In Iran, angry pensioners protest inflation, government

Food prices have almost doubled within a year, and increasing numbers of retired people are falling below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the government continues to invest heavily in the arms industry.

More images and videos of protesting pensioners are appearing every day on social networks and in the Iranian media — even though the government continues to ban such demonstrations. Retired people are among those suffering the most from the ongoing economic crisis and problems caused by the state’s chronic mismanagement.

Jafar Azimzadeh, a pensioner, trade unionist and chairman of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, told DW that people were dissatisfied. He said they believed that political leaders were unable to provide adequate answers to their problems, and that a country could not be governed by repression alone.

For many pensioners, the massive increase in food prices has posed an existential problem. According to the Statistical Office of Iran, the cost of food has risen by 80% in one year, ranking Iran among the five countries in the world with the highest inflation rate for food. This is mainly due to the massive decrease in value of Iran’s currency.

Iran is heavily dependent on imports, particularly of grain and vegetable oil, and is having to pay increasingly high prices for these with foreign currency.

Many retirees have reported that they can only afford to buy the bare necessities. “We have not been able to afford to travel for a long time,” said a 73-year-old retired teacher. “Spending time with relatives and children was our only joy. But now hardly anyone can afford to invite guests.”

At the protests and in the media, Iranians are complaining that they have slipped below the poverty line. According to official figures, around one-third of the Iranian population was already living below the poverty line in 2022. Many cannot afford medical treatment if they get ill.

‘Angry, worried, stressed’

The daily newspaper Etemad reported on May 30 that inflation was making people increasingly “angry, worried, stressed, and unhappy.” It referenced statistics from the Forensic Medicine Organization, which has found a direct link between inflation and the increase in physical altercations all over Iran.

The government has announced that pensions and salaries will rise by 20% this year, but so far no inflation adjustment is in sight. Some 40% of the government’s budget depends on energy revenues. Tehran has blamed US sanctions against Iran’s oil exports for the problems, and is trying to strengthen its partnership with Russia and China.

In reality, Iran continues to export a significant amount of oil. According to the Reuters news agency, it exported an average of 1.14 million barrels of oil per day in December 2022, more than in any other month of that year.

However, the volume doesn’t compare to that of previous years. In early 2016, in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, oil exports rose to around 2 million barrels a day. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran was selling up to 6 million barrels of oil a day.

Expanding cooperation with China

China is Iran’s largest trading partner and main customer for its oil. The two are also seeking to expand their military cooperation, as announced after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited Beijing in February.

Iran continues to invest heavily in the defense industry despite its economic problems. In late May, it unveiled the fourth version of its liquid-fueled Khorramshahr ballistic missile, with Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani announcing that it could be prepared for launch within a short period.

On June 6, Iran also presented its first hypersonic missile, Fattah, which President Raisi said on state television would help to increase the country’s strength and enhance its deterrence capabilities, bringing security and a stable peace across the region.

Writing in Iranian daily newspaper Hammihan, sociologist and activist Abbas Abdi said society needed hope. He reminded the president of his campaign promise to reduce the inflation rate to below 10%, to create new jobs and to promote economic growth. Few people, however, have dared to openly criticize the country’s military activities.

According to agency reports, Fattah could potentially be used to carry nuclear warheads, though Tehran has denied this. This week, the US imposed sanctions in connection with Iran’s ballistic missile program on over a dozen individuals and entities in Iran, Hong Kong and China, including Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, accusing them of having helped Tehran obtain parts and technology.

This article has been translated from German.

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