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The Farda Briefing: Iranians Celebrate Norouz Under The Shadow Of An Economic Crisis And State Crackdown

People celebrate the Persian New Year in Tehran this week.
People celebrate the Persian New Year in Tehran this week.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following over the past week, and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iranians are celebrating Persian New Year, Norouz, under the cloud of a dismal economic situation and currency drop, and amid a brutal state crackdown on antiestablishment protests that rights groups say has claimed the lives of more than 500 people.

Many Iranians, already struggling to make ends meet, can't afford to treat their families during the Norouz holidays due to soaring prices. Domestic media have reported that there's little holiday cheer due to an economy that has been crushed by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement.

"The spirit of Norouz is not flowing in society," the daily Taadol said in a recent report, adding that astronomical prices have broken people's backs. Others have said they're not in the mood for celebration due to the blood spilled in the deadly state crackdown.

In recent days, relatives of some of those killed have gathered at their loved ones' graves to keep their memories alive, while others have turned their traditional Haftsins into altars for victims of the state crackdown.

Why It Matters: This Persian New Year has arrived in an atmosphere of gloom and growing frustration with the clerical establishment. Yet Iranians fighting for freedom and democracy, particularly women, should be proud of their bravery and defiance against the repressive Iranian establishment.

"It's true that we have become poorer, but at the same time we became more united, and our fight received international attention," a woman in the Iranian capital told me.

What's Next: There are few signs that the economy will improve in the new Iranian year amid warnings by economists that the inflation rate, currently at about 50 percent, could worsen. Talks on the restoration of the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled, and Tehran has become more isolated due to its deadly crackdown on protesters and its supply of drones that Russia is using in its unprovoked war against Ukraine.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Hundreds of people, including scores of children, have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on antiestablishment protests. Here, we look back at the significance of the demonstrations and list the more than 300 people whose deaths we have independently verified.

Women in the Iranian capital, Tehran, burned their head scarves during celebrations of the annual fire festival known as Chaharshanbe Suri ahead of Persian New Year, as parliament proposed new measures to enforce the compulsory wearing of the hijab, including the use of surveillance cameras.

What We're Watching

Iran has been engaged in increased regional diplomatic outreach, as evidenced by the Chinese brokered agreement between Tehran and Riyadh announced on March 10 and other recent steps.

A senior Iranian official said President Ebrahim Raisi has welcomed an invitation by King Salman to visit Riyadh. There has been no confirmation from Saudi officials.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 19 that Tehran has proposed to Saudi Arabia three locations for a meeting with his Saudi counterpart.

Amir-Abdollahian also said Tehran hopes for improved relations with Bahrain and the removal of some of "the obstacles" between Tehran and Manama. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were among countries that followed Saudi Arabia in severing ties with Iran in 2016 in the wake of attacks on Saudi missions in Iran and the execution of a prominent Shi'a cleric by the kingdom.

Separately, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, visited the United Arab Emirates to improve ties, while also signing a border-security agreement with Iraq to increase coordination and the "strengthening of cooperation in several areas of security."

Why It Matters: Iran appears determined to improve its relations with regional foes and neighbors and to strengthen diplomatic and trade relations in an attempt to decrease its isolation and lessen the impact of U.S. sanctions that have crippled the country's economy.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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