US sanctions hurt the average Iranian, not those in charge – that was the sentiment at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar on Tuesday.
Most Iranians have suffered economic hardship sparked by reimposed and newly created American sanctions after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the historic 2015 nuclear deal involving Iran and world powers.
Trump called it “the worst deal ever” but by all indications, Iran was abiding by the agreement and refraining from developing a nuclear weapons programme.
Months of tensions between Tehran and Washington have seen the US rush an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, F-22 fighters, and thousands of additional troops to the Middle East.
Iran has recently shot down a US military surveillance drone that it claimed had violated its airspace. In spite of that confrontation, Iran has maintained that it does not seek war.
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani criticised the increasing US military presence in the region in a televised speech on Tuesday.
“They think they can just come and occupy a country by sending four warships to the region,” Larijani said. He also warned other countries in the region not to join any American coalition against it saying: “If they rally against us they will have to pay the price for it.”
Word on the street
Like others, Sajjad Nazary, a 23-year-old university student in Tehran, said he didn’t believe war would break out with the United States.
“Trump is too smart to do that and he’ll in no way harm himself like that,” Nazary said. “The situation is dangerous but none of us are aware of the politics. Maybe all of this was a threat to meant to open some new ways.”
For ordinary Iranians, it is the economic threat that is most burdensome.
“There should be some negotiations. Both parties should talk in a friendly manner,” said Nahroba Alirezei, a 35-year-old English-language teacher. “They should think about the Iranian people and the Iranian society and the American society. Young people should not suffer more than this.”
Asked about the economy, which has seen the Iranian rial go from 32,000 to the dollar to nearly 130,000, Mehdi Hamzeh Nia, a 39-year-old appliance salesman, blamed not just the sanctions but local mismanagement as well.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s government has careened between economic crises involving poor planning and embezzlement, which US sanctions have exacerbated.
“I think 50 percent is related to sanctions and 50 percent is domestic,” he said. “Even if the foreign 50 percent is resolved, and the domestic 50 percent is not fixed, our situation will still get worse.”
‘Edge of a cliff’
The rial’s fall has hit retirees particularly hard. Yussuf, a retired banking official who would only give his first name for fear of retribution, said things remained extremely difficult for those on fixed incomes such as himself. He said he took odd jobs to help make ends meet.
“I think in very tough situations, wise decisions are made easier,” he said. “I think that the officials at the right moment will not let us fall off the edge of a cliff.”
He was not complimentary of Trump’s approach.
“In the past he was not predictable but now he almost is,” Yussuf said. “For everyone around the world, it’s now clear that he only thinks about American interests.”
Nazary and Hamzeh Nia said they thought about leaving Iran given the stress. Hamzeh Nia said he worried about how to support his family, including his 5-year-old son.
“We would love to leave if the situation remains like this,” Hamzeh Nia said. “There is no future for you here.”
But the most pressing concern for Alirezei, the English teacher, is the need to ease tensions.
“It’s not a good idea to respond to threats with threats,” Alirezei said. Asked what she hoped for, she responded in English: “Peace, just peace.”