Despair, defiance in Iran, a month after US killing of Soleimani

Twists and turns in Iran's multiple crises heighten sense of hopelessness in Tehran, but some continue to cling to hope

The world rang in the New Year on January 1, Iranians were reeling from the country's worst political unrest in decades. Just weeks before, tens of thousands of people had poured onto the streets across Iranian cities, in an outburst of anger over corruption and hardship as the country's economy buckled under the weight of US-imposed sanctions.

The protests were met with a deadly crackdown by the security forces, leaving many in Iran believing things could not get any worse.

Then on January 3, the United States assassinated a top Iranian general in Iraq's capital, Baghdad.

 

The killing of Qassem Soleimani sent shockwaves through the Middle East and beyond, triggering fears of an all-out war between Washington and Tehran. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei pledged "severe revenge" and the country's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responded a few days later by firing a volley of rockets at US targets in Iraq. The retaliatory attacks did not cause any deaths but shortly afterwards, an IRGC operator mistakenly fired two missiles at a Ukrainian passenger jet over the country's capital.

All 176 people on board died. Most of the victims were Iranian.

The turn of events was dizzying.

Interviewed by telephone, several people in Tehran told Al Jazeera the twists and turns in Iran's multiple crises have heightened a sense of despair and hopelessness. 

"Hope is something we don't have in Iran. It doesn't exist," said one young businessman. "We are stuck between two bad options, both here at home and abroad," said another young man, who lost his nephew in the plane crash. A third added: "I've been feeling really tired over the past couple of years and nothing really makes me feel better any more."

But a few said they continued to hold onto hope for better times in Iran. "Our history is full of these hard and bitter times, but again it also shows that all these hard times will end and God willing, the good days will come," one said.

The latest escalation began in 2018, when US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of a landmark accord that offered Tehran relief from global sanctions. In exchange, Iran had pledged to curbs its nuclear programme. But despite Iran's adherence to the 2015 deal, Trump withdrew from it and reinstated punishing economic measures targeting the country's banking and oil sectors, saying he wanted to negotiate a new agreement that also addressed Iran's ballistic missiles programme and its support for regional armed groups.

The sanctions drastically reduced Iran's oil exports, sending its economy into recession and halving the value of its currency against the US dollar. The cost of living increased dramatically with inflation reaching 52 percent in May last year.

"Life has turned into a struggle," said a 42-year-old female journalist. "I feel disappointment, insecurity and regret that we face such terrible conditions in a country that is so rich in resources."

Hamed, who runs a chain of pastry shops in Tehran, said the sanctions have not only hurt Iranians financially but also affected their ability to imagine a better future.

"Here in Iran, young people can't dream, they can't have goals for themselves because they know that they can never reach that goal," he said. "In many other places in the world, people can save, people can work hard and get the result of their work; in Iran, that's impossible."

As Iran's economy crumbled under the US sanctions, Iranian officials slammed Washington's campaign as "economic terrorism", saying it was aimed at forcing a change of government in Tehran. Then in May last year, President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran would gradually begin  reducing compliance with the nuclear deal's limits on uranium enrichment. His government had negotiated the deal and the cleric had won two successive elections on the back of promises to enact democratic reforms and end the country's isolation from the world.


Dos Usman

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