Iran raises prices of basic foodstuffs, sowing panic and anger
Panicked shoppers raided stores and stuffed basic goods into large plastic bags, according to images widely shared on social media. Queues in Tehran disappeared from grocery stores on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, the Iranian currency fell to a low of 300,000 rials to the dollar.
Internet outages were reported across Iran as the government braced for possible unrest, advocacy group NetBlocks.org said. Protests appeared to erupt in the remote and impoverished south, according to videos shared online. The Associated Press could not verify their authenticity but the images matched the events reported.
The scenes not only revealed a deep anxiety gripping the country and frustration with Iran’s leadership, but also underscored the staggering economic and political challenges they face.
Food prices in the Middle East have risen due to global supply chain issues and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, both of which export many essential commodities. Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has driven many farmers away from fields.
Although Iran produces about half of its own wheat, it imports much of the rest from Russia. The war added to inflationary pressures. The smuggling of highly subsidized bread from Iran to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has increased as hunger spreads across the region.
The drought is already ravaging the Iranian economy. Western sanctions over the Iran nuclear deal have caused additional difficulties. Inflation has climbed to almost 40%, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. Some 30% of Iranian households live below the poverty line, reports the Iranian Center for Statistics.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to create jobs, lift sanctions and save the economy, but talks to revive Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers remain deadlocked. Iranian families have seen their purchasing power decline rapidly.
The government is trying to act quickly to ease the pain. Authorities have promised to pay each Iranian citizen about $14 a month to offset the price hikes.
The cost of specialty and artisan breads, such as French baguette and pain de mie, has increased 10-fold, according to bakery owners. But the authorities are careful not to touch subsidies on the country’s flatbread, which contributes more than anything else to the daily diet of Iranians.
Subsidies, and bread subsidies in particular, remain a very sensitive issue for Iran, which has been rocked by bread riots throughout its history. In the 1940s, bread shortages sparked mass street protests and a deadly crackdown that brought down then-prime minister Ahmad Qavam.
Memories of Iran’s fuel price hike three years ago also remain fresh. Widespread protests – the most violent since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 – have rocked the country. Hundreds of protesters were killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International.
But in recent weeks the government has allowed prices to soar for almost all other staples, including pasta, until Thursday’s hike for other staples on the Iranian table.
As Iranians talk about rising flour prices, the most trending hashtag on Twitter in recent weeks has been #macaroni – the term Iranians use for all types of pasta.
“I’m sure the government doesn’t care about ordinary people,” Mina Tehrani, a mother of three, told AP as she browsed a supermarket in Tehran. She was shocked by the price of pasta – now 165,000 rials for a pound, up from 75,000 rials last month.
Iranians who had given up meat or dairy products to save money have nothing left to cut, complained Hassan Shahbazzadeh, a resident of Tehran.
“Now even the macaroni is taken off their dining table,” he said.
“This spike in the price of flour has driven people crazy,” said Saleh, a grocery store worker in Susangerd, a town in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, home to an ethnic Arab population who alleged discrimination and includes a separatist. movement.
Saleh said the price of a 40-kilogram bag of flour had risen to the equivalent of $18 from $2.5 in recent weeks, stoking intense anger in the restive province.
“Many rushed to the grocery store to buy macaroni and other things for their daily needs,” he said, giving only his first name for fear of reprisals.
Tempers also flared up in the Iranian parliament.
“The waves of price increases have taken people’s breath away,” Kamal Hosseinpour, an MP from the Kurdish region, thundered during a parliamentary session earlier this week. “Macaroni, bread and cooking oil are the main staples of the weakest Iranians. … Where are the officials and what are they doing?
Other lawmakers have directly reprimanded hardline President Raisi.
“The administration is incapable of managing the affairs of the country,” said Jalil Rahimi Jahanabad, an MP from Taibad province, near Iran’s border with Afghanistan.
Government supporters have described the price hikes as “necessary economic surgery” – part of a package of reforms approved by parliament. Some social media users ridiculed the term, saying authorities removed the patient’s heart instead of the tumor.
As outrage over rising inflation mounts online, Iranian authorities appear to be preparing for the worst.
Internet monitoring group NetBlocks.org told the AP it tracks “nationwide” internet outages that “are likely to impact the public’s ability to communicate.” Article 19, a global research organization that fights censorship, reported on Thursday that authorities appeared to have cut off nearly all internet connectivity in cities in Khuzestan province.
Since the disputed 2009 presidential election and the green movement protests that drew millions to the streets, Iran has tightened its control over the internet.
Videos have surfaced on social media in recent days of Iranians gathering in the dark on the streets of southern Khuzestan province, chanting slogans against rising prices and against the country’s leaders. Iranian state media did not address the protests publicly.
The issue of high prices “is related to security”, said lawmaker Majid Nasserinejad in an ominous tone. “People can’t tolerate it anymore.”
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.