Iran Sanctions May Target Iran’s Middle Class

Although the United States and its allies insist that the latest round of U.N. sanctions against Iran targets high-level government officials rather than the general population, interviews with a number of analysts, activists and journalists in Tehran reveal a growing concern over the impact on the country’s middle class.

"The government will use the oil money to prevent pressure on the lower classes, but the main pressure will be on the middle class, the majority of whom are anti-government," a former governmental official told IPS on the condition of anonymity. 

"The sanctions are in fact going to punish the social group who carried the burden of confronting the government last year. It is the middle class who engages in trade and sanctions would destroy it [while] the government’s oil money would help it to remain in power," the official said. 

The Jun. 9 Security Council resolution, the fourth aimed at getting Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program since 2006, forbids U.N. members from transferring most conventional arms sales to Iran, calls for greater scrutiny of Iran’s overseas banking operations, adds more Iranian companies and individuals to a U.N. blacklist, and authorizes countries to stop and inspect Iran-bound ships suspected of carrying cargo connected to Tehran’s nuclear program 

However, the naval commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Crops – a specific target of new unilateral sanctions by the U.S. — has warned that if the United States and its allies try to inspect Iranian ships, they would encounter resistance. 

According to IRNA, Admiral Ali Fadavi told reporters in Bandar Abbas on Jun. 24, "We have had indescribable growth in [trade in] the Persian Gulf and Hormuz Strait. Should they attempt anything stupid, according to their illegitimate and illegal resolution, we would act in most special and appropriate ways." 

Sohrab Razzaghi, an official in former President Mohammad Khatami’s cabinet, told IPS the sanctions could prove to be a "double-edged sword." 

"If the government can manage them well, it can mobilize the people, but if it can’t manage them, it could collapse," he said. 

"On several macro levels, aviation, people’s daily life will be affected and on a secondary level, it will affect the country’s industries and increase production costs," he added. 

Meanwhile, news coverage of the sanctions within Iran is apparently being suppressed. 

"We are not allowed to speak about the sanctions and their destructive effects, because this could be construed as weakening the government," a business journalist with a conservative publication in Tehran told IPS. "Our publication’s general policy is to say that the government is capable of skirting the sanctions." 

"Criticizing the government is no longer possible, especially since last month when [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei said that criticizing the government, even with well-meaning intentions, could cause division," he said. "The pressure on the press is unimaginable." 

Another journalist with Hamshahri newspaper in Tehran, who asked not to be named, told IPS, "Some say we have paid a high price, so we must continue to the end, because if we don’t acquire the nuclear know-how now, in a few years we won’t have the oil revenue to pay for acquiring it." 

"Others say that the West won’t leave Iran alone until Iran has nuclear bombs," he added. 

With low oil prices adding to the economic squeeze, the government recently tried to raise taxes on businesses, but was forced to back down earlier this week when merchants at the main shopping bazaar in Tehran threatened to stage a general strike and shutter their shops. 

"Many in the bazaar are furious with news about a tax hike," said Mehran F., a merchant. "News about the discontinuation of subsidies over the next two months is a source of anxiety for many people, especially when they talk about removing subsidies from bread, water, electricity, and fuel." 

The prohibition on exporting petrol to Iran and the resulting increase in the price of gas are also a major source of public concern. 

"Many believe there won’t be an attack [on nuclear sites], because the region is too unstable," a political blogger in Tehran who asked to remain anonymous told IPS. "But most people I talked to believe that if foreign pressure mounts, national unity will increase and this helps the regime and Ahmadinejad, simply because they have a media monopoly, which helps them to garner public support." 

Former Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi recently criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the IRGC and government officials for their handling the country’s controversial nuclear program 

In a strongly worded letter published on the website Kalame, Mousavi blamed Ahmadinejad’s cabinet for the sanctions, arguing that they could have been averted. 

Referring to Ahmadinejad’s characterization of the resolution as "a used handkerchief." Mousavi said such rhetoric "will not reduce the problems caused by populist and controversial policies." 

He warned that the sanctions would likely erode Iran’s GNP, worsen unemployment, and increase Tehran’s isolation, both with its neighbors in the Gulf region and internationally. 

"Why should only a few people secretly make decisions about issues which affect the entire nation’s destiny?" he said, referring to the nuclear issue.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Omid Memarian

Omid Memarian writes for Inter Press Service.