The Iranian paradox is unravelling

Ruling mullahs are wasting millions upon millions to prove, primarily to themselves, that they are fit to play with the big boys in international affairs.
Sunday 21/10/2018
A woman walks past a beggar in Tehran.  (AFP)
Bitter reality. A woman walks past a beggar in Tehran. (AFP)

Iran’s ruling mullahs are gradually waking up to the sad reality that poverty exists in their country. It is there, it is real and it is hurting tens of thousands — and large numbers of poor people represent a potential source of social and political unrest.

T he rulers should know something about that given that they dipped into the poverty class when they began their revolution. It is easy to manipulate desolate and hungry people to whom a promise of a better tomorrow will motivate many, especially when they have nothing to lose.

In a country such as Iran, which is rich thanks to its vast amounts of petrochemical natural resources, the government should be capable of putting in place social and economic programmes designed to help the poor and to offer a safety net to those affected by the difficult economic moments that many Iranians face.

Why is Iran in such a tight spot financially?

Amid explanations as to why Iran finds itself in such an undesirable economic dilemma ultimately it boils down to Iran’s involvement in regional and international political and military affairs. Iran has got itself involved in the region’s tumultuous politics. War is expensive and Iran has been part of more than one conflict in the Middle East.

The country’s rulers are wasting millions upon millions to prove, primarily to themselves, that they are fit to play with the big boys in international affairs.

As the Iranian government tries to deal with the manifestations of dire poverty, it commits itself further, it engages deeper in the development of military means to enforce its ambitions in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen, even getting involved in supporting terrorist activities in Europe and the region through a policy of intimidation.

Maybe it is time for Tehran to focus its energies on fighting poverty at home instead of squandering millions of dollars on foreign military operations.

Iran has been directly involved in neighbouring Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, trying to counterbalance US hegemony. If that economic drain on the country’s resources was not enough, Iran opts to get directly involved militarily in Syria’s civil war, siding with the country’s dictator, Bashar Assad. Thousands of fighters were dispatched to fight on several fronts.

Additionally, Iran sponsors Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, which it arms, trains and finances. Iran called on its proxy militia to participate in the war in Syria. Hezbollah helped turn the tide of the war when Assad’s forces were on the brink of collapse.

In Yemen, the Iranians are arming and supporting the Shia-backed militia fighting Saudi-backed forces. In the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in Gaza, the Iranians have been very active.

Iran is involved across the globe in supporting terrorist activities when it is not directly running covert operations. The thwarted bomb attack in which Iranian intelligence agents were implicated and that targeted the People’s Mujahideen of Iran in France gives an idea of just how Iran is not intimidated by international boundaries or law.

Finally, there is the question of Iran’s quest for nuclear armament, which has directly contributed to the issue of poverty because of international sanctions imposed on Tehran for its lack of transparency in its nuclear programme.

In the past, social welfare in Iran was left to informal groups based around the bazaar and mosques or fallen to large-scale government-controlled organisations. While the government is falling short of responding adequately to the crisis, privately run charities are emerging. The bad news is that these charities can only reach a small number of those in need.

As can be expected, official data on poverty in Iran are hard to pin down. The Ministry of Labour estimates that approximately 800,000 households were eligible for government support because they earned below the poverty line of around $160 a month, a Financial Tribune report stated last January. The article cited economist Hossein Raghfar saying some 12 million Iranians lived in absolute poverty, in a country with a population of about 80 million.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has introduced welfare cuts and other austerity measures since first being elected in 2013 but, unless Iran changes its tune of supporting nefarious policies, the leaders of Iran’s theocracy will continue to whistle in the wind.