Iranian regime is currently in the process of changing the name of the national currency. Compared to the Rial, the Toman will have four fewer zeros on price tags and in exchange rate calculations. So, while it would currently take nearly 150,000 rials to purchase a single US dollar, the exchange rate for the Toman would only be about fifteen-to-one.
Of course, this does not actually change the value of Iran’s currency. It is just a way of applying makeup to the deeply scarred Iranian economy. The declared purpose of the change is to inspire renewed national pride in Iran’s economic position. But ordinary Iranians are unlikely to view the situation much differently. Whether their daily bread costs a handful of Tomans or a truckload of rials, the effect will be the same. Such expenses leave large and growing numbers of Iranians broke until they receive their next meager paycheck or find another way to make ends meet.
Speaking of daily bread, recent reports indicate that the prices for this and other essential commodities are going up. The regime officials such as the director-general for grain and trade services in Kermanshah, have disputed those reports. He said on April 25, “This rumor is not true at all, and we do not see any increase in the price of flour and bread.” But other officials, in other localities, have acknowledged the increases while doing their best to pass them off as inconsequential.
It goes without saying that the Iranian people will not see things the same way. Last November, a majority of those people responded furiously to similarly dismissive public statements about increases in the price of gasoline. Those increases had been announced quite abruptly, and the regime’s surprise at the backlash demonstrated the extent to which government officials have isolated themselves from the hardships of the civilian population.
The November uprising quickly spiraled out of control, with participants not only condemning the regime’s economic mismanagement but also calling for radical reorganization of the regime itself. Slogans like “death to the dictator” re-emerged in that context, after having previously been popularized in another nationwide uprising, which encompassed much of January 2018.
Panicked by bold anti-regime sentiment, regime authorities responded with brutal crackdowns. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International also confirmed that agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence had been shooting to kill the protesters. The Iranian leading opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK) was first to report that over 1500 people were killed by the regime. This death toll has since been confirmed by various independent sources such as Reuters or the US government. This figure could still grow as some activists are facing the death penalty, while others are still being deprived of medical treatment for injuries they suffered during the uprising, before being jailed.
By apparently signing off on further increases in the price of key staples in recent weeks, Iranian regime’s officials have demonstrated they are unwilling and unable to change course on economic policy following the unrest brought on by gasoline increases. On one hand, it could be that their mismanagement is so pervasive that they can think of no other means of addressing the country’s problems, least of all in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Not only has the regime failed to deliver any meaningful relief from that crisis; it has also ordered many workers to return to their jobs and resume generating revenue for the government, even as the official number of Covid-19 cases surpasses 100,000. Alternative data presented by the MEK suggests that the number of cases has long since exceeded one million and that the death toll is now around 40,000, more than six times the 6,000 reported by the regime.
This situation has arguably helped to expose the full extent of the regime’s inability to safeguard the people. And in that context, price increases can be understood as an act of desperation, aimed at raising government revenue with which to respond to unrest that is inevitable to re-emerge sooner or later.
On the other hand, it could be that the regime’s officials are simply unwilling to change policy yet believe they can more effectively forestall unrest this time around. A rational or humane government would have responded to the prior unrest by learning relevant lessons about the public’s will and the hardship of an underclass. But if the mullahs’ regime has learned anything at all, it is only that its prior efforts to suppress the expression of that public will be inadequate.
The emerging changes to the national currency promise to make it difficult for ordinary people to directly compare the prices they’d paid in the past to those they will be paying in the future.
These tactics can only confuse the public for so long, however. Iranians have already suffered precipitous declines in quality of life as a result of the regime’s corruption, self-serving political priorities, and systematic misappropriation of funds. Any further decline will be both obvious and intolerable, regardless of whether families can attach precise numbers to the phenomenon.
And when that happens, there can be little doubt about where the public will direct its rage. Two prior uprisings and countless smaller-scale protests have made it clear that the people understand their escalating hardships are attributable to the structure and leadership of the theocratic regime, and not merely to local officials or temporary conditions or sanctions.
The shift from Rial to Toman, once again, indicates that the regime is relying upon propaganda that downplays the problems Iranians are facing. However, those people cannot possibly be deceived by that strategy, under the circumstances. Sooner or later, they will spark yet another uprising.