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Sanctions & Iran Society – What People Think?

Have US sanctions against the Islamic Republic been effective? How have they impacted Iran civil society? What do Iranians think about them?

Four years after the end of the war, when Hannah Arendt returned to Germany for the first time, in an article entitled “The Aftermath of Nazi Rule:Report from Germany” wrote: “The lies of totalitarian propaganda are distinguished from the normal lying of non-totalitarian regimes in times of emergency by their consistent denial of the importance of facts in general: all facts can be changed and all lies can be made true.” What is the fact about US and western sanctions against the regime? Have the Islamic Republic regime and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) become weaker because of these sanctions? Were they targeted? How have the sanctions affected civil society?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its report of “Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia” said that the Islamic Republic’s foreign exchange reserves fell from an average of $70 billion between 2000 and 2017, and in 2018 to $122.5 billion to a sudden $14.9 billion in 2019 and the free fall of these reserves to an astonishing depth of $12.4 billion in 2020.

So, what’s the reason for this perplexing fall? The answer is simple: sanctions. Iran’s economy is centrally planned economy under the regime control. This means that the private sector has a very small share of the country’s economy, as well as the imposed sanctions. Reza Padidar, a member of the Energy Commission of the Chamber of Commerce, in December 2019 stated that this share is equal to 17%, which, considering the non-transparent sector and the combined private-government ones, will shrink to less than 10%. As a result, it can be said that in general, any sanction that are imposed on the country’s economy, even assuming that it is blindfolded and untailored, 90% of it targets the government, government-affiliated institutions and its economic enterprises, directly. But the assumption of “blindfolded sanctions” itself stems from the regime’s propaganda and is fundamentally untenable. Because sanctions against the Islamic Republic, according to Joe Biden, when he was Barack Obama’s vice president, are not only “the most crippling sanctions in the history of world sanctions,” but also one of the most complex and targeted. Complex because they are as old as the Islamic Republic; Some of them date back to the time of climbing the door and wall of the US Embassy in Tehran, and since that day, under the executive orders of the US presidents, each received a number, and the approval and revocation of each was linked to separate legal mechanisms. Very few people are able to have a correct and comprehensive understanding of the legal mechanism and intricacies of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Sanctions generally include individuals on the one hand, and institutions and large sections of the government on the other: “Supreme Leader’s Beyt”, Ali Khamenei, Ibrahim Raisi, members of the Guardian Council, Javad Zarif, and individuals affiliated with the Mostazafan Foundation,… all were sanctioned under only one executive order, No. 13876. The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the Central Bank, insurance, banking services, the entire oil and shipping industry, the missile program, military weapons, and the nuclear program have been sanctioned by both the European Union and the United States. The accusation of being “blindfolded, untailored, cruel” from these sanctions is possible only by “hiding objective facts”, in the realm of “totalitarian lies”.

The relationship between sanctions and the catastrophic economic situation of the people
is not a direct relationship. Between growing poverty and Western sanctions lies an inefficient, corrupt, and totalitarian regime that, over the past four decades, has spread and grow unjust redistribution of wealth, systematic and institutional corruption, lack of transparency and mafia structure, Astan Quds (owner of “holy shrine” in Mashhad) and Khatam al-Anbiya (IRGC’s infrastructure base), Qalibaf and Rafsanjani clan, Larijani’s gang, Akbar Velayati and… the shadaow of Velayat-e-Faqih (Supreme Leader) and the opium of pseudo-reformists, Khatami & Co in its heart, in all occasion, from the time of attack on the university dormitory (Kooy-e-Daneshgah) and the so-called dialogue of civilizations, to November 2019 and at the peak of sanctions.

Addressing the Iranian people at a meeting of the “National COVID-19 Task Force”, Hassan Rouhani said, “If the people want to curse for shortcomings and problems, this cursing should be addressed at the White House in Washington. The correct address is Washington, D.C. The White House.” He could hear people’s curses from their chants on the streets saying: “Our enemy is right here; they lie saying it’s US.” The Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Mohammad Baqher Qalibaf, had also heard: “The root of all the country’s problems is mismanagement, not sanctions. With $100 billion in annual revenue, we had a budget deficit, and now that we have decreased revenue, we struggle with the same problem.”

Assadollah Asgarowladi, a former chairman of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce and who had gathered a hefty wealth from the Islamic Revolution, in August 2018 said: “I dare say that 90% of the current problems are due to wrong decisions and mismanagement of the government and economic ministers of Mr. Rouhani, and only 10 percent of the economic problems are related to sanctions.”

Aside from the statements of the authorities and the founders of the current situation, the majority of the people also blame the regime. In the same August 2018, the “Asr-e-Iran” newspaper had asked its audience “the reason for the turmoil in the foreign exchange market.” 62.16% of voters in the poll, in which 13,503 people participated, voted for the “mismanagement of government economic officials” and saw the main culprit within the regime. Only 2.55% of the participants considered external factors to be disturbing the foreign exchange market.

Six months ago, in September 2021, “corruption and inefficiency” of the regime in the opinion of 86.2% of Iranian citizens in a poll of more than 23,000 people, conducted by the Gaman Institute, was recognized as the main culprit of the current economic situation in the country.

The results of these polls can be verified by the objective and undeniable fact that during the two great waves of protests of the past years, specifically the protests of December 2017 and November 2019, which had seemingly economic motives and stimuli, nowhere in Iran did anybody chant against the sanctions. Nowhere, there has been any gathering of the people to condemn the sanctions imposed by foreign countries. Just the opposite, when the American flag was painted on the pavement in the way of the people to trample on it when US President was Donald Trump and his policy against the Islamic Republic was called “maximum pressure”, people created such images, to say their path was separate from the regime:

What is the indicator of the dynamism and health of civil society?

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned the return of Hannah Arendt to Germany after World War II. In her observations, Arendt depicts the devastation and destruction left by the war and writes of another profound devastation that occurred not in the streets and buildings, not in the infrastructure and places, but in the heart of German civil society; Long before the bombers flew over Germany: “The Germans walk through the ruins and write postcards for each other; On these postcards are images of churches, marketplaces, public buildings, and staircases that no longer exist. And the sense of indifference with which the Germans walk through the ruins finds its exact correspondence in the fact that no one mourns those who have died; it reflects in ‘insensitivity’, with which they react in the face of the fate of the refugees living among them, or, more commonly, they do not.”

The indifference towards our own destiny and the fate of others, towards the ruins we walk through, towards the “objective fact”; the indifference towards the thirst of Khuzestan or the misery of Sistan-Baluchestan, the tie (Ali Daei and Mehdi Mahdavikia, wearing ties in Qatar and not mentioning the women) with which after using pepper sprays on the eyes of soccer-loving women of Mashhad in the lottery FIFA appears in Qatar; This is the real weakness and disease of civil society, not the income of the middle class, which no longer exists.

If we look at it from this perspective, the sanctions not only revealed the inefficiency and institutional corruption in the Islamic Republic regime, but also increased the sensitivity of civil society and the sense of empathy and solidarity with the nationwide protests against this corruption and inefficiency among different sections of society.
What is the indicator of the dynamism and health of civil society?
– Culture of protest!

The intensity and frequency of widespread protests has grown exponentially in recent years. Similarly, the level of repression and violence used against this culture of protest, which is seen on the horizon of international sanctions in Iranian society, has increased. Sanctions, however, have severely affected the regime’s capacity for violence and repression. For example, the IRGC’s TasnimNews reported that in November 2021, 49%of the recording cameras used to monitor protests and rallies, used as tools of repression in cities, have failed, and wrote that only seven cities in the country have working surveillance cameras. The oppression machine is not able to produce these tools and has to buy them from other countries. The sanctions here, too, helped civil society and the protest culture.

For the first time, among the growing number of so-called “union and livelihood” protests and rallies that have taken place in recent years, there have been protests among groups such as “prison guards” and “armed forces personnel.” This phenomenon was unique in its kind, as it showed that sanctions had reached the bone of repression, the guardian force of the system.
“The prison guard has no bread” was their slogan.


Translation of this article by Sahar.

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