HAVE THE PANDEMIC AND THE US SANCTIONS TRUMPED IRAN?
In March 2020, Iran became the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. The already disorganised leaders were exasperated as they were forced to grapple two major issues: one to save their crumbling economy from the wrath of the U.S. sanctions, and the two, to save the lives of their citizens and their source of livelihood from the pandemic. Iran’s economy is characterised by massive inflation and forever depreciating currency for the last few years specifically. Daily around 7000 people are inserted into the stream of 1.1 million more COVID-19 patients in Iran and the fight for resources and facilities lives on. Other than this, the internal issues concerning a citizen’s religious inclinations, daily amenities, mental wellbeing and freedom have also proved to discombobulate the Iranian government. In this essay, we will discuss and analyse the US-Iran relations and its aspects like sanctions, treaties, trade etc. Later, we will look into the micro aspects within the Iranian society itself which has further escalated the COVID-19 horrors. We will also examine the possibility of a bright future for Iran, with the incoming of Joe Biden into the US presidential office and some other administrative solutions which can be practised seeing their success in other countries and states.
Coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sanctions, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Friendship Treaty,maximum pressure, undercounting, poverty, Naan ya Jaan, Christianity, Baha’is.
Iran houses one of the world's oldest civilizations, which once thrived and basked in warmth of good trade relations through oil and mineral exports. With Trump as the new president of USA, Iran was a witness to some landmark decisions which shook its foundations and shattered its trade trajectory. To top it off, COVID-19 was successful in catching Iran at its economic worst, since the Iraq war, three decades ago. Now we would study the main impediments to Iran’s road to recovery, Donald Trump and his sanctions.
Since 1979, innumerable economic, scientific, trade and military sanctions have been implemented against Iran by the United States of America. The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 is a sanction law which imposed sanctions on the ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction program of Iran. It impeded the fluent transfer of military equipment or technical or financial assistance of any form, in Iran and across its borders. The President of the United States is empowered to scrutinise and exercise sanctions against any person in Iran, who is caught breaching the internationally recognized human rights of any individual. In May 2018, U.S.A took a controversial and colossal step of announcing its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which is a 159-paged detailed and expansive agreement, concurred upon on the 14th of July, 2015, by Iran and the P5+1 nations ‘namely: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States’(Wikipedia 2009), through five annexes. Iran’s compliance with the nuclear regulations was monitored by The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). USA despite the JCPOA, imposed non-nuclear sanctions against Iran. In 2018, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered it to stop the sanctions as they violated the 1955 U.S.-Iran "Friendship Treaty" that was signed with the government in power, before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In response to this forceful compliance, the US officially withdrew from the international agreements to reinstate all sanctions against Iran freely without any restrictions.
The U.S issued warnings that any country doing business with Iran would no longer be considered an ally or a friend of America. It granted waivers to certain countries like Iraq for six months. Afterwards, by April 2019, it threatened to sanction it as well as any other nation which continued to purchase oil from Iran. Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his sons, advisers, close affiliates who were a part of his core financial body and the foreign minister. He sanctioned the Iranian construction sector as well as the financial sector, by targeting 18 Iranian banks.
Iranian support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Shi’ite militias and the Houthis, who are considered terrorist organizations by the US, is one of the main incentives for the U.S. to add unforgiving sanctions on Iran. The US State Department also imposed sanctions on the four “strategic materials” used in Iran’s military, nuclear, or ballistic missile programs. Many prominent leaders and politicians have expressed their utter disgust for how the US has bludgeoned the Iranian economy. The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, went to the extent of tagging the American sanctions as "economic terrorism."
Figure 1. Graph representing the real GDP slump in Iran, after US’s withdrawal from JCPOA.
Iran’s GDP (Figure 1) has plunged by 11 percent while its povertyrate has only increased, from 11 percent to 16 percent of the total population. This tarnished economy is an obvious by-product of the maximum pressure campaign and the withdrawal of US from the JCPOA, which has led to a much steeper collapse in the currency. In 2016, with the JCPOA in partial operation and easy sanctions, the Iranian economy grew by 13 percent. However, since Trump came to power, his sanctions have cut oil exports, reduced supply of foreign exchange, depreciated the value of the currency (now one-third of its original value), resulting in rapid inflation (above 30%) (Figure 2) and general macroeconomic chaos. Microsoft, Google, Apple and other tech companies, began limiting all their users who were linked to Iran, in one way or another, from accessing its services, due to the US sanctions. Even Total S.E. (a French multinational) withdrew from the Iranian South Pars gas field, in which it had a massive investment, because of the mounting pressure of sanctions.
Figure 2. Graph representing the annual change (%) in consumer prices in Iran, in the past decade.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN IRAN
Iran stands third on the chart of the worst affected nations by the coronavirus or COVID-19. On 19th February 2020, Iran reported its first confirmed case, a traveller arriving from China, in Qom. Around February, the Iranian government in its first few announcements regarding the coronavirus, told its citizens that the virus was hyped by the USA in order to curb the election turnout in Iran. The Iranian Government threatened to use force against all those spreading rumours about COVID-19 being a serious epidemic. In March, Ali Khamenei also mentioned, with no evidence whatsoever, that he felt that a special version of the virus specifically based on Iranian genetic information, was being fabricated by US to wipe out the Iranian population. With the elections overhead, Iran’s administration was muddled in the ideas of revenge, war, and conspiracies, and ignored the escalating COVID-19 cases. Refer to Figure 3. This resulted in the very first Nowruz peak (20 March – 4 April) where the number of cases mounted to unimagined limits of around 2500 positive cases in a day. This was followed by the After Nowruz period which saw a greater recovery speed and lesser spread. Iran was one of the first countries to open its economy in June in order to diminish bankruptcy and contain the economic wreckage. However, the reopening of workforce caused a resurgence or second wave (3 May – 3 June) of the virus and new peaks (4 June – Present). The second wave was the deadliest of all, with the child population being affected the most.Figure 3. Graph represents the deaths per week due to the coronavirus pandemic, from its very first case in February to the present.
POVERTY PROTECTION IN COVID-19
Instead of relaxing the sanctions to help Iran regain its ground, the U.S. chose to stack more sanctions on it (Northam 2020). In “No Time to End Iran Sanctions”, which is a Wall Street Journal editorial, valuable insight about the foundations of the ‘tougher stance on Iran’ mindset. The pandemic has disrupted production and unemployment rates have skyrocketed. In the first few months of COVID-19 in Iran (mid-February to March-end), it already experiences the horrific downfall of the real per capita household expenditure. Soon after great suffering and poverty, some economic stimulus in forms of loans, the moratorium on debt repayments were made available by the government-
-Like cash transfers and subsidized loans for vulnerable households and businesses.
-Surplus funding to invest in the impoverished health sector
-Using Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s (former President’s) “Justice Shares” which were a part of his redistributive schemes.
Though these incentives are unable to cover the massive economic plunge, they are still a testimony to the fact that the government wants to regain its grasp on the economy. For a great while, became the puppet of USA and China.
CANCELLATION OF EVENTS
Iran’s response of cancelling and shutting down public places was late because of its denial and underestimation of COVID-19 to be a common cough virus. However, after some delay, the Ministry of Sports and Youth decided to cancel the sporting events (football matches as well). The annual Persian New Year speech which is delivered at the Imam Reza shrine was also cancelled and so was the Persian fire festival. All parks and public gardens and educational institutions, in several cities, chose to clamp their gates shut. In February 2020, when the virus just began disrupting Iran, the Fatima Masumeh Shrine’s head, motivated pilgrims to visit the shrine to allay their fears regarding COVID-19, saying that the holy shrine would serve as a place of healing. This resulted in overcrowding and a shattering peak of cases. It resulted in the closure of many shrines, including the Fatima Masumeh Shrine and Jamkaran Mosque in Qom. Following this announcement, some people protested by entering the shrine or standing and praying on the streets and this disobedience resulted in non-satisfactory results. Travel restrictions were placed to curb the movement during the festive season and people were threatened with force when they did not pay heed to the rules.
HOUSE DIVIDED IN ITSELF
The Iranian government is subject to widespread criticism of their authoritarian regime. The significant constraints that it exercises on its citizens by disregarding their rights and liberties, by violently suppressing their protests and by subjecting women and children to violence and abuse, resulted in hatred for the Iranian government not only on a global level but even amongst its citizens. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself accepted that the "mismanagement" prevalent in the government and its administration was the biggest foe of Iran. Many critics and even US officials like Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State) strongly believed that Iran was obscuring its actual COVID-19 death toll. Not only them but also the Iranian death register confirmed the undercounting of COVID-19 fatalities. Besides the undercounting, another deathblow to Iran was the reopening of the economy on 6th June, after four months of lockdown. Rouhani believed that controlling the prices and providing basic amenities to the Iranian public was the main agenda of the government. The escalating food prices, accompanied by the falling currency was a major consequence of COVID-19 on the already impoverished Iran. The sufferance of the 3 Ts- TRADE, TOURISM, TERRORISM, was what aggravated the economic disaster. Naan ya Jaan was one of the several magazine articles, where the government was asked to choose between the economy and its people, and Iran chose economy. The authoritarian decisions were condemned by the public, which has become increasingly aware of the left-wing ideas and liberal mindsets due to the exogenous shocks brought by digitalisation.
Christianity has been adopted by around 3000 Iranians every month. The lost faith in their religion and country is the most prominent factor for religious conversions. The increased Internet bandwidth service, set up to allow citizens to stay entertained at home during the lockdown, has backfired on the government as the number of online salvation and Christian converts are increasing manyfold. The Iranian government has tagged Christianity to be a ‘propaganda contrary to Islamic beliefs’ and have passed laws to punish all those abandoning their Islamic roots for this “alien” religion. This has resulted in increased violence against Christians and raids in the homes and house churches. Besides all this, to contract the spread of disease, the government released 85,000 jail inmates. However, Iran also dialled up the arrest, trial and imprisonment of its religious minority called the Baha’is, solely for their beliefs. These internal grievances have resulted in rebellious citizens who disregard the regulations to express their displeasure with the current administration.
RUINOUS HEALTH CARE
We have all read about the disorganised and chaotic structure of the medical sphere in Iran. First, we hear interviews of doctors and experts like Dr Alireza Fatemi elaborating their fear that, due to its crumbling foreign relation, Iran cannot avail the medicines and health facilities used by the rest of the world. And then we hear contrasting views of the WHO representative in Iran, Dr Christopher Hamelmann, who asserts his happiness with the national plan and healthcare system during the pandemic. To summarise, I would like to brush through all the shortcomings which make his happiness worrisome and align us with Dr Fatemi’s thoughts.
During COVID-19 pandemic, in Iran, health workers and sanctions experts hold the common belief that U.S. sanctions, be it the financial sanctions or trade sanctions, has tarnished Iranian economy. It has prevented any form of importation of medical supplies or even the raw materials and equipment needed to domestically synthesise medicines.
The United States may claim that humanitarian items have been excluded from sanctions, but in practice the hampered business with Iranian banks and dawdled issuance of export licenses for medical supplies by the enforcement agency of the Treasury Department, have caused excessive difficulties in Iran.
Domestic production of PPE and medicine were always on the edge of a shortage due to sanctions and its limitations.
Medical practitioners during the 2020 elections were asked not to wear masks, shields or any COVID-19 protecting gears; they could alarm the citizens with the grievousness of COVID-19 which would not allow proper turnouts at the booths. This resulted in a lack of awareness and thus overcrowding, resulting in mounting cases and increased fatality.
COVID-19 testing kits in Iran do not correspond to the world standards. They have not been approved due to the sanctions and severed relations of Iran with the developed countries. This resulted in non-positive results in patients who showed clear symptoms of contracting the virus. As a result, many men and women were left untreated due to the faulty kits and when they expired the family was threatened to admit that the death had other reasons or they could not get the deceased body.
Iran is the only country where drugs like Hydroxychloroquine can be procured from pharmacies without any medical prescription scripts. It resulted in the hoarding of these drugs when they were declared to be effective and a major shortage of these drugs occurred for those needing them.
To heal Iran and it’s wounded medical sphere, some reliefs are being given in the medical sphere-
- The local production of the drugs, Favipiravi and Remdesivir, was announced by Iran's Health Minister.
- A phone-based system, called the ‘4030 system’, was made available in Iran since the initiation of the COVID-19 outbreak. It helps in contacting health experts for consultation and screening, in case of COVID-19 symptoms.’
However, these reliefs are ineffective with respect to the increasing speed of disease contraction along with the low recovery rate.
ELECTION 2020 IN IRAN
On 21st February 2020, the Legislative elections in Iran had the lowest voter’s turnout (42.6 per cent) since the 1979 Iranian revolution. 221 conservatives/principlists, 20 reformists (a major setback for allies of President Hassan Rouhani) only and centrists, and 38 independents won the seats. The hardliners were approved by the council, while the moderates and conservatives were rejected. Innumerable reasons are associated with the hardliner’s victory- mainly the tattered economy under the reformists, the severed and hostile relationship between USA and Iran resulting in the JCPOA withdrawal and re-imposition of US sanctions. The reformists lacked organisation strategies and were divided amongst themselves. There was absolutely no government transparency and the killing of general Qasem Soleimani aggravated the public’s hate towards the ruling party. Ultimately all these factors accounted for the major victory enjoyed by the hardliners in 2020.
BIDEN FIXING FOR TRUMP
One of Biden’s several campaigns promises which seem to have worked his way was his affirmative take on the reformation and redeclaration of the JCPOA deal which lies like a carcass after Trump’s withdrawal. Although, we can stand assured that irrespective of the political recovery, the economic recovery is far from achievable due to the magnitude of wreckage that the pandemic and Trump have caused individually and collectively to Iran. Irrespective of Biden’s grit to achieve a peaceful middle ground, the final call lies with Iran. It might take advantage of the USA (now that it wants to restore ties with Iran, after ruining it), trying to get as many benefits and incentives as possiblr, to change their stance from negative to positive. In September 2020, Biden wrote that as president of the United States, ‘he would “offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy” and “strengthen and extend the nuclear deal’s provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” naming human rights and “destabilizing activities”.’ (Turak 2020) Besides the reversals of Trump norms, Biden’s term of the presidency seems to have a more lenient approach towards the sanctions imposed on Iran. It seems to shower Iran with incentives so that the nuclear deals. Regional behaviours can be negotiated upon. With a Democrat leader back in the office, the world expects a period when the two nations come in sync and concur to the deliberated terms of their treaties. President Rouhani wants to revive the relation that existed before Trump got inaugurated into the office.
To end this segment and conclude this pensive study of the factors that alleviated the ruinous state of Iran, let us analyze the reasonable solutions and their source countries.
The efficient technology to trace suspected cases as used in the island of Taiwan has been effective and thus Iran should use approved testers and kits for checking those showing certain obvious corona symptoms. For all the travellers or daily wage migrant workers, quarantine hotels and cabs can be a great relief and diverter of the infection, keeping them isolated yet content. Ever since Taiwan experienced the 2003 SARS outbreak, it has consistently maintained a stockpile of face masks, gloves, lab equipment and medical practitioners, to handle any unforeseen circumstances. Iran did not and thus suffers majorly.
The first barrier protection to New Zealand was the Infectious and Notifiable Diseases Order that was issued in New Zealand (on January 30th). According to it, health practitioners were expected to report any suspected COVID-19 case as early as possible, under the Health Act 1956. Travel restrictions were imposed in February itself and the effective elimination strategy was very impressive and was in great contrast to Iran’s delayed curbing of travel and public gathering.
Like Taiwan, Iceland built a team of contact tracers which would interview the COVID-19 positive patients, and track down all of those who came in contact with the patient, before and after they contracted the virus. Another significant factor that made Iceland’s COVID-19 journey a success is the public's obedience in following the regulations. The government cared for patients by providing them with full salary when infected from the virus. These incentives, along with the work from home benefit, prevented public riots and protests. It is diametrically opposite to Iran, where riots and protests despite the regulations have become a usual affair.
Singapore could contain the spread of COVID-19 through timely preparation and aggressive testing.
Vietnam imposed effective travel restrictions and also sealed its border with China, while also increasing medical check-ups at the borders. Thus, preventing the spread of the virus, unlike Iran where travel to and from China (source of the virus) did not halt, till very recently.
The essay has given a complete look at the Pandemic and Politics in Iran, from pre-COVID-19 to the present conditions. The aim was to consolidate the varied data which is interdependent and make it easier for the readers to form an informed opinion of Iran’s condition. To avoid sounding negative and critical, we also looked at the real solutions to tackle the pandemic better by drawing evidence from other countries. Thus, reflecting on the essay, I would want to answer my research question by saying that I feel that Iran has been TRUMPED under the massive weight of the pandemic and sanctions. However, the chances of its quick recovery, though bleak, are not impossible and in a decade or so, with better cooperation with its trade allies and with the USA, it might be able to change its trajectory and bring the depreciating country back to its old glory.
· Lee, Yen Nee. 2020. “Can Iran afford war? These 6 charts shed some light”. CNBC. Inflation in Iran (image) from Central Bank of Iran and International Monetary Fund (2019). Photograph in PNG format. https://image.cnbcfm.com/api /v1/image/106327537-1578538057709iraninflation.png?v=1578538128&w=740&h=416
· Lee, Yen Nee. 2020. “Can Iran afford war? These 6 charts shed some light”. CNBC. Iran’s Economic Slump(image) from International Monetary Fund 2019. Photograph in PNG format. Sources https://image.cnbcfm.com/api/v1/image/106327536-1578542512659irangdp.png?v=1578542535&w=740&h=416
· Northam, Jackie. 2020. "What's Behind the U.S. Strike in Somalia." NPR News, March 30. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/30/824021928/while-the-coronavirus-pandemic-is-devastating-iran-the-u-s-has-added-more-sancti
· Turak, Natasha. 2020. “A Biden administration wants the Iran nuclear deal back. That could be much harder and riskier now”. CNBC. November. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/25/biden-may-want-irans-nuclear-deal-back-thats-harder-and-riskier-now.html
· Wikipedia 2001. “Iran”. Last modified December 20, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran
· Wikipedia 2009, “P5+1”. Last modified December 3, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P5%2B1
· Wikipedia 2020. “COVID-19 pandemic in Iran”.Death Per Week. Photograph in PNG format. https://en.wikipedia.org/api/rest_v1/page/graph/png/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Iran
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mallika Singh is a first-year student at Jindal Global Law School. She is a hardworking, ambitious, imaginative girl and enjoys writing and connects a part of herself with every article that she writes.