It is apparent that the Iranian government has failed to contain COVID-19 effectively. As a result it has resorted to lies and deceit to cover its poor performance. This dishonesty along with the manipulation of statistics has resulted in the Iranian people losing trust in the government. The Iranian people have not been passive amid this health crisis. In this piece, I will look at some coping strategies implemented by the Iranian people to mitigate the physical and psychological damage as well as the economic losses caused by COVID-19.
Despite severe media censorship and the arrest of whistleblowers, Iranian health workers and low-ranking health officials have challenged state-manipulated statistics by reporting to independent media. Some foreign-based Persian-language television channels, such as Manoto TV and Iran International have challenged the government’s spin by relying on citizen journalism. They have showed that the number of infections and deaths are two to three times higher than what the government has disclosed. Iranian citizens have uploaded videos highlighting the unsanitary burial of corpses and the violation of social distancing rules by the government’s propaganda organizations at their gatherings.
Iranian nurses and doctors have posted several dance videos on social media amid the death toll. Iranian citizens have confronted the mourning culture that the Islamic Republic has always promoted in society. In addition to dancing and music, Iranians have created and published thousands of jokes and comedy clips about the virus and how the clergy, the Basij, and the IRGC have dealt with COVID-19 and how the government’s propaganda machine has reported it.
The Iranian people started to sew homemade masks when the government failed to provide PPE. They exchange information and make informed decisions using the Telegram and Instagram channels.
During the first two weeks of April 2020, when the government was consistent in banning internal travel and encouraging people to stay at home, the Iranian people fully supported the decision. This shows that the Iranian people do listen when the government adopts consistent policies based on expert opinions. But since April 13, the National Anti-Coronavirus Task Force and military officials have issued conflicting instructions, weakening the government’s stay at home policy.
Although the Iranian people have suffered greatly during the last two years because of the government’s economic mismanagement, regional adventures, and US sanctions, community help through the creation of non-governmental charities has been on the rise. These charities have carried out their activities quietly at the neighborhood level without any coordination with the government. The government and its loyalists, especially the Basij, and the clergy have tried to take credit for the charity provided at the local level. Donations from government and rent-seeking figures and celebrities have been extremely limited. The government has the resources to overcome the economic fallout from COVID-19, but instead, Khamenei’s office has launched a website to ask for donations.
A number of political activists, academics, and artists issued several joint letters addressing government policies and their consequences. In these letters, they called on the government to take steps to mitigate the negative consequences of COVID-19. In response to these letters, the government’s security agencies have repressed, prosecuted, and arrested many of the signatories.
The above coping strategies show that the Iranian people are trying to keep hope alive at a difficult time. Iranian expatriates have played an important role in providing financial help to their loved ones in Iran. This help has allowed the Iranian people to deal with the economic fallout of COVID-19. The Iranian people will have to continue to cope on their own and find new strategies to survive while the government continues to be negligent of its responsibilities. They have no faith in foreign loans or funds from the National Development Fund for alleviating their economic suffering. They know that these financial resources will be wasted by the government as what has happened in the past.