Iran is one of the hardest hit countries in the world when it comes to the number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or died because of it. According to the official figures, more than 3,000 people have died and almost 50,000 have been infected with the virus in Iran. This means that more than 6 percent of those infected have died, which is significantly higher than in other countries.
However, unofficial statistics put the number of deaths far higher. According to opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the real death toll across 228 towns and cities in all 31 Iranian provinces had, as of March 27, surpassed 12,400.
The regime’s incompetence in handling the crisis from the outset — such as continuing to allow flights to operate to and from Qom and refraining from quarantining the city, which was the center of the country’s outbreak — has undoubtedly played a key role in the large scale of the humanitarian catastrophe. In addition, the regime’s attempts to conceal the truth have further exacerbated the situation.
Because of the crisis, some governments have decided to offer Iran financial aid upon the Iranian leaders’ request. The regime has asked the US-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial assistance for the first time in 60 years. It asked for a $5 billion emergency loan after the IMF made $50 billion available to assist countries with the coronavirus crisis. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif posted a tweet addressed to the IMF: “IMF’s @KGeorgieva has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately. IMF/IMF Board should adhere to Fund’s mandate, stand on right side of history & act responsibly.” Meanwhile, the EU has decided to give Iran €20 million ($21 million).
But governments and international organizations must be extremely cautious about giving the Iranian regime any direct financial assistance. This is due to the fact that, throughout the history of the Islamic Republic, any extra revenues obtained by the leadership have never trickled down to the ordinary people.
One recent example is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aka the Iran nuclear deal. When it was signed in 2015, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised that the deal would help the Iranian people financially. When the crippling UN and US sanctions were lifted as a result of the JCPOA, Iran rejoined the global financial system and its oil and gas industries had a fresh start. Tehran subsequently increased its oil exports from 1 million barrels per day to about 4 million. Asian imports from Iran jumped by more than 90 percent, according to Iran’s state news outlets. Sales to Turkey and other European nations also rose quickly and Iran soon became the third-largest producer in OPEC. Iran also attracted foreign investments.
Nevertheless, domestically speaking, the regime’s increased revenues did not reach the general population or ease the lives of ordinary Iranian people.
Unemployment and inflation remained at record highs. This is partially due to the fact that Iran’s financial deals were mostly conducted at the governmental level.
The beneficiaries of those financial gains were mainly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Office of the Supreme Leader. In fact, corruption and economic mismanagement exacerbated the economic problems of ordinary citizens. In addition, as the hard-liners gained more financial power, restrictions on freedom and social justice increased.
The extra revenue gave Iran the necessary financial clout to pursue its strategic and regional ambitions. It emboldened the IRGC, which flexed its muscles in several countries in the region. This led to heightened tensions between Iran and its regional rivals, causing further insecurity, conflicts and humanitarian tragedies.
So if money should not be handed to the regime directly, what can be done to help the Iranian people during this crisis? The best option would be to give the funds that Iran has requested to international health organizations or credible civil society groups.
The regime must also be forced to allow medical staff and health organizations from other countries to enter Iran. Other conditions could include pressuring the authorities to reveal the truth about the scope of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, and ordering it to stop spending money on its nuclear activities and military adventurism in the region amid this public health crisis.
Financial assistance should not be given directly to the Iranian regime because it will be funneled into supporting the IRGC and the terror and militia groups it supports across the region. Aid must instead be directed to trustworthy international and civil society organizations if the crisis is to be eased.