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Why must the (Iranian) people pay for high politics decisions?

by Leah McCloskey-Gholikhany (EU International Relations and Diplomacy – Manuel Marín Promotion)


Tajrish Sq in North Tehran, at the foot of the Alborz mountains

On the 5th of November 2018, 40 years after Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran (known as the laneh jasous, literally the spies’ den), the USA restored sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The choice of this date reflects the level of pettiness and revenge fuelled action on part of the US. From behind our laptops and smartphones, as students of EU policy, this case is fascinating, as it tests the deal the EEAS marketed as its biggest success since its establishment and the role of the EU in the international system: do we cower to baseless American whims, or do we take this opportunity to affirm ourselves as the guarantors of multilateralism we always say we are to anyone willing to listen? Just like all, too often when it comes to politics of the Middle East, we lose perspective. We all - and I’m one of the first to- do this jump to the opportunity to enjoy the intellectual exercise of trying to predict what will happen next, what this means for international relations, US-EU relations, etc.


But, this time, for me the headline I read over and over again in the Guardian, Le Monde and Politico really hit home. I could not believe my eyes as I opened President Trump’s Game of Thrones inspired tweet. When I landed in Imam Khomeini Airport on the 3rd of September 2017, half the passengers of my flight from Rome were foreigners. I took it for granted to see tourists. Tehran was buzzing with Europeans anxious to get to know the country better and excited by the very concrete and promised-to-be-profitable opportunities for European companies. In my 10 months there the situation could not have changed more drastically, the Iranian Rial lost over 70% of its value[1]. In May, after Trump’s announcement that he would be leaving the deal, all the exchange offices closed, it was only possible to get dollars and euros on the black market at ridiculous prices.


As often when if comes to talking about Iran, humanity is missing from the international media’s discourse on sanctions. So let me give you some context; Tehran is a mere 5h flight from Zaventem (closer than New York!), it is a big sprawl of a city at the foot of the Alborz mountains, with many hipster cafes where the population’s youth, 60% of the country’s 80 million population are under 30, spends hours taking the perfect Instagram picture (sound familiar?). It’s true that there are many restrictions of freedoms, but to reduce the country to that would mean missing out on a whole spectrum of life. Iran is not a difficult place to relate to, it is not war-ridden or ‘backwards’. And Trump’s sanctions are messing with people’s daily concerns, their hopes for the future, their aspirations, their ability to buy a house and start a family.

Hispter Cafes in Central Tehran

Not only does it take away the population’s future within the country, but it also prevents them from building one elsewhere. I have friends who have been applying to universities all over Canada and Europe for the past year, taking GMATs and GREs, and who have felt the ups and downs of applications processes, and now, a few months or weeks before their big move, they can no longer afford to leave the country. Even worse, some in the first year of their studies are obliged to return home because they can no longer afford to stay with their savings.

And these are the upper middle class educated members of society! Imagine the fate of the 26 million Iranians (32.5%) living in absolute poverty as prices go up and salaries remain the same.[2] But don’t for a minute think that this injustice is new for Iranians. I remember being dumbfound when I found that that a family friend had received a single entry visa to study for her PhD program in the US. She missed her grandfather’s funeral, her mother’s cancer and her brother’s wedding.

Trump’s sanctions have given Iran’s youth the cruel reality of living without hope, excitement or belief in their future.


Note form the editor: The College’s student initiative “Humans of the Canteen” recently did a fascinating interview of Leah regarding her cultural identity, as Adam Tricha, member of the initiative, said: “Robin and I had the unique chance to interview Leah two weeks ago. We knew that she had a powerful message to share as she has this kind of double (triple) identity which made her highly open-minded. The interview was so interesting that we had to do it in two part. And we could have probably keeping on for long hours... “ Go check it out on their Facebook page!

[1] https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2018/9/25/iranian-rials-fall-against-dollar-accelerates

[2] https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-million-suffer-from-poverty/29156808.html


The more, the merrier - Issue 2, 9 November 2018


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