Analyzing and forecasting the Gulf Cooperation Council's geopolitical environment

Post-Sanctions Iran: China-Inspired Dream, Soviet-Style Collapse, or Something Else?

By Philip Gater-Smith
September 8, 2016

Iran’s nuclear deal with the six major world powers, implemented in January 2016, has fueled much speculation both inside and outside Iran. Many are hopeful that the lifting of multilateral sanctions will serve to assuage the decade-long animosity stoked by Iran’s nuclear program. For most Iranians, the removal of sanctions offers an economic lifeline, a possible end to political pariah status, and a re-integration into the global economy. For Americans, Europeans, and Asians, it offers a potential solution to, or deferment of, a pressing security concern, as well as presenting enticing business opportunities. Furthermore, a Western-Iranian détente could well serve as a stabilizing force across the greater Middle East.

So far, however, not much has changed. The uncertainty of Iran’s economic and political future has led both Iranians and Westerners to envision an array of possible scenarios. While Iranian hardliners are largely interested in maintaining the economic and ideological status quo, many young, urban Iranians desire a secular, democratic, capitalist future. For others, the “China Model” – economic opening, but continuing political authoritarianism – offers an inviting roadmap. Still others see the country following in the Soviet Union’s footsteps toward economic stagnation and eventual regime collapse.

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*Philip Gater-Smith is a U.K.-based Middle East analyst who focuses on China’s economic relations with the GCC and Iran.