Iran abruptly raised prices as much as 300% for a variety of staples such as cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk on Thursday. Scores of alarmed Iranians waited in long lines to snatch up bundles of food and emptied supermarket shelves across the country in the hours before the price hike took effect.
Panicked shoppers raided stores and stuffed basic goods into large plastic bags, according to footage shared widely on social media. Lines in Tehran snaked out of grocery stores late Wednesday. On Thursday, Iran’s currency dropped to a low of 300,000 rial to the dollar.
Internet disruptions were reported across Iran as the government braced for possible unrest.
Protests appeared to spring up in the remote and impoverished south, according to videos shared online.
The Associated Press said the scenes revealed not only deep anxiety gripping the country and frustration with Iran's leaders, but also underscored the staggering economic and political challenges facing them.
Food prices across the Middle East have surged due to global supply chain snarls and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which both export many essentials. Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has kept many farmers from the fields.
Drought is already ravaging Iran's economy. Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear deal have caused additional difficulties. Inflation has soared to nearly 40%, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. Some 30% of Iranian households are below the poverty line, reports Iran's Statistics Center.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to create jobs, lift sanctions and rescue the economy, but talks to revive Iran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers remain deadlocked. Iranian families have seen their purchasing power rapidly diminish.