From celebrations to high prices: How the Iranians went under Rouhani


Shortly after Iranian centrist president Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013, the country’s football team qualified for the World Cup, a sign, many say, that the new head coach had brought him good luck.

After eight years of worsening relations with the West under a Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad war, many citizens believed that Rouhani’s elections signaled a return to normalcy. People danced in the streets while the new president promised to “unblock” Iran’s problems. They hope to improve relations between the Theocratic State and the West.

In his first press conference as president, Rouhani said the election had “opened a new chapter, as if everything [voters] he cried that his sufferings have come to an end. ”He added:“ Your government of prudence and hope will materialize its promise to save the country’s economy, revive ethics and establish constructive interactions with the world ”.

Now, as Rouhani prepares to step down after the June 18 presidential election, data show that the now deeply unpopular leader has fallen short of many of his promises.

1. The debt racks up

Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to open talks with Washington and other world powers to lift economic sanctions. His efforts led to the historic nuclear deal in 2015, where restrictions were lifted and, in return, Iran halted its nuclear activity. Oil sales have grown. But when Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, oil sales fell again – and with it Iran’s income.

Since then, the government has sought to diversify non-oil exports and has increased corporate taxation, putting pressure on struggling small businesses. The government has accelerated the privatization of state-owned companies. Consequently, most Iranians they have invested their savings in the stock market which, analysts say, carries a risk in case the market collapses.

2. Free waterfall economy

GDP fell after the United States abandoned the agreement, destroying the economic gains recorded when the agreement was first signed. Foreign investment has fallen. Total of France, Peugeot and Renault were the first to enter the Iranian market after the nuclear deal and the first to leave when they crashed. Then came the pandemic, which also exacerbated the economic troubles.

Scheme of Gross Domestic Product lines, current prices at purchasing power parity (lowered) showing Iran’s economy falling behind the rest of the region

Youth unemployment remained high at an average of 22 percent during Rouhani’s tenure. This army of unemployed young Iranians is described by analysts as a time bomb. In 2017, and again in 2019, young people of poor origin have led rebels who have been the largest – and most lethal – economic protest in the history of the Islamic republic.

3. Connected and tuned

One of the greatest successes of the Rouhani government has been the expansion of Internet use. A country of nearly 85 million people has nearly 95 million broadband Internet subscribers – many people buying fixed and mobile devices – an increase of 20 times a year since it took power. The number of sim cards in use increased from 59.4m to 131m during the same period.

Online chart showing that as more Iranians access the internet, tight controls remain by comparing online freedom scores with mobile and broadband subscriptions per 100 people.

Widespread access to the internet – even in the most unfavorable countries and cities – has fueled a quiet revolution. Online businesses are growing and citizens across the country are tuned in to what’s happening in cities like Tehran. Social media is the greatest tool for Iranians to express their dissatisfaction. While some hardliners talk about blocking access to social media, its popularity has made this a difficult position.

4. Rising prices. . . and crashing popularity

One of Rouhani’s first victories was to reduce inflation to a single figure, to just under 7 percent, the lowest rate in decades, after the nuclear deal. Its growth since 2018 – and Iranians say official figures greatly underestimate its true growth – have led to a decline in Rouhani’s popularity.

Graph of annual change in consumer prices (%) showing out of control: Iran's inflation rates rise again

The president’s response – that people should be happy that goods were available during everything he calls an economic war – only angered public anger, analysts say. It has made him perhaps the least popular president in the history of the Islamic republic.

5. Rial to the dollar

For many Iranians, one of the biggest psychological markers of their well-being is the currency rate. Not only does a weak real estate contribute to inflation, but it also puts foreign travel out of the reach of many, contributing to a sense of isolation.

Rial graph line for $ (000s) showing strong devaluation of the rial since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions

After the United States abandoned the nuclear deal, the value of the rial sank. Iranians rushed to buy dollars and euros in the US. Unofficial estimates of foreign currencies stored in private homes are as high as $ 35 billion.

6. Gold for a rainy day

With a fluctuating currency, more and more Iranians have not been able to pay for gold coins traditionally kept at home for rainy day purchases such as buying houses and education and weddings for children. Men often pledge gold coins as dowries – but the collapse in the real meant that many were unable to provide.

Chart of grouped symbols showing the number of rials needed to buy a gold coin in 2014 and 2021

7. Pride is now a luxury

When Iranians want to point out how poor they are, they often say they would fight to buy a Pride car, one of the most home-produced vehicles for sale in the Islamic republic. It has often provided a second – sometimes a third – income since people became taxi drivers, helped by the introduction of travel apps in Iran in the last decade. The fall of the rial, however, has led to a sharp rebound in the cost of a Pride, pushing the cost of a new car out of the reach of many.

Line diagram showing that the price of the cheapest home-produced vehicle in Iran, Pride / Saipa 132, has increased since 2013

8. Women feel disillusioned

The female vote has long been crucial for reformist candidates and Rouhani has been no exception. But he disappointed many by appointing only two women to his cabinet. Although women are now able to participate in football matches with foreign teams, few signs show a significant improvement in women’s rights.

Multiple graphs showing how women’s rights are not improved under Rouhani rule in Iran comparing Iran with the Middle East and North Africa

Many women are now disillusioned with politics. “I will not vote in the election,” said Hamideh, a 38-year-old employee of a private company. “And it will discourage all the people around me, unlike the previous times when I dragged my family to the polling stations.”

Further visual journalism by Ian Bott in London



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