If you ask the Democratic US Barack Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, what has caused the Iranian rial’s value to drop by almost half in a year, they will point to sanctions aimed at halting the country’s nuclear programme.
During the final US presidential debate just last week, both Obama and Romney defended these policies. “We … organised the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy … their economy is in a shambles,” the president said.
The US says Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is strictly for civilian purposes.
A year ago, the average monthly salary for an Iranian living in a major city was about $700. Now with the plummeting rial, it’s about $440. For those in the country side the average salary has dropped from about $310 to $200.
It’s open to debate what has caused the crisis in Iran this year. Is it really the sanctions or is it the failed economic policies of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Most analysts agree it’s a mixture of the two. Ahmadinejad in the long term increased sanctions in the short term.
Cynicism and alarm
For many Iranians, living somewhere between a state of cynicism and alarm, Obama’s comments defending the destruction of their economy are unwelcome to say the least.
Many people have taken on second, even third jobs. They’ve watched their savings disappear, critical medicines are getting harder to find, inflation is high, factories are closing. Basically, so many people are watching their futures vanish. Then there are the comments about nuclear strikes and US military exercises with Israel. But that’s another worry altoghether.
Because of this, there is a surprising change in attitude amongst some parts of society, including some of Iran’s traditionally pro-western youth. At Tehran University, students of American studies have noticed it among their peers.
“They are trying to separate people here from the government, to create some kind of internal uprising, but it’s going to backfire,” Marziyeh, a student in her early twenties, said.
“The more they push, the more it will lead to a rise in anti-Americanism.”
During the presidential debate, Romney mostly agreed with Obama’s policies on Iran.
“It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them … something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions,” Romney said.
Four years ago, like many young people across the world, these students felt inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change, of a new foreign-policy approach, which would include their country. But now they are unwilling to separate Democrat from Republican.
“Obama is a Democrat. His first speech was attractive to Iranians because he seemed more positive towards the Muslim world, but instead we’ve seen tougher sanctions during his presidency on Iran than any other,” Marziyeh said.
Pushing Iran, isolating the country and trying to cripple the country’s economy to stop it enriching uranium is isolating the wrong people: the educated, the pro-Western youth, most of whom don’t tend to cling to any revolutionary zeal, who are more likely to be seen at the Apple store than at any anti-US rally.
Abbas, a fellow American studies student, sums it up: “It’s just a vicious circle. His [Obama’s] rhetoric of change actually ended up with change for the worst.”