Hassan Rouhani took charge of Iran with its socioeconomic safety nets unraveling, thanks to deleterious policies exacerbated by tightened sanctions from the West. Addressing the parliament on July 14, while president-elect, he acknowledged that the nuclear impasse is far from the only factor transforming the Islamic Republic of Iran negatively with impact on other countries. Iran's challenges pose severe consequences at home and abroad.
Sanctions worsen existing problems even as the internet offers Iran widening access to the world beyond. Wealthy or poor, young or old, healthy or ill, Iranians must struggle with restrictions on what they wear, hear, say and with who they interact. Yet more than 30 percent of Iranians have access to satellite television and 61 percent to the internet, circumventing government constraints on communications with the rest of the world. Thus Iranians are well aware that living standards are much higher in the Gulf countries to their south. They see European and North American nations providing not only a comfortable life but sociopolitical liberties as well. Iranians have responded with small, futile gestures, ranging from pumping up the volume of banned music or beating up the enforcers of religious orthopraxy, and there was the populist uprising of 2009. But these are not their only responses. Another reaction is to flee the country. Indeed, Iran remains the largest long-term source of asylum seekers in Turkey and Canada - straining those nations' welfare resources.
Iran's economy and politics are stressful. Mehr News Agency reports that 60 percent of Iranians are overweight and many suffer from preventable diseases such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Iran's fertility rate, already on a downward trend in 2000, has now plummeted by 70 percent as 40 percent of young adults opt to remain single and many others defer marriage until their 30s or elect to have small families. Iran's fertility rate is 1.64 births per woman, reports the World Bank, and, as a result, Iran's hitherto youthful population has begun skewing toward the elderly who comprise 37 percent of citizens, bringing with it mounting burdens for the domestic health network. The result has been a steady outflow of Iranians seeking residence in countries with better healthcare like Britain and Canada. Tehran responded in August 2012 by scrapping family-planning programs and diverting those funds to encourage larger families, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling upon women to have more children. But rather than increasing birthrates, official and religious pressure may only put more stress on women and lead to their abjuring motherhood even further.
In 2011, 35 percent of Iranian students were reported to have dropped out from school, with many assuming there's little career value to be gained from an ideologically-driven educational system. Even individuals who make it into the university system find few opportunities to participate in global knowledge networks. Likewise, socioeconomically advantageous synergies are cut off by gender segregation in public universities and stifled thereafter in public workplaces. Indeed, by Rouhani's own admission, up to 5 million graduates are unemployed. Many search for better opportunities outside Iran, triggering a brain drain that compounds the country's other negative transitions while adding to the skilled-worker pools of Asian countries like Pakistan (up to 120,000 Iranians) and Malaysia (estimated at 100,000 Iranians) in addition to those of the EU and North America. Yet all those nations are facing economic retrenchment, so the arrival of well-educated Iranians is not always well received.