Storm clouds gather over Iran at year’s end


The year 2021 has not been filled with favorable results for Iran. However, with the swearing-in of a new U.S. Democratic administration in January and the installation this summer of a die-hard Iranian president in Ebrahim Raisi – a goal long sought by Tehran’s rulers – senior Iranian officials are expect the situation in Iran the country to change for the better, especially in the areas of economic and foreign policy.

These expectations are overly optimistic, as the serious challenges facing the regime continue to grow and become increasingly complex. In addition, geopolitical developments on the international scene have not been beneficial for Iran. Instead, they hampered the new administration’s ability to deliver on its lofty electoral promises, crippling Iran’s new political equation from the start.

The regime is increasingly aware that support for its “revolution” is rapidly eroding, with its ideals incompatible with the values ​​and ambitions of the younger generation. The regime is trying to counter this, talking a lot about indoctrinating young people with a revolutionary mindset in an effort to create an intellectual vanguard to support the Khomeinist line. For Iranian leaders, this year’s presidential election was aimed at resetting societal attitudes and reviving the ideals of the revolution by “running the election” towards a conservative line in line with the ideas of the Supreme Leader. This was intended to lay the foundations for a new generation that will bear the burden of supporting revolutionary ideals.

When it comes to the performance of the new government in the three months since Raisi took over the presidency, signs of dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction are emerging and intensifying. Iran is experiencing skyrocketing inflation, while unemployment and poverty rates are rising. These deteriorating economic indicators have led to intense criticism of the government for its inability to come up with a plan to deliver on its election promises, such as improving the economy, establishing better ties with countries neighbors and improving international relations to help lift the economic sanctions against the country, which have exacerbated the economic hardships faced by the Iranian people.

Another topic of widespread public discontent is the government’s failure to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Raisi administration adopting the failed health policies and approach of the previous government. It also led some parliamentarians to blame Raisi’s government for the decline in the Iranian stock market and the major losses that affected stock prices. In addition, they criticized the government for failing to tackle rising poverty and unemployment rates. Senior Iranian officials fear the aforementioned factors could lead to widespread protests.

At the security level, due to the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, the rate of emigration and displacement out of the country has accelerated, leading to an upsurge in drug trafficking. This has worsened the already precarious state of Iran’s economy and put more pressure on the country’s security and law enforcement agencies. Elsewhere, tensions have marred relations between Iran and Azerbaijan, prompting Tehran to step up preparations in the face of any potential danger, including Israel’s presence in Azerbaijan. Iran has also been the victim of cyber attacks targeting the country’s national oil distribution system, which has drawn new criticism from the government for its weak technical know-how and ability to thwart such cyber attacks.

All of these challenges and crises add to the lingering and worsening crisis of water scarcity and power outages in the country, the first of which sparked protests in Isfahan.

In the economic field, the Iranian government has adopted a strategy aimed at developing a flexible economy capable of resisting and recovering from crises and of reviving state-controlled banking and financial institutions. Iran is still grappling with the socio-economic fallout from the pandemic, and although it has blamed U.S. sanctions for its inability to deal with the health crisis, it is obvious to anyone watching Iranian affairs that politicians and Tehran’s ineffective approach to health have contributed to its current situation. . This mismanagement of the virus has had far-reaching ramifications, with job losses and declining income levels leading to worsening socio-economic conditions.

The economic situation in the second half of 2021 – after the Raisi government took office – was not significantly different from the situation during the reign of the Rouhani government. On the contrary, all macroeconomic indicators point to a crisis and deteriorating situation: Weak economic growth after a prolonged recession and a growing budget deficit due to the limitation of the country’s main sources of income. Revenues generated from oil exports have declined due to US sanctions and tax collection has declined due to the damaging impact of the pandemic on Iran’s business sector.

All of these realities have been accompanied by a government-led policy of selling state-controlled assets on the stock market, borrowing from banks and social insurance institutions, and reducing the availability of corporate capital. on the one hand, while increasing liquidity to cope with consumption patterns. the other. This policy had an impact on the value of the national currency, which fell at unprecedented rates throughout the year, further fueling the spike in prices seen in the country.

The monthly inflation rate has approached 50% throughout the year, one of the highest in the world. This has increased the country’s poverty rate, leaving more than a third of Iran’s population to live in abject poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor has also widened sharply, as has the unemployment rate of university graduates, who emigrate in large numbers.

All of these issues suggest that Iran’s continued crisis economic situation is the most likely scenario in the short term. In addition, the economy could suffer further deterioration in the medium term if the economic embargo and sanctions remain in place.

At the regional level, it is still unclear whether the Iranian regime really wants to improve its relations with neighboring countries. No progress has been made in the Saudi-Iranian talks, and Tehran’s aggressive behavior towards Riyadh has not changed. Pressure is mounting on the regime in light of recent developments in the region. Iraqis increasingly reject Iranian rule, while Tehran’s role in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen diminishes due to its inability to continue supporting militias that serve the interests of the Iranian political system. There are also new challenges, such as tensions at the country’s borders with Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.

As for the international dimension, the question of returning to the nuclear agreement remains surrounded by ambiguity because of the hard positions adopted by the two parties. Iran demands that all sanctions be lifted, while asking the United States to offer guarantees that it will not withdraw from any new agreement and that it will limit negotiations only to the scope and terms of the previous agreement. Meanwhile, the international community is seeking to impose strict conditions on Iran to limit its nuclear activities and ensure that UN inspectors have full and unrestricted access to Iranian nuclear sites, as well as to extend the provisions of Iran. extinction that currently expire in 2025.

There is also international pressure to curb regional activities and Iran’s missile program. Thus, nuclear negotiations are expected to take a long time, and this delay will allow Iran to shorten its nuclear escape time. It should be mentioned here that the Iranian regime has succeeded in cultivating opinion within the international community that no additional agreements should be added to the terms of the nuclear deal – especially with regard to its missile program and its malicious regional activities.

Overall, the regional and global challenges posed by the Iranian regime continue to increase. There is no indication that it is taking a different approach to finding a compromise on the outstanding issues – primarily Iran’s instigation of disputes, its financial, technological and military support for its militias, and the escalation of military threats. in the region by the proliferation of missiles, drones and naval weapons. The latter will cause the arms race to skyrocket and the spread of chaos in the region, affecting energy supplies and global trade, keeping the region in contention and thwarting the efforts of countries seeking social transformations. -economic and technological to increase their economic capacities and improve the well-being of their citizens.

Although Iran likes to say that it does not accept external diktats with regard to the nuclear negotiations underway with the P5 + 1 countries in Vienna, it will have no trouble inventing justifications for accepting everything. that the great world powers embrace. Unfortunately, the solutions seem to lead to a dead end and Russia and China will not be able to cope with Iran’s stubborn posture. However, Tehran is expected to look for loopholes through which it can disperse international efforts and weaken the US position.

There should be diplomatic and media pressure to address the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear program, regional behavior, long-range missiles and drones on regional and international security – citing attacks on ships at sea, that thwart maritime navigation, and the use of missiles and drones to target neighboring countries.

Since the nuclear negotiations are proceeding in accordance with what is dictated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s policy is expected to be in line with that of previous governments when it’s about dealing with international affairs. However, Iran could possibly pursue a harder line, especially since the Raisi government’s vision is in line with the Supreme Leader ‘s guidelines, unless there is significant pressure for the regime to avoid it. climbing. Excessive outside pressure on the regime could trigger more discontent inside; something the Iranian political elite dreads the most.

• Dr Mohammed Al-Sulami is President of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors of this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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