For months since the imposition of harsh, US-led sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme, the country’s leaders have sworn they would never succumb to Western pressures, and they scoffed at the idea that the measures were having any serious impact. But after a week in which the Iranian currency, the rial, fell by a shocking 40% and protests began to rumble through the capital, no one is making light of the mounting costs of confrontation.
In the Iranian capital, all anyone can talk about is the rial, and how lives have been turned upside down in one terrible week. Every elevator ride, office visit or quick run to the supermarket brings new gossip about the currency’s drop and a swirl of speculation about who is to blame.
“Better buy now,” one rice seller advised Abbas Sharabi, a retired factory guard, who had decided to buy 900 pounds of Iran’s most basic staple to feed his extended family for a year.
“As I was gathering my money, the man received a phone call,” said Sharabi, smoking cigarette after cigarette on Thursday while waiting for a bus. “When he hung up he told me prices had just gone up by 10%. Of course I paid. God knows how much it will cost tomorrow.”
While only a few people actually need to exchange the rial for foreign currency, its value is one of the few clear indicators of the state of the economy, and its fall has sharply raised the prices of most staples.
“The fluctuations are so large that nobody knows whether it is better to wait or to change now,” said Ahmad, 65, as he shared a taxi to the west Tehran neighbourhood of Sadeghiyeh.
“I am so fed up,” said Ahmad, a garment seller. “I want to have a normal life, but from breakfast to dinner, everybody only talks of hard currency.”