Iran’s Middle Class on Edge as World Presses In

The New York Times

Prices on many imported goods are way up, reflecting a weaker Iranian currency.

By ROBERT F. WORTH  Published: February 6, 2012

TEHRAN — One measure of the profound anxiety now coursing through Iranian society can be seen on Manouchehri Street, a winding lane at the heart of this city where furtive crowds of men gather every day like drug dealers to buy and sell American dollars.

The government has raised the official exchange rate and sent police into the streets to stop the black marketeers, but with confidence in Iran’s own currency, the rial, collapsing by the day, the trade goes on.

“Am I afraid of the police? Sure, but I need the money,” said Hamid, a heavyset construction engineer who was standing by a muddy patch of greenery amid a crowd of other illicit currency traders here. “Food prices are going up, and my salary is not enough.” Glancing nervously around him, he added that he had converted almost all of his assets into dollars. Like many Iranians, he had also stockpiled months’ worth of rice and other staples.

The fuel for this manic trade is not an actual economic collapse — the new European oil embargo has yet to take effect, and there is plenty of food on the shelves — but a rising sense of panic about Iran’s encirclement, the possibility of war and the prospect of more economic pain to come. The White House announced a further tightening on Monday aimed at freezing Iranian assets and constricting the activities of Iran’s Central Bank.

Already, the last round of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran’s private sector, traders and analysts say, making it so hard to transfer money abroad that even affluent businessmen are sometimes forced to board planes carrying suitcases full of American dollars.

Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program — a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year.

“For the past few months, our business customers have been coming to us saying their clients are giving up on them, because they believe they will not be paid,” said Parvaneh, a 41-year-old woman working at a Tehran bank. Like others interviewed for this article, she declined to give her full name, fearing repercussions for herself and her family. “They are starting to lay off employees. Iran’s economy has always been sick, but now it seems worse than ever.”

The rising economic panic has illustrated — and possibly intensified — the bitter divisions within Iran’s political elite. A number of insiders, including members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have begun openly criticizing Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent weeks. One of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aides indirectly accused Ayatollah Khamenei of needlessly antagonizing the West in ways that pushed down the rial’s value, the latest sign of a rift between the president and the supreme leader that is helping to define the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for March 2.

“They criticize Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader by name now; it’s not like before,” said Javad, the 45-year-old manager of a travel agency in north Tehran.

With Iran now importing as much rice and other food staples as it grows at home, trade obstacles could become far more significant in the coming months. Most Iranian traders discount the possibility of real food shortages, saying Iran is already reorienting its trade eastward and has always found ways around sanctions in the past. But with more avenues closing off every month, those evasive measures are likely to be ever more cumbersome and expensive.

Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market. Some analysts and opposition political figures contend that Mr. Ahmadinejad deliberately worsened the currency crisis so that his cronies could generate profits this way.

Javad’s travel agency is a striking illustration of Iran’s current plight. With six weeks left before the Persian New Year, the phone should be ringing off the hook with reservations for holiday travel, he said. Instead, “there’s been no business for the past three weeks.”

It’s not just that would-be travelers are frightened. The agency cannot price its holiday packages, because with exchange rates fluctuating wildly, they do not know what rate to use.

“Every day it’s something new,” Javad said, gazing up at a tourism poster of China on his office wall. Foreign travel to Iran has almost entirely disappeared. Two years ago, Javad’s foreign clients were mostly Europeans; now they are entirely Russians and Chinese, and even they have been scared off in recent weeks, with Iranian officials threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and rising fears of a war. (Russia and China remain Iran’s only supporters in the United Nations Security Council.) Continue reading

Pahlavi Reports Iran Leader Ali Khamenei Crimes Against Humanity to UN

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On January 24th, author and Iran exile Reza Pahlavi submitted a full report to the United Nations Security Council accusing Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of crimes against humanity and detailing those crimes to the council.

In the report, Reza describes the attacks against unarmed civilians during the popular uprising following the fraudulent re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad in June of 2009.

Mr. Pahlavi called upon the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate a full investigation of those crimes, and to fully prosecute Iran’s “Supreme Leaders” under Article 13 (b) of the Rome Statute.

The 2009 Iranian Uprising

Oddly enough, there were not many U.S. media reports covering the 2009 Iranian uprisings and the subsequent bloodbath. Short of the Huffington Post’s coverage – one of the few U.S. media outlets with it’s origins as an independently owned media blog – published a report on the Iranian blogger posts on the massacre. The Daily Beast also published numerous amateur videos from the civilian Iranians suffering under the attacks.

The BBC, the Guardian and many other non-U.S. media outlets did cover the event in detail.

In a June 2009 article titled “Iran Uprising Turns Bloody”, covered the initial shooting, where it was estimated that 500,000 Iranians had converged in Azadi Square to protest the results of the election, which most believed to be fixed.

Leaked photos of the scene showed one man shot and several other Iranians covered with blood and suffering from bullet wounds. Witnesses claimed that the attack came from Basij militiamen loyal to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Iran: Parliament motion to question Ahmadinejad back on track

10/30/11 Source: Radio Zamaneh

Iran’s Parliament announced today that the motion to question the president has been officially revived and will be put on the parliamentary agenda. LNA reports that Mohammadreza Bahonar, the deputy head of Parliament, announced that the motion now bears 74 signatures, making it eligible for consideration.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The motion to question the president requires the support of a quarter of the house, or 73 MPs.

A previous announcement said a number of MPs had withdrawn their support for the motion but then reconsidered their withdrawal. Another MP supported the motion for the first time, bringing the number of signatures to 74.

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Iran sends submarines into Red Sea for first time

Protests outside of the United Nations in New ...

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Maryam Sinaiee and Michael Theodoulou (Foreign Correspondent)

Jun 8, 2011

Iranian military submarines reportedly ventured into the Red Sea for the first time yesterday as the Islamic republic flexed its muscles as a self-proclaimed regional superpower.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said that the submarines would collect data in international waters and identify warships of other countries: shorthand for the Bahrain-based United States Fifth Fleet.

Analysts said the Iranian regime hopes that its display of naval prowess will deflect attention from an unprecedented power struggle gripping its ruling hardliners. This has pitted president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s camp against supporters of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The former has been left reeling by several recent setbacks after miscalculating the clout of the Ayatollah’s supporters.

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German diplomats involved in Iran riots: reports

TEHRAN — German diplomats had a hand in riots in Iran last month during the Shiite commemoration of Ashura, local news agencies reported Wednesday quoting an unnamed deputy intelligence minister.

The official IRNA news agency reported that the deputy minister spoke of the “involvement of German diplomats” in the riots on December 27, the day of Ashura. Continue reading

Iran to inaugurate missile projects in February

Tue Jan 26, 2010 9:13am GMT

Iranian newspaper clip from 1968 reads: "...
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TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran will inaugurate several missile and arms projects next month to coincide with the 31st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic revolution, a Revolutionary Guards commander said on Tuesday.

Guards commander Massoud Jazayeri did not say whether Iran would test-fire new missiles and gave no other details of the planned events. A missile launch would be likely to add to tension with Western powers worried by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Iran’s Defence Ministry will inaugurate several missiles and arms projects during the Fajr (Dawn) 10-day p

eriod, marking the victory of the 1979 Islamic revolution,” he told a news conference. Continue reading

Death for 3 over role in Iran unrest

Latest Update: Saturday10/10/2009October, 2009, 11:35 PM Doha Time

Three people arrested after Iran’s disputed presidential election have been condemned to death

A court has sentenced three people to death over street unrest that erupted after Iran’s disputed election in June and links to exiled opposition groups, an Iranian news agency reported yesterday.

Isna news agency, citing the head of the publication relations office of Tehran provincial court, did not identify those condemned, giving only their initials.

It was the first official statement of death sentences in connection with the presidential poll, which the opposition says was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, and the huge opposition protests that followed. Continue reading