DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran sharply hiked prices by up to 300% Thursday on a variety of staples including cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk. Dozens of alarmed Iranians waited in long lines to snatch food packages and emptied supermarket shelves across the country in the hours before the price hike took effect.
Terrified shoppers stormed stores and stuffed basic goods into large plastic bags, according to images shared widely on social media. Lines in Tehran ran out of grocery stores on Wednesday night. On Thursday, Iran’s currency fell to a low of 300,000 riyals to the dollar.
Internet outages were reported across Iran as the government braced for possible unrest, the advocacy group NetBlocks.org said. The protests appeared to erupt in the remote and impoverished south, according to videos shared online. The Associated Press was unable to verify their authenticity, but the images were from reported events.
The scenes revealed not only the country’s deep-seated anxiety and frustration with Iran’s leaders, but also underscored the staggering economic and political challenges they face.
Food prices across the Middle East have risen due to global supply chain entanglements and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which exports many staples. Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where the fighting has prevented many farmers from working the fields.
Although Iran produces about half of its own wheat, it imports much of the rest from Russia. The war has added to inflationary pressures. Smuggling of highly subsidized bread from Iran to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has skyrocketed as famine spreads across the region.
The drought is already devastating Iran’s economy. Western sanctions over the Iran nuclear deal have caused additional difficulties. Inflation has soared to almost 40%, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. About 30% of Iranian households are below the poverty line, reports the Iranian Statistics Center.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to create jobs, lift sanctions and rescue the economy, but talks to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers remain deadlocked. Iranian families have seen their purchasing power decline rapidly.
The government is trying to act quickly to ease the pain. The authorities promised to pay each Iranian citizen about $14 a month to offset price increases.
The cost of special and artisanal breads, such as French baguettes and sliced bread, has multiplied by 10, say the owners of the bakeries. But authorities are careful not to touch the country’s flatbread subsidies, which contribute more than anything else to Iranians’ daily diet.
Subsidies, and bread subsidies in particular, remain a highly sensitive issue for Iran, which has been plagued by bread riots throughout its history. In the 1940s, bread shortages triggered massive street protests and a deadly crackdown that toppled then-Prime Minister Ahmad Qavam.
Memories of Iran’s fuel price hike three years ago are also fresh. Widespread protests, the most violent since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, rocked the country. Hundreds of protesters were killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International.
But in recent weeks, the government has allowed prices to rise for nearly all other staples, including pasta, until Thursday’s hike for the remaining staples on the Iranian table.
As Iranians vent about rising flour prices, the most trending hashtag on Twitter in recent weeks has been #macaroni, the term Iranians use for all kinds of pasta.
“I’m sure the government doesn’t care about ordinary people,” Mina Tehrani, a mother of three, told the AP while visiting a supermarket in Tehran. She stared in amazement at the price of pasta: now 165,000 riyals a pound, compared with 75,000 riyals last month.
Iranians who had given up meat or dairy to save money have nothing to cut, Tehran resident Hassan Shahbazzadeh complained.
“Now even macaroons are removed from your dining table,” he said.
“This jump in the price of flour has driven people crazy,” said Saleh, a grocery store worker in Susangerd, a city in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, home to an ethnic Arab population. which has denounced discrimination and includes separatists. movement.
Saleh said the price of a 40-kilogram sack of flour had soared to the equivalent of $18 from $2.5 in recent weeks, stoking intense anger in the restive province.
“Many ran to grocery stores to buy macaroons and other things for their daily needs,” he said, giving only his first name for fear of retaliation.
Tempers have also flared in Iran’s parliament.
“The waves of rising prices have left people breathless,” Kamal Hosseinpour, a lawmaker from the Kurdish area, thundered at a parliament session earlier this week. “Macaroni, bread and cooking oil are the main staples of the weakest people in Iran. … Where are the officials and what are they doing?”
Other lawmakers have directly rebuked hardline President Raisi.
“The administration is incapable of managing the affairs of the country,” said Jalil Rahimi Jahanabad, a lawmaker from Taibad province, near Iran’s border with Afghanistan.
Government supporters have described the price increases as “necessary economic surgery”, part of a reform package approved by parliament. Some social media users have ridiculed the term, saying officials removed the patient’s heart instead of the tumor.
As outrage grows online over rising inflation, Iranian authorities appear to be preparing for the worst.
Internet monitoring group NetBlocks.org told the AP it was tracking internet outages on a “national scale” that are “likely to affect the public’s ability to communicate.” Article 19, a global investigative organization that fights censorship, reported Thursday that authorities appeared to have cut off almost all Internet connectivity in cities in Khuzestan province.
Since the country’s disputed presidential election in 2009 and the Green Movement protests that drew millions into the streets, Iran has tightened its control over the Internet.
Videos have surfaced on social media in recent days of Iranians gathering in the dark on the streets of the southern province of Khuzestan, chanting slogans against price hikes and the country’s leaders. Iranian state media have not publicly addressed the protests.
The issue of high prices “is related to security,” lawmaker Majid Nasserinejad said ominously. “People can’t tolerate it anymore.”
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.