How Iranian Citizens’ Priorities Differ From The Regime’s – Analysis


By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Tensions have been running high in the region over recent days, especially since the killing of three US soldiers in a drone strike targeting a military base on the Jordan-Syria border. The US administration blamed the incident on Iran-aligned paramilitaries and on Friday began its retaliation against the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign currency and gold markets witnessed remarkable surges, amounting to 20 percent in a single week. However, it is clear that these surges are temporary and will come to an end soon, with prices declining to previous levels. The statements of Iranian officials, particularly those at the central bank, have failed to convince and assure Iranian citizens, who have resorted to gold and US dollars as depositories for their savings.

The divergence between the Iranian government’s priorities and the aspirations of its citizens is becoming increasingly pronounced. While the majority of Iranians desire improved economic conditions, individual freedoms and amicable international relations, the regime appears more focused on imposing a specific lifestyle, exporting its ideology to the region and engaging in actions that disrupt neighboring countries. This growing gap underscores the disconnect between public aspirations for a stable and prosperous life and the regime’s pursuit of regional dominance.

The supreme leader’s rhetoric on Iran reaching the pinnacle of success and the president’s claims of global astonishment at the country’s progress have become subjects of ridicule among Iranians. Authorities in Iran acknowledge the skepticism but attribute it to a lack of clear communication about the efforts, successes and innovations contributing to the country’s development. Despite these justifications, Iranians find it challenging to be convinced, as their daily experiences paint a tangible reality that contrasts with the bold assertions made by their leaders.

In recent years, a stark reality has emerged in Iran, marked by a decline in food security and increased malnutrition, as is evident in the reduced consumption of essential food items. Hadi Mousavi Nik, former director of social welfare studies at the Ministry of Cooperation and Labor, revealed last year that 57 percent of the Iranian population experiences malnutrition, falling short of the daily recommended intake of 2,100 calories. This malnourished population includes 14.5 million children, with 10 million of them being under the age of 12.

In recent years, the Iranian regime has faced the daunting task of persuading its citizens about the country’s progress while grappling with alarming statistics, such as the rising number of people unable to afford red meat. A report from the Research Center at Sharif University of Technology disclosed that the percentage of families unable to consume red meat in 2021 surged to 58 percent, compared to 27 percent in 2006. This translates to approximately 49 million Iranians foregoing red meat throughout the year, highlighting significant economic challenges for a substantial portion of the population.

Masoud Rasouli, secretary of the Meat Packaging and Protein Materials Industry Union, emphasized the concerning trend in red meat consumption, stating in August 2022 that the per capita intake had dropped compared to the previous year, reaching approximately 3 kg. Some media sources predict a further decline, estimating that the per capita consumption of red meat in 2023 could have been less than 1 kg annually. These figures underscore the ongoing challenges faced by Iranians in maintaining basic dietary standards.

The contrast is striking when compared to global figures. In Turkiye, the per capita annual red meat consumption stands at 27 kg, while it is 49 kg in the US, 40 kg in Argentina and 30 kg in Europe. Notably, FAO reports from 2022 highlight that several countries, including North Korea, Tanzania, Iraq and Ghana, recorded higher per capita red meat consumption than Iran.

The recent surge in red meat prices, soaring to about 650,000 tomans per kilogram, has exacerbated the situation. Even if the monthly government cash support of about 400,000 tomans per individual was allocated entirely to meat, it would only allow for the purchase of about 620 g. This challenge extends beyond meat, as Assistant Minister of Health Alireza Olyaeemanesh noted a 30 percent decline in Iranians’ consumption of dairy and its derivatives.

Instead of addressing the issue directly and ensuring the availability of meat for its citizens, the government has proposed unconventional solutions. Hamid Hosseinian Khoshroo, head of the Grains Department at the Deem Foundation for Agricultural Research, which is linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, suggested compensating for the decrease in red meat consumption by encouraging alternatives such as chickpeas and lentils. Other officials have proposed meeting protein needs through plant-based foods, nuts and fruits, instead of meat. However, these suggestions seem out of touch with the reality faced by citizens, as only a limited segment of society can afford these alternatives, which often exceed the cost of meat.

Malnutrition has left its mark on Iranians in recent years. According to Mohammed Taqi Hosseini Tabatabai, the scientific official of the 18th Conference on Emergency Medicine and Common Diseases in Pediatrics, there is a significant prevalence of short stature, underweight and thinness in certain regions, all attributed to malnutrition. Faramarz Khodaiyan, director of food and beverage products at the Food and Drug Administration, reported that about 22 percent of children under the age of five in Iran face short stature due to malnutrition. Additional statistics reveal that 11 percent of Iranian children suffer from being underweight, while 5 percent experience extreme thinness.

It is natural that the priorities of Iranians — 68 percent of whom are reported by the World Bank to be either poor or at risk of poverty — are different from the regime’s agenda. Despite the harsh weather, many Iranians are, amid economic challenges, reluctant to purchase winter clothes. The regime, however, continues to enforce a specific lifestyle on the Iranian people, while simultaneously pursuing destabilizing policies in the region, escalating tensions. This approach is likely to continue unabated, given the regime’s confidence that the US administration lacks the will or seriousness to curb its actions, regardless of the strong rhetoric from US officials. Despite incurring losses, the Iranian regime deems these costs and losses necessary for achieving regional dominance.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami

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