving as a result of these sanctions should not be ignored. People should be aware that these sanctions have consequences, though I have to think that many of these people would believe that the consequences of the sanctions are proportionate and justifiable.

  2. It’s often been said that sanctions stand between statements and soldiers. In situations such as the one noted here, sanctions seem counterproductive, but where your two major options are a diplomatic dressing-down or a military response that would otherwise be inappropriate or impossible, sanctions are a reasonable third option, though they tend to reflect the seriousness of the problem rather than the seriousness of engagement with the problem itself. In any case, I think that these Iranians’ perspectives seem to imply that their plight has been brought about by and is a responsibility of the international community. But a tenet of international law is state sovereignty, that the state alone is responsible for the welfare of its citizens. By rigidly and aggressively asserting a right to their nuclear program in the face of international condemnation, Iran is holding their nuclear program above the welfare of its citizens. Yet the point of the sanction is the protection of the welfare of the international community as a whole. Do we give up one group’s welfare for the sake of the other? This NY Times page is interesting for its debate on this same topic and no one has an easy answer:
    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/can-sanctions-work-against-iran/

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