Statements by the major news agencies about the victory of former Vice President Joe Biden in this year’s presidential campaign led to celebrations in the streets of many major U.S. cities. But 6,000 miles away, in a capital city where the United States is typically more the object of threats, the population added its cheers, albeit somewhat muted: Tehran.
Iranians looked with cautious hope at the prospects for change in the U.S. government, which under Donald Trump meant crushing economic sanctions and constant threats of war.
“Needless to say, Trump, both in his personality and in his Iran policy, is not held in high esteem here,” Ali Ahmadi, a Tehran-based researcher and analyst who focused on U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East, told Washington Newsday.
It has been about five years since Iranians took to the streets to support the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), popularly known in America as the Iranian Nuclear Deal. The diplomatic milestone brought the long-standing enemies USA and Iran, together with other major powers, to an agreement that promised a new way forward for the long problematic relations between the Islamic Republic and the West, especially with Washington.
President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement in 2018 and instead impose increasingly severe economic restrictions brought the country’s embattled economy to its knees. It has also brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war on at least a few occasions, exhausting a population already used to hardship while struggling with a particularly deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
“The fact that the US has abandoned the JCPOA and reinstated sanctions has certainly damaged the livelihoods of many people and undermined the country’s ability to import medicines during this pandemic,” Ahmadi said.
When it became clear that voters in the United States had decided to abandon Trump for Biden, which under former President Barack Obama had falsified the JCPOA nuclear treaty, which he claims he wants to rejoin, some Iranians could not resist expressing their joy despite the strict quarantine and lockdown measures that prevented large gatherings.
“The news that he is losing the election was received with some joy,” Ahmadi told Washington Newsday. “Some people even lit fireworks in my neighborhood.”
Alex Shams, a Tehran-based Iranian-American academic and writer, also said he heard fireworks in the Iranian capital as the flood of voters turned against Trump’s early leadership on election night.
“The people of Tehran received the news of Biden’s election with a big sigh of relief,” Shams told Washington Newsday. “The last four years have been extremely difficult. It is hard to believe that this nightmare could come to an end.”
He recalled the jubilation in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear deal years ago.
“People felt that there was reason for hope again,” he said, “and that peace between the U.S. and Iran was possible.
But he said not everyone was as optimistic as he was.
“Unfortunately,” Shams said, “Trump’s presidency has dashed many of those hopes.
In addition to the suffering caused by the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, Shams deplored Trump’s “racist and offensive policies such as the Muslim ban,” the name given to critics of the policy that banned the issuance of U.S. visas to citizens of Iran and several other majority Muslim countries. Shams also said that “the President’s ruthless attitude and attempts to start a war were terrifying to ordinary people.
However, looking at the collective disappointment that Iranians have experienced in the past, both men noted that Iranians have reason to be pessimistic.
“Many also see falsehood as something built into American politics, so they don’t know what to expect from Biden,” Ahmadi told Washington Newsday.
“Understanding what Biden’s policy will be, what it will mean for the sanctions and how it will affect your life is a complicated calculation,” he said. “Most people are taking a wait-and-see approach at first.”
Shams shared his reservations.
“I think people are also suspicious of Biden, and they are particularly worried about being deceived by the US again,” said Shams, “that’s how you remember s