First modification: 06/18/2021 – 01:31
Hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and crushing sanctions, after the United States pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s economy is the main concern as voters prepare for the presidential elections on June 18.
“We thought we were going through the worst a year ago, but the limits are going further again. Our currency fell again, my rent has gone up 40 percent and each trip to the supermarket costs me a little more. It is a well without background, “says Mahsa *, a Tehran resident and mother of a family. He lost his job a year ago, when the first wave of Covid-19 hit Iran. Mahsa worked at a travel agency that was forced to downsize.
In recent months, many Iranian companies have had to lay off their employees or shut down permanently in the wake of the health crisis. “On top of that, due to the sanctions, we no longer find certain medications for epilepsy or Parkinson’s patients. One by one, my friends have left the country,” laments Mahsa.
For her, who voted like many other Iranians for reformers in previous presidential elections in order to “win individual freedoms”, the main theme of the June 18 elections is the economic crisis. “We really live under pressure, we are tired and Covid-19 ended up killing us, I don’t even know if I will vote,” the woman confesses.
His concern is shared by Mohsen *, a 45-year-old Iranian musician. “Until the economy improves, I really don’t want to get involved in politics,” says this family man. “I was part of that middle class who could still travel the country at least, afford to go to restaurants or organize leisure activities for their children. Today, as far as I’m concerned, this is over. The hardest part is not being able to enroll my daughter in her sports and music classes, or even replace her broken skateboard for months. “
Mohsen is far from an isolated case. “This serious crisis is driving a part of the middle class into poverty,” said Thierry Coville, a researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris).
A society “waiting” for a nuclear deal
Iran has been in recession for the past three years, inflation soaring to 41 percent and unemployment hovering around 11 percent, an official rate that experts say is underestimated. According to Coville, the number of unemployed would be around 20 percent of the population.
The picture is even bleaker when it comes to the popular classes. Those most affected by this crisis “can no longer even afford to buy meat.” For an Iranian worker, who earns the minimum wage (60 euros), the price of a kilo of chicken represents 10 percent of his monthly income. “Some negotiate loans with stores, others no longer eat meat or have drastically reduced rations,” says Coville.
“People have more important things to do than vote, they are disappointed,” said Azadeh Kian, professor of political sociology at Paris Diderot University. For the researcher, Iranian society is not “in the mobilization” but “waiting”, on the eve of the elections: “The departure of the United States from the nuclear agreement in 2018 plays with morality. Iranians wait more for the result of the negotiations on this matter than the result of the elections, “adds Kian.
Economic anguish before individual liberties
Hasan Rohani was elected president in 2013 with strong support from the middle class who awaited a negotiation of the nuclear deal with the United States. The Persian leader was re-elected four years later, thanks to a rebound in the economy and a brief easing of sanctions.
His then victories “were driven not by economic anguish but by hope,” said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech and a research associate at the Cairo Economic Research Forum, in a World Bank publication. . In his analysis, the teacher assures that the Iranian middle class constitutes “a powerful electoral group.”
In the social sphere, the aspiration to greater individual freedoms, an idea that managed to mobilize the female electorate and the youth in the last elections, this time has remained in the background. “Hasan Rohani was very disappointed, he could not avoid the imprisonment of human rights, women’s rights and environmental protection activists. He also failed to fulfill his promise to create a women’s rights ministry,” says Kian. However, this concern has not completely disappeared. And this is perhaps what could bring Mahsa back to the polls. “Out of fear, without a doubt, I will vote at the last minute, if I feel that an ultra-conservative is going to win. There, my voice could count,” says the Iranian.
* The name was changed
This article has been translated from the original in French