March 13 (UPI) -- In normal years, Iranians around the world would be preparing to celebrate the ancient ceremony of Nowruz (Norouz), the Persian New Year. Nowruz marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of the first month -- Farvardin -- in Iranian calendars. It is usually on or around March 21. It is a time of great joy for millions of Iranians and non-Iranians around the world who gather to celebrate a season of new life and to wish each other good luck for the year ahead. Sadly, this year, because of the COVID-19 epidemic, Nowruz will not be a time of great joy inside Iran.
As the ultimate killjoys, the mullahs have tried to scale back Nowruz celebrations since they swept to power in the 1979 revolution. Citing the pre-Islamic roots of the event from thousands of years ago, the theocratic regime always frowned upon it, in the same way as they have tried to stamp out music, dancing and most kinds of carefree entertainment that they regard as anti-Islamic, Western and decadent. But the 80 million Iranian citizens who have been horribly oppressed by the turbaned tyrants would not tolerate a ban on Nowruz. It is sadly depressing that the corruption and incompetence of the mullahs' regime has, albeit inadvertently, led to the virtual outlawing of Nowruz this year.
It is now known that the number of coronavirus fatalities in 160 cities and in all of Iran's 31 provinces, has exceeded 3,700. Resistance units of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main democratic opposition movement, are able to provide the only accurate and reliable information coming out of the beleaguered country. According to them, the known breakdown of the death toll so far is Qom 520, Gilan 510, greater Tehran 500, Alborz 140, Qazvin 104, Mazandaran 200, Khorasan Razavi 302, Golestan 276, Kermanshah 110, Khuzestan 108, Fars Province 106, Lorestan 82, East Azerbaijan 26 and Yazd 23. The MEK say that these figures must be added to the fatalities in Iran's many other provinces.
But despite the scale of the epidemic, which is spreading rapidly, the mullahs continue to tell the international media that fewer than 9,000 people have been infected by the virus nationwide and the death toll is below 400. Various regional spokesmen issue contradictory statistics on a daily basis, adding to the confusion and bewilderment of the population, who are well aware of the reality of the crisis.
These clumsy attempts at coverup and deception by the mullahs are aimed at hiding the fact that the clerical regime failed to take any effective preventive measures to deal with the spread of the virus, including the quarantine of cities where the virus was raging. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime's Gestapo,who control the Iranian economy, have channelled most of the available funds and medical resources, including protective masks and clothing, to the regime's officials and to its own military personnel. Even doctors and nurses who are at the forefront of fighting the disease in hospitals have no proper medical supplies and protective clothing.
From the very beginning, the mullahs knew that the virus had infected people in the Holy City of Qom, but, concerned that it would affect turnout at their parliamentary elections and celebrations to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, they covered it up and did not make any announcements to warn the wider population. Nor did they make any preparations for preventing the virus from spreading. The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even ridiculed the disease and said the coronavirus was an excuse created by Iran's enemies to discourage people from voting.
Only now, as the extent of the epidemic has become obvious and knowledge is being widely shared on social media, have spokesmen for the regime begun to hint at the extent of the catastrophe.
Asadollah Abbasi, a member of the Iranian Majilis (parliament), has claimed that the hospital in Amlash has no doctor, and the hospital in Rudsar, specifically allocated to dealing with the coronavirus infection, has no facility for oxygen therapy, vital for the treatment of patients suffering respiratory failure. Tayebeh Siavoshi, a female member of the Majilis, has blamed Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, claiming: "Rouhani has not yet accepted that the situation is very critical. Action should have been taken in February, but they were cynical [about the virus outbreak] and said that talking about coronavirus would have disrupted the election."
It is now evident that the number of those infected is increasing exponentially, and referrals to the ill-equipped hospitals have engulfed their ability to cope. There are no longer any beds available in hospitals across the country. According to sources within Kashan, a city in Isfahan province, hospitals are so full that patients with the disease are being transferred to Tehran. The hospitals have even run out of equipment for testing patients for the virus, and medical staff have no personal protective kits. Physicians now reckon that by the first week of April, up to 40 percent of the Iranian population will be infected.
With the country now in virtual lockdown and Iran's citizens facing a virulent pandemic because of the stupidity and corruption of the mullahs, there is seething unrest across the country. Some masked and gloved protesters have even risked infection by gathering in towns and cities to register their disgust at the theocratic regime's ineptitude. The Nowruz celebrations have been submerged under a sea of infection and incompetence. It is worth remembering that the New Year in question, under the Persian calendar, is 1399. There are clear parallels with what is happening in Iran today and events that occurred in medieval 1399. Back in what was termed the Middle Ages, Europe was just beginning to recover from the Bubonic Plague pandemic, which had killed millions.
England in 1399 was ruled by the tyrannical Richard II, who believed he was answerable only to God and who was thought by many to be clinically insane. He ruled over a cruel and despotic regime where opponents were routinely arrested, brutally tortured and often hanged in public. Women were treated as second-class citizens.
The comparisons with 1399 Iran are striking: a tyrannical and insane supreme leader, answerable only to God, ruling over a cruel and brutal medieval regime where arrests, torture and public hangings are commonplace and where misogyny and the treatment of women as second-class citizens are sadly all too familiar. Happily, in 1399 England, the autocratic Richard II was swept from power by his cousin Henry IV. He was imprisoned for his crimes in the Tower of London and died the following year. We can only pray that a similar fate awaits Khamenei in 1399 Iran.
Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.