Tehran, Iran – Standing behind the counter of a corner store, with barely enough room for him and his two employees, Hamid Pourrezaie raised his right hand, started shaking it nervously and said, “I’m stressed.”
Pourrezaie is a locksmith and runs a shop in Hassanabad Square, a busy intersection in downtown Tehran.
Like millions of Iranians, he worries that when more US sanctions take effect in August and again in November, Iran’s ailing economy will completely fall apart.
“[Sanctions] have made it difficult for traders to buy things, transfer money and import goods,” he said.
“With the same money you could buy one [shipping] container, now he can buy half. The value of money has dropped and channels to transfer money have also been limited. For every transportation company, there are limits on the banks and countries they can work with.”
Pourrezaie said managing his household expenses is becoming nearly impossible and that the prices people are now paying for daily goods have doubled – in some cases tripled – in recent months.
But Iranians don’t just blame the US for their circumstances. After decades of hostility against the US and an endless pursuit of political positioning on the international stage, many Iranians say their own politicians share the blame.
“All their energy is spent on [dealing with the world],” Pourrezaie said. “It is hard to make the world accept your ideology. They should do that in a more friendly way.”
“My mind is always busy thinking about what will happen tomorrow, what wrong decisions our leaders will make next, how will they decrease pressure on the people,” he said. “I hope one day we will see our leaders think better and make better decisions. Really, now they think in a kind of selfish way. They don’t think about their people. They just pay attention to [their own] interests. They don’t consider [the needs of their] people and they don’t agree with anyone.”
My mind is always busy thinking about what will happen tomorrow, what wrong decisions our leaders will make next
‘Iran’s economy is good’
Across the street, a father of three runs a knitting shop. Tayyar Mirzaie says his family isn’t going anywhere. Sitting behind rows of colourful yarn, he stubbornly defended Iran’s leaders and offered a brighter forecast for Iran’s future.
“Iran’s economy is good, it is blossoming and the economy will get better, god willing.” Mirzaie said, adding, “No, sanctions have had no impacts. In fact, [the economy] got even better.”
But since Trump took over the White House, new sanctions and disruptive policies like the travel ban (restricting US visas for Iranian nationals and citizens of other mainly Muslim countries) have placed mounting pressure directly on Iranian individuals.
All the while, the value of the Iranian Riyal has continued to fall and European companies have started leaving the country, fearful of punitive American sanctions since Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Mirzaie’s point of view may be more a product of Iranian patriotism than on-the-ground reality.
“Our Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] is a superpower and Iranian people love him so much and the government is doing their job as well,” he said, adding, “They keep their word, they are not like Americans who break their promises.”
Iran’s economy is good, it is blossoming and the economy will get better, god willing
The US and North Korea
This week, Iranians watched as the world turned its attention away from Iran’s imagined nuclear weapons to North Korea’s actual ones.
People are still coming to grips with the personal cost to them of the years their government spent negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal with one American president, only to have it systematically dismantled by another.
“[Donald Trump] will also break the deal with North Korea as well,” Mirzaie said. “He is an unwise person [and] no one has confidence in him. Today he says something, tomorrow he will say something else. Someone who [makes a pledge] and an hour later takes it back, he is not human. No one trusts him.”
“I was upset [when he broke the deal],” Mirzaie added. “He is a president of a country. Why did he break his promise? The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is an international issue. Someone who holds an international [agreement] should not break it. He has reduced his credibility. He has no morality.”
But many Iranians have a more nuanced view of the American president’s decisions.
Javad Mirzaie makes safety gear and fireproof clothing for industrial workers. He said bringing North Korea to the negotiating table was a smart move and that dialogue is the only way to achieve long-term success for any nation. He also had a message for Trump.
“Mr Trump, it is true that you are the president of a powerful country,” Javad Mirzaie said. “[But] America’s interests are connected to the interests of all.”
“Don’t think of America interests before the interests of others. If the world is at peace, surely American people will be in more peace and will move forward to success. You should think globally not just think about your own people.”
Most Iranians agree that dialogue is the best option, but their reasons vary.
“America has no pity for Iran and Iranians,” said one woman. “But we also don’t have the power to stand up to the US. So, everybody says we should negotiate with them like North Korea.”
For Iran’s leaders, the trust deficit with Washington has rarely been wider than it is now. Reopening dialogue any time soon is unlikely. But if Iranian people begin losing patience, their leaders may have no choice.
“I love my country,” Pourrezaie said, “but when I see I am under pressure, how long should I wait only to come under more pressure? I should leave.”
“We cannot do anything. Should we make another revolution? No, we are waiting for our leaders to do a better job. We pray they do better, then the situation of a country will get better. We have been a patient nation, we have stood by our leaders a lot [and] we hope things get better so we’re not forced to leave the country.”