By Hamid Enayat
In Iran, 333,000 people fall below the poverty line every month. The math means that four million people have fallen below the poverty line in one year. According to the Ministry of Labor, Cooperation, and Social Welfare’s “Poverty Monitoring of 2020” report, about 26 million people were below the poverty line by 2019. It seems that in 2021, this number had reached 30 million.
A collapsed economy due to poverty or mismanagement
At times, the regime and its lobbies suggested that the economic hardship and unparalleled poverty of the Iranian people in a country rich in mines and reserves were caused by imposed sanctions. However, the fall in the value of the rial (Iran’s currency) against the U.S. dollar over the last 40 years proves the worsening of Iran’s economy has become an unabated trend. Despite the considerable money earned from Iran’s oil, the economy has not improved. On the contrary, it has been plundered, especially in recent years.
Why did the Iranian regime delay the nuclear talks for more than six months under various pretexts or have failed to reach an agreement in recent negotiations to alleviate the sanctions? While one cannot deny the effect of the sanctions on Iran’s economy, these are not the leading cause of Iran’s economic challenges and shortfalls. The regime’s leaders are well aware that if they reach an agreement with the Western countries, they would at least be able to sell their oil and earn a windfall. However, the Iranian regime does not seem too eager to reach another agreement. Why not?
The priority of the Iranian regime is not the economy and the poor people of Iran, but their nuclear ambitions, which are seen as key to the regime’s survival. It is the making of the atomic bomb that guarantees its survival. To understand where the regime’s loyalties lie, consider Ebrahim Raisi’s budget presented to Iran’s parliament for consideration and approval. The budget heavily favors the regime’s IRGC and other security entities, increasing their funding by a whopping 240%! This huge increase is justified under the pretext of defending against the United States and Israel. To further limit the Iranian people’s rights, Iran’s police force has been brought to the level of the IRGC.
Iran now has two different and parallel ministries of Information, one run by the IRGC and one run by the government. But everyone knows that all maneuvers are intended to combat the explosive situation of Iranian society. Case and point; Tens of thousands of repressive forces have been sent from all over Iran to quell the recent peaceful protests in Isfahan for water shortages. The welfare and well-being of the people of Iran are ignored.
The Iranian Regime’s Priorities
This regime has tied its destiny and survival to possessing or manufacturing an atomic bomb and is unwilling to abort this intention. Any setback in the regime’s nuclear intentions, missile program, and regional influence is tantamount to breaking the regime’s glass of life. Iran’s buying time and intimidation tactics are intended to convince the 5+1 countries to revitalize the 2015 JCPOA with no changes. In simple terms, Iran wants to benefit by selling its oil freely and escape from any changes to its nuclear infrastructure, missile program, or regional influence.
The 2019 Uprising in Iran
At first glance, economic reasons seemed to play an underlying role in the mid-February 2019 uprising. Still, a sociological analysis shows that political reasons played a much more significant role in forming the protests. All signs indicated that a new social class had been formed within the society, which is very aware of its demands and expectations.
More precisely, the creators of the 2019 protests were the urban poor and the lower layers of the middle class. The middle class, becoming poorer and poorer in Iran, has always possessed a rebellious nature. Members of this class are often educated and even have university degrees. Sooner or later, the post-era of coronavirus will arrive when people refocus on their basic economic and social needs, thus causing protests to resume.
Time is moving against the regime
In the recent Vienna negotiations, Iran is trying to get as many incentives as possible without giving away much. In other words, to maintain its nuclear structure and continue with its missiles and regional influence. However, the regime may be unaware that time is not in its favour. The disastrous economic situation created by the mullahs is driving more than every year four million people into unbearable economic hardship; these are the army of the hungry and the unemployed. The 2019 uprising showed that the army of the hungry was in motion. Furthermore, the uprisings of Khuzestan, Baluchistan, and Isfahan have sounded the alarm bells for the regime. Can the Iranian regime overtake time?
The Iranian regime is in a deadlock and has two choices. The first choice is to comply with the international community’s demands and renounce its regional influence and the acquisition of nuclear weapons – which seems very unlikely – in which case, according to Khamenei, it must surrender relentlessly. That is, to respond to four decades of repression and brutality. In this case, the Supreme Leader of Iran, who has so far moved on the two pillars of regional influence and terrorism abroad and repression at home, has no choice but to collapse. The second choice is if the regime does not comply with the 5 + 1, then another uprising is destined to take place, a hundred times more intense and widespread than the 2019 uprising.