Tehran Diary Four Iranians on Life in the Time of Sanctions

For the third time, SPIEGEL asked residents of Tehran to compile a diary about everyday life in Iran. In this installment, some 100 days after President Hassan Rohani took office, four Iranians share their hopes, fears and daily woes.

By Nasrin Bassiri and

In 2010, a year after the obviously rigged reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad resulted in bloody unrest, SPIEGEL editor Dieter Bednarz and German-Iranian journalist Nasrin Bassiri asked five Tehran residents to describe their everyday lives. Additional diary excerpts were published a year later.

A few of the authors were subsequently persecuted, partly for criticism of the regime voiced in their diaries. Political activist Kouhyar Goudarzi was arrested and accused of having had contact with SPIEGEL, but he then managed to flee to Turkey. Mohammad Mostafaei, an attorney known for his battle against stoning, evaded arrest by fleeing to Norway. Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was held in the notorious Evin Prison until recently.

Nevertheless, three of the diary authors decided to share their thoughts once more with SPIEGEL. Graphic designer Reza Chandan is part of the group for the first time, though as the husband of attorney Sotoudeh, he is already familiar with the diaries.

Thursday, Oct. 31

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

I leave the house in a hurry. I've overslept and I'm two hours late. I wave for a car, but not the usual communal taxi. If I take a taxi for myself, I can apply makeup during the trip. The driver looks pleased. I'm getting into his cab in Niavaran, a neighborhood in the far north of Tehran, where the palaces of the former Shah are located and where the air is still relatively clean. Those who live in this neighborhood are considered rich. I already know that I will argue with him over the price at the end of the trip. I'm not rich. I work for a large advertising agency and earn the equivalent of €200 ($268) every two weeks.

The driver watches me in the rear-view mirror. I have allowed my headscarf to slide down to my shoulders so I can adjust my hair and do my makeup. I don't expect that we'll encounter the morality police until we reach busy Tajrish Square. But I was in such a hurry that I forgot my makeup bag. I have the driver stop at a pharmacy, where I witness an argument. A salesman is snapping at an old woman, telling her he doesn't have the medication she wants. He tells her to go to Naser Khosrow Avenue, where there is a black market for pharmaceutical products. The scene makes me furious, because the woman, a sad-looking figure in a black chador, will hardly be able to afford the prices there. There are tears in her eyes as she silently leaves the shop.

What angers me the most is that everyone in Tehran knows that the pharmacists have plenty of drugs in storage. But they don't sell them at regular prices, preferring to sell them on the black market. Everyone tries to survive in his or her own way. The salesman wants to charge me more than €35 for some lipstick, mascara and skin cream, but I don't want to pay it. I'll have to go to work ugly today.

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

My weekend begins today, because there are no special projects waiting for me at work. I take my 14-year-old daughter Mehrawe to the weekly market, which is organized by the city administration. Fruit and vegetables are still affordable there, but not everything is of good quality. In the middle of the bustling market, I receive a call from a customer. I have to go to the office immediately if I want the job. It annoys me that I'll have to do my shopping later in stores that are a lot more expensive.

A female friend visits us in the afternoon. She is a member of the Bahá'i faith, a religious minority persecuted by the government. Many members of the Bahá'i faith are executed. Our visitor shared a cell with my wife for a long time. Over the years, we got to know her family very well during our visits to the prison. The children played together and are friends today.

We drive to the grave of blogger Sattar Beheshti, far outside the city. We want to commemorate his death. Sattar was a laborer who fed his family, which was very poor, and blogged on the side. He didn't have a lot of readers when he died in detention last year from the effects of torture. Sattar is a national hero today. We encounter about 100 people at his grave, including many members of the security forces. They had confiscated the loudspeakers before our arrival to prevent people from making speeches.

That evening, we attend a reception for my wife, where there are about 30 Bahá'i families. They are grateful to Nasrin for taking on their cases. In the past, no one advocated on behalf of the Bahá'i. Now there are at least a few lawyers willing to defend them. On this evening, Nasrin is greeted by a wave of love.

Ghazaleh Zarea, IT expert

I haven't had a weekend off in a long time. As an IT expert, I earn the equivalent of €200 a month, as long as my bosses don't run out of money. They often have difficulties because of the sanctions. But sometimes they just use the boycott against Iran as an excuse to exploit us. Whenever I have the opportunity, I write examination papers for students. Their parents often scrape together their meager funds to give them a good education. I can charge up to 1.5 million toman, or about €440, for an extensive study. I also teach people how to use computers. I'm paid €50 for 10 lesson units.

When I recently attended my grandmother's funeral in Khorramabad, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Tehran, I saw how impoverished the people are there. Some of the guests came primarily to get a decent meal.

We always hear that in the course of a people's history, entire generations must sometimes make sacrifices so that the country can achieve its goals. I wouldn't complain if the sanctions affected everyone equally. But corrupt politicians prefer to line their pockets. If we protest against it, they have us arrested. Perhaps they'll hold me accountable for my openness, and perhaps I'm even putting my life in danger, but I've suppressed too many screams. It's time to let them out.

Friday, Nov. 1

Mohsen Sahabifar, construction supervisor

When I wake up in the morning, I'm almost always thinking about our debts. We owe about €290 a month for rent, which doesn't include the costs of water, electricity and the telephone. But my salary at the construction company is only €230. We would be ruined without my wife's salary at a bank. When my daughter asks for an ice cream, I have to think long and hard about whether we can afford it. A serving of ice cream is five times as expensive as it was a year and a half ago.

Samaneh Ahmadian, artist

On holidays, I go out and enjoy myself or I stay home at my parents' house, as I'm doing today. The documents for the university in New York have to be filled out. Why do I want to go back to America? I don't even know.

I have to think about our future here in Tehran. The United States used to be the "Great Satan" for Iran. But now President Rohani spoke with Barack Obama when they were both in New York, attending the United Nations General Assembly. My friends here are full of hope. They believe that everything will get better now, and that our cultural life will also develop more freely under Rohani. I'm skeptical.

I can hear the loud voice of a BBC announcer in the living room. My father keeps up with the news. He wants to know what's happening in the world. He turns up the volume so that everyone else in the household can also hear the news. The BBC is reporting on attempts in Washington to tighten the sanctions.

I hear my mother's voice. The supermarket has delivered her groceries for the coming week, and she is upset about the prices, which she says have "gone up astronomically." I look at my bank statement. There is nothing in my account. My boyfriend has a birthday soon, but I can only buy him a small present. The gifts get smaller every year.

Reza Chandan, graphic artist and husband of Sotoudeh

This evening, we had an interesting discussion with friends on the question of revenge versus forgiveness. The conversation was prompted by Abbas Amir-Entezam, who paid a visit to the judge who had sentenced him to life in prison. Amir-Entezam was the deputy prime minister in the interim cabinet of Mehdi Bazargan, the first head of the government after the revolution. He received a life sentence for allegedly spying for the United States. He probably sat in jail longer than any other political prisoner in the history of the Islamic Republic. In light of his poor health, he was given a furlough. And what does he do? He goes to the hospital to visit the judge who gave him such a harsh punishment and is now on his deathbed. Many admire him for that, while some are critical.

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spon-facebook-1293446340 11/14/2013
1. optional
Well, I think you would have gotten a better and more realistic insights from those who do not have their names and pictures publicized here. What are you trying to tell us here? Obviously these people do not portray the real Iran in fear of being prosecuted by Government.
spon-facebook-10000657663 11/14/2013
2. Who did you interview?
As an Iranian I enjoyed reading these opinions. But it seems like you only included depressed people with no hope. Majority of people in Iran don't feel this way. I never even heard of anyone committing suicide in Iran. But this article tries to portray a very gloomy and depressing view of Iran which is not an accurate image. I'm really disturbed by all of this propaganda on Iran. I wish you would've included a wide range of different people that represented the real image of Iran not only these people. One more thing this article says that Iran executes people from the Bahai faith, well I know they suffer from discrimination. But they are not executed. Again, this article portrays a very inaccurate image of the situation. Please try to more realistic for your next report.
senzen 11/19/2013
3. Interesting
It's always good to hear different perspectives.
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