DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran on Thursday sharply raised prices by as much as 300% on various basic products such as butter, chicken, eggs and milk. Many alarmed Iranians waited in long lines to pick up packs of groceries, and emptied supermarket shelves across the country hours before the price hike took effect.
Panicked shoppers raided stores and shoved basic goods into large plastic bags, according to footage widely circulated on social media. Late Wednesdays in Tehran, queues left grocery stores. On Thursday, the Iranian currency fell to a low of 300,000 riyals per dollar.
Disruptions in Iran have been reported as the government prepares for possible unrest, the propaganda group NetBlocks.org said. The protests seemed to be erupting in the remote and poor south of the country, according to videos circulating on the Internet. The Associated Press was unable to verify their authenticity, but the footage matched the reported events.
The scenes showed not only the deep anxiety surrounding the country and the frustration of Iran’s leaders, but also highlighted the staggering economic and political challenges they face.
Food prices in the Middle East have risen due to global supply chains and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which exports many essential goods. Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has stripped many farmers of their fields.
Although Iran produces about half of its own wheat, it imports most of the rest from Russia. The war intensified inflationary pressures. The smuggling of highly subsidized bread from Iran to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has increased sharply as famine spreads across the region.
Drought is already destroying Iran’s economy. Additional difficulties have been caused by Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear deal. Inflation has risen to almost 40%, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. About 30% of Iranian households are below the poverty line, according to Iran’s Statistics Center.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to create jobs, lift sanctions and save the economy, but talks on resuming Iran’s failed nuclear deal with world powers remain deadlocked. Iranian families have seen that their purchasing power is rapidly declining.
The government is trying to act quickly to blunt the pain. Authorities have promised to pay each Iranian citizen about $ 14 a month to offset rising prices.
The cost of special and craft bread, such as a French baguette and a sandwich, has increased 10-fold, bakery owners say. But the authorities are careful not to touch on subsidies for tortillas in the country, which contribute more to the daily diet of Iranians than anything else.
Subsidies, and in particular subsidies on bread, remain a very sensitive topic for Iran, which has been destroyed by bread riots throughout its history. In the 1940s, bread shortages sparked mass street protests and the deadly crackdown that toppled then-Prime Minister Ahmad Kawa.
Memories of rising fuel prices in Iran three years ago remain fresh. Extensive protests – the fiercest since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 – have rocked the country. Hundreds of protesters were killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International.
But in recent weeks, the government has allowed prices to jump on almost all other foods, including pasta, until Thursday’s hike to Iran’s main dinner tables.
As Iranians talk about rising flour prices, the most popular hashtag on Twitter in recent weeks has been #macaroni, a term Iranians use for all types of pasta.
“I’m sure the government doesn’t care about the average person,” said Mina Tehrani, a mother of three, while browsing a supermarket in Tehran. She was shocked at the price of pasta – now 165,000 rials per pound compared to 75,000 rials last month.
Hassan Shahbazada, a resident of Tehran, complained that Iranians who have given up meat and dairy products to save money have nothing to cut.
“Now even pasta is removed from the dining table,” he said.
“This jump in flour prices has driven people crazy,” said Saleh, a grocery store employee in Susangerd, an oil-rich town in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, home to ethnic Arabs who believe in discrimination and include separatists. movement.
Saleh said the price of a bag of 40kg of flour had risen to $ 18 from $ 2.5 in recent weeks, sparking strong anger in the troubled province.
“Many rushed to the groceries to buy pasta and other things for their daily needs,” he said, saying only his name, fearing reprisals.
Fighting has also erupted in the Iranian parliament.
“Waves of rising prices have made people suffocate,” said Kamal Hosseinpur, a Kurdish MP, at a parliamentary session earlier this week. “Pasta, bread and butter are the staple foods of Iran’s weaker people. … Where are the officials and what do they do? ”
Other lawmakers directly blamed the brutal President Raisi.
“The administration is incapable of managing the country’s affairs,” said Jalil Rahimi Jahanabad, a Taibad lawmaker near Iran’s border with Afghanistan.
Proponents of the government called the price increase a “necessary economic operation” – part of a package of reforms approved by parliament. Some social media users ridiculed the term, saying officials removed the patient’s heart instead of a tumor.
With rising inflation online, Iranian authorities seem to be preparing for the worst.
The Internet monitoring team NetBlocks.org told the AP that it is tracking Internet failures on a “national scale” that are “likely to affect the public’s ability to communicate.” Article 19, the world research organization that fights censorship, said on Thursday that authorities apparently disconnected almost all Internet connections in the cities of Khuzestan province.
After the country’s controversial presidential election in 2009 and protests by the Greens, which drew millions to the streets, Iran has tightened its grip on the Internet.
In recent days, videos have appeared on social media of Iranians gathering in the dark on the streets of the southern province of Khuzestan, chanting slogans against rising prices and against the country’s leaders. Iranian state media did not publicly protest.
The issue of high prices “is related to security”, ominously said legislator Majid Nasserinejad. “People can’t take it anymore.”
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi of Tehran (Iran) contributed to this report.
Suggest a fix