Economic decline in Iran has been spiraling out of control for years. In August, the rate of inflation stood at 42.5 percent, and the price of bread reportedly increased by 50 percent. These statistics have been directly reported in state-run media, which would normally be expected to cover up such signs of government policy has failed. But as the crisis has steadily worsened, many state media outlets have found it quite impossible to continue concealing the severity of the problem or even toeing the regime’s line by blaming that problem on external factors like US sanctions.
“Today, the scale of these problems has reached such a level that even if all US economic and banking sanctions on Iran were lifted tomorrow, this action will have little effect on solving the roots of the country’s economic problems and rescuing people from the tsunami of poverty,” said one recent report in the daily newspaper Jahan-e Sanat. The same article described government authorities as having failed to follow through on various promises, resulting in a situation where “the economic, social and cultural problems of the country have become more complex every year.”
Such commentary, from such otherwise loyal sources, undermines efforts by the regime or its apologists throughout the world to blame not only US sanctions for its problems, but also other outside factors like the pandemic. While it is reasonable to conclude that the public health crisis has had a negative impact on the economy in Iran as in most other countries, it is important to bear in mind that that impact has been exacerbated by the fact that Tehran has done nothing to manage the crisis but has actually made it worse in various ways since the very beginning.
Another daily newspaper, Sharq, recently published an editorial that said, “For 20 months, the officials have only advised people to wear masks and maintain social distance. In the meantime, shouldn’t the government have done anything other than give recommendations? The people are taking care of themselves as much as they can, but has the government helped the people?”
This is a far cry from Iranian media’s near-universal endorsement of the regime’s narratives about the pandemic during its early stages. These included the outright denial of the virus’ presence in the country for more than a month, and drastic under-reporting of the infection rates and death tolls once it had been acknowledged. Of course, state media is still not providing an objective assessment of the crisis. Individual outlets would certainly be shuttered by government authorities if true death tolls were reported, but even subdued criticisms might prompt more ordinary Iranian citizens and more interested parties from throughout the world to focus on alternative sources of information about coronavirus in Iran.
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), has been a key source of that information since before Iranian coronavirus infections began to be officially recorded. The MEK network obtained documents from the National Emergency Organization which showed that such infections had been identified but swept under the rug in early January 2020. This helped to guarantee that the virus spread uncontrolled at densely packed public gatherings, putting Iran on an early path to become the worst-affected country in the Middle East.
The MEK’s reports paint an even grimmer picture than that, identifying Iran as one of the worst-affected countries in the entire world, with an overall death toll of around 405,000 and recent daily death tolls in excess of 2,000. This is nearly four times the overall death toll reported by the Iranian regime, but even the lower figure has been enough to prompt a rare outpouring of criticism from state media outlets and officials who are departing the Iranian Health Ministry.
One such official, Dr. Alireza Zali, gave interviews last month in which he accused regime authorities of having eschewed the purchase of effective foreign vaccines not because of supposed concerns about their safety but simply because of their cost. Meanwhile, when the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of vaccines from the US, Britain, and France in January, he actually intended to prolong the pandemic, which he once described as a “blessing,” apparently because it had halted a nationwide protest movement that had proven resistant to even the most brutal government repression.
The state-run daily Ebtekar, recently published an article that said, “It is imperative to pay attention to the issue of stopping the cycle of violence… It is a concept that, if not addressed quickly, will eliminate any hope [to preserve] the system.”
In March 2021, Iranian Resistance leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi pointed to an explosion of unrest in Sistan and Baluchistan Province and speculated that “the fire of the uprisings” was rising from beneath “the ashes of the coronavirus.” This sentiment was reinforced in the wake of the presidential “election“ that brought Ebrahim Raisi to power, with a new surge of protests in various regions of the country, over various issues including non-payment of workers’ wages and a decline in the value of pensions which has left many elderly Iranians incapable of paying for the basic necessities of life. Through it all, institutions like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the office of the Supreme Leader having continued to benefit from their control over what has been called a “financial mafia” by both the MEK and former Iranian officials.
As it was mentioned in an article on the MEK’s website, “While the regime’s leaders have benefitted immensely from the corrupt hold they have on the economy, they are also worried about how all of these problems are compounding and getting back to them.” The article went on to quote the state-run Resalat newspaper as saying “a dormant rage that has piled up” in society and and “the people’s patience is running thin.”