Not so long ago, things were looking up for Iran. The 2015 nuclear deal its government agreed with the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany lifted tough sanctions, allowing for a sharp increase in Iran's oil production. It unlocked billions of dollars in long-frozen assets. European companies arrived in Iran in search of deals. The country's economy began to improve. Public expectations for brighter days lifted spirits.
Iran's geopolitical environment was also improving. Barack Obama did not favor Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional rival, as past U.S. presidents had done, particularly since Iran's 1979 revolution. Nor was he as friendly with Israel. After years of civil war, Iran's most important regional ally, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, had proven the resilience of his regime. The Saudi war on Iran's Houthi allies in Yemen wasn't going well. The balance of power in the Middle East appeared to have shifted strongly in Iran's favor.