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Iranians tighten their belts for Persian New Year festivities

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TEHRAN, Iran – Millions of Iranians will travel with their families on Wednesday to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year, but economic woes in the sanctions-hit country are weighing on the festivities.

Iranians will celebrate the start of the year 1403 at exactly 6:36 a.m. 26 seconds on March 20, which corresponds to the astronomical time of the spring equinox.

Around the world, some 300 million people will wish each other a “Happy New Year” (“Nowruz mobarak”), notably in Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and among the Kurds of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

“It’s the most important holiday of the year, the one where you forget your problems to get together with your loved ones and dream of a better year,” said Marjan, a young woman from Tehran who, like the other AFP interlocutors, said: refused to give his full name.

Celebrated for 3,000 years, Nowrouz marks a two-week break during which Iranians travel within the country or, for the lucky ones, abroad. Still, many are planning reduced celebrations this year.

“Food products are much too expensive because of inflation,” Afshar, a 44-year-old accountant, told AFP at Tajrish Bazaar in northern Tehran.

Annual inflation officially stands at 44 percent, according to local media, after reaching 46 percent last year.

“I bought meat at 700,000 tomans (about $12) per kilo, but I only earn $9.8 million ($160) per month after 30 years of career,” said a Tehran resident 68-year-old who wished to remain anonymous. .

In an effort to simplify transactions, Iranians have long called their currency the toman and removed the zero.

The situation is deplorable

“The situation is deplorable,” said Ghassemi, a 28-year-old real estate agent, calling on the government “to mobilize to improve the situation and better manage the country.”

During the last Nowruz, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged that Iranians felt “bitterness” due to “high prices, especially of food and basic necessities.”

He then tasked the government to take steps to implement “inflation control.”

Iranian authorities have blamed Western economic sanctions for the price surge.

Sanctions were reimposed by the United States in 2018 after Washington unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 deal that eased sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Since then, the Islamic Republic has suffered from continued devaluations of its currency and soaring prices.

Despite headwinds, Iran recorded stronger-than-expected growth in 2023.

The International Monetary Fund estimated growth reached 5.4 percent last year and raised its forecast for 2024 from 2.5 percent to 3.7 percent.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi recently denounced “the enemy’s strategy” which, according to him, aims “to create despair within society”.

He was speaking two weeks after the March 1 legislative elections, which recorded a turnout of just 41 percent, the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

New Year during Ramadan

“There is great discontent” with the “economic, employment, poverty or inequality” situation, Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, said on Saturday. reformist newspaper Etemad.

Many Iranian experts have attributed the low voter turnout to popular discontent over economic issues.

For the second year in a row, the Nowruz festivities coincide with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on March 11 in Iran.

Eating, drinking and smoking in public are banned in the Islamic Republic during Ramadan, when worshipers fast from dawn to dusk.

However, in recent years, authorities have somewhat relaxed the strict rules during Ramadan.

Some cafes and restaurants, in specific areas, such as near hospitals, are allowed to open during the day.

Restaurants must, however, respect strict conditions, including covering their windows so that the interior is not visible to fasting passers-by.

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