Iranians celebrate first Eid al-Fitr after nuclear deal

In Iran the event of Eid al-Fitr this year marks not just the end of Ramadan, but the lifting of years of sanctions

Rajia Aboulkheir
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For Muslims all around the world, the end of Ramadan marks the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr festivities.

But for Iranian Muslims - for whom Eid begins on Saturday, rather than Friday as in the case of its Gulf neighbours - this year’s closure of the Islamic holy month coincides with the signing of the historic deal between Tehran and world powers, making the Eid al-Fitr celebration in the Islamic Republic an extra special event.

“This year’s Eid is very meaningful and it is the first of its kind for Iranians who finally got rid of an ominous file that has been a burden for years,” Iranian affairs expert Hassan Hashemian told Al Arabiya News.

“The celebrations will be different and more important than any other festivities we’ve seen in the previous years as the [nuclear] file is now closed,” Hashemian said, describing the file as a “burden for Iran at “all levels.”

“It is the beginning of a new era in the Islamic Republic… Iranians are relieved to be done with a file that was in the hands of [Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei and other extremists,” he said.

On Tuesday, Iran and major world powers - U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - reached a historic nuclear deal, finishing more than a decade of negotiations, with an agreement that some analysts believe could transform the Middle East.

Under the deal, certain specified sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations will be lifted over a number of months and years, in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on its nuclear program that the West suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.

Iranians, who have lived under the highly restrictive sanctions for years, are hoping that the newly-clinched deal will rapidly revitalize the economy that has shrunk by about 25 percent since they were first applied, according to U.S. estimates.

Ali Noorzad, Chairman of the center for Iranian and Arabic studies in London, echoed Hashemian’s remarks, saying that the unique celebrations will be accompanied by the citizen’s “demands.”

New dimension

“Iranians were going to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in all cases, but the signing of the deal a few days before the end of Ramadan gives the festivities a new dimension,” he said.

“The majority of people in Tehran don’t consider the historic deal as the regime’s victory but as their own victory.”

“They [Iranian citizens] are very clever … they will accompany the festivities of Eid with all their demands for civil liberties, freedom of press and freedom of expression,” Noorzad said, “Just like they started doing right after the announcement of the deal.”

After the announcement of the historic deal, scores of Iranians poured into the streets to call for the release of opposition leaders and demanding new negotiations to secure their civil rights, according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog that monitors democracy, political freedom, and human rights.

Iran has been accused of using the nuclear talks “to impose hardline policies on the Iranian society for years,” Hashemian said.

“For years, the regime was lying and hiding … there was no transparency. Ali Khamenei and other extremists used the talks to toughen red lines on Iranians.”

Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said that “the nuclear energy issue has stalemated many issues in Iran, the most important being the issue of human rights.”

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the international focus on Iran’s nuclear program has hampered efforts to advance human rights reforms.

Meanwhile, Noorzad said the Iranian regime, which he described as “vulnerable,” will not only have to amend its attitude towards its own citizens but also with “other Arab countries.”

“The government cannot use the money freed up by sanctions relief to kill people in other neighboring countries such as Yemen.”

Tehran is widely expected to use a part of the billions of dollars freed up by sanctions relief to step up support for its closest allies in the region, including the Houthi militias in Yemen.

Cautious citizens

Noorzad warned that the relief in sanctions will not happen “overnight” and that most of Iran’s “cautious” citizens know that it is a lengthy process.

“The people of Iran are very happy about both the end of Ramadan and the deal but they are very cautious as well. They know that signing a treaty with the P5+1 does not mean that they are going to enjoy a better society with more rights overnight,” he said, referring to the six world powers who hammered out the deal with Iran.

“In order to get what they want and feel a real change, Iranians will have to wait several months before but also to be present, strong and optimistic.”

The benefits from the deal will probably take months because of the need to verify Iran’s obligations.

Once implementation is confirmed, Tehran will immediately gain access to around $100 billion in frozen assets, and can step up oil exports that have been slashed by almost two-thirds, according to Reuters.

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