When 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died at the hands of Iran’s morality police last September, says Esfandyar Batmanghelidj in Foreign Affairs, it was hailed as a “pivotal moment”. The incident sparked protests across the country, involving remarkable displays of bravery from women; some observers thought they were witnessing “the initial stages of a revolution”. Yet seven months later, the demonstrations have fizzled out and “the Islamic Republic still stands”. What happened? In part, it was the state’s “violent response”, which left 500 protesters dead. But a more important factor is money. With their country gripped by high inflation and “languishing” economic growth, almost a third of Iranians now live below the poverty line. Most people simply cannot afford to go on strike.
The West bears some responsibility. For years, it has imposed “stifling sanctions” on Iran, partly in the hope that doing so will one day foment regime change. But in reality, making life more economically precarious for ordinary Iranians merely “reduces their capacity for political action”. This shouldn’t be hard to fix: the US and EU could “retool” their restrictions to make it easier for Iranians to receive remittances, store money abroad and freelance for Western businesses. Something has to give. Under the status quo, Iranians don’t have the money to effect the change the West is hoping for.