Will Western Sanctions Sway The Iranian Elections?

Iranian flags in Tehran
Iranian flags in Tehran
Christophe Ayad

TEHERAN - In the middle of the election campaign, Washington has found a way to remind Iranians that the next president they will elect will have to pull the country out of an unprecedented economic crisis.

The crisis, of course, is largely the result of the tough sanctions imposed by Western countries in response to Iran’s suspected nuclear program. And last week, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order authorizing a ninth round of sanctions. The new measures target foreign banks and institutions that make transactions in the Iran currency – the rial – or keep accounts in rial outside the country. The Iranian currency has already lost two-thirds of its value since the end of 2011. The sanctions also target the auto industry by banning the sale of goods and services to Iran for car manufacturing.

The goal of these new measures is to freeze rial funds abroad, and prevent the use of the currency in transactions around the world. An exemption system is however planned for countries that have significantly reduced imports of Iranian oil – China, India and Turkey.

In April, Iranian crude exports reached their lowest level with only 700,000 barrels per day. A further drop in the rial could lead to a new surge of inflation, already at 30% and – by its own admission – beyond the control of the Central Bank of Iran.

Sanctions targeting the automotive industry could lead to layoffs in one of the most important sectors in the country after oil and petrochemicals. Car sales by Iran Khodro, the state-owned car manufacturer, were halved this year -- from 1.3 million cars in 2012 to 600,00 this year.

“Because of sanctions, a growing number of companies are neither able to import or export,” explains Michel Malinsky, lecturer on Iran at the French School of Business and Management in Poitiers. “They are not able to pay their suppliers, and sometimes not even their workers. They do not lay off workers because the government forbids them to.”

Month after month, Iranians are suffering and seeing their living standards deteriorate. Meat has reached prohibitive prices – around five euros a kilo – beyond the reach of the middle class. There is a severe shortage of foreign drugs, including cancer treatments, because of the lack of currency or financial mechanisms to import them. Hospital equipment is deteriorating as well.

Even though authorities say that they have managed to diversify their economy to counter Western sanctions – especially in the petrochemical industry, targeted by U.S. sanctions on May 31 – the truth is that the country is not doing so well. “The population is really suffering,” says Malinsky. “The only ‘lifebuoy’ keeping people from protesting in the streets are the welfare benefits paid directly by the state to the poorest.”

How the candidates address the sanctions

In the first televised debate, all the presidential candidates made the economy their number one priority. But instead of talking about the sanctions, which would call into question the implicit choice of a hard line on the nuclear issue, they preferred to sharply criticize the economic management of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In Tehran, during Iran's 2009 presidential election - Photo: mangostar

For those who are less educated and less informed, this vision has a disastrous effect, because it leads them to believe that the country is led by incompetents and thieves – although it is subject to the most draconian economic and financial sanctions since the sanctions against Apartheid in South Africa.

The only candidate to have established a direct link between the consequences of the sanctions and the strategic choices of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is former chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, a moderate conservative who is capitalizing on a pro-reform public that has been long neglected. “Economic slogans are not consistent with our economic performance,” says Rohani. “We chant slogans of resistance, but, in practice, there is no resistance at work.”

Saeed Jalili, the current chief nuclear negotiator and frontrunner in the presidential race, has supported in the past “a resistance economy” to counter sanctions. Jalili is a hardliner with close ties to the Ayatollah. He says the sanctions “present an opportunity” because Iran has, according to him, “other advantages than oil.”

Without going as far as Rohani, presidential hopeful Ali Akbar Velayati, a former diplomat, talked about “building better relations with other countries” to solve the sanctions issue.

Another candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, said during a press conference last week that to uproot inflation, he would seek to defuse Western sanctions by launching new negotiations on the nuclear issue. After the latest round of U.S. sanctions, however, it is doubtful that the Supreme Leader -- the only one who makes these decisions -- will agree with the idea of new negotiations.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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