Iran, a sanctioned country


Iran is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, as its territory was already inhabited in the fourth millennium BC. Archaeological research shows that already at that time, cities were built and a social system existed. The country has a long history, with a number of empires, dynasties and dominions. The richness and diversity of these periods result from the fact that Iran is located in the heart of the Middle East and at the crossroads of Asia, the Caucasus and the West.

Kneeling bull holding a spouted vessel
Photography by mma
Ancient Elam vessel from the 4th millennium BC
Persian warriors, Darius' palace, now in the Berlin Museum, picture by mshamma
Persian warriors from Darius’ palace, 500 BC
Reza Shah Pahlavi
Reza Shah Pahlavi

During the modern Islamic period, Iran’s conversion to Shia in the 16th century was an important step that shaped the country’s subsequent history. Deprived of the influence and conquests of the Ottomans, Iran continued its development. After the “invasion” of the region by Europeans in the mid-19th century, a new period began when a new regime emerged in 1925 with Reza Shah Pahlavi. Under his authoritarian leadership, the unity of the country was consolidated – the population was forced to settle under constraint – reforms were carried out thanks to the higher oil profits generated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, negotiated in 1933 to financially support the government. Reza Shah opted for a pro-German orientation in his foreign policy, but when the USSR and Britain occupied Iran in 1941, the Shah had to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza. The latter strove to modernize and Westernize Iran. With the help of the United States, he initiated the “white revolution” (land reform in 1963) and equipped Iran with a strong, modern army.

Ayatollah Khomeini, young
Ayatollah Khomeini, young

However, the character of some of the reforms angered traditional religious circles, while intellectuals reproached the ruler for his pro-American policies and, above all, for the authoritarianism of a regime that did not hesitate to resort to the most brutal methods to get rid of its opponents. Unaware of the significance of the intensifying protests, the regime withdrew upon itself from 1975 onward, rejecting the legitimacy of opposition parties. These included the Shiite clergy, who were incited by the sermons broadcasted on cassette tapes by Ayatollah Khomeini, then living in exile in Iraq. Although the demonstrations were severely suppressed, they did not stop, and martial law was imposed in September 1978: The beginning of the revolution that would lead to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in January 1979. A new era dawned in the land of the Thousand and One Nights.

Iran is a 1,650,000 km² country in the heart of the Orient. The population consists of 86 million men and women. Since the 1979 revolution, between 2 and 3 million people make up the Iranian diaspora. The population is young and educated, 80% of Iranians are literate.

The seal of the Guardians of the Revolution

The political structure is part of the paradox of this country. Although Iran is Islamic, the country is nonetheless not ruled by the Shiite clergy. Power is divided between institutions with elected and non-elected civil and religious members. The state consists of three powers: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. In the hierarchical order of power, the Supreme Leader (or revolutionary leader) is the most powerful person. He acts as an arbitrator in conflicts between the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Under him are the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, also called the Sepâh-e Pâsdârân. This very powerful group, separate from the regular army, is the guarantor of the integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Revolutionary Guards control the country’s civilian and military strategic functions: the coasts, the missile capacity, the ports through which goods are transported, the companies in the construction, shipbuilding and telecommunications….

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has lived under a regime of economic sanctions and embargoes. In March 1995, an oil embargo was imposed on Iran. In May 1995, an economic embargo was imposed, prohibiting all trade with Iran. In 1996, the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) prohibited all foreign companies from making an investment in Iran of more than $20 million in oil and gas. A second wave of sanctions was imposed after 2005 as a result of the relaunch of research related to the nuclear program. The resumption of the program cast doubt on whether the research was of civilian or military nature. Israel later presented evidence that the program was primarily for military purposes. In the years that followed, sanctions were tightened at the U.S., United Nations, and European Union levels on the economy, as well as on the issue of weapons proliferation. With the signing of the Vienna Nuclear Agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPoA) in 2015, sanctions were eased and there was the prospect of a new beginning towards a “normal” functioning of the country. In particular, the ban on financial assets is being lifted, as is that on fossil fuel trade. However, the new U.S. administration believes that the agreement is not a good one and that the commitments made by Iran cannot be guaranteed. In May 2018, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the JCPoA and introduced a new package of sanctions.

Officials announcing the JCPOA agreement (Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äusseres)
Officials announcing the JCPOA agreement

The country produced 6 million barrels per day in 1974. In 2020, it produces only 4 million and exports only 750,000, although it ranks fourth in the world in proven oil reserves. Given the successive sanctions that have plagued Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the country has struggled to produce and sell its resources. Iran is a country with great potential that has a “dowry” to recover if one day economic sanctions are lifted.

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