Ira­ni­ans’ mood dark­ens

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - News - By Jon Gam­brell As­so­ci­ated Press

TEHRAN, Iran — Just one shop among the thou­sands in Tehran’s sprawl­ing Grand Bazaar can of­fer a tableau of the dark­en­ing mood de­scend­ing across Iran as Amer­i­can sanc­tions again take hold.

A sales­man who wants to move to Europe for a bet­ter life shows off his pots and pans to a mother now strug­gling to pay for the gifts she wanted be­fore her daugh­ter’s mar­riage amid the col­lapse of Iran’s rial cur­rency. Another sales­man loudly blames in­ter­nal pol­i­tics and cor­rup­tion for the coun­try’s woes.

Mut­tered curses and even shouts against the gov­ern­ment fol­low the jour­nal­ists talk­ing to them.

While only a small mo­ment in a na­tion of 80 mil­lion peo­ple, it shows the dan­gers ahead for the gov­ern­ment of the rel­a­tively mod­er­ate Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani.

His sig­na­ture nu­clear deal with world pow­ers now has be­come a noose around his neck that hard-lin­ers glee­fully tighten.

Mean­while, the spo­radic and lead­er­less protests the na­tion has seen over its wors­en­ing econ­omy threaten to roar back to life at any time.

That has many ex­pect­ing the worst is yet to come.

“It has be­come more dif­fi­cult, but we need to lower our ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Kiana Is­maili, 26, shop­ping ahead of her wed­ding.

For cen­turies, Iran’s bazaar has been the beat­ing heart of both its eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal life.

While some now go to the Western-style mega-malls of Tehran’s tony north­ern sub­urbs, the Grand Bazaar’s nar­row al­leys, cramped stalls and wan­der­ing mu­si­cians still draw crowds of thou­sands.

Strikes in Iran’s bazaar also have served as po­lit­i­cal bell­wethers.

Bazaar fam­i­lies op­posed the Ira­nian Shah Mo­ham­mad Reza Pahlavi and sup­ported the 1979 Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion that saw him re­placed by the Shi­ite theoc­racy and elected of­fi­cials.

More re­cently in June, protesters swarmed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and forced shop­keep­ers to close their stalls, ap­par­ently in anger over the rial drop­ping to

90,000 to the U.S. dol­lar on the black mar­ket de­spite gov­ern­ment at­tempts to con­trol the cur­rency rate.

The rial in the mean­time has dropped as much as

150,000 to $1 with many

an­tic­i­pat­ing fur­ther drops as the U.S. re­stores pun­ish­ing sanc­tions on Iran’s cru­cial oil in­dus­try in early Novem­ber.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­nies it is seek­ing to over­throw Iran’s gov­ern­ment through the eco­nomic pres­sure, though Ira­nian of­fi­cials say the link be­tween the two is clear.

Fear over the econ­omy has brought many to the Grand Bazaar in re­cent days to buy what they can be­fore their sav­ings fur­ther dwin­dle away.

“Peo­ple are buy­ing more be­cause they think they won’t be able to buy stuff with cur­rent prices any­more. They are wor­ried about price fluc­tu­a­tions,” said Omid Farhadi, a 25-year-old sales clerk at the kitchen­ware shop Zo­mor­rod, or “Emer­ald” in Farsi.

“You have no price sta­bil­ity in this coun­try. You go to bed and overnight a car that was worth 100 mil­lion ri­als is now worth 140 mil­lion.”

As shop­pers looked over his pots and pans, Farhadi said he hoped to im­mi­grate soon to the Nether­lands.

He said other young Ira­ni­ans with the fi­nan­cial means want to leave the coun­try as well, while those without long­ingly look at life in Europe.

Farhadi blamed Iran’s poor re­la­tions with the rest of the world for the fal­ter­ing econ­omy.

That’s spear­headed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull Amer­ica out of the 2015 Iran nu­clear deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its en­rich­ment of ura­nium in ex­change for the lift­ing of

eco­nomic sanc­tions.

While the United Na­tions re­peat­edly has said Iran com­plies with the ac­cord, Trump said he wanted a stricter deal that also con­strained Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram and its for­eign pol­icy while per­ma­nently lim­it­ing its atomic pro­gram.

While Ira­ni­ans re­main an­gry at Trump over adding them to his travel ban and pulling out of the deal, many feel even an­grier at their own gov­ern­ment. That’s due to a steady stream of cor­rup­tion cases and al­le­ga­tions of mis­man­age­ment by of­fi­cials.

Farhadi’s col­league at the shop made a point to tell vis­it­ing jour­nal­ists he be­lieved Iran’s main prob­lem lay with Rouhani’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The gov­ern­ment’s man­age­ment of Iran’s econ­omy, al­ready hob­bled by high un­em­ploy­ment, grow­ing in­fla­tion and debt-laden banks, also faces wide­spread crit­icsm.

“Ninety per­cent of our prob­lems are be­cause of the in­fight­ing,” said sales­man Alireza Ali­hos­seini.

“I don’t know why, but the gov­ern­ment and the supreme leader have dif­fer­ences. Only 10 to 5 per­cent is be­cause of Amer­ica.”

VAHID SALEMI/AP

Fear over the econ­omy has brought many to the bazaar re­cently to buy what they can be­fore sav­ings dis­ap­pear.

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