Iran: No Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Hope is a central aspect of all religions. In the Holy Koran, Muslims find that the concept of is directly tied to hope in Allah, which can be interpreted as the belief that one day things will get better. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, hope is what keeps many people going despite numerous challenges related to geopolitical tensions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a regime that does not seem to have the best interests of the public in mind.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the good people of Iran had more reasons to be hopeful; that time was subsequent to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was signed in October 2015 and implemented in early 2016. The JCPOA, which is often referred to as the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” is an agreement supported by the United Nations to improve relations between the Islamic Republic and the United States. In essence, the JCPOA is a nuclear non-proliferation accord that puts Iran in a position to cease development of an atomic weapons program in exchange for easing sanctions that dated back to the days following the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s; in addition to this easement, some reparations were carried out, and there was an overall interest in dialing back military tensions. The Iranian economy reaped the benefits of the JCPOA; for the first time in decades, people felt positively hopeful.

As any economist in the 21st century will tell you, it takes many years to develop an economy, but it only takes a series of unfortunate events for an economy to quickly crumble. In early 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his decision to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA, a move that was criticized not only by the international community but even by some of his close national security advisers who were eventually dismissed from their White House posts. Trump’s one-sided rationale for leaving the Iran Nuclear Deal is not worth explaining here; nonetheless, it is part of what he calls “maximum pressure” on Iran.

The reenactment of trade, economic, and financial sanctions on Iran have had a devastating socioeconomic effect because the restrictions are onerous to the point of preventing humanitarian trade. According to Amir Handjani from the Truman National Security Project, the new sanctions are structured in a way that negates the importing of food, medicines, and hygiene products. The U.S. Department of State assures that humanitarian trade is not impeded by the sanctions, but this is not the case. All sanctions include exemptions to facilitate humanitarian trade; in practice, however, exporters and financial institutions have been extremely reluctant to trade with Iran because they fear that doing so will result in legal action and sanctions.

Needless to say, the U.S. sanctions on Iran have wreaked havoc during the COVID-19 pandemic. One quick glance at the infection and mortality statistics published by the Islamic Republic indicates that this is the Middle East nation that has been affected the most by the spread of coronavirus. On top of this, the people of Iran have good reasons to doubt their government’s response to the pandemic crisis. Statistics have been questioned along with the slow reaction by the Iranian regime. Worst of all, Iranian military forces have increased their presence in the Persian Gulf, and a flotilla of gunboats recently maneuvered dangerously close to U.S. Navy ships in the region; moreover, the Revolutionary Guards Corps launched a military satellite on the same day the government decided to relax social distancing measures with the reopening of some bazaars, shopping centers, and highways despite warnings by public health officials that this was being done too soon.

Iranians are dealing with a crippling inflation, unemployment, and a diminished ability to procure food, medications, and hygiene products. They live in the shadow of a regime that seems more interested in spending millions of dollars to launch satellites into space and missiles at American military bases in Iraq. They are trying to stay healthy at a time when the dangerous coronavirus has killed nearly 5,500 people in their country.

While everything may seem like fire and snakes for the Iranian people, Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. have been pushing for an easement of sanctions during these trying times. The European Union has successfully implemented INSTEX, a program designed to skirt sanctions and export humanitarian goods. We can only hope that the hope mentioned in the Holy Koran can keep the people of Iran in good spirits until there is a breakthrough in humanitarian aid.