Analysts: Iran sanctions unlikely to force regime changehttp://www.usatoday.com/news/
TEHRAN, Iran – Iranians say they are feeling the pinch of sanctions in the price of meat and other daily essentials, but in spite of growing popular anger toward the government, analysts believe little will change.
"My family — my mom and my two sisters — never asked me for anything before," said Abbas Bakhtiari a musician based in Paris, whose family is in Iran. "This is the first time they asked me to help them to pay their bills, and I'm talking about people who didn't have financial difficulties."
In Iran, inflation is now at over 20%, which means the cost of living keeps rising, according to the Central Bank of Iran. Housewives in Iran say they are struggling to make ends meet and shopkeepers complain they are forced to change prices tags several times a week. That's true even for importers of Iranian goods.
"Prices are going up all the time: it's like 40 to 60% up and it doesn't stop," said Ali, owner of an Iranian goods store called Sepide in Paris, who has been hard hit by the rising cost of the products he imports. Ali asked that his last name not be used out of fear of the Iranian authorities.
"I bought pistachios at 200,000 rials ($17.65) a kilo, and three days later, the same guy refused to sell any lower than 230,000 rials ($20.29) a kilo," he said. "It's impossible to work like this."
Analysts confirm the sanctions are being widely felt.
"What started as targeted sanctions to push back the nuclear program has in reality turned into comprehensive, broad sanctions that have hurt the Iranian people," said Ali Vaez, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Iran Project in Washington.
If Western governments are counting on economic deprivation to bring radical change in Iran, analysts say they are likely to be disappointed.
"History shows that sanctions do not yield regime change — this is particularly true for states that emerged out of revolutions," said Middle East analyst Arshin Adib-Moghaddam of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 overthrew Iran's monarchy and replaced it with the Islamic Republic that remains to this day. Vaez says there is little evidence that the sanctions would spur Iranians to rise up against the regime or pressure it to change course, as President Obama and other leaders hope.
"They know that the West is putting this pressure on the Iranian people with the hope that they would actually revolt against this system, but this is highly unlikely to happen, mainly because there is no alternative to this regime," he said.
"Iran in fact did freeze its nuclear program in 2003 after the Bush administration presented such a credible threat by invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein when he failed to live up to his obligations to destroy his prohibited missiles and weapons of mass destruction programs," he said.
Islamic clerics have steadily amassed power while a bid by regime opponents in 2009 to alter the country's leadership was brutally crushed with killings and imprisonments. And parliamentary elections on Friday resulted in a faction of hard-line candidates bolstered by clerics and members of the Revolutionary Guards gaining control of the parliament over supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad's loss comes after he challenged the near-total authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to decide matters of foreign affairs.
Reformists who oppose the current leadership were virtually absent from the ballot. Candidates must be approved by the regime, and in a report last week Amnesty International said that the regime has been suppressing free speech and assembly.
"Anything from setting up a social group on the Internet, forming or joining an NGO, or expressing your opposition to the status quo can land you in prison," said Ann Harrison of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program.
Khamenei has said the EU and U.S. sanctions that seek to hamper Iran's oil exports and banking industry are "harmful" but will not affect regime policies. Numerous media reports state that ships delivering grain have been turned back from Iranian ports because the country cannot afford to pay suppliers, and that the financial sector is experiencing difficulties making transactions. Others, such as The Guardian, say Iran is getting around sanctions on its oil by shipping it to ports that blend it with other oil.
Meanwhile, citizens stockpile food and rush to convert their savings into stable currency like dollars and euros, or to gold. Sepideh Farsi, an Iranian filmmaker in Paris whose family is in Iran, says that a friend returning recently from northern Iran told him the cost of meat doubled during her three-week stay.
"The rise concerns even goods that are produced in Iran, such as the poultry, because in this case, the animal feed is apparently imported," Farsi said. "The sanctions seem to have repercussions on everything."