‘They're imposing famine on us’: Soaring food prices fuel angry protests in Iran

Protesters in Andimeshk, in southwestern Iran, took to the streets on May 12 to decry soaring prices for basic goods.
Protesters in Andimeshk, in southwestern Iran, took to the streets on May 12 to decry soaring prices for basic goods. © Observers

Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in cities across southeastern Iran since the beginning of the week. They are protesting against sudden increases in the price of staple foods, which have soared up to 300% for some products. Our Observer is a protester hit hard by the runaway inflation, which she says has been brought on by the Iranian regime.

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On June 9, conservative President Ebrahim Raisi announced changes to a system of subsidies as well as increases in the prices of many basic products, including cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk, in order to confront Iran’s economic difficulties in the face of international sanctions. The increases are also linked to soaring prices throughout the Middle East, as well as ongoing inflation in Iran over the past decade. 

Authorities justified the move by saying that the subsidy system had primarily benefited the wealthiest Iranians, adding that they would help lower class people deal with the price increases through targeted initiatives such as food stamps and cash aid. 

But in recent days, people have been struggling to obtain basic necessities. Lines have stretched outside of food stores where some people have been seen fighting over cooking oil. Others have turned to looting. 

A video shows people fighting over cooking oil in a shop in Karaj, west of Tehran on May 12.

Since May 8, the internet has been cut off in Khuzestan, a province in southwestern Iran, where the first demonstrations began taking place on May 11. Despite the cut-off, some videos have emerged, showing thousands of people protesting in Izeh, Dezful, Andimeshk and Shahr-e-Kord. Local activists reported that the protests were severely repressed, with many injured and one dead after police fired on the crowd in Andimeshk on May 12. Authorities have not released any figures regarding injuries and deaths in the protest.

Protests in Andimeshk in the southwest of Iran on May 12. People chant “Death to Khamenei”.

In 2019, at least 1,500 people were killed during Iran’s last major protest movement, triggered by a sudden rise in the price of petrol.

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‘I’d prefer a quick death in the protest to the slow, painful torture we are enduring right now’

Alam (not her real name) is a young Iranian living in a town in the southwest of Iran. People in her town have been holding anti-regime protests in opposition to rising prices. 

The internet is down in our region, however the town is not that big and people were still able to gather in the main street of the city, it came about spontaneously. I joined them alongside my brothers and cousins too. There were thousands of people I think – old, young, men and many women.

We chanted against the regime: “Mullahs must go”, “Death to Khamenei”, “Our stupid leader is a shame” and more. And the people will continue this to the end. They tried to disperse us. They shot tear gas, lots of them shot in the air and toward people. I heard some people in the city got injured. We were there past midnight. There are lots of police, and Basij forces [Editor’s note: a militia, the paramilitary branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps] in the streets.

Protests in Dezful, in southeastern Iran on May 11. People chant “Death to Khameni and Raisi”, the Supreme Leader and president of Iran.

There were lots of anti-Khamenei slogans simply because he’s the one responsible for our situation. His politics over the past 30 years have brought us here – useless uranium enrichment, interfering in internal affairs of neighbouring countries, stupid enmity with Israel, the list is long.

Video from the vicinity of Andimesk in southwestern Iran on May 12. We can hear gunshots ring out.

We are angry, we are fed up and I don’t care what will happen next. Nothing can be worse than this. I just want the mullahs to go.

All of my brothers and cousins and myself are university graduates and all of us are jobless. We have to live with our parents, who cannot make it through the month. And it’s not just us, I think half of the young people in our town live in the same situation. They live with their parents, with seasonal work here and there.

Security forces shoot tear gas to disperse the protesters in Izeh, in southwestern Iran on May 12.

According to official statistics, more than 22% of Iran’s youth are unemployed. This same figure is more than 33% in Khuzestan.

Our town is not that big, we never really had any robberies or burglaries, but in recent years, we’ve been hearing more and more that someone's cell phone was pickpocketed, or someone's house has been robbed.

We try to earn money as much as we can but there are no jobs. We may be able to find a seasonal job or something, but with that it’s impossible to live a normal life. By that I mean you can’t travel or go to restaurants with friends or have any kind of fun.

For at least three months, we haven’t been able to buy any meat because it’s too expensive [Editor’s note: prices for meat in Iran average at around 6 euros per kilo]. Chicken is more affordable [usually costing around 2 euros per kilo], and a few weeks ago we had a little bit.

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‘With the skyrocketing prices of bread, pasta, oil and eggs, what else can we eat?’

And now, with the skyrocketing prices of bread, pasta, oil and eggs, what else can we eat? A week ago, a half kilo of pasta was around 12,000 toman [0.4 euros], but now it’s 28,000 [0.93 euros]. Oil was 120,000 [4 euros] for four litres and now is 400,000 [13.3 euros]. If you can find it, bread is twice as expensive as before. These are – or were – our staple food ingredients. And our family revenue is about 6,000,000 toman [200 euros], for four people [Editor’s note: Minimum wage for one person in Iran is about 5.7 million toman or 189 euros]. We have to pay the bills, healthcare and everything with it. 

Honestly, we are considering eating maybe once a day to keep going. They are imposing famine on us for their stupid opposition to the USA, while they all are corrupt and living a luxurious life, buying luxury condos in Canada or Turkey.

Our country is rich, we have an ocean of oil and gas underneath us, but these bandits rob it from us, or spend it on Syria, Lebanon or Yemen [Editor’s note: to support armed groups in those countries]. Enough is enough. I hope people from other cities join us, to make a general revolt like in 2019, but we have to continue to the end this time. I know they would kill lots of us, but it’s a quick death. I prefer that to the slow, painful torture that we are enduring right now.

According to official records, half of the Iranian population lives under the poverty line and one third under the absolute poverty line. In other words, one in three Iranians is deprived of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information.