Living under siege in Iran

Mohammad Ali Shabani writes: Hassan is in his late 40s. He has worked at an Iranian state bank all his life and is about to retire. His son is in his late teens and his daughter is still in primary school. Two years ago, around the same time a fourth round of UN sanctions was imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. After extensive treatment in Tehran, which included chemotherapy, he beat the disease.

But late this spring, the cancer came back – with a vengeance. Last month, when the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof argued that he was in favour of sanctions after having toured Iran and wrote about the great generosity and hospitality he had experienced, I got a frantic call from Hassan’s wife. The drugs he needed were nowhere to be found.

I joined her in her hunt all around Tehran for the needed medicines, to no avail. Repeatedly, we were told that there was a shortage of many foreign drugs because of the sanctions, even though the West’s punitive measures don’t directly target supplies such as medicines.

This is only one of the many stories of how ordinary Iranians are bearing the brunt of the West’s economic war against the Islamic Republic. Since Iran came under scrutiny over its nuclear energy programme in 2002, it has come under several sets of UN Security Council sanctions, and life has become progressively more difficult for all but the wealthy. In Tehran, the dominant perception is that the aim of the sanctions is to create pressure from below so the leadership will back down on the nuclear issue. In this context, how are Iranians to interpret the US and the EU’s move to target oil exports and shipping; the main artery of Iran’s economy?

The latest US and EU sanctions on Iran are set to inflict serious hardship on the people. The International Energy Agency estimates that Iranian oil exports have been cut by around 40 per cent this year. Meanwhile, the excision of Iran from many international banking channels means it is finding it difficult to pay for basic items that are not targeted by sanctions, such as food. The pressure Iran is facing is unprecedented. However, things need to be put into perspective. The ruling elite in Tehran has survived eight years of war, punitive measures for decades and most recently, widespread civil turmoil. Suffice to say, the Islamic Republic is resilient. [Continue reading…]

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