By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh *
The Iranian people’s frustration with the clerical establishment has reached a new high, which could endanger the regime’s hold on power. The real threat against the ruling clerics of Iran comes from within, not abroad.
During his presidential campaign, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi made bold promises that his administration, unlike the government of the former president, Hassan Rouhani, would be a strong force in “supporting the underprivileged,” “eliminating absolute poverty,” and “constructing one million homes.” But now, after less than a year in office, living expenses have skyrocketed under Raisi’s watch.
The first problem is linked to the economy. The administration recently cut subsidies for imported wheat, which can lead to price rises as high as 300 percent for flour-based food such as bread. This has sparked protests and chants such as “Death to Raisi” and “Death to Khamenei” in many cities across the country.
Inflation has reached more than 50 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. More than 41 million Iranians, in excess of half the population, are living below the poverty line. When it comes to the countries with the highest inflation rates, Iran is placed fifth in the world rankings after Venezuela, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Argentina.
One of the main problems lies in the fact that while prices of food and commodities are going up 200-300 percent a year, workers’ wages have remained almost the same. Nastaran, an Iranian mother and teacher living in the capital Tehran, explained: “My salary is 3,000,000 toman a month (roughly $100), and the government just made the price of one loaf of bread 10,000 toman (roughly 36 cents). Me and my children use five loaves of bread a day; this means that half of my salary will only go to the cost of bread. What about my rent, other food, the children’s schooling, medical expenses, electricity, gas, water bills? Every president has promised to improve the situation, but it keeps getting worse.”
Even Iran’s state-owned news outlets have been warning about the economic crisis, the potential uprising, and criticizing president Raisi, who is believed to be the cleric who will succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the Supreme Leader. For example, the semi-official ILNA news agency wrote recently: “In less than two months, high prices have significantly emptied working families’ product baskets. The minimum wages were raised by 57 percent this year; however, the average increase in foodstuff prices was more than 200 percent, meaning a 150 percent decrease in ‘workers’ real wages.”
Without a doubt, the regime always resorts to its preferred modus operandi by responding with brute force in the face of demonstrations. The last widespread uprising occurred in 2019 — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was deployed and about 1,500 people were killed. In fact, a member of the IRGC admitted in connection with the November 2019 uprising: “I am a senior revolutionary guards officer in Tehran. I volunteered to testify in this court. I witnessed mass arrests and interrogations. Unfortunately, I was part of the arrests and witnessed the interrogation . . . The forces were ordered that they were free to open fire, arrest, interrogate, enter homes that suspects might have fled to. There was no need for a warrant from the prosecutor’s office. They were told to confiscate vehicles, destroy vehicles, do anything you can to quell the protests.”
It is important to point out that Iranian people’s financial problems result mainly from the government’s inefficient fiscal and monetary policies; the leadership’s reluctance to redistribute wealth; economic mismanagement; the hemorrhaging of the nation’s wealth through spending on terror and militia groups; corruption among officials; the lack of a robust private market; and a state-controlled economy that has pushed more people into poverty. The state’s monopolization of the economy applies to almost every sector. When it comes to Iran’s economic system, the supreme leader and the IRGC enjoy a considerable amount of control and shares in almost all industries, including financial institutions and banks, transportation, automobile manufacturing, mining, commerce, and the oil and gas sectors.
Nevertheless, the political nature of the Iranian people’s dissatisfaction with the regime should not be disregarded. People are robustly opposing the ruling clerics’ authoritarianism, despotism and suppression of freedom.
Indeed, the winds of change are blowing firmly against the Iranian regime inside the country. The Islamic Republic should be alarmed due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people are fed up with the clerical establishment from an economic and political perspective. At some point, the IRGC and its paramilitary group, the Basij, will not be able to subdue everyone with brute force, no matter how powerful they are.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh