Iran is one step closer to anarchy

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij are nowhere to be seen.
Sunday 22/03/2020
Under armed watch, an Iranian voter wears a mask and shows his ID during parliamentary elections in Tehran last February. (AFP
Confused priorities. Under armed watch, an Iranian voter wears a mask and shows his ID during parliamentary elections in Tehran last February. (AFP)

“The year 1398 [2019-12] began with flooding and ended with the corona[virus],” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in his New Year address, which, for the first time since 1989, was delivered in a studio in Tehran and not the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad.

Khamenei ended his address on an optimistic note, calling the New Year the year of “leap in production” but there is little indication of the Persian New Year being less horrific than the past year: official statistics stated there are 19,644 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in Iran; 6,745 people have recovered and there were reportedly 1,433 fatalities.

The actual numbers are doubtlessly much higher and, worse, there are growing signs of anarchy and lawlessness in certain parts of Iran.

Aware of the scope and magnitude of the crisis, on March 13 Khamenei established the Health and Treatment Headquarters under the supervision of Major-General Mohammad Bagheri, Iranian armed forces chief-of-staff. Bagheri presented his plan to stop the contagion and treat those affected.

Bagheri’s initiatives included production of an online platform, within 10 days, to monitor the entire population, identify individuals suspected of carrying the virus and alerting those potentially exposed to the virus.

Although Bagheri did not provide details, this initiative may resemble measures adopted by South Korea and Israel to use counterterrorism electronic surveillance mechanisms. As of March 20, there was no update on the initiative.

Bagheri also promised the Iranian Defence Ministry’s facilities would produce test kits, surgical masks and protective clothing for health professionals and there was some indication that this, indeed, was happening.

So are Bagheri’s promises of mobilising retired doctors and nurses, medical students and Basij members to contribute to the effort against the virus and treat Iranians in hospitals, field hospitals and clinics of the armed forces all over the country.

Bagheri’s promise of “emptying the streets within 24 hours,” was largely ignored by the public and the security forces alike. At the time, the promise was widely interpreted as effectively locking down Iran like Italy, France or Spain. However, as of March 20, traffic between Qom, the epicentre of the contagion in Iran, and the rest of Iran, in particular Tehran, continued.

So did traffic between Tehran and the lush and green northern provinces of Iran on the Caspian coast. This has resulted in further spread of the virus and exponential growth of infected individuals in Tehran and in the northern provinces.

Still worse, there are sustained reports on local vigilante groups, armed with sticks, barricading entry points to their cities to prevent out-of-town visitors. There are just as many reports on locals attacking automobiles with plates indicating they are registered in Qom.

Both at city gates and in the face of attacks against Qom-registered vehicles, police have not intervened. There were even reports of the police siding with the vigilante groups.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij are nowhere to be seen. There are reports of hospitals and clinics refusing treatment to non-local patients.

Increasingly, it appears as if the government and the IRGC have given up the fight against the spread of the contagion. Incapable of controlling the unruly public, the government and the IRGC abstain from imposing quarantine orders they can’t enforce and studiously refrain from preventing inter-city travel and tolerate vigilantism while waiting for better times.

In the meantime, Iran is getting one step closer to anarchy and lawlessness.