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How Iran Blunts U.S. Sanctions

The mullahs have all the time in the world. Donald Trump does not.

Avideh Motmaen-Far and Reza Parchizadeh
January 03, 2019
A man in Tehran glances at a newspaper with a picture of U.S. President Donald Trump on the front page, on July 31, 2018. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
A man in Tehran glances at a newspaper with a picture of U.S. President Donald Trump on the front page, on July 31, 2018. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The administration of President Donald Trump imposed a new round of sanctions on the Iranian regime on Nov. 4, 2018, following the president’s announcement the United States would cease participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Deal. These sanctions are said to be some of the harshest ever imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The U.S. Department of State also announced that the United States is committed to “maximum financial pressure” on the Iranian regime, and that the sanctions are mostly targeting the financial and energy sectors.

The sanctions are designed, among other things, to convey a sense of shock to the populace in Iran so that they rise against the regime and put it under domestic pressure. The goal is to force the regime, in addressing the nation’s problems, to concede to American demands, if not be completely toppled by a revolution. However, the regime has developed a set of “shock-absorbing” techniques to counter the sanctions. Here we enumerate them:

The Iranian regime created artificial hyperinflation in the months leading up to Nov. 4. By quadrupling the price of foreign currencies, the price of domestic staples such as meat and grocery increased and made simple items scarce or unavailable on the market. That was before any strong sanctions had gone into effect. By that, the regime used the “frog in the boiling water” technique to acclimate the population to scarcity in order to absorb the shock of the coming sanctions.

Utilizing currency and gold reserves, the regime artificially flooded and relieved the market after the sanctions went into effect. The regime’s media outlets have repeatedly reported that foreign currencies were declining in price after Nov. 4. As is common knowledge, the IRGC and the supreme leader have full control over a large swath of Iran’s economy. It is easily understood that the regime can decrease, stop, or increase the trickle into the market, and thereby create artificial economic conditions to mislead people.

Regarding the general strikes, the regime has been capable of suppressing them through sophisticated techniques. A series of protests have been taking place across Iran against the economic situation since April 14, 2018. Although it all started by retail shop owners, it soon reached the truckers, who stopped work in 160 cities in May for 10 days. This was followed in June 2018, almost a month later, by the Bazaar of Tehran and a few other major cities, with the crowds chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Palestine.”

September and October 2018 were marked with the truckers’ strike across several Iranian cities. The Free Truckers Union announced the strike had spread to 31 provinces and the judiciary stated that those arrested could face the death penalty. By Oct. 8, the number of truckers arrested reached 256 after 17 days of strikes. The strikes were taken up by the teachers, two of whom were arrested.

In November, the truckers went on strike for the fourth time this year in protest of the arrest of hundreds of truckers in October. The workers at the Haft-Tappeh Sugar Cane Co. also started their own strikes at this point. On the same day, hundreds of workers of the Steel Company in Ahvaz protested by chanting, “Let go of Khashoggi, think of us!” and “Inflation, increasing prices, be responsible Rouhani!”

Protesters were arrested and threatened with charges of “acting against the state,” which is punishable by death. The supreme leader called on the judiciary to punish those who disrupted economic security.

The regime basically allowed workers to go on strike for a few weeks, then outlawed the strike and announced it on judiciary, police, and state-run media outlets. It blamed the strikers for the general populace’s suffering due to scarcity, and pushed a section of workers to break strike.

As long as the regime maintains the ability to control the economy and suppress strikes and other kinds of popular movements, the sanctions are not likely to produce shock effects that spur the populace to move and push the regime to comply with U.S. demands. As such, it will become a war of attrition. The mullahs have all the time in the world. On the other hand, the Trump administration, as a government in a democratic system, has limited time to implement its measures against the greatest state sponsor of terrorism. As such, it must act quickly and utilize more effective methods that are likely to produce tangible results.


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Avideh Motmaen-Far is an Osteopathic manual practitioner based in Toronto. She is also a freelance journalist and human rights activist with a focus on her ancestral homeland of Iran. Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist and analyst of the Middle East, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia.

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