Iran: On the road outside the capital
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Iran: On the road outside the capital

Iran is big. Iranians are fond of telling visitors that it experiences four distinct climates at any one time, from snowbound mountains to deserts, and its 80 million people are spread across a multitude of diverse locations outside Tehran; indeed, the tourist industry, should it ever truly take off, will be pretty much everywhere but the traffic-throttled, daunting sprawl of the capital.

On the road outside the capital

Seeking to understand this, Euromoney heads south out of Tehran past the international airport and the Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini, its gold dome today bedecked in wooden scaffolding (whatever sanctions do, they don’t stop the maintenance of mosques). 

The first impression is the quality of the highways, which are three lanes apiece pretty much all the way to Shiraz 1,000 kilometres south. This motorway seems in consistently better shape than the M6 motorway in the UK or the New Jersey Turnpike in the US. We’re reminded of a comment from central bank adviser to the governor Ahmad Azizi the previous day, telling us: “Although Iran was under probably the most severe sanctions in history, it doesn’t look like a country under sanctions. People’s standards of living are not poor. It’s not like a country under siege.” 

The local dynamics of the economy are powerful enough to sustain an acceptable level of welfare within itself

Driving through the suburbs of Tehran we have passed the site of a planned mall said to be bigger than Dubai’s preposterous Mall of the Emirates (it is characteristically, said to be primarily backed not by a specialist property developer but Ayandeh Bank).

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