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Iran's economy may be struggling, but that doesn't mean everyone is suffering.

In a downtown Tehran restaurant, a well-dressed young man who asks to be identified only as Ahmad sits with a friend enjoying a water pipe of flavored tobacco.

Ahmad is a bit vague about what he does – first he says he's in the petrochemical business, then describes himself as an independent trader. He shares the general consensus that President Hassan Rouhani has brought a better atmosphere to the country, but no real economic changes.

Ahmad's own problems, however, might not elicit much sympathy from most Iranians.

"The regulations definitely need to be changed," he says. "Take importing cars to Iran: The tariff is 105 percent on each car. I wanted to import two Mercedes, but you can only think about one."

Income inequality is one problem Rouhani faces, but the Iranian president says better economic times are coming for his country. Iranians are desperate to believe him, but beyond the marginal improvements that come with greater confidence in the new administration, very little has changed on the ground.

Iranians are pinning their hopes on a nuclear agreement and better relations with the outside world — achievements seen as difficult at best.

Another major problem that Rouhani faces in lifting Iran's economy is the opposition of entrenched interests who profit from Iran's isolation. For instance, the powerful Revolutionary Guard is a major economic player.

One graduate student who gives only his first name, Arman, says things hit a low point under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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