IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

When Iran reached a landmark nuclear agreement with the international community in 2015, Iranian youth were especially happy.

After struggling with sanctions and isolation for many years, young people hoped their country was entering a new chapter in which it would be seen as a constructive actor on the international stage. They were proud of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a seasoned diplomat and negotiator, and believed that economic growth would return and that their society would become more politically open.

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A female truck driver in a burgundy headscarf stood on the side of a highway to Mashhad, explaining in a video sent to Voice of America Persian that she was joining a truck driver strike. It wasn’t long before the video and others like it caught the attention of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). ITF posted a statement on its Twitter account saying it stood in solidarity “with the truck drivers across Iran who are on strike calling for better pay, lower fees, basic workers’ rights, and safer roads.”

Social media has played an important role in spreading images and footage of the striking drivers as they parked their trucks in port cities and the Esfahan and Kermanshah provinces. Since the truck drivers’ strike commenced on May 22, drivers have heavily relied on social media platforms accessed through circumvention tools to get the word out, including the now-banned messaging app Telegram. Thanks to coverage of the strike, which reportedly now includes gasoline tanker and taxi drivers in some cities, the Teamsters—the largest labor union in the world—also threw their support behind the strikers.

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Following the lifting of international sanctions in January 2016, there was a great deal of optimism for Iran’s oil economy. Even though the global oil industry was a year into a price collapse, many companies were eager to explore investment opportunities in Iran’s neglected oil and gas assets. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Iran’s oil ministry were also enthusiastic about revitalizing Iran’s oil and gas fields and bringing new discoveries online with the help of foreign investment and expertise. 

However, in the nearly two and half years between the end of international sanctions and President Trump’s May 2018 decision to reinstate US sanctions, Iran accomplished very little in terms of revitalizing its oil industry. In the early months that followed the lifting of sanctions, Iran’s oil industry appeared to make a strong return to the global market. Although Iran’s initial production and export numbers seemed to paint a picture of a vigorous and recovering oil industry, the facts behind the numbers tell a different story.

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In negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Barack Obama administration had goals beyond non-proliferation. It was seeking to “pivot” to Asia and to reduce US military involvement in the Persian Gulf that dates back to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

This goal, which was ennunciated before Obama took office in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, reflected US concern about a rising China, the huge costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars, as well as a desire to benefit from more interaction with the fastest growing economies in the world.

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Since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement on May 8, political debates in Tehran over leaving or remaining a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have become increasingly tense.

The twelve steep demands outlined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21 as supposed ingredients for a “better” deal have further fueled what is shaping up as a revival of the power struggle within Iran’s complex and opaque political structure.

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Iranian women have excelled in the sport of “futsal,” a variation of soccer played on a smaller, hard court. The Iranian team in May 2018 reconfirmed its top position in Asian futsal, winning the championship match 5-2 over Japan with a dazzling five goals in the second half.

Success in the sport has brought pride to Iranian women and shown that it is possible to empower women within an Islamic framework. It has also underlined controversy over the government’s treatment of women athletes and fans, in particular the continued ban on women attending sports events in stadiums where men are also present.

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US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, and thus re-impose broad sanctions against the Islamic Republic, sends a clear signal that Washington has reverted to a full containment policy against Tehran. But, lacking a clear overarching Middle East strategy, US policymakers do not appear to be weighing the merits of this pursuit in the context of the United States’ long-term rivalries with China and Russia. While Tehran’s contentious relations with its neighbors to the west are the subject of intense focus, inadequate attention is being paid to the geostrategic implications of transformations to Iran’s east. A new “Great Game” for political and economic dominance is being waged in Eurasia that will impact the lives of almost two-thirds of the world’s population, and could lead to a further weakening of Western influence over the international system. China and India are currently in the lead, with Russia following closely in the hopes of shaping any outcome to its advantage. The Europeans lag behind, and Trump’s Iran containment strategy risks further holding them back.

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Hezbollah’s emergence as the strongest political faction during the Lebanese May elections confirms Iran’s sway over Lebanon, with the party now capable of securing an unchallenged veto at the parliamentary level and an absolute majority if it secures the right alliances. The recent electoral results also underline Hezbollah’s continued grip over its community despite ongoing governance challenges, and could herald instability for the Land of the Cedar amid escalating regional tensions.

The May 6 Lebanese elections granted Hezbollah a comfortable majority. “Hezbollah’s block is unwavering since 2009, with thirteen seats for the organization. The main difference is that now, with allies such as the Syrian Nationalist Progressive Party, Amal, the Baathist movement, and the Marada’s advances in parliament (included in the hard March 8 core), the coalition is now in control of forty-five seats, which represent a third of Lebanese parliament,” said electoral expert Kamal Feghali in an interview with the author. The March 8 alliance is headed by Hezbollah and aligned with the policies of Iran and Syria. 

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Several years ago, Henry Kissinger famously stated that Iran must decide if it wants to be a country or a cause. On May 21, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo re-articulated this question, offering Iran a sharp choice: to be welcomed back into the community of nations if it abandons its destabilizing security policies or be subjected to an unrelenting US-led pressure campaign if not.

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The day before widespread protests broke out in Iran last December, Vida Movahed, 31, stood on a utility box in Tehran, took off her white headscarf and waved it before a crowd.

In the weeks since then, dozens of other women have done the same, earning the nickname the “Women of Enghelab [Revolution] Street.” Their acts of disobedience against compulsory veiling in the Islamic Republic have been conflated with the economic protests that convulsed Iran for several weeks and that continue sporadically. But the economic demonstrations were largely by young men in provincial cities and towns; the hijab protests, mostly confined to Tehran, should be seen as a parallel movement and not an extension of the economic protests.

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