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Iranian Economists Call For 'Civil Movement' To Counter U.S.-Led Sanctions

An Iranian man walks past a currency-exchange shop in northern Tehran. Sanctions on Iran have caused the rial to plunge in value, driving up the cost of imports.
Three prominent Iranian economists have called for the creation of a "civil movement" against U.S.-led sanctions that have been imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program.

The call comes as ordinary citizens bear the brunt of the sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy and contributed to soaring prices. It appears to be a sign of growing concern among Iran's elite over the damage the sanctions are inflicting on the country's economy and the life of Iranians.

According to local media reports, the economists are calling on Iranian civil-society activists, intellectuals, academics, artists, and others to reach out to the world and speak out against the sanctions, which they describe as "illogical" and "unfair." The election of Hassan Rohani, who campaigned on a platform of moderation, has paved the way for the creation of the antisanctions campaign, they say.

In response to Iran's refusal to stop sensitive nuclear activities, the United States and the European Union have imposed tough new sanctions on Tehran over the past three years. The measures restrict Iranian overseas oil sales and bar transactions in Iran's currency through Western banks.

The call for a civil movement against the sanctions was initiated on July 1 by Mousa Ghaninejad, an economist at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University. Ghaninejad published an article in the economic daily "Donya-e Eghtesad" in which he called the sanctions a hostile act that threatens peace.

"Hasn't the time arrived for all civil-society groups supporting peace and friendship to let the world hear their protest against unfair, illegal, and immoral policies?" he asked.

'A Tool For Enmity And Conflict'

Ghaninejad elaborated on his call at a recent roundtable discussion with another senior economist, Mohammad Mehdi Behkish of Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran. The text of the discussion was published by Iranian media on July 14.

The two say the proposed movement should spread the message that the sanctions are harming the Iranian people. Pointing to sanctions against countries such as Cuba, North Korea, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, they argue that such measures rarely achieve their goals.

"If the issue of Western countries is political, then they should solve it through diplomatic means. Why are they using the economy as a tool for enmity and conflict?" Ghaninejad asks.

He adds that since "the politics of moderation and prudence" has achieved victory in Iran with Rohani's victory, there is no "excuse" for continued international pressure.

Intellectuals Needed

Ghaninejad says the campaign should try to influence public opinion in Western countries that have imposed sanctions on the Islamic republic. "Public opinion in the Western world is important and influential," he adds. "For example, one of the reasons that forced the United States to retreat in the Vietnam War was the campaign that was launched in U.S. and European universities."

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Rohani's election has been described by some former U.S. diplomats, national security experts, and several congressmen as a potential opportunity that could lead to the resolving of the nuclear crisis.

Others, including Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, have dismissed Rohani's election and say that the United States should intensify pressure on the Islamic republic.

Behkish says that "the international atmosphere" has changed as a result of the victory of Rohani, who has vowed more transparency in Iran's nuclear activities and improved ties with the world.

He adds that the support of Iran's intellectuals, who have come under increasing state pressure, would be key for the campaign to be successful. "Our intellectuals have been harmed; we have to do something for our intellectuals to join this movement," he writes. "Although I believe that after [the June presidential vote] their views are also to some extent being changed."

Finding 'A Single Voice'

Economist Saeed Laylaz, who was jailed in the crackdown following the 2009 presidential election, has also expressed support for the creation of an antisanctions movement, which he describes as "necessary."

In an interview with the news website Fararu, Laylaz said he believed Rohani's victory has removed differences between Iranians and the Islamic establishment. "When in a country there is no unity between the people and the government or between the different parts of the establishment, it cannot speak in a single voice against the world order," he said.

Laylaz, who advised former President Mohammad Khatami on economic issues, added that the time had come for the creation of a civil movement that will demonstrate to the world that U.S. sanctions are "wicked." He said that sanctions "will not bring Iran and the people of Iran to their knees because most of the problems in the country's economy were the result of mismanagement."

He said the movement should prove that the United States and Israel are wrong to call Iran a danger to the world.

Iran says all its nuclear activities are peaceful. But the United States and other countries accuse Iran of secretly working to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the goal of the sanctions is not to punish the Iranian people. The sanctions, they say, are aimed at preventing Iran from pursuing a military nuclear program.

However, activists campaigning against the sanctions argue that sanctions hurt the people of Iran, and not those who rule the country.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author 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.

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