United States Sanctions Against Iran Revive Historic Tensions

Citizens of Iran have gathered in Tehran this week, commemorating the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. November 4th is an annual celebration in Iran; a demonstration symbolising unity and coherence, independence, the Islamic Republic and the ‘struggle against arrogance,’ Iran Press reports. But this year the day coincides with fresh U.S. sanctions against the nation and subsequent anti-U.S. rallies – reports are surfacing that claim some of the chants during the rally included “Down with the U.S.” and “Death to Israel.” The sanctions are also significantly contributing to the disenchantment with political leaders felt by ordinary Iranians as their lives are becoming suddenly a lot tougher.

The demonstrations follow already heightened political tensions between Iran, the United States and their respective allies. The United States embassy made a statement earlier this week that economic and trade sanctions removed previously by the Iran deal would be re-imposed on November 5th. The sanctions will most seriously impact the Iranian energy, shipping and financial sectors. The United States administration under Donald Trump claims that the sanctions will cut off revenue to the nation and its terrorist groups in a hope to enrich global stability and provide safety from ballistic missile programs. Trump stands by his claim that Iran violated the deal even when both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations insist that Iran did, and continues to, comply with the terms outlined in the 2015 agreement. The sanctions against Iran are understood to be part of a political maneuvre with the ultimate aim of solidifying the U.S.’s relationship with Israel, while at the same time acting as a bold statement against Iran’s allies.

Sanctions are crucial to non-combative options of applying political pressure in the midst of disagreements, but they often result in disastrous consequences for citizens. The Iran Deal of 2015 was collectively envisioned by the P5+1 nations to ease pressures caused by sanctions imposed in 2012. As a result of the deal, Iran regained access to $100bn in frozen overseas assets and was able to participate in global trade – an essential part of its development. Iran relies heavily on oil: it constitutes 80% of its exports and, indeed, export instability has led to a high unemployment rate in Iran, at around 12%. That, along with inflation levels running over 10%, has meant that the quality of life in Iran has become unbearable for many. Jason Rezaian reported in the Washington Times that cutting Iran off from the international financial system has previously resulted in an bigger human organ market, a decimation of craft industries and an increase in inequality as the wealthy begin to benefit from desperation of the poor.

The New York Times reported that protests are being held not only against the U.S., but also against the Iranian government and its leaders. The Iranian Government has been accused of inflaming anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric, sometimes even forcing citizens to participate in demonstrations against these two nations. This, along with economic instability, has contributed to an increasingly dissatisfied populace. Anti-government protests are not new to Iran. An increase in food prices and frustration with a weak economy in January 2018 saw six days of unrest that resulted in 22 deaths and more than 400 people arrested. Freedom House ranks Iran’s Associational and Organizational Rights at zero out of four. Iran has struggled to manage the effects of economic sanctions – its currency has lost almost 80% of its value compared to a year ago. Almost 40% of this can be attributed purely to U.S. withdrawal from the deal in May. Many hope Iran’s leaders will initiate solutions to preserve the nation’s economy, but, with Iran’s high levels of corruption and inefficiency, the prospects of this are low. 

It is increasingly clear that the U.S. sanctions are not purely a response to non-compliance with international agreements, but a piece of a larger political game. Leaders must remember that there are people’s livelihoods at stake when making these decisions. Iran must also revitalize its economic policy in order to prepare for the difficulties ahead under increased sanctions, while preserving the freedom of assembly of its citizens. Along with political pressure, continued progress for diplomacy and discussion is imperative to protect citizens and ensure their human rights are defended. In cases such as these where hidden factors seem to be at play in the political arena, leaders must endeavour to continue the discussion for peace and stability for their people.