End of a Bitter Year, Beginning of a Tough One!
The editorial of Setareh Sobh goes over some important events which took place during the last Iranian year (ending March 20).
The Iranian year came to an end (March 20), and it is worth mentioning a few negative and positive incidents.
Since 2019, the world has been grappling with an unprecedented pandemic. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 6 million people with the death toll still rising. This deadly disease has killed more than 139,000 Iranians and this number is still going up. There was a delayed response to this disease not only in Iran but across the world. A new study shows that governments have under-reported deaths due to COVID-19 and the real numbers could be three times higher. According to an official report, more than 50,000 Iranian children have lost either their fathers or their mothers. Because of the damage it continues to inflict, COVID-19 has been the worst incident.
Inflation, high prices, unemployment, air pollution, dust particles, etc. were also serious issues last year which continue to severely harm people. These problems made people take to the streets to protest in the provinces of Khuzestan, Isfahan, Yazd, and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari. The average inflation rate was more than 40 percent which was very bitter news for people, as it means that people lost 40 percent of their purchasing power last year.
The other bitter issue was the rise in housing, rental and food prices. The latest report by the Statistical Center of Iran shows that the price of Iranian rice, for example, increased by 95.3 percent last year, which is unprecedented in the history of the country.
The issue of the nuclear deal could have been resolved in Vienna in the sixth round of negotiations last year, but the ultra-conservative “hardliners” did not allow that to happen. Now, the nuclear talks are led by those who had earlier defied it openly. The conditions for reaching an agreement to revive the nuclear deal have become tougher, and with Russia demanding its share in the deal, the negotiations have reached a stalemate. People call for reviving the nuclear deal so that the country’s problems are ameliorated, Iran’s blocked money is released, and the country can take advantage of the Russian war against Ukraine, and replace Russia in the energy market by selling more oil and natural gas.
So far, the nuclear deal has not been revived, which is bad news for people. The question is: why has the Iranian diplomatic apparatus not been able to resolve the issue with America and why have they trusted the Russians who have been against the nuclear deal from the outset? Moscow has created obstacles on the path of reviving the nuclear deal which has upset the Iranian people.
Putin’s reckless invasion of Ukraine has created a golden opportunity for Iran to interact with Europe and replace Russia for selling oil and natural gas to the European countries. This opportunity can pave the way for billions of dollars of revenues for Iranians. Since the Iranian government has not done so yet, people ask themselves and the government: why is not Iran taking advantage of this opportunity now that Putin is sinking in the mire of his own decisions? Field observations show that the Iranian people hate Russia and condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Amidst all these sad and bitter incidents due to the incompetence of the executive and legislative branches, there was one piece of good news as we approached the end of the year: clearing the coastlines and river banks and demolishing buildings which have been illegally built during the past decades. Now, the judicial branch is resolved to destroy these buildings which is good news for people.
Uncrowded Market and Empty Pockets
The editorial of Etemad urges that the economic conditions in Iran were not created overnight and cannot be solved by simply issuing an executive order.
In the final days of the Iranian year, there is bad news about the economic conditions of different groups of people. According to data released by different heads of unions, people’s purchasing power has taken a plunge and many people are unable to buy clothes, food items, housing appliances, etc. for the new Iranian year, pointing to widespread poverty in society, the widening class disparity, and the drop in purchasing power. When we go to a new year’s market this year, we can see individuals and families who are just window shopping, only looking at the exorbitant prices without being able to buy anything.
What is worrying, however, are the solutions that are offered by Iranian policymakers and decision-makers to confront poverty. The very idea that in a two-week period or even one month they can eradicate so-called “absolute poverty” in the country has created concern among many analysts and experts. In fact, it must be asked: were poverty and economic problems created in a month or several months that they think they can resolve these issues in the short run?
But what can they do to address the issue of poverty? The first thing they should do is create sustainable economic growth, which will generate income in society. Without economic growth, the government has no solution but to borrow from the Central Bank and print money. In recent years, such decisions have been made resulting in many catastrophes for people and the country’s economy.
Liquidity growth will increase the inflation rate which results in poverty. And poverty means a rise in unemployment, an increase in crime and violence, etc. But on the other hand, economic growth will increase income per capita, control inflation, and eventually decrease absolute poverty.
In every economy, there are certain groups that need government assistance. In other countries, subsidies are directed toward those who are in dire need of help. It is not logical to give subsidies to the entire population of a country. It must be clearly announced that the subsidy, for example, is for buying chicken, meat, transportation, etc. But in Iran, cash subsidies are paid to a very large part of the population, without even considering whether this subsidy reaches the destitute groups or not.
Other social groups too must enjoy an environment where individuals and families can have proper jobs. The country’s economy has shrunk in recent decades, and must become bigger so that people’s share in it increases. Economic sanctions, coronavirus, mismanagement, etc. have shattered the country’s economy. This must stop. An improvement in economic conditions is not possible in the short run through simply issuing an order.
These days, when we go to markets, we see the agitated eyes of mothers and fathers who cannot buy anything for their children and just suppress their anger. These men and women have thousands of unanswered questions and some managers and officials, with their unprofessional remarks, only add insult to their injuries.
Khamenei’s New Year Message: It Is Not Realistic to Expect High Prices, Inflation to Decline Soon
On the eve of the Iranian new year (starting March 21), Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei considered inflation and high prices as “the toughest and most bitter” issues in the country, yet added that it is not “realistic” to expect these issues to be resolved soon.
Pointing to the country’s economic problems, Khamenei expressed hope that these issues would be partly resolved this year gradually, but he urged that it is not realistic to expect this to happen too soon.
While the Iranian supreme leader admits to the huge rise in prices and inflation, Ebrahim Raisi’s government – which has the full support of Ali Khamenei – has had the least success in controlling high prices, and its policies have resulted in increasing inflation and liquidity instead. To add insult to injury, Raisi’s government was even unable to pay the salaries of pensioners before the end of the Iranian year, and many of them did not receive their monthly payments.
Despite the doubling of Iran’s oil exports and the leap in the price of oil, as well as the 42 percent increase in non-oil exports, the rate of inflation in Iran reached more than 41 percent in 2021-2022, while this number was about 34 percent in 2020-2021. The livelihood basket exceeds 12 million tomans, which is much higher than the average income of the ordinary Iranian citizen.
In another part of his speech, Khamenei claimed that the presidential election last year was one of the “most important” issues in which people “participated” and voted for a “new government.”
Contrary to Khamenei’s claim, many political factions had boycotted the presidential election and public turnout was very low.
The lack of competition in the election, the crackdown on peaceful protests, severe economic problems, and the disqualification of candidates by the Guardian Council were mentioned as reasons for the low voter turnout in the presidential election.
The rate of participation in the presidential election was allegedly 48.8 percent – the lowest in the history of elections held in the Iranian republic.
Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner of the presidential election, while among the public he is known as “Ayatollah massacre” and a member of the “death committee” which refers to his role in the mass executions carried out in the summer of 1988.
US CENTCOM Commander Warns About Iranian Missile Program
In a strong warning about Iran’s extensive missile activities and the threat to US forces in the region, USCENTCOM Commander General McKenzie said that Iran is still “the biggest problem in the Middle East.”
General McKenzie stated that Iran is heavily investing in its ballistic missile program and is determined to destroy Israel. He further stated, “I am concerned about our forces getting caught in crossfire in Iraq and Syria.”
In his press conference, McKenzie told his successor that “Iran is still the biggest problem,” adding that CENTCOM is monitoring Iran’s activities and its proxies to prevent harm to US interests.
According to McKenzie, Iran has continuously attacked US forces and facilities in the past six months, but effective measures taken by US ground forces have prevented any damage to US interests.
The CENTCOM commander said regarding the nuclear talks in Vienna that America does not want Iran to possess nuclear weapons and probably the best way to stop Iran is through a diplomatic solution, but such a deal will not resolve other issues such as Iran’s asymmetrical attacks in the region.
Coinciding with these remarks, some reports indicated possible measures of the Biden administration to remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in her press conference that negotiations for delisting the IRGC as a terrorist organization are underway, but she did not get into the details.
Meanwhile, according to Axios, the Biden administration intends to lift the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization if Iran publicly commits itself to de-escalating tensions in the region.
According to Axios, removing the IRGC from the terrorist organization list is not directly tied to the nuclear talks in Vienna, so this measure will be in the form of a new bilateral agreement between Iran and America.
Death of Dual National in Prison Due to Lack of Access to Health Services
Shokrollah Jebelli, an 82-year-old Iranian-Australian dual national prisoner in Iran, died, while Amnesty International had warned about his fragile health condition a few days earlier.
Jebelli’s son announced his father death in a tweet on March 20, “I was just told my father died today. I couldn’t save him.”
Earlier, Amnesty International had issued a statement warning about Jebelli’s frail health, saying that Iranian officials had prevented his access to specialized health services.
According to this statement, Jebelli, who had been incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin Prison since 2020, was suffering from severe health problems and needed surgery. He suffered a heart attack and was battling several other health problems including enlarged kidney stones, high blood pressure, sciatica and hernia.
Amnesty International’s statement said although Jebelli was taken to hospital for treatment after having a heart attack last year, the officials in charge had taken him back to the prison in defiance of the physicians’ recommendation and did not allow him to receive treatment during this period.
Negligence in treating prisoners’ health conditions, including political prisoners, has led to their deaths in Iranian prisons.
International organizations have repeatedly warned Iranian officials about the inhumane conditions of prisons and the way prisoners are treated.
Last summer, a cyber group called Ali’s Justice released hacked video footage showing the maltreatment of prisoners, the smuggling of drugs into prison, and prisoner suicides.
20 Percent Increase in Exports to Russia
The spokesperson of the Iranian Customs Administration stated that Iran’s exports to Russia showed a 20 percent increase in the past 11 months compared to the same period last year. Ruhollah Latifi added that during this period, the value of imports from Russia increased by 52 percent.
Pointing to trade with Russia in the last year, Latifi said exports to Russia reached 928,315 tons worth $447,763,471, while imports in general reached 2,745,199 tons worth $953,508,608.
Latifi urged that during the Russian invasion of Ukraine and with sanctions levied against Russia by the United States and the European countries, Iran can be a corridor for providing for Russia’s needs.
He went on to say that under these circumstances, Iran can not only send its domestic products to Russia, but it can also be a good route for transporting other countries’ goods to Russia. He added that Russia can take advantage of Iran’s experience in countering sanctions, asserting that Iran must become a corridor for meeting Russia’s needs.
Latifi underscored that an important corridor from the Sea of Oman, the Gulf and Iran heads toward Russia and the North-South Corridor which connects India to Kazakhstan and Russia through Iran.
Latifi added that the best route for Russia is Iran. He urged that although recently certain obstacles were created for Russia using Iran’s routes and efforts were made to create a gap between Iran and Russia so that Iran would stop standing by Russia, Iran will follow its national interests to strengthen its trade with other countries and activate transit corridors.