A rare public exchange between an Iranian student and her foreign minister over Iran’s nuclear program recently offered a unique glimpse into mounting public frustration experienced by Iran’s middle class, impoverished by nuclear sanctions.
On October 18, the student posted an anonymous letter on the Facebook page of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — which is followed by over half a million people — responding to an update he posted on nuclear talks underway between Iran and the West in Geneva. The letter, which asks bitterly why the government is so preoccupied with “this nuclear energy,” was first picked up by an Iranian blog and translated by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
Newly engaged and penniless, the 26-year-old student told Zarif that she was considering dropping out of a prestigious masters program in Tehran because she could not even afford the bus fare into town.
“I am an Iranian. Why is it that in my country — where my family sacrificed martyrs and soldiers — I have no welfare? Why am I unemployed? Why do I have no proper nourishment? Why do I have no money?” she asked. “This nuclear energy; where is it? what do I receive of it? will I be employed in nuclear energy?”
A series of international sanctions designed to pressure Iran to curb its rogue nuclear program have dealt Iran’s economy a serious blow, cutting revenues from the sale of oil in half. As the student’s letter indicates, these sanctions are being painfully felt by Iran’s young middle class in a country where more than half the population is under 35.
“During the summer season electricity is constantly cut, so where is this energy security? even if it’s good for the country’s future, why must we be the victims? why must the development of future generations come at the expense of our ashes? how have we sinned?”
Wishing the foreign minister a speedy recovery following reports of his acute back pain, the student ended her letter by noting that many in her generation are alive but hope to die.
“Do something to end the sanctions,” she appealed, “so that prices go down, so that rent is cheaper, so that food is more affordable, so that the job market grows, so that medication and medical treatment don’t cost lives, so that we enjoy security and welfare.”
While shirking responsibility for creating the economic crisis, Zarif answered the letter on his Facebook wall by promising to do what he could to ease the suffering of Iran’s citizens.
“Believe me that in every moment of office work and negotiations I see myself indebted to each and every one of you, and I hope I can do something to ease the burden on your shoulders. With God’s help and your support, we will carry out this work patiently while safeguarding the country’s rights,” the minister wrote.
“A little patience,” he concluded. “The dawn is near.”