Iran ‘feeling the strain’ as sanctions bite

Iran has plunged into economic crisis since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - with the riyal suffering as a result. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Iran ‘feeling the strain’ as sanctions bite

  • Tehran posturing ignores grim economic reality, analysts say
  • Iran has plunged into economic crisis since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of JCPOA

LONDON: As the US vows to inflict “relentless pressure” on Iran with sanctions, analysts have questioned Tehran’s ability to withstand more blows to its already stricken economy.
Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and also its ambassador to the UK, this week insisted the country was well able to “manage” sanctions, having lived through eight years of restrictions during the Iran-Iraq war.
But experts on regional politics and economics said Sajjadpour was merely posturing.
“Iran’s public rhetoric about withstanding sanctions does not square with its economic reality,” said Dr. Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (also known as Chatham House), where the ambassador addressed a gathering on Tuesday.
“Iran is already under financial strain due to both its adventurism in Syria and the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, which reduced the Western private sector’s interest in Iran,” she said. “The reinstated sanctions will further erode Iran’s economic stature despite its claims of resilience.”
Iran has plunged into economic crisis since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — better known as the Iran nuclear deal — earlier this year.

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With little or no purchasing power and almost no foreign suppliers prepared to deal with them, Iranian businesses have been crippled. Customers struggle against the rising cost of goods and exorbitant prices demanded by black marketeers, and there is a growing trade in human organs.
The banking system has all but stagnated and Iran’s currency has lost more than two-thirds of its value against the US dollar since March.
On Wednesday, US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned of additional sanctions on Iran, but gave no details, while Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, admitted that the nation faces a “war situation” and compared Trump to Iran’s old enemy, Saddam Hussein.
But despite all the evidence of the hardship suffered by ordinary Iranians, Sajjadpour insisted the country was on the up, pointing out that it has 4.5 million university students, still produces 200,000 engineers each year and was continuing to build institutions.
“Iran is a confident nation,” he said.

Gulf expert Dr. Neil Quilliam does not entirely dismiss Sajjadpour’s assessment, but said that the challenges today were different.
“Sajjadpour quite rightly pointed out that Iran has had bigger challenges in the past, including the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and previous rounds of sanctions to which all major powers signed up. Nevertheless, times have changed and the Iranian economy is more fragile than at any time before, so the government will come under considerable domestic pressure to negotiate with the US,” he said.
The likelihood of that happening rests very much on the midterm elections in the US, he said. Trump’s Republican party has retained control of the Senate, but the Democrats now hold a majority in the House of Representatives.
Success for Trump would encourage a move toward the negotiating table, said Quilliam.
“But if the Democrats do well, then the Iranians will do their best to hold out for two years and try to draw the EU further away from the US.”
It is no secret that the European backers of the Iran nuclear deal were dismayed when Trump announced he was pulling the US out.
Sajjadpour, who was formerly his country’s ambassador to the UN and is currently president of the Institute for Political and International Studies, the research branch of Iran’s foreign ministry, accused the Trump administration of treating Iran like a plaything while ignoring its own “political civil war” at home.
He insisted Iranian politics was focused inward — “We don’t worry about who is in the White House” — and denied the nation posed a threat. Iran has repeatedly been accused of being the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.

 


Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

Updated 22 January 2019
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Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

  • The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule
  • Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar to fend off tear gas

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas at crowds of demonstrators in the capital’s twin city Omdurman on Tuesday protesting against the fatal wounding of a demonstrator last week, witnesses said.

The demonstration, which came ahead of planned nighttime rallies in both Omdurman and Khartoum just across the Nile, was the latest in more than a month of escalating protests against the three-decade rule of President Omar Bashir.

Bashir has made defiant appearances at loyalist rallies in Khartoum and other cities.

Chanting “overthrow, overthrow” and “freedom, peace and justice,” the catchword slogans of the protest movement, the demonstrators had gathered near the home of their dead comrade.

The doctors’ branch of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) said he had died on Monday from wounds sustained when demonstrators clashed with security forces in Khartoum on Thursday.

The SPA has taken the lead in organizing the protests after hundreds of opposition activists were detained, and its doctors’ branch has taken casualties.

Human rights groups say that several medics have been among more than 40 people killed in clashes with the security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19, 2018.

The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the protesters’ ranks.

The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Triggered by the government’s tripling of the price of bread, which brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns, the protests rapidly spread to the metropolis and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.

A chronic shortage of foreign currency since the breakaway of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the government of most of its oil revenues, has stoked spiraling inflation and widespread shortages.

Bashir has survived previous protest movements in September 2013 and January last year.

But his efforts to blame the US for Sudan’s economic woes have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

“I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery’s owner to decide how many loaves I can buy,” a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.

Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.

Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces.

“We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs,” said Ashraf, another demonstrator.

They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.

They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like “the people want to bring down the regime.”