’I won’t survive’: Iranians reel from sanctions

A man checks rates in front of a currency exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran's grand bazar on November 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 04 November 2018
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’I won’t survive’: Iranians reel from sanctions

  • For all the problems, there is little sign that Iranians want another revolution, not least because a sizeable number are still fiercely supportive of the last one
  • Washington says the sanctions are designed to curtail Iran’s “destabilising” activity in the Middle East, but many see them as an attempt to trigger a revolution

TEHRAN: Seventy-year-old Heidar Fekri has been selling industrial equipment from his small store in a Tehran bazaar since before the revolution, but for the first time he is not sure he can survive.
He means it literally: “My shelves are empty, my warehouses are empty and soon I will have to close the doors. This has been my entire life — I won’t survive long after the doors close.”
Iran’s economy had plenty of problems even before US President Donald Trump decided in May to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose “crippling” sanctions.
But that move exacerbated a record drop in Iran’s currency, down 70 percent in the past year, and prompted an exodus of foreign firms.
Anticipation of the return of the oil embargo — due to kick in on Monday — has already plunged the country into recession and will see the economy shrink by 3.6 percent next year, says the International Monetary Fund.
For Fekri, who has been bringing in industrial pumps and drills from Europe for 47 years, the uncertainty means he has not imported anything for more than a year.
“Sales have dropped 90 percent compared with six months ago. The whole bazaar is suffering,” he told AFP.
Almost all products in Iran — from medicines to aircraft spares to plastic bottles — is tied into the global supply chain, so the currency collapse and renewed isolation threatens every corner of society.
The government has been forced to provide food baskets to around half Iran’s households as inflation soars.

For the middle class, perhaps the biggest blow is psychological, as the burst of hope that accompanied the nuclear deal in 2015 — the promise of the country finally shedding its pariah status — has evaporated.
“No one knows what the Americans actually want. We did everything they wanted and it wasn’t enough. It feels like bullying,” said Sam Cordier, head of PGt Advertising, which represents foreign clients such as British Airways and Nestle in Tehran.
Washington says the sanctions are designed to curtail Iran’s “destabilising” activity in the Middle East, but many see them as an attempt to trigger a revolution.
“It’s not fair for the Americans to incite violence. If this continues, all the professional businessmen with something to share through knowledge and investment will leave,” said Cordier.
He was forced to sack six of his 30 staff and reduce salaries for the rest as, one by one, his foreign clients packed their bags.
“I was crying every 10 minutes when I told them. These are the people who are being hurt. Many young, educated people are leaving the country. There’s a massive brain-drain,” he said.

There is plenty of hatred toward the Trump administration, but a surprising number of Iranians pin the blame on their own government for not better protecting them.
“Yes, America is doing bad things but they are looking out for their interests. If our state had looked out for Iran’s interests, we wouldn’t have the situation we have now,” said Erfan Yusufi, 30, whose hip new coffee shop is struggling to cope with rising prices and falling demand.
Iran’s leaders face a tricky balancing act, remaining defiant in the face of US pressure, while acknowledging the economic pain felt in the country.
“All of us understand people are suffering and under pressure,” President Hassan Rouhani told parliament last weekend.
“We cannot tell our people that because of America’s pressure, we cannot do anything. This answer is not acceptable.”
He blamed foreign media for “filling people’s minds with false propaganda” about soaring prices, though Iran’s own central bank says food prices rose 46.5 percent in the year to September.
For all the problems, there is little sign that Iranians want another revolution, not least because a sizeable number are still fiercely supportive of the last one.
Most others are fearful of violent unrest, cowed by the security forces or uninterested in doing the bidding of a foreign power.
There is instead a sad resignation among many young people, who often refer to themselves as the “burned generation” for having been denied the chance to realize their potential.
“I’m worried about the future,” said Yusufi in his coffee shop. “Our generation starts each day not knowing what will become of us.”


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.