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From festivities to price hikes: How Iranians fared under Rouhani


Shortly after Iran’s centrist President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013, the country’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup, a sign, many said, that the new leader had brought them good luck.

After eight years of deteriorating relations with the West under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s war of hostility, many citizens believed that Rouhani’s election signaled a return to normalcy. People danced in the streets as the new president vowed to “solve” Iran’s problems. They hoped to improve relations between the theocratic state and the West.

In his first press conference as president, Rouhani said the elections “opened a new chapter, as if everything [voters] They shouted that their suffering is over.” He added: “Your wise and hopeful government will embody its promise to save the country’s economy, revive morals, and establish constructive interaction with the world.”

Now, as Rouhani prepares to step down after the June 18 presidential election, data shows that the now-unpopular leader has failed to deliver on many of his promises.

1. Debt racks up

Rouhani came to power in 2013 vowing to open talks with Washington and other world powers to lift economic sanctions. His efforts resulted in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, in which restrictions were relaxed and, in return, Iran limited its nuclear activity. Oil sales boomed. But when Donald Trump ditched the deal in 2018, oil sales plummeted again — and with it Iran’s income.

Since then, the government has sought to diversify non-oil exports and increased corporate taxes, putting more pressure on struggling small businesses. The government hastened the privatization of state-run companies. As a result, most Iranians Invest their savings in the stock market Which, analysts say, carries risks in the event of a market crash.

2. Economics in free fall

GDP declined after the United States withdrew from the deal, destroying the economic gains recorded when the agreement was first signed. The decline in foreign investment. The French companies Total, Peugeot and Renault were the first to enter the Iranian market after the nuclear deal and the first to leave when it collapsed. Then came the epidemic, exacerbating economic problems.

Line chart of GDP, current PPP prices (re-established) showing Iran's economy falling behind the rest of the region

Youth unemployment remained high at an average of 22 percent during Rouhani’s tenure. Analysts have described this army of young, unemployed Iranians as a ticking time bomb. In 2017, and again in 2019, young people from poor backgrounds led riots The largest – and bloodiest – economic protests in the history of the Islamic Republic.

3. Log in and set it

One of the biggest achievements of the Rouhani government has been the expansion of the Internet. The country of 85 million people has nearly 95 million broadband internet subscribers — many people buying both fixed and mobile deals — a 20-fold increase a year since he first took power. The number of sim cards in use increased from 59.4 million to 131 million during the same period.

The line graph shows that as more Iranians access the Internet, strict controls remain in place by comparing the results of online freedom to mobile and broadband subscriptions per 100 people.

The expansion of Internet access – even in the most deprived villages and towns – has triggered a quiet revolution. Online businesses are growing and citizens across the country are tuned in to what is happening in cities like Tehran. Social media is the biggest tool for Iranians to express their discontent. While some hardliners talk about blocking access to social media, its popularity has made this situation difficult.

4. High prices. . . and destroy popularity

One of Rouhani’s early victories was to bring inflation down to single digits, just under 7 percent, the lowest rate in decades, in the wake of the nuclear deal. Its rise since 2018 – and Iranians say official figures greatly underestimate its real rise – has dented Rouhani’s popularity.

Line chart of annual consumer price change (%) showing out of control: Iran's inflation is rising again

Analysts say the president’s response – that people should be happy that goods were ever available during what he calls the economic war – has only served to inflame public anger. It may have made him the least popular president in the history of the Islamic Republic.

5. The riyal against the dollar

For many Iranians, one of the biggest psychological indicators of their well-being is the price of a currency. The weakening of the riyal not only contributes to inflation, but also makes travel abroad out of reach for many, contributing to a feeling of isolation.

Line chart of the riyal per dollar (in thousands) showing the significant depreciation of the riyal since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions

After the United States abandoned the nuclear deal, the value of the rial plummeted. Iranians rushed to buy dollars and euros. Unofficial estimates of foreign currency stored in private homes amount to $35 billion.

6. Gold for a rainy day

With the currency fluctuating, more and more Iranians are becoming unable to buy the gold coins that are traditionally kept at home for purchases on rainy days such as home buying, children’s education, and marriage. Men often promise gold coins as dowries – but the collapse in the rial means many are unable to deliver.

An aggregate symbolic chart showing the number of riyals required to purchase a gold coin in 2014 and 2021

7. Pride is now a luxury

When Iranians want to point out how poor they are, they often say they will struggle to buy the Pride, one of the cheapest domestically produced cars for sale in the Islamic Republic. It often provided a second – and sometimes a third – income as people became taxi drivers, helped by the introduction of ride-hailing apps in Iran over the past decade. However, the depreciation of the riyal led to a sharp rise in the cost of the Pride car, which made the cost of the new car out of reach of many.

Line chart showing how the price of Iran's cheapest domestically produced car, the Pride/Saiba 132, has risen since 2013

8. Women are disappointed

Women’s suffrage has always been crucial for reformist candidates, and Rouhani was no exception. But he disappointed many by appointing only two women in his cabinet. Although women are now able to attend football matches involving foreign teams, few signs show a marked improvement in women’s rights.

Multiple small charts showing how women's rights have not improved under Rouhani's rule in Iran by comparing Iran to the Middle East and North Africa

Many women are now disillusioned with politics. “I will not vote in the elections,” said Hamida, 38, an employee of a private company. “It will discourage everyone around me, unlike the previous times when I dragged my family to the polls.”

Additional Visual Journalism from Ian Butt in London



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