Biden's Iran policies should reflect the rising cost of living there
Twenty twenty has been an economically disastrous year for the Iranian people, perhaps the worst since the mullahs took over in 1979. Even before 2020, Iran ranked as one of the most miserable countries in the world. An International Monetary Fund report said Iran's 2019 economic growth was negative 9.5, and the final numbers for 2020 are expected to be even worse. If he were smart, Biden would capitalize on this, benefiting both America and the Iranian people.
By August 2020, Iranians were plagued by anger, anxiety, helplessness, depression, and insecurity for themselves and their children. Unsurprisingly, suicide steadily increases in Iran, at a rate of more than 5% annually. In the first eight months of 2020 alone, suicides increased by more than 4% over the same period the previous year. At least fifteen Iranians take their lives daily.
People's economic circumstances are grim. The Labor Council has set the 2021 Iranian minimum wage at 2.65 million tomans (almost $132). That's inconsequential when one considers that Hamidreza Imam Gholi Tabar, the inspector of Supreme Assembly of Workers, said:
The poverty line of a family of four has reached 10 million tomans [almost $500] and more than half of the Iranians are living in absolute poverty. Workers are not even able to buy mobile phones in installments for the continuation of their children's education.
The Central Bank is printing 295 billion tomans of "money" to offset the government's budget deficit, which creates inflation and funds the deficit on the backs of the poor.
To make matters worse, the Statistics Center of Iran reports that the point-to-point inflation rate of the food and beverages group increased to 66.8% in February 2021.
Prices on meat, fruits, and vegetables have doubled in the past year. And there is a shortage of many goods. For those Iranians celebrating Nowruz, their new year, the day of celebration and happiness is marred by long queues in the cold weather. One day, there's a shortage of cooking oil and chicken, and another day, there are shortages of flour, eggs, and bread — and always, the prices go up.
Eleven million people are unemployed, with half of them having lost their jobs due to COVID. The Iranian middle class has joined the poor. To date, poverty has forced 38 million people — half of Iran's population —to move into shantytowns outside the city.
In a recent speech on March 5, 2021, Khamenei acknowledged the high cost of commodities, saying:
This situation has created great sorrow on the eve of Eid. Of course, goods like fruits are abundant, but the prices are very high, and the profit of this high price does not go to the pockets of hardworking gardeners but goes to profiteers and middlemen.
He failed to mention who these brokers and intermediaries are: they're part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which sits like a cancer at the heart of Iran's economic, political, and social policies. The IRGC spends public money to support terrorism in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, even as the Iranians suffer.
While Khamenei acknowledged the country's suffering, other officials are less kind. One was caught saying, "If the chicken is expensive, do not buy and do not eat" (the state-run Mostaghel daily paper, March 16, 2021).
Iran has sunk so low that it's unclear whether there is anything the Biden administration can do to support the mullahs' regime. The mullahs see the uprisings in December 2017 and November 2019 as harbingers of even worse to come from the Iranian people's suffering.
If Biden and his administration were wise, they would understand that, no matter the regime's bluster, Biden has the upper hand in any negotiations. Even if the United States returns to Obama's 2015 Iran agreement, the Iranian regime lacks the power to cope with the economic crises at home. Nevertheless, if the United States appears weak, the regime will take advantage of the negotiations, not to help the suffering Iranian people, but, instead, to continue its terrorist attacks in the surrounding Middle Eastern region.
Hassan Mahmoudi is a Europe-based social analyst, researcher, independent observer, and commentator of Middle Eastern and Iranian politics. He tweets under @hassan_mahmou1.
Image: Rising food insecurity in Iran. YouTube screen grab.