When it comes to Iran, it appears that there is only one media story in town – The impact of renewed US sanctions. Earlier this month, Washington’s restrictions on Tehran turned up a notch, targeting Iran’s lucrative oil industry. And it would appear that every media outlet is determined to keep this new phase of sanctions in the public eye, each one searching for its own angle on the story.
A Reuters headline bluntly stated, “Iranian jobs go as U.S. sanctions start to bite.” Reporter Bozorgmehr Sharafedin estimated that “hundreds of [Iranian] companies have suspended production and thousands of workers are being laid off because of a hostile business climate mainly caused by new U.S. sanctions.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post ran an alarming headline, claiming that “Fresh sanctions on Iran are already choking off medicine imports.” Erin Cunningham’s article suggested that the increased US restrictions are having a “chilling effect” and “could endanger the flow of humanitarian goods” into Iran.
In the UK, the Daily Express took a different tack, reporting that such is Iran’s financial desperation over sanctions, that the Tehran authorities are resorting to revitalizing gold and copper mines. Sam Stevenson went as far as to identify locations where these efforts might be based, reporting that “Key locations include central Isfahan province, the eastern South Khorasan province, East and the West Azerbaijan provinces.”
Even reporters focusing on alternative Iran-related issues, seemingly could not resist raising the alarm over the impact of sanctions. In The Guardian, Patrick Wintour covered Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s visit to Tehran, in order to discuss the tragic fate of dual UK citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains cruelly imprisoned on spurious charges. Nonetheless, Wintour could not help but report Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif’s contention that sanctions “would hit ordinary people.”
The singular attention given to US sanctions and the apparent determination to grasp any opportunity to report on them, appears to have blinded the world’s media to the real story unfolding – Open protests by the Iranian public against their own government.
The current discontent is centered around the Haft-Tapeh sugar mill complex in the southwestern town of Shush. Workers have been on strike for weeks, over unpaid salaries. However, this has proven to be the touchstone for an outpouring of anger over a wider range of grievances. It has been left to local and regional media to take up the story.
Radio Farda reported that labour unrest in Iran has “intensified in the past twelve months” and that a major complaint has been the government’s failure, or reluctance, to deal with corruption. Similarly, another report said that “the lack of clean drinking water and unequal water distribution” was a cause of anger. Iranians are understandably livid with their leaders – The average Iranian has become 15% poorer over the last decade. During the same period, the country’s military budget has increased exponentially, as Iran’s leaders have chosen military adventurism over basic welfare.
Other reports reveal more about the nature of the current protests. Tellingly, they are not aimed at Washington. Rather, the protestors are angrily pointing the finger at their own government. Radio Farda reported that protesting workers in Shush shouted “Our enemy is right here; they lie saying it’s America,” and “Death to the oppressor!” “Peace be upon the worker!” Such examples of brazen dissent in a country where arbitrary detention is common, is nothing short of remarkable.
Yet, this appears to have passed by the global media, which remains single-mindedly focused on the wider diplomatic powerplay over sanctions. In reality though, the true drama is unfolding at Haft Tapeh sugar mill and other pressure points in Iran, where ordinary people can no longer contain their anger at their own leaders. It is time their voice was heard more widely.