Iran has been under sanctions for 33 years. The most recent round targeted not only oil export, bank transfers and researcher visas, but also food and consumer goods. Young Iranians say the measures are even affecting their chances of tying the knot.
The sanctions seem to impact almost every aspect of life, like a cloud of gray smog hanging over Tehran every morning. Indeed, this too is a side-effect of the sanctions. The cars in the city run on cheap fuel because Iran cannot import refining machinery due to the limitations.
But things could change, because the sanctions also stimulate the work of domestic researchers and scientists.
“Our production levels are growing 11 times faster than in the rest of the world. Our science is developing 65 times as fast. We are developing medicine, space technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, etc. We are doing that for the whole world, not just for ourselves like the Western researchers. So sanctions are great; they motivate our researchers,” said the President of Tehran University Farhad Rahbar.
As symbolic proof of his words, a water bottle is standing on the table. The label says that the water has been purified with nanotechnology.
The Professor thinks that while sanctions do create problems for researchers, Iranian science will only benefit from them, because they will help scientists not to depend on Western research centers.
“Prior to the Islamic Revolution, our economy was very dependent on international companies. We were taught from an early age that Iran is a very wealthy country rich in natural resources, and that there is no need for us to develop technology and science. Since we had oil, we could buy everything else. We had the culture of import instilled in us. The Islamic Revolution set the goal of providing the domestic market with everything necessary by ourselves,” he said.
In daily life, the principle worked: everything Iranians consume is made in Iran. But the “culture of import” is still here, and even Iranian-made goods are sold with foreign labels. But if you go to a store and ask for something Iranian, they will tell you that everything you see was made in Iran. Chinese imported goods are the only exception. They say these days you can buy a Persian carpet with a tag that says “Made in China.”
“Sanctions really changed our mindset, especially over the past decade,” Professor Rahbar says. “Now they have introduced comprehensive sanctions, but we’ve gained some experience and we’ll find a way to cope with them.”
He thinks that pressure cannot make Iran abandon its peaceful nuclear program.
“We have huge human capital – our young researchers. We invest in human capital. We have called the fourth decade of the Islamic Revolution a decade of progress and development. Last year, our spiritual leader declared an economic jihad,” Professor Rahbar says.
“The average age of our researchers is 26 years. We have 700 labs at our university, and they are all working around the clock. Students line up to conduct their experiments. Of course, sometimes we don’t have advanced equipment, but our young people compensate for that with their ingenuity.” He thinks that Iran has prevented America from establishing a monopoly in science.
The president of Tehran University acknowledges that the problem of brain drain does exist.
A conversation with a young geneticist opened with her explanations of why she emigrated from Iran:
“I was the second best student in my class. When I applied for a graduate program, they asked me at the interview why my hair is not covered with a shawl and how much money I expect to make. They want us to work for peanuts. But I want to be paid what I deserve.”
Another young woman, an anthropologist, tells me angrily that Iranians face discrimination in the West as well as in Iran: “I worked in Germany as much as everybody else. I was the only intern from Iran. But they paid me five times less than others, even though we did the same amount of work. When I protested, they told me not to come anymore.”
I sat down with another researcher, a biochemist. She went to work in Denmark, and she has not been home for four years. The only reason she came back now is because her mother is ill. She does not fly Iranian airlines in order “not to sponsor the regime.” She argues with her relatives who spend their holidays in Iran, accusing them of “sponsoring the regime.” She has a fiancé in the US, and is planning to move there. She is well aware that it is difficult for a scientist involved in fundamental research to get a visa to a Western country. But instead of blaming the West for putting pressure on Iran, she blames the regime for having a poor relationship with the West.
“It is very difficult for fundamental scientists to get visas because Western countries think they are all involved in the nuclear program,” she says. She describes how upset she was when she worked at a hospital as an intern and saw people lining up because the hospital did not have enough beds and medicines. She blames it all on the regime, not the sanctions.
I ask her how she would feel living in the US if the US and its allies introduce tougher sanctions or launch an attack against Iran. “No country will ever dare to attack Iran,” she replies. “As for sanctions, Iran will only benefit from them.”
Young people are less concerned with the political aspects of the sanctions, than with how they affect their day-to-day life. They are often reluctant to talk about the issue, but after giving me a bunch of clichés taught at school, journalist Hossein Ahmed, 32, started talking. He explained that a man in Iran is expected to marry at 25, but these days many tie the knot in their thirties.
“It is a common situation when a father works but his son cannot find a job. No job means no house, and no house means the son can’t marry,” he said. Young people mostly worry about this aspect of the sanctions. It concerns them even more than the shortage of medicine, as Ahmed is convinced that young Iranian researchers will find a way to tackle this issue.
“Everything is obviously getting more expensive. Prices went up quite a bit over the past two or three years after the government replaced social benefits with cash payments. We’re expecting another surge in three or four months, this time because of sanctions. Factories are closing. For instance, in my area a private textile factory shut down recently. They could not get parts because of sanctions, and the owner decided to close it. Many people are unemployed,” Ahmed says. But he cannot say how many people are unemployed, even in his family or among his neighbors. Ahmed doesn’t share the devotion to Iran’s nuclear program.
“We’re not happy with Ahmadinejad. He ruined Iran’s relations with the rest of the world for the sake of the nuclear program. He made the nuclear program our top priority, and as a result our country is getting slapped with tougher sanctions all the time.”
Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.