By Eileen AJ Connelly
For some Iranians, President Donald Trump’s hard-line strategy against their country brought political hope even as it brought economic misery.
But they expect just the opposite from President-elect Joe Biden: the economy might improve, but the chances that the dictatorial ayatollahs could fall are fading fast.
Two years after the U.S. imposed tough sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s economy is crippled, the Times of London reported. Millions of Iran’s middle class have fallen into poverty, while inflation has skyrocketed to 41%.
And mass demonstrations have roiled the country for nearly a year. Tens of thousands took to the streets last November to protest a doubling of gas prices. In January, Iran downed a Ukranian commercial airliner, igniting more unrest. Crowds demanded the resignation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, yelling “death to the dictator.”
Yet, despite the public signs of growing opposition to the regime, some Iranians believe an outside force is needed to help bring about political reform. They stand firm that Trump would have been that force if Americans had given him a second term.
They compare Trump’s approach to President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 challenge to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev — to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Communist regime that had divided Germany. Foreign policy experts later credited Reagan’s words with helping usher the Soviet Union’s collapse.
“The Trump administration was the only U.S. administration to distinguish between Iran in terms of its people, history and geography, and the Islamic Republic as its governing body,” said one Iranian Trump supporter who lives in the ancient city of Shiraz. “From this viewpoint, the Islamic Republic is no longer an unalterable fact, and it could change.”
“Trump is kind of attractive for people like the Iranian middle class because he bullies anyone — and in Iran, the one who bullies, he or she has power,” said a journalist who lives in Tehran.
A story that the journalist wrote wrote online about the U. S. election generated a surprising amount of pro-Trump response.
“The feedback I received showed people maybe want Trump to win – and it really shocked me,” she said. “I know there are lots of people who think it’s not so good for us that Biden is here because he’ll talk to the government, everything will go back, and the Islamic Republic will survive.“
Yet experts pushed back on the idea that another four years of Trump would have led to a change in leadership.
“Had Trump won, we would have expected inflation to continue and to worsen. That had been the trend over the past year, and was exacerbated by COVID-19 situation,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the think tank Bourse & Bazaar.
“That would have caused an increase in political instability and unrest, because of a situation where more Iranians would have been pushed into poverty. It would probably have led to the government being somewhat delegitimized and a low turnout in elections. But these are all very different from the collapse of the regime.”
Trump wanted the Iranian people to rise up against the ayatollahs, agreed Ellie Geranmayeh, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. But she noted that crackdowns have followed protests and no opposition leaders strong enough to command an uprising have emerged.
Many Iranians, she said, take the chaos that has erupted after mass uprisings in countries like Syria as a warning.
“There is a lot of frustration at the political leadership, but many people are focused on making ends meet at the moment,” said Geranmayeh. “There’s no example they can point to and say that regime change has worked out well – all they see is insecurity.”