A new year, but the same old failures in Iran

A new year, but the same old failures in Iran

A new year, but the same old failures in Iran
Flower sellers arrange their flowers ahead of the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, meaning "New Day." in northern Tajrish Square, Tehran, Iran, Monday, March 15, 2021. (AP)
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Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian and marks the first day of spring and the start of a new year in Iran, is one of the world’s oldest holidays, celebrated for more than 3,000 years. 

Since the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic has been unsuccessfully trying to suppress Nowruz, partially because it is a secular holiday that predates Islam, while Iran’s ruling clerics heavily invest in, publicize and celebrate Shiite religious holidays. In recent years, many Iranians have also used Nowruz celebrations as a means of defiance and nonviolent resistance against the regime’s authorities. 

However, this year Nowruz is very different for the Iranian people. Many are living in one of the most difficult times of their generation. Life has become unbearable as unemployment and inflation are at, or near, record highs, and the cost of living has risen to an unprecedented level. The Islamic Parliament Research Center recently reported that the poverty-line income for a four-member household in Iran has almost doubled from 25 million rials a month to 45 million, while the International Monetary Fund calculates that inflation is about 34.2 percent. 

This year, many cannot even afford the nuts, sweets and pastries traditional during the 13 days of Nowruz festivities. This is partially because the value of the Iranian currency has plunged while wages remain unchanged. The rial has lost about 56 percent of its value in 2020, making it one of the least valuable national currencies in the world. Nazanin, an Iranian mother of two children, said: “This is the first year in my life that I cannot afford to make or buy any Nowruz food to offer my family members when they visit. This is the first year that I don’t have money to buy new clothes, a Nowruz custom, for my children. This is the first year that I can’t give my nieces, nephews and children money. It is very embarrassing. While many of us are in this condition, the corrupt government and their affiliates are wealthy, going on vacation to other countries, sending their children and families to Europe, Canada and America to study and live, and they do not care about the ordinary people.” 

Some of Iran’s state-controlled newspapers have been issuing warnings concerning people’s dire situations. The Arman daily wrote: “The economic pressure that lower social classes endure is unbearable. We should be careful that they do not lose their tolerance because this could have social and security consequences.”  

In addition to the dire economic situation, the regime’s social and political suppression is adding to people’s fury. Human rights violations, arrests, torture, executions, imprisonments, and the suppression of the freedoms of speech and expression are at record levels. 

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh 

For this year’s Nowruz, disaffection and frustration with the regime is at its peak as many contend that soaring inflation and a crumbling economy are the result of underlying factors ingrained in the regime’s political and financial institutions —corruption in the theocratic establishment and across the political spectrum, mismanagement of the economy, embezzlement and money laundering in the banking system, and the hemorrhaging of the nation’s wealth on militias, terror groups and proxies across the region. 

In addition to the dire economic situation, the regime’s social and political suppression is adding to people’s fury. Human rights violations, arrests, torture, executions, imprisonments, and the suppression of the freedoms of speech and expression are at record levels. 

The regime’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic has also made this Nowruz different for the Iranian people. The regime repeatedly lied about the scope of the pandemic, and later it rejected foreign-made vaccines in favor of an unproven domestic version that was recently rushed into production. These failures have made Iran the worst-hit country in the Middle East, although the pandemic may have been a lifeline for the regime, since it temporarily distracted people’s attention from the ruined economy and many other social and political ills.

Economic disaster, Tehran’s pillaging of national funds to pay for foreign terrorism and to pursue nuclear weapons, the mishandling of the coronavirus, and outrage over a lack of accountability in the face of the regime’s crimes, have all made Nowruz more difficult this year for many Iranians. 

Nevertheless, there is still a sense of optimism in Iran as many Iranians continue to hold the hope that this year will herald a new dawn — an era of freedom from the theocratic regime that has been ruling the country for more than 40 long years.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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