Iran’s new year comes with old problems

Khamenei’s speech may have been an attempt to boost the morale of the Iranian public but, in practice, the address presented the best argument expecting ever greater hardships.
Sunday 31/03/2019
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Iranians gathering in Mashhad for celebrations  of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, March 21. (AFP)
With a heavy heart. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Iranians gathering in Mashhad for celebrations of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, March 21. (AFP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tried hard to strike an optimistic note in his March 21 address, on the occasion of the Iranian new year, which he wishfully dubbed “the year of the economic upswing.”

Khamenei’s optimism, however, is unwarranted. Iran and Iranians are likely to face old problems in the new year and a closer look at Khamenei’s address reveals the Iranian leader himself expects a difficult year ahead.

Khamenei began his address by attacking those who warn against the year of “threats” and “hardship.” The ayatollah dismissed such claims as concerns of “simpletons” easily intimidated by the United States.

Khamenei also urged the public not to believe the words of “first-rate fools,” a reference to John Bolton, national security adviser to US President Donald Trump. “He claimed if the United States withdraws [from the Iran nuclear deal], people will not even be capable of buying bread and there will be rebellion in the streets of Iran… Is this truly the US analysis? Or is it psychological warfare…? The answer is not clear to me,” Khamenei said.

Bread riots, however, were rampant in December 2017 and January 2018 and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps perceives the rebellion of the poor as a very real threat to the regime in the new year. So much is clear in Major-General Mohammad-Ali Jafari’s March interview with Soroush weekly, in which he attacked Iranian President Hassan Rohani and his cabinet as insensitive to the hardships of the disadvantaged classes in Iran.

Khamenei admits Iran is facing economic difficulties but assured that the country would prevail in the “economic war” that the United States is waging against the regime.

The European Union also faced the ayatollah’s wrath: “The Europeans… warn us against leaving the nuclear deal but, for all practical purposes, they have left the deal themselves.”

Khamenei specifically pointed at a banking channel established by the European Union to circumvent United States financial sector sanctions and facilitate financial transactions between Iran and European companies. “The economic channel they have created is more like a joke. A bitter joke… They betrayed us. Stabbed us in the back,” Khamenei concluded.

It is not clear what alternative financial channels Khamenei has in mind to secure trade with the European Union and how one can read anything positive in severing economic relations between Iran and the Europeans. In what possible way can US sanctions and the European Union’s failure to protect the Islamic Republic secure an economic boom in Iran?

Turning to Iran’s neighbours, Khamenei used considerable effort haranguing the rulers of Saudi Arabia: “I’m not aware of any regime as evil as the Saudi regime, which is authoritarian, dictatorial, unjust, dependent and corrupt!”

Referring to reports of the United States building nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, Khamenei said: “This does not bother me personally, because I know, God willing, in the near future, [the power plants] will fall into the hands of holy Muslim warriors.”

Iran’s supreme leader did not provide evidence to support this theory and it remains unclear if he believes his own predictions.

Khamenei’s speech to mark the new year may have been an attempt to boost the morale of the Iranian public but, in practice, the address presented the best argument expecting ever greater hardships. The plight of Venezuelans may very well indicate the plight of most Iranians tomorrow.

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