The embargo on oil imports and sanctions on the central bank won’t stop Iran’s rulers from pursuing their nuclear ambitions
The people of Iran should not be held to account for wrongdoing by their regime — and yet, that is what is happening as western countries impose ever-tighter sanctions.
Sanctions are pushing ordinary Iranians to the edge of poverty, destroying the quality of their lives, isolating them from the outside world and most importantly, blocking their path to democracy.
As a result of sanctions, Iranians are now cut off from the world. Universities can barely hold international conferences, students have to forget about exchange programmes, academics face ridiculous difficulties for simple tasks such as subscribing to international journals or submitting research papers to them.
Many services are denied to Iranians not because providers are legally bound to refuse them but because they err on the safe side for fear of getting into trouble. Last month’s incident in the U.S., when an Apple store refused to sell an iPad to an Iranian-American teenager was just one example.
Iran’s central bank, the only official channel for Iranians to transfer money abroad, is a major target of the sanctions. The Iranian regime, and those close to it, have ways of circumventing the restrictions but ordinary people are not so fortunate.
For example, if you want to enrol for a seminar in the West, purchase goods from abroad or simply book a hotel in another country, you have no easy way of paying. The same applies if you have relatives abroad and want to assist them financially.
If you are an Iranian studying in the EU or the U.S., then you have no way of accessing your bank account at home. If you’re a patient in Iran, in urgent need of medical treatment abroad, like Rojan Pirsalehi, and you need to pay the hospital to secure your visa, then you might end up losing your life.
Sanctions are certainly hitting the Iranian economy: the oil embargo is costing more than $3bn in lost revenue every month. After years of denial, even the Iranian officials are coming to terms about the impact, acknowledging that sanctions have finally begun to bite.
The problem, though is that the regime itself is relatively impervious to such pressures , so the burden falls disproportionately on the people.
Prices of fruit and sugar, among other staples, have soared — in some cases showing threefold and fourfold increases. The price of meat, an essential ingredient of Iranian food, has gone up to such an extent that many now eat it only on special occasions.
In western countries these economic woes would normally result in the government being thrown out of office.
But Iran, like Iraq at the time of sanctions, is not a country where its leaders can be held accountable through elections. In fact, the regime probably feels more secure rather than less, reasoning that sanctions are making the people too weak to revolt.
In effect, Iran’s limp opposition Green Movement has suffered a double blow — once when it was brutally crushed following the presidential election in 2009, and now finding the energy of its supporters sapped. Without sanctions, and the accompanying lack of access to technology, it would be better placed to communicate and organise.
Of course, supporters of sanctions might argue that some suffering now would be justified if it stops what they assume is the threat of a nuclear Iran. What they don’t realise is that sanctions are ruining people’s lives and not forcing Iranian leaders to change their minds. The latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and the West just proved that.
For some time, the West claimed that its sanctions are “smart” and “targeted,” that they were only designed to affect the Iranian regime and not its people. The latest embargo on the imports of Iranian oil and sanctions against the Iranian central bank has left no room for any pretence.
Sanctions are the war, albeit economic and psychological, that the West is waging against the people of Iran and not its rulers. There’s nothing in sanctions that the West should be proud of. It’s time the West thought twice about bringing Iranian people to their knees and destroying their lives.
(Saeed Kamali Dehghan is an Iranian journalist for the Guardian.)
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012