Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech on Nowruz. The aim was to boost public morale and confidence in Iran’s faltering economy. For the past 15 years, at the start of each Iranian new year, Khamenei has presented lofty economic goals to be targeted during the course of the year. The goals are wrapped up in appealing slogans. In Khamenei’s annual televised Nowruz speech, he mentioned that this year will be one of “production, support, and removal of barriers.”
Khamenei stated that he focused on “production,” in his speech even though he believed that his call for a “year of production leap” was met last year. Thus, according to him, Iran’s production leap last year was satisfactory but insufficient because of poor economic planning.
However, it seems like Khamenei’s speech covers up some harsh domestic realities. Iran’s economy came close to collapsing last year due to corruption, economic mismanagement, and harsh US-led sanctions. Still, Khamenei’s Nowruz speech claimed that Iran was better off now compared to when it signed the nuclear deal with global powers in 2015. The deal briefly lifted some sanctions imposed on Iran, but they were reinstated by the Trump administration in 2018, which begs the question of how Iran’s economy could be in a better state under sanctions?
In his speech, Khamenei did not discuss any controversial subjects. Instead, he compared the beginning of a new century on Iran’s calendar with where the country was 100 years ago as an under-developed nation, to get the message across that the future was indeed very promising. To make his point that Iran’s economy needed “support.” Khamenei claimed that a surge in production was possible with more investments, along with Iran’s national currency stabilizing and a boost in public confidence as well as through the provision of social welfare programs to the most needy.
Khamenei mentioned that the World Bank (WB) said that Iran is the 18th largest economy in the world. However, the WB did not state that and his remark proved untrue. At the same time, in terms of economic performance, the WB placed Iran 128th from a list of 190 countries. It believes that Iran is unable to generate employment, and its economy contracted by 6.8 percent in 2019. Figures also show that last year, Iran experienced its third consecutive year of negative growth.
Considering these harsh economic realities, Khamenei deliberately ignored in his Nowruz speech a long list of day-to-day challenges that must be addressed to boost production in Iran. His optimistic economic forecast intended to boost public confidence in the government’s ability to perform and possibly to encourage the Iranian people who are losing hope to vote in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled to be held in the summer. Not surprisingly, Khamenei’s Nowruz speech focused mainly on the upcoming presidential race. Khamenei expressed hope that a new president will revitalize the economy, introduce new steps to tackle corruption, and build a strong central government.
It is not clear how Khamenei’s call for the “removal of barriers” will be met this year. In the first nine months of last year, for example, 37 million Iranians lived on social welfare handouts, which only added $1.5 daily to their pockets.
While the most vulnerable economic groups in Iran had their salaries hiked by 39 percent in the new year, the country’s labor rights activists say they continue to live under the poverty line due to high inflation rates. Last year, the International Monetary Fund placed inflation rates in Iran at 34.2 percent, while most other figures say it is around 40 percent. A WB Iran’s overview page says inflation stood at 48 percent in February 2021.
Analysts believe that Khamenei is misleading the Iranian people by continuing to uphold his tradition to . His slogan calling for a leap in production last year as Iran battled with a major health pandemic was misleading, to say the least. A year earlier, Khamenei labeled Nowruz a time for production to flourish despite the Trump administration’s Iran. Later, Khamenei claimed that Iran experienced a production surge despite the maximum pressure campaign, and the outbreak of anti-government and anti-poverty protests across the country.
Khamenei via his speech could also be attempting to hide the country’s dim economic prospects in the coming year. If this is the case, then Khamenei’s optimistic Nowruz slogan for this year is nothing but a deliberate attempt to mislead the Iranian people once again. It also projects economic continuity and stability even if they do not really exist in Iran.