By Rahim Hamid
A senior Iranian regime official has warned of imminent “social and security-related disasters” with more than a third of Iran’s population now living near or below the poverty line as economic crisis continues to affect the poorest most severely.
While the Islamic Republic’s leadership spends tens of billions of dollars annually on funding and arming regional war and propping up the Assad regime in Syria, Iran’s domestic economy is in crisis, with the situation steadily worsening.
In an interview with the regime’s official IRNA news agency published on Thursday July 6, Mohammed Mukhaber, the head of Khamenei’s command centre, was quoted as saying: “The situation in Iran has reached a dangerous level, where we have 12 million people living below the absolute poverty line and 30 million citizens living below the relative poverty line.”
While avoiding any mention of the fact that the period of this economic crisis coincides with the regime unrolling its ruinously costly regional expansionist strategy Mukhaber said, “It is regrettable to admit that the upward spiral of poverty in Iran has increased unexpectedly in the past seven years, foreshadowing social and security-related disasters in the near future.”
On the causes of the worsening poverty and unemployment in Iran, the senior regime official said, “We don’t know why a country like Iran, which has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves – 9.3 percent of the total – and the majority of the world’s gas reserves, representing 18.2 percent of the total, and which ranks first in the world in sales of saffron, pistachios, pomegranates and caviar, is being engulfed by this extreme poverty day after day.”
Mukhaber added that while Iran is the world’s fourth-largest source of precious metals and occupies the tenth place globally in freshwater reserves, its people live in “the same [poverty-stricken] state as Burkina Faso”.
Observers suggest that Iran is facing this massive economic crisis due to a number of factors, primarily the regime’s massive expenditure on regional wars and military interventions which is bleeding the economy already impoverished by years of sanctions, along with massive and endemic corruption at all levels within the regime, and the failure of successive governments to provide any assistance to improve the living conditions of the country’s poorest citizens who are struggling simply to survive.
Public anger is also growing as so many people lost all their money as Iranian banks and other financial institutions continue to declare themselves bankrupt in the economic depression currently hitting the country. Rather than make any efforts to force the banks to compensate the aggrieved customers, many of whom have lost their life savings in the finance houses’ collapse, the regime has deployed large numbers of armed police, who have launched brutal assaults on the protesters in an effort to crush the demonstrations.
Iranian news agencies across the country have published photographs and footage of numerous protests and rallies outside already-bankrupt banks and other financial institutions, as well as those rumored to be on the brink of collapse, in Tehran, Ahwaz and many other cities, with demonstrators demanding restitution and the return of their money before the banks officially declare bankruptcy.
Many in Iran believe that uprisings are inevitable, especially among the most impoverished and marginalized in the country’s ethnic minorities, such as Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Balochis and Turkmen, with the combination of longtime brutal oppression and injustice under the regime and worsening levels of poverty and hopelessness leaving many feeling that they have nothing left to lose. Rather than making any effort to ameliorate these conditions so as to reduce the possibility of mass rebellion, the regime has redoubled its oppression in response to indications of public frustration in these regions, further stoking the anger of those deprived of even the most basic human rights.
The economic crisis and the associated problems of unemployment and deprivation, along with the regime’s brutal oppression, have had a number of traumatic side effects, including a rising number of suicides amongst young people driven to despair and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Suicide amongst young Iranians was once rare, more particularly given its taboo nature in the Islamic Republic; now it is a daily occurrence. Barely a day goes by without heartbreaking reports in the papers of more young people, including schoolchildren, taking their own lives, with some referring to it as a “suicide tsunami.”
In a recent interview with the regime news agency ILNA, Kayanush Hadi Shariati, a prominent Iranian expert in the field of children’s rights, Kayanush Hadi Shariati, said that the rising rate of child suicide in Iran is unprecedented and deeply disturbing, adding that it has now reached the level of serving as an urgent “warning” of deep-rooted and critical problems in Iranian society.
Shariati said that a number of factors are traumatizing Iran’s children so severely that they see suicide as an escape, citing as examples such issues as rising violence, poverty, fear of forced marriage, and pressure from family and at school. The leading expert also suggested that children growing up seeing public executions as an everyday event may even imitate these gruesome rituals, while those in marginalized areas such as the regions around Iran’s borders, where the country’s ethnic minorities are concentrated, live in conditions of crushing poverty, witnessing horrendous injustice and are simply unequipped to deal with such terrible things, viewing suicide as an escape.
Children are not the only ones affected by rising suicide rates, with adults also under unprecedented levels of pressure as the economic depression worsens. Once-rare acts of self-immolation which is now very common among Ahwazi Arabs by despairing workers protesting at unpaid or inadequate wages and intolerable working conditions are now horribly common; workers’ rights activists say that the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, low salaries inadequate to live on, a grim future outlook and increasing economic instability are the primary factors in driving people to such desperate measures.
Sirwan Renas, an analyst from Iranian Kurdistan which is seeing high suicide numbers says that while suicide is more prevalent among women than men in these areas, the number of suicides amongst men is also rising due primarily to high unemployment and a sense of despair at the lack of any positive prospects. However, he added, “I think we should see the big picture and analyze the whole process of the social change affecting us. Our society is experiencing rapid changes, and people can’t – and don’t have the chance to – accommodate themselves in these new changes. During such raid changes, some factors such as, number one, the patriarchal system, a primarily cultural reason, two poverty, a primarily economic reason, and three, political despotism and totalitarianism, primarily political reasons, are three major factors which may have led to many of these suicides. Plus we can mention lack of education, psychological problems, drug use, etcetera, as other secondary factors.”
Renas said that in regard to the high rates of female suicides, from his own experience in analyzing the relevant data, “I think the cultural factor – I mean the patriarchal system – plays the main role among all these factors.”
Iranian rights activist Seema Tabatabai, pointed out that Iran has seen the third largest rise in suicide rates amongst women globally after China and India. In recent years, she said, suicide rates around the world have risen most markedly among teenagers, young adults and women, with this distressing trend becoming particularly acute in Iran where suicide is now the second main cause of death.
“Many questions are important to consider in order to understand why suicide is so prevalent,” she said. “Research suggests that poverty and unemployment, sexual abuse and forced or arranged marriages are contributing factors to rising suicide rates.”
Tabtabai asserted that the misogynistic doctrines of Iran’s governing theocratic regime as expressed in its constitution, play a part in this phenomenon, stating, “The Iranian constitution, in its current form under the ruling clerical regime, institutionalizes discrimination against women. Women are considered to be inferior, second-class citizens, and are deprived of occupying legitimate political and judicial positions. Under these conditions, the chance of discriminatory practices against women increases drastically, creating fertile ground for the existence of the aforementioned factors related to suicide. Until the root cause – the regime’s constitution and beliefs – are changed, women and young people will continue to suffer, and the suicide rates will continue to rise.”
Karim Dohimi, Ahwazi rights activist says, “The head of Iranian’s Legal Medicine Organization said the suicide in Iran is growing. Even though the rate of suicide in Iran is less than European countries, it now stands in the third spot among all Islamic countries”.
He added, “According to recent statistics, 13 people commit suicide in Iran every day, with most suicides being among people 15 to 35 years old. The number of suicides in Iran from 2013 – 2014 was 4,069 people, and in 2015, that number dipped slightly to 4,020. But in 2016, since suicide among students increased dramatically, suicide started to be considered one of the most significant social problems in Iran”.
With public anger rising as the economic situation continues to worsen while the regime leadership continues to spend tens of billions annually on weapons progams and on multiple devastating regional wars whose only tangible outcome for most Iranians is the stream of coffins containing Iranian soldiers being sent back after being killed for the regime and its allies, Iran is now a powder keg waiting for a match.