This weekend it will be one year since Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old ordinary Iranian woman, died in the custody of the so-called ‘morality police’, a patrol to make sure everyone in the country, especially girls and women, stick to the state’s strict religious codes.
The tragedy of her death on September 16, 2022 — still shrouded in mystery amid police denials of having anything to do with it — unleashed an all-out uprising that came to target the pyramid of power in the country. The driving forces combined social discontent with the theocratic ruling system and its control of the daily lives of the citizens, economic grievances, as well as a fight for women’s rights.
The goal to change the ruling system didn’t come to pass despite all the lives lost and the price paid, yet it all led to what some have described as “a point of no return”. Iranian society today is so well informed and up-to-date that it stands in stark juxtaposition to the current interpretations of the ruling system from Islamic teachings of the 7th century.
Many Iranians are finding common social freedoms taken for granted in many parts of the world are not too much to ask for. This is perhaps best enscapulated by the slogan that came to be a rallying cry for the protestors: “Woman, Life, Freedom”.
Besides all the social causes at work, the decline in economic conditions of Iran has arguably made a conspicuous contribution to this movement. Compounded by years of sanctions after sanctions, life has become a matter of survival for many in Iran.
The Iranian rial has lost half of its value against the dollar since the last Persian calendar year (March 2022), leading to runaway inflation that is also fuelled by structural issues within the economy. Under the circumstances, with the ever declining purchasing power, the average Iranian is increasingly struggling to make ends meet.
The sanctions have also largely blocked the Iranian market’s access to much of the goods, services, investment and technology the developed countries have to offer, which means Iranian consumers mainly have had to make do with what limited domestic industries with their outdated technology can produce — plus those provided by a handful of countries that have maintained ties with the Islamic Republic under sanctions, Russia and China in particular. Tehran is still working to mend its strained ties with countries in the region and beyond to improve this situation.
The absence of foreign investors under sanctions have left many sectors underdeveloped in Iran, which has mainly had to rely on its vast oil resources to keep the economy afloat. To date, oil revenues remain a major part of funding for government spending in Iran, with increasing taxes being another significant source of income.
There is no end in sight to most of these economic woes until the ruling system somehow manages to remove the sanctions on the one hand and implement structural economic reforms on the other. The looming anniversary of the Mahsa Amini tragedy is once again bringing all these challenges to the forefront.