By Hamid Enayat
On April 11, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani issued a government decree with the full support of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, where all restrictions were lifted for employees to resume their activities putting their lives at risk every day. Even before the decree, daily workers and child laborers were already forced to go outside to earn some money.
The decree had to overcome many objections within the same regime. Many opposed to the idea of raising the quarantine in the areas with a high infection growth rate. But the government stated that it was not economically feasible due to the sanctions, zero oil revenue, and the blocked access to their financial resources abroad.
Rouhani’s decision sparked a wave of opposition, especially among those involved in the fight against the Corona in the Ministry of Health. Experts admitted that the return of people to work might cause a new wave of infection. Following this decision, a governmental organization called the Iranian Society of Immunology and Allergy published an open letter to Rouhani, where it anticipated around 60 million infected and more than 2 million dead.
During the first session after the new year’s holiday held at the Iranian Parliament, 80 MPs introduced a three-emergency bill for quarantine and a one-month total shutdown of the country, which was promptly removed from the agenda under the pretext of being contrary to the constitution.
No quarantine due to lack of financial resources
Meanwhile, the Iranian opposition stated that the problem is not the inadequate financial resources. The wealth accumulated by Khamenei and controlled through organizations such as Astan Quds Razavi in Khorasan, as well as the money spent in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Gaza, and Lebanon, must be allocated to the health of the people and it should be used to pay salaries of workers, teachers, and employees unable to work during the pandemic.
Following the opposition’s call, regime officials pointed out what they had never dared to mention before: Billions of dollars of the wealth of the Iranian people is now available in banks and institutions under Khamenei’s control, but he and the government are refuse to spend it.
Khamenei’s legendary fortunes
After raising this debate, four members of the regime’s parliament immediately addressed the issue. “The chairman and three members of the parliamentary civil rights faction called for a total quarantine in the high-risk areas”, published Ebtekar newspaper on March 9.
They also wrote on their personal tweeted: “Prevention of the COVID-19 outbreak was not successful. However, two steps are necessary: First, the total quarantine of the critical points of the outbreak. Second, use of abundant SHASTA funds (large corporations affiliated with the Ministry of Cooperatives), The Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, Mostazafan Foundation and the Petrochemical Holding (all under the direct control of Khamenei) for the supply and distribution of masks, clothes, glasses and other essentials for medical staff”.
Following this, Masih Mohajeri, editor-in-chief of the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, which has founded by Khamenei, stated on April 11: “The economic downturn caused by the Coronavirus has arisen and cannot be solved by people’s donation and other limited financial resources. In order to solve the problems, great financial powers must come to the scene because of their capabilities and their property belongs to the people. These financial powers are The Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, Mostazafan Foundation, and Astan Quds Razavi. If the extensive facilities and resources available to these institutions are brought to the aid of the affected sections, the problems of these sectors will be solved in the shortest possible time and in a complete way”.
Other financial resources that have been pointed out in Iran are the National Development Fund and the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund. In this regard, more than 100 civil-political activists and academicians demanded: Why the National Development Fund which belongs to all the Iranian citizens but it is under the direct control of Khamenei is spending money on IRGC’s Quds force rather than spending on the public health? Why the financial resources of these mega-institutions are only spending on Arba’een Pilgrimage or Supreme Leader’s office instead of this dangerous national matter?” (Zeytoon website, March 28).
Yahya Al-Ishaq, former head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, addressed the regime’s financial situation and the possibility of solving people’s financial problems: “According to government officials, there are about 4,000 billion dollars frozen at the government’s disposal (with the government exchange rate). Also, about 50% of the banks’ assets are frozen and unused. The set of frozen assets must be converted into fluent and current assets in order to solve problems” (Khabar Online, April 10).
Kill two birds with one stone
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in its November report that Iran’s foreign exchange reserves and gold reserves totaled 85.5 billion dollars by the end of 2019. So, it is very clear that there was no shortage of financial resources forcing the Iranian regime to lift its semi-quarantine order.
The regime wanted to kill two birds with one stone in this situation. As Khamenei said, they wanted to make an opportunity out of this crisis. Thus, by taking hostage of Iranian people’s health and the sympathetic environment caused by the Coronavirus, they wanted to lift the sanctions over the country.
And on the other hand, with a large-scale massacre of Iranians with this disease -perhaps 1 million- weaken the uprising of the deprived and unemployed masses, especially the insurgent youth, who have been calling for a democratic change in Iran since 2017 with various uprisings, especially the last one in mid-November 2019.
Uprisings and protests in the future
The IMF believes that the states that have been unable to support their countries in the fight with the Coronavirus will be facing protest movements. The regime’s media are already reflecting this situation. One state-run newspaper mentioned the critical state of the country’s economy which Corona outbreak has deteriorated, while emphasizing that this situation can lead to uprisings and outcries of protest and violence.
This prediction is not far from the truth. Iran’s society is burning in flames of poverty, discrimination, oppression, and inequality and it needs just a spark to explode. In this context, the Coronavirus crisis is sweeping society with huge death tolls.
The clergies believe that the Iranians will lose the power to move under the grievance and disappointment caused by this crisis. But this is a lethal strategic mistake; a type of mistake that dictators make on their last days of their reign. All this is not happening in a society without leadership. There are young rebellious forces driving the change and they are this movement will be even greater than the November 2020 uprisings.