TEHRAN — When the final whistle blew, the streets gradually started to get crowded. As darkness fell, car horns went off and you could see people dancing and celebrating in the main squares and streets. It felt like the nightmare of war and sanctions was fading. For a nation that had endured eight years of war and sanctions, it was a sweet conclusion. Still, many did not know that this was only the first step. They were not thinking about the long road ahead as the agreement made its way through Congress. But after the Senate’s 58 to 42 vote on Sept. 10, hope rose among Iranians that the agreement could be approved and implemented. Now their eyes are on the Iranian parliament, the Majles, to vote on it.
When the nuclear agreement was signed in July, people assumed the dollar would become cheaper, prices would go down and the bazaars would recover from the sanctions. The people who had poured into the streets of my city to celebrate the end of the nuclear marathon were not factory owners or import-export traders. They were just middle class people who were tired and stressed from all the pressures. They just wanted to live like other people in the world — in peace and security.
My people have never been warmongers. If we look at the past 100 years, we have not started any war. The last war between Iran and Iraq (1980-88) was imposed on us. We never initiated or guided terrorist operations that shook the world. But we have suffered a lot in the past 35 years. Many countries and world powers denied the Islamic Republic as a new reality after 1979 and tried everything they could to force it to change. Iran herself was not blameless. Certainly the Islamic Republic’s foreign policies increased tensions between Iran and the international community. A series of conflicts between Iran, Europe and the United States meant that Iranians tasted sanctions numerous times, culminating in several punitive measures by the U.N. Security Council and unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and EU after 2005.
The people who had poured into the streets of my city to celebrate the end of the nuclear marathon. . . They just wanted to live like other people in the world — in peace and security.
Iran’s international position deteriorated following the foreign policy adventures of the Ahmadinejad Administration. Ahmadinejad described the mountain of sanctions as meaningless and pursued policies that paved the way for greater political and economic pressures on Iran. Not even Russia and China, Iran’s allies in the Security Council, were willing to veto resolutions against the Islamic Republic. The sanctions were imposed on the government, but the real impact was on people’s daily lives. On our lives. For example, there were no sanctions on medical supplies, but sanctions on banking and insurance operations meant that buying essential drugs became impossible, forcing people to buy inferior or fake versions in the black market.
The sanctions meant that factories were unable to import many of their necessary supplies and had to shut down. Iran became a dumping ground for cheap, low quality products from China and India in return for crude oil. We, the people, suffered a lot. Those who sanctioned us thought that our rulers would retreat, but meanwhile it was the people who were getting slowly crushed. Some believe the sanctions actually helped to move the negotiations towards their conclusion, but the cost for the people was very high.
The nuclear agreement came about because Iranians wanted an end to the sanctions. They wanted to lift the economy while at the same time preserving the country’s achievements in reaching self-sufficiency in nuclear technology. The deal also shows the will of the Iranian people to solve regional and international issues caused by mistrust, even at the cost of setting aside certain rights.
My people have never been warmongers.
What was agreed upon is in fact a national pact with a moderate government that listens to the people’s demands and follows their wish to slowly move the country out of international isolation and into a new era. The unblocking of Iran’s bank deposits and resumption of trade with Europe would no doubt improve people’s lives in the long run. Ending 35 years of trade restrictions between Iran and the U.S. would make conditions even better.
The deal was also good news for Iran’s fledgling civil society, which has been trying to recover from the 2008 upheavals at home and the threat of war from abroad. The threat of war always springs a clampdown on domestic dissent and silences opposing voices under the pretext of national security. Silence is not only forced by the rulers above, but also encouraged by well-meaning patriotic civil activists who prefer to lower their democratic demands under emergency circumstances. It is not possible to pursue the formation of a civil society, a free press and functioning political parties under foreign pressure. More than anything, sanctions work against nations that are trying hard to move forward in every aspect. Sanctions increase restrictions and close the avenues of operation for civil activists.
Now that efforts to block the nuclear agreement in the U.S. Congress have failed, millions of Iranians are hoping that politicians in Iran and the U.S. will work together to open economic opportunities, end political isolation and expand ties with the world. With these steps, the Iranian middle class will be determined to show the country’s real face, one that has been buried under years of sanctions and military threats.