TEHRAN – Amir, an engineering master’s student outside of the University of Tehran, had considered going into digital marketing, but was concerned that the government of Iran would restrict Instagram as it had other applications. He had considered starting a start-up, but foresaw US sanctions and raging inflation blocking his way.
Every time he tried to plan, it seemed pointless, said Amir, who at first did not want to give his real name. He was afraid of his country, he said, and wanted to leave after graduation.
“I am a person who is 24 years old and I cannot imagine my life when I am 45,” he said. “I cannot imagine a good future for myself or for my country. Every day, I am thinking of leaving. And every day, I think, if I leave my country, what will happen to my family? ”.
This is life now for many urbanites educated in Tehran, the capital, who once pushed to loosen social restrictions and open Iran to the world, and who saw the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States as cause for hope.
But three years ago, President Donald J. Trump reneged on the deal and reimposed tough economic sanctions, leaving these Iranians feeling burned out by Americans and isolated under a newly elected president at home who is antithetical to their values: a hard line. that promises more. I defy the West.
After years of sanctions, mismanagement and the pandemic, it’s easy to put numbers on Iran’s economic struggles. Since 2018, many prices have more than doubled, living standards have collapsed, and poverty has spread, especially among rural Iranians. All but the richest have fallen from grace.
But there are no statistics on the uncertainty and increasingly tight aspirations of middle-class Iranians. Your darkened mood can best be measured in missed milestones, in the rush to Leave the country after graduation, in delayed marriages and declining birth rates.
In talks in Tehran during a recent visit, Iranians wavered between faith and despair, hope and practicality, wondering how to make the best of a situation beyond their control.
In Tehran for the day to run errands (she needed a phone, she had government paperwork), 19-year-old Bardja Ariafar and 24-year-old Zahra Saberi sat on a bench in Daneshjoo Park, exercising. subtle social freedoms Iranians have been carved out under strict theocracy in recent years. Despite the ban on gender mixing in public, men and women now sit together outdoors.
The friends work in Digikala, Iran’s Amazon, sorting goods at a warehouse in Karaj, a suburb now filled with former Tehran residents looking for cheaper rentals. Ariafar said he was supplementing his income as a computer programmer. Ms. Saberi, like many overqualified young Iranians, had not found a job that would allow her to use her Persian literature degree.
In the event Ms. Saberi gets married, she and her family will have to pay their share of everything the couple would need, from appliances, new clothes, and a regular mirror and chandeliers around the house. The groom’s family will provide a set of gold and diamond jewelry for the wedding.
But after Iran’s currency, the rial, lost about 70 percent of its value in just a few years, his family could no longer afford it.
The rial fell from about 43,000 to the dollar in January 2018 to about 277,000 this week, a drop that forced the government last year to introduce a new unit, the tome, to remove four zeros from the banknotes. But everything from rents to clothing prices is based on the dollar because most raw materials are imported, which is why the Iranians are spending. much more of your income with much less.
By 2020, the percentage of Iranians living on the equivalent of less than $ 5.60 a day had risen to 13 percent from less than 10 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economist at Virginia Tech. It was worse in rural areas, where roughly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, up from 22 percent in 2019.
Increasingly, Iran’s middle class has felt the pressure. Ariafar’s new smartphone cost him 70 percent of his monthly salary.
“It is difficult to succeed and develop in Iran,” he said, “so maybe that is my only option, to go abroad.”
But for Ms. Saberi, leaving was not an option.
“This is my home, my land, my culture,” he said. “I can’t imagine giving it up. We have to do better, not run away ”.
In July, the Iranian authorities unveiled a solution To The Marriage And Childbirth Crisis In Iran: A State Authorized Dating App. But for young Iranians the authorities would like to start a family, the parties may not be the problem.
Standing in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, Zahra donned a braided gold and diamond wedding ring, the lights from the jeweler’s ceiling glinting off her pink manicure.
“How many?” she asked, holding up her finger for her fiancé to inspect it.
“We’ll give you a nice discount,” replied Milod, 38, the owner.
“Do you have any fake diamonds?”
“No, but I’ll give you a good discount,” he repeated.
“I don’t want real diamonds,” he said, removing the ring.
With the price of gold multiplied by ten, according to the estimates of jewelers, in recent years, more couples have opted for costume jewelery. Others marry in small, hasty ceremonies, while saving to leave. Some postpone marriage until age 30; others are discounted.
The next step is out of reach as well.
Intended parents are worried about the possibility of more riots, even wars. Nobody knows if the ultra-conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, will curb the few social freedoms that Iranians have forged like the western music that beats in many cafes or even in the tattoos snaking through the arms of the young.
And will the economy ever get strong enough to give a child a good life?
Zahra Negarestan, 35, and Maysam Saleh, 38, were lucky, to a degree.
They were married six months before Trump reimposed the sanctions. Soon after, everything they were expected to buy before getting married doubled in price.
“It was bad then,” Negarestan said. “We don’t think it could get worse.”
The couple, who recently started a pottery wheel business, said they have both always wanted children. However, they continue to postpone a decision.
“You can have a very objective view of things: to have a baby, I need insurance, I need a job with so much income,” said Saleh, who works for a water treatment company and works as a freelancer in video production. Or you can base it on faith: Once you have a baby, God will provide. But on any given day, my practical side is winning. “
Ms. Negarestan has clung to some optimism.
“Maybe,” he said, “he or she will find a better way to live.”
But if they have a baby and the country deteriorates, he said, they will leave.
Between hope and despair, there is a compromise.
For some, it means marrying fake jewelry and a rented dress. For others, it involves smuggling.
The wealthy in Tehran can still find Dutch coffee filters and California baby carrots, at a price, thanks to a cottage industry of petty penalty offenders. On the streets of the capital, late-model AirPods poke through your ears, and any traffic jam can include a shiny Range Rover.
When Fatemeh, 39, started working as an information technology engineer 17 years ago, she said she was earning enough to save for a house and maintain a comfortable life. However, three children and a severe economic decline later, he needed to increase his income.
After the 2018 sanctions, when foreign clothing stores disappeared or prices raised, he spotted an opportunity. Soon, he was paying Iranians in Turkey to buy goods online and fly them or take them home.
Three years later, business is doing well. Their clients pay a 20 percent markup for foreign brands rather than resigning themselves to Iranian ones.
“It’s not like with sanctions, you say, ‘Goodbye lifestyle, goodbye to everything I wanted,'” he said. “We try to find a way to avoid it.”
However, even after doubling her income, Fatemeh said she was barely keeping up. Her children’s school costs four times what it did a few years ago, she said, and her grocery bill has increased fivefold.
With two more years of hard work, he said, he could catch up with inflation, longer, if things take a turn for the worse.