Iran raises prices of staple food, sparking panic and anger

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — On Thursday, Iran abruptly raised prices of several staples including cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk by 300 percent. Dozens of panicked Iranians lined up to snap up food and emptied supermarket shelves across the country in the hours before the price hike took effect.

Panicked shoppers searched stores and stuffed essential goods into large plastic bags, according to footage widely shared on social media. There were long queues at grocery stores in Tehran late Wednesday. The Iranian currency fell to a low of 300,000 rials against the dollar on Thursday.

Advocacy group NetBlocks.org said internet outages were reported across Iran as the government prepared for possible unrest. Protests appear to have sprung up in the remote and impoverished South, according to videos shared online. The Associated Press was unable to verify its authenticity, but the video matched the reported incident.

The scenes not only reveal the nation’s deep anxiety and disappointment with Iran’s leaders, but also highlight the enormous economic and political challenges they face.

Food prices have soared in the Middle East, both of which export many essential goods, due to global supply chain disruptions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Half of Iran’s cooking oil is imported from Ukraine, where fighting has left many farmers unable to farm.

Although Iran produces about half of its own wheat, most of the rest is imported from Russia. The war increased inflationary pressures. As hunger spreads across the region, Iran’s smuggling of heavily subsidized bread into neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has surged.

Drought has ravaged Iran’s economy. Western sanctions over the Iran nuclear deal have created additional difficulties. Inflation surged to nearly 40 percent, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. According to the Iranian Statistics Center, about 30 percent of Iranian households live below the poverty line.

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi has pledged to create jobs, lift sanctions and rescue the economy, but talks to revive the tattered nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain deadlocked. The purchasing power of Iranian households has declined rapidly.

The government is trying to act quickly to ease the pain. Authorities have pledged to pay each Iranian citizen about $14 a month to compensate for the price increase.

Specialty and artisan breads, such as baguettes and sandwich breads, cost 10 times more, bakery owners say. But authorities are careful not to touch subsidies for the country’s flatbread, which contributes the most to the daily diet of Iranians.

Subsidies, especially bread subsidies, remain a highly sensitive issue for Iran, which has been plagued by bread riots throughout its history. In the 1940s, bread shortages sparked massive street protests and a deadly crackdown that led to the ouster of then-Prime Minister Ahmed Qawam.

Memories of the rise in Iranian fuel prices three years ago are also still fresh. Widespread protests – the most violent since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 – shook the country. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International.

But in recent weeks, the government has allowed prices of nearly every other staple, including pasta, to soar until Thursday’s rise in prices for table basics left on Iranian tables.

As Iranians vent their emotions about rising flour prices, the most trending hashtag on Twitter in recent weeks has been #macaroni — the term Iranians use to refer to all types of pasta.

“I believe the government doesn’t care about ordinary people,” Mina Teherani, a mother of three, told The Associated Press as she browsed a supermarket in Tehran. She stared in shock at the price tag of the pasta — now 165,000 rials a pound, compared with 75,000 last month.

Tehran resident Hassan Shahbazzadeh complained that Iranians who gave up meat or dairy to save money had little to cut.

“Connecting pasta is now off their table,” he said.

“The rise in flour prices is driving me crazy,” said a grocery worker in Sassanged, a city in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, home to an ethnic Arab who has been accused of discrimination. Among them was a separatist. move.

Saleh said the price of a 40kg bag of flour had soared from $2.50 to $18 in recent weeks, sparking outrage in the troubled province.

“Many people rushed to the grocery store to buy macaroni and other things to meet their daily needs,” he said, giving only his first name for fear of reprisals.

Iran’s parliament also erupted in temper.

“The wave of rising prices is taking people’s breath away,” Kamal Husseinpur, a Kurdish regional lawmaker, exclaimed in a parliamentary session earlier this week. “Macaroni, bread and cooking oil are the main staples of Iran’s vulnerable people. … Where are the officials and what are they doing?

Other lawmakers directly condemned hard-line President Lacey.

“The government is incapable of managing the affairs of the country,” said Jalil Rahimi Jahanabad, a lawmaker in Taiibad province, near Iran’s border with Afghanistan.

Supporters of the government have described the price hikes as “necessary economic surgery” – part of a reform package approved by parliament. Some social media users mocked the term, saying officials had removed the patient’s heart instead of the tumor.

Iranian authorities appear to be preparing for the worst as anger over rising inflation runs high online.

Internet monitoring group NetBlocks.org told The Associated Press that it was tracking Internet outages “on a national scale” that “could affect the public’s ability to communicate.” Authorities appear to have shut down nearly all internet connections in cities in Khuzestan province, Article 19, a global research group against censorship, reported on Thursday.

Iran has tightened its grip on the internet since the country’s contentious 2009 presidential election and the Green Movement protests that drew millions to the streets.

Videos have surfaced on social media in recent days of Iranians gathering in the dark on the streets of the southern Khuzestan province, chanting slogans against rising prices and against the country’s leaders. Iranian state media has yet to publicly address the protests.

Lawmaker Majid Nasserinejad ominously said the issue of high prices was “safety related”. “People can’t take it anymore.”

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.



Source link