On paper, the Iranian economy is holding up relatively well as the world finds itself in a once-a-century pandemic.
According to the Iranian Central Bank (CBI), the country’s non-oil sector contracted by just 0.6 percent in the quarter ended June 20 – despite the most acute COVID-19 crisis in the Middle East.
But when you consider how badly the pre-COVID Iranian economy was hurt by the United States’ economic sanctions, the modest contraction takes on a different light.
That nuance is not lost on Iranians, who are living with the aftermath of Washington’s relentless economic blacklisting campaign and years of government economic mismanagement.
That pain spreads in the form of incessant inflation and falling purchasing power as the local currency – the rial – is besieged.
The difficult decisions that result from this are often shared by Iranians on social media.
“Last week I examined a young woman with a benign lump in her breast at the clinic,” one doctor wrote on Twitter. “I said to her, ‘Do another ultrasound in six months, it’s unlikely to grow, but if it works you’ll do better. ‘She came back and said I want to operate now. When I asked why, she said, “Now I can pay for it, in six months I might not be able to.”
Last week I examined Ms. Jouni with a benign breast mass in the clinic. I said, “Sono in 6 months it is unlikely to grow, but if it does grow you better do it.” I came today to have an operation now, I asked the reason, it says “I can pay now, maybe I can’t in 6 months” #dollars
– حمید احمدی (@drhamidahmadi), July 19, 2020
“How do you live?’
According to the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI), inflation in the month ended September 21 rose 34.4 percent year-over-year and 4 percent month-on-month.
As serious as these numbers are, they could undermine purchasing power.
The Iranian central bank also published inflation data earlier, but it was consistently above the figures produced by the statistics office. Last year, President Hassan Rouhani’s government ordered the central bank to stop publishing these figures.
However, on Iranian social media, the way the data is processed doesn’t trigger the same level of passion as living with inflation feels like.
Some tweets smell of fear.
“Seriously, how does it work? [minimum wage] Iranian workers live on 4 million tomans [$143] a month at most? “A user asked on Twitter.
“When do you go on trips? Where can you buy a house or a car? How could they have good food? What about savings? How could they wear good clothes? What place do leisure activities have in your life? When do you smile? Why did we get so miserable? “
Seriously, how does an Iranian worker live on 3 or 4 million tomans a month at most? Who is traveling Where can I buy a house and a car? How can it be properly nourished? What savings? How do I dress well? What is the place of entertainment in his life? Who laughs? Why are we so miserable? Really spit
– Prisoner 11 (@ VictimN11) September 19, 2020
The lack of predictability every day is another common topic.
A Twitter user wrote about a restaurant near her work that has stopped posting prices on its menus because they change so frequently to keep up with inflation.
“To order, you have to call every day and ask: ‘How much does a set cost [kebab] Koobideh today? ‘”She wrote.
There is catering in our vicinity. Remove the price of groceries from the menu and to order groceries you have to call every day and ask how much do you ask today?
For example, he paid 55 tomans for two punched presses, 60 tomans for Monday! #Inflation #dollars
– marziye mahmoodi (@marziyemahmoodi), September 15, 2020
In a radio interview earlier this month, the spokesman for the Consumer and Producer Protection Organization of Iran (CPPO) admitted that consumers are being weighed down by rising prices, but said the agency could do little to alleviate their troubles other than the prevention of hoarding.
“We have to accept the cost of goods,” he said.
Vulnerable to currency fluctuations
The main driver of the rampant inflation was a seemingly unstoppable depreciation of the Iranian rial against the US dollar and other widely used foreign currencies.
Iran’s national currency began a sharp decline three years ago in anticipation of US President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.
The currency has seen only fleeting periods of stability since then, thanks to Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign of successive rounds of sanctions against the Iranian economy, which continued unabated during the coronavirus pandemic.
This year alone, the rial has lost 50 percent of its value against the US dollar in the open market, hitting an all-time low of $ 300,000 to $ 1 on October 1st.
By Sunday it had reclaimed some of those losses to trade at 280,000 for $ 1.
Congratulations, we are poor now. ‘
To keep basic goods affordable for Iranians, the government maintains an official exchange rate of $ 42,000 to $ 1 to pay for imports of staple foods – but food prices continue to rise.
“It may be possible to contain food price increases for a while,” Mohammad Mahidashti, a macroeconomic analyst with the Ministry of Finance and Economy, told Al Jazeera, “but ultimately all prices adjust to the exchange rate.”
And that adjustment was brutal.
“The purchasing power of Iranians, especially those with constant monthly incomes, averages a fifth of what it was three years ago,” said Mahidashti.
Real income from nose diving has kept many Iranians at the cutting edge of technology – they fear unexpected expenses like the failure of an electronic device or a household appliance.
“Dear God,” one user wrote in a humorous gallows tweet that resonated with many, “I beg your greatness and fame, protect our electronic devices!”
O God, I swear by your greatness and majesty, keep our electronic devices under your protection!
– Hosein Vi (@HoseinVahdani) July 19, 2020
To help subsidize essential goods, President Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has promised to speed up legislation on an electronic coupon system first proposed by the Rouhani government more than two years ago.
“There is no way we will allow the food basket of low-income households to shrink,” he promised.
The last time Iran used a coupon system for basic goods was during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1988.
While the government ponders relief efforts, Iranians have grappled with relentless inflation for so long that some have resigned themselves to it.
“Did you notice that we are not really feeling the new wave of price hikes from 180,000 to 270,000?” A user tweeted. “Because in the first wave to 130,000 and in the second to 180,000 many of our interests and hobbies were completely eliminated step by step and it is no longer even important whether it reaches 500,000 because we lost our purchasing power a long time ago.
“Congratulations, we are poor now.”
Did you notice that we are not feeling the new wave of the dollar price surge from 18 to 27,000 tomans? Because in the first wave up to 13 and in the second up to 18 steps many of our preferences and interests were completely eliminated and it does not matter whether the dollar even reaches 50,000 tomans, because a long time ago we did not have the purchasing power and the costs, Congratulations, we got poor.
– شوهرآهوخانم (@Gavaazn), September 19, 2020
Sometimes this resignation takes on an air of desperation.
“At $ 260,000 they no longer say my dreams are burned and immigration is impossible, that was for the $ 70,000,” tweeted one user. “No, it’s about survival. I have made a list and check out all the foods that I can no longer eat. “
Dad, at 26 tomans, they no longer say that my dreams were burned and it became impossible to emigrate, that was seven dollars, now the argument is over, I made a list of foods I can no longer eat, I’m moving a line ????
– Village vet (@ 0joelando) July 19, 2020
For example, many low-income households in Iran can no longer afford to buy red meat.
A survey by the Iranian Student Electoral Bureau in August found that 8 percent of Iranian households had not consumed red meat in a year, while 14.4 percent said they had only eaten red meat a few times during that period.
The head of the Iranian Mutton Association, Ali Asqar Maleki, announced late last month that meat sales this calendar year had declined by an average of 35 percent compared to the previous year.
Butter and eggs have also seen substantial and sudden price hikes since August.
This whirlpool of food price inflation has misled some officials.
Earlier this month, Iranian Food and Drug Administration spokesman Kianoush Jahanpur made headlines over what critics have dubbed dumb comments that people should simply swap butter for avocados and olive oil – substitutes significantly more expensive than butter.