Once known as a magician on the field, a legendary soccer player hailing from a humble southern Tehran neighborhood has in recent years been more of an activist than anything else. Ali Karimi has now launched a boycott campaign, calling on Iranians to refrain from buying capital goods and investment commodities, which he says have been unfairly high-priced amid an untamed wave of inflation that has hit the country following the US pullout from the nuclear deal.
“Let’s not buy anything for one month; no gold coins, no vehicles — nothing which has turned expensive. Let’s get united once and for all, like other countries where people avoid purchasing goods after sudden price jumps. This will force the sellers to regulate the prices. Everyone stand up for this, so that we can cut off the hands of the thieves and the middlemen,” Karimi wrote in Persian on his Instagram page.
His message spread fast. Several other celebrities, including popular actress Mahtab Keramati, followed suit by republishing the former soccer player’s boycott call, while a Twitter hashtag titled “I will stop buying” was immediately created.
The push by Karimi comes in response to a recent acceleration in inflation, which many trace to the drastic devaluation of the Iranian rial in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Long lines of Iranians outside foreign exchange offices were just one sign of public anxieties about looming economic instability. The lines only went away after the authorities stepped in to unify the exchange rate and crack down on any resulting “black market.”
After the implementation of strict foreign currency controls, the search for liquidity switched from a rush to dump the rial to purchases of gold coins, real estate and automobiles, the latter posting high sales margins after reports that some foreign carmakers planned to pack their bags and leave the country.
Leading Iranian newspapers also addressed Karimi’s call. In its June 18 edition, the Reformist Etemad daily praised the legendary soccer player for seeking solutions through action by ordinary Iranians rather than the government. “Karimi calls on people to avoid waiting in lines for gold coins, cars and dollars, a move that is independent from decisions by politicians. The initiative by the soccer star is admirable amid the current wave of regret [about re-electing President Hassan Rouhani] that has filled social media, where people only find fault with the government,” Etemad wrote.
Aftab, another Reformist daily, showed no sign of optimism, however. “This campaign will fall flat just the way similar ones did in the past,” the paper’s column said. The newspaper questioned the workability of Karimi’s campaign and justified the market rush by citing the example of a 43-year-old teacher who bought a Peugeot 206 in an advance payment scheme to make up for the devaluation of his cash and not for personal use. According to experts quoted in the article, buying gold coins could be a remedy these days for average Iranians who need to push themselves past the breadline in the worsening turbulence.
Another observer, Soheil Rezaee, described gold as the commodity of crisis times, bought when one senses that rainy days are just ahead. “Our people proved that they were smarter than our Central Bank governor. He asked people not to save up on gold coins. But they rejected the call. … Since gold is not a hoarded commodity at the moment, boycotting it would not make sense and would never change things for the better,” the expert told Aftab.
Rouhani's economics deputy Mohammad Nahavandian meekly defended Karimi during a popular program on state TV. “Public awareness has reached levels where our people decide to stop buying commodities that have been unreasonably priced,” Nahavandian said.
The top Rouhani aide described the price hikes as an “illusion of inflation rather than real inflation.” He spoke of fresh foreign exchange regulations to be imposed by the government in two weeks’ time, but did not elaborate.
“The US scored an own goal by withdrawing from the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. Washington has now been left alone, while Tehran has won support from most of the world,” Nahavandian said as he downplayed the impact of the US adieu to the nuclear deal.