Alongside Iran Alive’s 24/7 programming are 24/7 phone-in lines and website chat spaces where staff members receive prayer requests and other information from mostly Iranian viewers. In the past six months, Shariat said, calls focusing on the economic situation have dramatically increased, as prices for milk, bread, cheese, and eggs skyrocketed. Many said they had cut meat consumption to once a month, or not at all. One viewer called to ask for financial help, saying she and her husband were so desperate they had considered selling their infant to human traffickers.
IRANIANS EXPECTED THEIR ECONOMIC WOES TO EASE following the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and several world powers, including the United States. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action called for the lifting of economic sanctions against the regime in exchange for Iran limiting uranium enrichment at its two nuclear facilities to nonmilitary purposes and making the facilities subject to international inspections.
With the lifting of sanctions, middle- and lower-class Iranians watched inflation and their own costs of living continue to climb, along with unemployment. Yet government jobs and luxury items proliferated among the country’s ruling clergy class.
“There are more Maseratis on the streets of Tehran than in Beverly Hills,” said Shariat, “and the ones driving them are children of the country’s mullahs.”
A 2017 spike in prices coincided with defaults by investment firms. The first call to protest came from an accountant at a saffron import company in the northeastern city of Mashhad who learned his savings disappeared when an investment firm went bankrupt. “We lost all our fortune and no one cares,” the accountant told The Wall Street Journal.
The gathering discontent coincided with President Hassan Rouhani’s decision to release to the public his proposed government budget, an unusual move some believe Rouhani, a so-called moderate, possibly hoped would embarrass the country’s ruling ayatollahs. The budget showed millions of dollars going to Islamic religious foundations and clerics’ offices, while cash subsidies to the poor were cut. Additionally, it showed the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps receiving $8 billion—a huge sum in a country weary of Iran’s military incursions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.