|Protesters in Tehran yesterday|
Iran’s rial is in a tailspin, having lost more than half of its value against the dollar in street trading in the past two months as U.S. and European sanctions aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program bite.
Riot police yesterday fired tear gas and sealed off parts of downtown Tehran after the currency’s plunge triggered street protests.
The current rate of 35,500 rials against the U.S. dollar, compared with 24,000 a week ago on the unofficial street trading rate, which is widely followed in Iran. It was close to 10,000 rials for $1 in early 2011.
At Tehran's Grand Bazaar -- the traditional business hub in Iran's capital – currency exchange shops closed down to protest the instability in exchange rates and prices that made trading almost impossible.
The sprawling bazaar has played a critical role in charting Iran's political course - leading a revolt that wrung pro-democratic concession from the ruling monarchy more than a century ago and reportedly bankrolling the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"Leave Syria alone, think of us instead" was one of the slogans protesters wrote on placards, according to Kaleme.com, an Iranian opposition site.
Other slogans raised according to Kaleme.com were, "We Do Not Want Nuclear Energy" and "Leave Syria Now.”
The Iranian economy is finding it difficult to cope with the West’s economic sanctions, but the extensive financial aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not stopped.
The Times of London reported this week that Tehran has transferred some $10 billion to Damascus in support of Assad's war on the Syrian opposition.
But in a think piece titled “Obama in Tehran’s Bazaar,” political analyst Zuhair Qusaibati suggests the rial is in a tailspin because of the success of Obama administration’s Iran policy more than anything else.
“Tehran’s bazaar did not close in protest against the rivers of blood in Syria or against the Syrian regime’s diehard though futile attempts” to finish off the Syrian revolution, Qusaibati writes for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.
“Nor did the bazaar close in solidarity with the Axis of Resistance (comprising Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah), which is now on the earthquake’s first fault line stretching from Damascus to Baghdad and all the way to Tehran.
“The bazaar did not protest the economic fallout on a ‘Great Power’ still lacking nuclear teeth of funding the Syrian regime’s war.”
The war on the rial is what closed Tehran’s shops, according to Qusaibati. And American soft power is what returned riot police to Tehran’s streets.
“The bazaar shutdown is a windfall for President Barack Obama as it would enhance his reelection chances in November. He is the one who brushed aside Benjamin Netanyahu’s blackmail, insisting that economic sanctions on the Iranian regime were beginning to bite, thus making the costly military option redundant.”
Qusaibati notes, “Recourse to sanctions to choke the Iranian economy and dry up regime funding for its offshoots abroad is probably the Obama Administration’s sole foreign policy achievement.
“The Syrian revolution that took everyone by surprise, including the Americans, presented Obama with a golden opportunity to seize the moment and give his administration every chance to dismantle the Axis of Resistance without firing a shot or deploying Marines to the Arabian Sea and Syria’s shores.”
Sanctions, says Qusaybati, are what caused the Iranian currency to plummet to record lows, inflamed the tug of war between tottering President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his nemesis, parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, and triggered the first street protests in the Iranian capital since the demise of the Iranian Green Movement.
“The Iranian Spring might not await the rial’s total collapse, or the unlikely bankruptcy of the self-styled ‘Great Power’ so long as it can dip into the hard currency kitty of its proxy, Iraq.
“The Iranian Spring, for Ali Khamenei, might be the other face of the storm Syrian President Bashar al-Assad once discounted because ‘Syrians cling to their leadership.’”
Qusaibati concludes, “Tehran funds its nuclear program, the battle to salvage Syria’s regime and its endeavors in Mediterranean territory to remain a stone throw’s away from Israel, leaving most Iranians struggling economically.”
Much as Khamenei keeps regurgitating slogans about “resistance against Zionism” while tyrants crack down on their peoples with Zionists gloating over their enemies’ stupidity, he will fail to convince protesters in Tehran that Western leeches are sucking their national currency.
“Iran is not Syria, but borders don’t hinder either spring or autumn. The enemies Ahmadinejad has been expecting in the Gulf and Straits of Hormuz continue to wager their money on sanctions.”