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SPECIAL REPORT

'My salary can't keep up': Iranians brace as Trump threatens 'most severe sanctions ever'

AFP | File photo of Iranian women at the Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that he wanted to adopt "the most severe sanctions ever imposed" against Iran. His threats come as no surprise to the Iranians interviewed by FRANCE 24, who described their daily lives in the Trump era.

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When asked how he sees the future after Donald Trump announced a tightening of economic sanctions against Iran on September 20, Sina*, a 30-year-old executive based in Tehran, seemed disillusioned. "We're already living in a coma, what more do you want to happen to us?" he asked. His resignation seems to have taken hold of the other Iranians in the capital that FRANCE 24 interviewed as well.

"The tightening of US sanctions is not surprising. Our country has been making the headlines in the world's media for months, but the truth is, we no longer follow the news very much. We're just trying to get by from day to day," Simine, a restaurant owner in Tehran, said in a phone call.

Iran has once again been living under US sanctions for the past year. A slowing economy, the fall of the Iranian currency, record inflation of nearly 40 percent: The consequences of the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement in May 2018, and the subsequent restoration of economic sanctions, are beginning to have an impact on daily life.

'Everything is more expensive, but my salary isn’t keeping up'

In recent months, Simine says, inflation on commodities has slowed, allowing her to lower food prices on her menu. "But the damage is done. I had to raise my prices for several months; some didn't appreciate it and we lost some of our customers," she said.

Reza, now in his 60s, participated in the Islamic Revolution. He is the head of a company that imports surgical and laboratory equipment and is suffering the full impact of the recession. His sector – the medical sector – is not directly targeted by US sanctions, but is strongly affected by the restrictions on exchanging Iranian currency abroad.

"Foreign banks are reluctant to accept transfers from Iranian banks. While we look for solutions, our suppliers block our orders," said Reza, who has been waiting for a delivery of products from China for two months. Unable to stock up and supply its customers, Reza's company is slowing down. Its eight employees now work only part-time. "It's a domino effect. Our customers are doctors who work in laboratories, they are waiting for our products to advance their research. The most serious thing is that this could have an impact on patients' health."

Sina thinks he's not doing too badly. A manager in a company in the technology sector with more than 3,000 employees, he saw his salary increase by 15% this year. And yet, that was not enough to counter the effects of the sanctions. His rent climbed 30%. "I had to negotiate with my landlord to prevent a further increase," he said. He was able to keep his home, but not everyone is so lucky. Relocations are frequent in Tehran, where middle-class families are compelled to leave the capital – home to almost 9 million inhabitants – for the suburbs, which exacerbates the city's monster traffic jams.

Back in survival mode

For Mahsa, a travel agency employee, the reinstatement of sanctions has resulted in additional costs. "Our rent and food budget have increased considerably. As a result, our quality of life has declined. We rarely go to restaurants and have given up our annual trip abroad because we can no longer afford to buy plane tickets in dollars," said the 40-year-old mother. More troubling, her husband, who suffers from epilepsy, has to do a tour of the city's pharmacies to find his foreign drugs.

Despite all that, she considers herself better off than working-class Iranians. "They have to give up not only their leisure activities, but also basic necessities such as meat, milk and diapers,” she said.

Mahsa was among those who enthusiastically welcomed the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement of 2015. The deal was followed by a period of euphoria, during which she and other middle-class Iranians were able to buy the latest mobile phones and shop in brand-new shopping malls in which all kinds of western brands that Iranians had only been able to dream about for years had opened up stores.

"That's all over. We can’t afford to decide between the last iPhone and the last Samsung anymore. If your phone is broken, you have no choice, you fix it. It's the same for the car. The prices change every day," she said.

Stay or go?

This return to economic survival mode brings back memories of the years of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), during which Mahsa’s generation experienced ration tickets and shortages of many everyday consumer products. She does not think there will be another war, despite growing tensions with the United States and Saudi Arabia. "We convince ourselves that a war will not take place,” she said. “We still have a little hope in diplomacy and negotiation."

Still, Mahsa admits to thinking about leaving the country: "I have always avoided the idea, but I am worried about my daughter's future." Some families, who until a few years ago were financing their children's studies abroad, had to stop doing that after the vertiginous fall of the rial. Others, like Sina and his wife, have decided not to have children in a country in crisis. All around Mahsa, the number of people leaving for Turkey, Cyprus and Canada is multiplying. So, she too has begun exploring the possibility, without really knowing if she will dare to make the leap.

*The first names of the interviewees have been changed

This article was adapted from the original in French.

 

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