Azadeh Moaveni writes: At the height of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the west over Iran’s nuclear programme, his government popularised the slogan, “nuclear energy is our absolute right.” One day I went outside my house in Tehran to find fresh graffiti scrawled on the wall nearby: “Danish pastry is our absolute right.” It referred to the beloved pastries that his government had decreed, in the wake of the Danish Prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy, needed rebranding. That graffiti comes to mind today, as Iran and the west announce their agonisingly awaited nuclear deal.
Back then, as today, Iranians cared more about what enhanced their daily lives than ideology and tough stances. For a decade, and especially the past three years, sanctions have gouged away at people’s quality of life. They have lost jobs as unemployment spiked, lost access to important medications and to software the rest of the world takes for granted. The era of sanctions has been the era of loss of many things: of carefully acquired savings, of dreams of studying abroad, of being able to serve meat once a week. Most painfully for a country that has the Middle East’s most educated, sizeable middle-class, Iranians have lost the ability to be genuinely cosmopolitan; international travel today is outside the reach of everyone but the Maserati-driving elite, buying a book from Amazon is technically impossible, as is registering for hundreds of university courses abroad, online and actual.
It is difficult to enumerate the endless ways – economic, cultural, academic – that sanctions have impacted the lives of ordinary Iranians. That is why, as they witness with such great anticipation the announcement of an agreement that will eventually bring sanctions to an end, it is hard to piece together their vision for what will change. The mood in Tehran is pure fizz, and the talk spans everything from cheaper iPhones to democracy. [Continue reading…]