Iranians size up Trump with cautious curiosity

A short drive from Tehran's imposing "Down with the U.S.A." mural, a small bookstore is doing a brisk business selling books by Donald Trump. As Nahlah Ayed reports, some Iranians eager to learn more about the president-elect are having to start with his get-rich books.

Residents of Tehran eager to learn more about Trump the man are buying up his motivational books

Iranian satirical cartoonist Keyvan Varesi, who works for a newspaper called Qanoon, published a cartoon of Donald Trump as the Joker on Tuesday. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

A short drive from Tehran's imposing "Down with the U.S.A." mural and a dash from the towering depiction of Barack Obama as a villain, a small bookstore is doing a brisk business selling books by Donald Trump.

On the display window outside, a white sheet of paper declares the "Trump books have arrived."

Inside, a modest stand is half full of copies of Why We Want You to be Rich, which has a young-looking Trump on the cover.

Outside a bookstore in Tehran, a sheet of paper announces the 'Trump books have arrived.' (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

No single mural or isolated scene from a bookstore can sum up the complex range of sentiments people here have about their country's longtime nemesis, the United States.

It's equally difficult to pin down a common view of the rival country's antagonistic and swaggering president-elect, especially because so many people here prefer to refrain from talking politics with foreign journalists.

Buying Trump books

But in the weeks leading up to Trump's inauguration as the 45th president, there appears to be a surge of curiosity about him.

"People come in looking for books on Donald Trump — like an autobiography," says Ali, a sales clerk at the bookstore who didn't wish to be identified beyond his first name.

Instead, what customers find are Trump books translated into Farsi with titles like Think Big and Think Like a Billionnaire.

Two more of Trump's get-rich books for sale in Tehran. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

"We always have to explain to these people that [Trump] has also been a successful business person … and gives guidelines on how to become rich," Ali says.

And so in the absence of a biography, a publisher recently reprinted Why We Want You to be Rich to meet the rising demand.

'One of the worst deals ever' 

Beyond being known for his motivational tomes and his new powerful role, what puts Trump on the front pages here is his repeated criticism of the deal Iran signed with world powers in 2015 to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the removal of sanctions.

Trump has said he plans to tear up the agreement, which also counts Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany among its signatories.

CBC correspondents around the world are watching how people inside and outside the U.S. are reacting to the impending inauguration of Donald Trump. Read our full coverage from

In comments this week to European publications, Trump didn't go quite that far, but said he still believes the agreement is "one of the worst deals ever made."

"I think it's one the dumbest deals I've ever seen," he said.

Those comments landed him on at least one front page here Tuesday. And lingering division over the deal seemed to determine how his comments were received.

They have rattled the deal's proponents, including U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, one of its chief architects.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dismissed Trump's criticism of the nuclear deal as 'slogans.' (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Rouhani dismissed Trump's commentary on the deal Tuesday as mere "slogans" and said Trump doesn't have the authority to unilaterally cancel the agreement.

"This isn't a bilateral deal," he said in a press conference marking the first anniversary of the lifting of sanctions under the Joint Plan of Action (JCOA).

"It is a multilateral agreement. So it is meaningless and senseless to once again talk and negotiate regarding nuclear issues."

But in a country where hardliners label the U.S. the devil, there are certainly competing views about the deal.

An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters)

At a time when the nuclear deal's dividends are still just trickling in, Trump's tough talk resonates with its critics here and those who oppose rapprochement with the West, however circumscribed.

It also resonates with those who believe the deal was already being undermined under Obama, says Prof. Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a professor of American studies and English literature at the University of Tehran who was born in Richmond, Va.

"So some people are saying, 'Well, if [Trump] scraps the deal then at least Iran's hands are no longer tied,'" says Marandi.

"Others are saying maybe he is going to be more pragmatic about the region and therefore he may be more pragmatic towards Iran and want the deal to work."

For the hardliners — in the political establishment and general public alike — more comfortable with an acrimonious relationship with the U.S., a Trump presidency, on the eve of Iran's own presidential elections, is a serendipitous gift.

An anti-U.S. mural in Tehran. (Marius Bosch/Reuters)

The uncertainty around Trump is a source of personal concern for some Iranians, such as students hoping to study in the U.S. or those who have family there. A young man we spoke to at a news stand who did not wish to be identified said his relatives in the U.S. have experienced increased harassment and racism since Trump's election.

And then there are those with wider concerns like caricaturist Keyvan Varesi, who says he's worried Trump poses a danger to the world.

Varesi says Iranians 'need the peace' that comes with the nuclear deal. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC )

Varesi is concerned about the fate of the nuclear deal and says Iranians "need the peace that comes with it."

But he's also troubled, he says, because "the whole world is like a village and it's facing some common problems, like global warming and unrest in the Middle East."

That's why in his latest caricature he drew Trump wearing a pin of the Earth on his lapel. The president-elect is depicted as the Joker, an agent of chaos and arch enemy of Batman.

Here's a photo of Varesi's cartoon of Trump as the Joker. (CBC)

It's how Varesi imagined American artists would see Trump.

"Mr. Trump," he said, "as [leader of] one of the most influential countries in the world, can lead the world towards war or towards peace."


Nahlah Ayed

Host of CBC Ideas

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's spent nearly a decade covering major world events from London, and another decade covering upheaval across the Middle East. Ayed was previously a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.