Power of the Deal: How the Iran nuclear deal will fuel reform of a pariah state

By Hunter Carter

The middle class, possibly the most polarizing battleground for politics and businesses alike, preaches the importance of its growth. In the United States the middle class is a symbol of economic mobility charged with political fervor and responsibility, and figures seeking office often play to its desires. While this is something we see played out in western cultures quite often, it is possible that this phenomenon is taking place even in less democratically-oriented countries, including the former pariah state of Iran.

How sweet the deal

Recently Iran signed on to a hotly disputed and controversial deal, restricting the development of its nuclear weapons research program in exchange for relief from years of heavy sanctions on many facets of its economy and the unfreezing of foreign assets long held out of reach. This sudden influx of economic power was well displayed, as it promptly flooded the oil market with millions of barrels of crude, driving prices even lower than previous months but bringing in a much welcomed financial boost for the country. Obviously not all of that money made it back to the people, but even they could begin to feel the effects as the weight of the sanctions was finally lifted off their shoulders.

Iranian FM M. Javad Zarif shaking hands with the US Secretary of State John Kerry during the Iranian nuclear talks. Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Even before the deal between Iran and world powers was signed many Iranians rejoiced the coming relief as many of them hope to simply live like other people around the world, as the sanctions imposed on the government was felt primarily by its people and especially by the budding middle class. Now even though only a few months that have passed since the deal fully took effect the standard of living for the people of Iran has taken a dramatic turn for the better, and that is extremely important. A Harvard study found that standards of living goes hand in hand with democratic trends, especially in a countries middle class, and this has already shown to have had an impact on Iranian political mentality with the recent sweeping of the parliamentary elections by reformists candidates who took all 30 seats.

While the Ayatollah still holds more power than the other seats of government, this is a major victory for reform minded organizations who value most not returning to a conservative agenda. Many conservative policies of the former administrations were credited with the tense international relations that led to the heavy sanctions in the first place, which in the end affected the lives people far more than it did the ambitions of the government.

Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 23, 2015. Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Testing the limits

Though the government and especially the supreme leader Ayatollah will likely continue to test the limits of the deal, as it recently has with the testing of conventional ballistic missile tests and their standard anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric, it is unlikely that they will actually attempt to withdraw from a deal that has benefitted their people so much in such a short time. In fact this deal could actually allow them to amass more power in the long term, especially economically, so long as they continue to stay within the guidelines of the deal. Though the ballistic missile tests did not violate the deal, it is likely they are more a show of force that they were willing to risk, even at the cost of some re-instated sanctions, to help flex their power against regional aggression from both Israel and more importantly Saudi-Arabia. It is also likely that they will continue to flex what they can to make up for weaknesses perceived in their signing of the nuclear deal, especially as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen intensify.

The road ahead

Secretary Kerry Embraces Under Secretary Sherman After P5+1 Members Conclude Nuclear Deal. Wikipedia Creative Commons.

The recent test of ballistic missiles and wave of rhetoric will likely only be just another installment of a series that will surely continue, but time has already started to tell that each new entry will become less antagonistic and maybe even less inflammatory with each passing. The effects of the nuclear deal are already being felt, and it is highly unlikely that they would ever intentionally seek to go back to the heavy economic sanctions now that they have experienced what it is like with real economic mobility. Even as the Iranian government continues with its agenda, it is likely that the people will do everything they can to influence and appeal to the political realm for more economic freedom to improve their standard of living. The US and other world powers would do well to take part in the blooming advantages of a newly opened Iranian economy, and perhaps foster relations with the businesses and the people that run them to help achieve cooperation that might not yet be possible with the state governments. One thing is for sure though, this is the start of a new Iran.



  • Bloomberg.com; Iran’s Middle Class Plans for Life After a Deal; April 19, 2015
  • Harvard.edu; Determinants of Democracy; 1999
  • Huffingtonpost.com; What It’s Like in Iran Now That the Nuclear Deal Is Closer to Becoming Reality; September 15, 2015
  • Aljazeera.com; Iran: Missile tests do not violate nuclear deal; March 10, 2016


Hunter Carter, 24 years old from Winston-Salem North Carolina. Graduated High Point University class of 2014 with Bachelors of International Relations. Seeking MA in Intelligence and Security at Patterson School of Diplomacy and Commerce at UK. Intern at Kentucky Office of Homeland Security Intelligence Fusion Center.



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