Talk of Tehran: Squabbling over the Economy

Helia Ighani

            The hottest topic in Tehran’s media—and society generally—is the Islamic Republic’s deeply troubled economy. Over the past 12 months, the national currency has lost half of its value. Despite Iran’s vast oil and gas reserves, youth unemployment has hit 28.6 percent. Officially, inflation is up from 22.5 percent in 2011 to 25 percent in 2012, although experts contend it may be twice as high, according to the Financial Times. Many Iranian men hold down two jobs, and women increasingly work too.
            With no relief in sight, the blame game is now playing out in the opinion pages of major newspapers, especially over responsibility for the plunging value of the Iranian rial on exchange markets. Some media blame the government for mismanagement, corruption and unrealistic practices. “It is a blunder on the part of the government if it believes that it can do whatever it likes,” scolded Mardom Salari, a centrist newspaper.
            But the regime and its media allies blame the outside world, especially punitive sanctions, for crippling the economy. On August 23, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a “resistance economy” to counter sanctions that have cut off access to international banking, decreased oil sales to 1 million barrels per day, and complicated importing raw materials needed for industry.
            “The arrogant powers are pulling their weight to force Iran to back down, and the government should invalidate these illusions by using the nation's full potentials,”  Khamenei  said. “In this kind of economy, the nation's progress is preserved and vulnerability of the economy against the enemies’ plots is decreased.”
            In the first of a regular series, Helia Ighani explores the wide diversity of opinion in Iran’s media about economic conditions and Iranian policies.
Blaming the Iranian government
Shargh (or “East,” a reformist newspaper)
"Suppose you are invited to an orchestra and each musician is good but only concentrating on playing his own instrument. So instead of the smooth sound of music, you hear the sound of screaming. Perhaps this is the best way to describe the current state of the exchange market. It seems that the economic authorities in the exchange market are trying to make their own instruments." September 24
Mardom Salari (or "Democracy,” a centrist newspaper)
"For the eighth time Ahmadinejad and his aides will visit New York and the United Nations to preach about world management. Before leaving the country, it would be good for the president to tell us whether he really knows anything about the surge in the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar." September 19
Tehran Emrooz (or “Tehran Today,” a centrist conservative newspaper)
"Economic officials are apparently reluctant to talk about the reasons for problems with the foreign exchange market …If we had the opposite situation, meaning we were undergoing real progress in the financial market, the Minister of the Economy and the government economic spokesman would probably have reacted differently—and would have responded to parliamentary concerns. But now the situation is such that almost no authorities are willing to accept responsibility." September 20 

Mardom Salari (or “Democracy,” a centrist newspaper)
"Some government officials try to make up excuses to avoid being accountable for the country’s situation…Government should pay attention to reality and refrain from making vague statements that the public does not believe. It is a blunder on the part of the government if it believes that it can do whatever it likes." September 5
Shargh (or “East,” reformist newspaper)
"In the past few years, economic decisions have been based on short-term solutions… Despite dramatic changes that altered the economic system, the Central Bank has not yet been able to understand the economic situation…These systems and work methods need to keep up with the changing times before it is too late." September 18
Blaming the Outside World
Quds (or “Jerusalem,” a hardline conservative newspaper)
"Although the economic trends are deteriorating short-term, the government’s new economic policies will lead to long-term economic growth over time and with the ability to adapt to the present situation." September 23
Kayhan (or “Universe,” a hardline conservative newspaper)
"Iran continues to find ways to escape the oil embargo…The president has recently announced that Iran constantly finds new ways to circumvent sanctions. He says that we have oil, and the countries of the world need it." September 23
Iran (a centrist conservative newspaper)
"Our economic problems create empathy, cooperation and coordination between various government branches that are trying to remedy the country’s current economic challenges. Although the sanctions cause problems, the opportunity to develop relationships in international banking and investment…can be a substantial part of neutralizing problems from sanctions." September 23
Key to Iranian newspapers
Iran: conservative centrist, one of Iran’s most widely-circulated newspapers.
Kayhan or "Universe": hardline conservative, one of Iran’s oldest newspapers.
Mardom Salari or "Democracy": centrist.
Quds or "Jerusalem": hardline conservative.
Shargh or "East": reformist.
Tehran Emrooz or "Today’s Tehran": conservative centrist, originally run through the Islamic Propagation Organization.
Helia Ighani is a graduate student at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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