September 11, 2018 14:00
News ID: 2811

(Persia Digest) - USA TODAY’s Kim Hjelmgaard writes that it's difficult to know if Iran’s economic malaise is due to decades of sanctions or government corruption, or just old-fashioned bureaucratic incompetence.

Iranians are fed up with collapsing economic prospects at the hands of what looks to them like systemic regime mismanagement. A currency in free fall. Jobs evaporating. Businesses forced to sell their goods on the black market.

The authorities typically say they have a plan or are making changes to address these problems. Sometimes the plans materialize. Sometimes not. Either way, nothing changes.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to know how much of Iran’s economic malaise can be attributed to decades of sanctions, how much to government malfeasance and corruption – the latter being most often cited by people on the street – and how much is a result of good old-fashioned bureaucratic incompetence.

There are regular clashes between protesters and police in Iran.

I did not, however, witness any protests or other forms of social unrest in Isfahan, where I spent the fourth full day of travels, or anywhere else during my time in Iran. And a group of soldiers on leave in Isfahan, known as Iran’s most-popular tourist destination because of its elegant boulevards, Islamic architecture and picturesque gardens, were more interested in talking about why Americans (in their view) were so obsessed with pornography than about the return of sanctions or the reasons for demonstrations. 

"Can you introduce me to Alice Texas and Uncle Johnny?" one these soldiers asked, an apparent reference to the identities or characters that Iranians, or at least this particular group of soldiers, have given to American porn stars, according to my translator.

Not seeing any protests is not the same thing as saying they weren’t happening, of course. Perhaps they were just perpetually around the corner. Still, in Isfahan, I did encounter plenty of regime weariness and disenchantment.

"There is no future for me here. I am doing my best to migrate to another country," said Ali, 26, as he strolled over Isfahan’s famous stone, double-deck Siosepol Bridge, known in English as the Bridge of 33 Arches.

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"I will consider anywhere but Iran," he added. "Whether the U.S. pulls out of the nuclear deal or stays in, it makes no difference to me and many people like me. I am living in a society that doesn’t let us progress."

Ali had the day off from his job in a shop in a town a few miles outside of Isfahan.

He was on his way to "have a little bit of fun" here with a friend, which meant hanging out in a few cafes and restaurants and maybe drinking some nonalcoholic beer.

Ali said that before the Islamic revolution in 1979 – several years before he was even born – Iran’s then-monarch "cared about his country and wanted to make advances for the people, but then the clerics got involved and messed everything up. It can’t be a coincidence that Iran has so many smart and highly educated people who want to work hard and do well for their families, yet so many of them also want to leave the country."

Below our feet was a more immediately glaring example still of human mismanagement that many people inside and outside Iran say the government has a case to answer for.

The water from the Zayanderud River, which translates as the River of Life and is supposed to run under Isfahan’s Bridge of 33 Arches, had run completely dry.

It had been like that for months, and no one knew when it would return. In place of the water was a cracked riverbed that appeared to exhale small, fine clouds of dust, the consequence of drought but also Iran’s failed water-management policies.

Upriver the water has also vanished as a dam has diverted water for industrial purposes.

"I cross this bridge regularly to clear my head and get a view of the surrounding area, but unfortunately the lack of water under the bridge makes me a little depressed," Ali said, motioning toward a flotilla of brightly-colored pedal boats in the near-distance once used by tourists. These pedal boats sat forlornly on one side of the riverbed as they baked in the sun. They were marooned. Just like Ali.

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