March 24 (UPI) -- The Iranian economy is plummeting. Spiraling inflation and a collapsing currency have combined with the coronavirus crisis to bring the country to a virtual standstill.
The active Iranian workforce is 26 million, of whom at least 10 million were jobless even before COVID-19 struck. Youth unemployment was at a staggering 40 percent. At least 33 percent of the population were already living under the absolute poverty line unable to meet their essential daily needs. Now the country is in virtual lockdown, but the theocratic regime is doing nothing to help.
Even before the coronavirus struck and before the Trump administration reimposed tough sanctions, Iran's descent into economic chaos could be traced directly to the ruling clerical regime and its tyrannical supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. Their policy of aggressive military expansionism across the Middle East has seen them consistently pour men and resources into backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his murderous civil war, while they simultaneously drove the genocidal campaign against the Sunni population of neighboring Iraq through their outright support for the brutal al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the so-called Shi'ia popular mobilization forces. They have openly financed and supplied the Houthi rebels in Yemen and continue to provide vast funding for the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Combined with the mullahs' own predilection for corruptly lining their own pockets, Iran has become an international pariah, its religious fascist regime condemned for human rights abuse and the export of terror, while its 80 million beleaguered citizens, over half of whom are under 30, struggle to feed their families as the COVID-19 virus rages across the nation.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps -- the regime's Gestapo -- controls over 80 percent of the economy, corruptly funneling money stolen from the people into private banks and using the rest to finance their burgeoning nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It is reckoned that Khamenei controls a financial empire worth an estimated $200 billion, resources which could readily be made available to alleviate the suffering of the Iranian people. But Khamenei has instead tried to blame Iran's enemies for what he calls "a biological attack."
When the virus first appeared in the holy city of Qom, Khamenei declared that there was no danger and that news of COVID-19 was a plot to deter people from voting in Iran's parliamentary elections. Now the lies, stupidity and incompetence of the mullahs have allowed the virus to spread to 199 cities in all of Iran's 31 provinces. It is known that the real death toll from the virus has exceeded 11,000, although the mullahs pretend that just 1,800 have died. Dr Rick Brennan, the World Health Organization's director of emergency operations, following a visit to Iran last week, said coronavirus cases in the country were five times greater than what was being reported.
The only reliable information is being provided by resistance units of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the democratic opposition to the theocratic regime. Now, as their own ineptitude has become exposed, and the real death toll has been widely shared on social media, the mullahs are beginning to panic. A month ago, President Hassan Rouhani said the coronavirus would fade away in a matter of weeks. But this weekend, he acknowledged in a TV interview that 70 percent of the Iranian population would be infected by the virus, stating that he hoped they would be infected gradually, because the healthcare system could not cope with a sudden escalation in the infection rate.
Rouhani, for once, was telling the truth. He and his fellow mullahs, with their IRGC cohorts, have diverted almost all of the available face masks, sanitizers, protective clothing and other key medical supplies for their own personal use in their own exclusive private hospitals, leaving Iran's beleaguered doctors and nurses with little or nothing to protect themselves or to treat the public. This is why the coronavirus death toll in Iran is accelerating ahead of China and Europe.
Rouhani even told his cabinet on Saturday that the virus was a conspiracy by Iran's enemies aimed at destroying the economy. He claimed that American sanctions were preventing aid from entering the country, although U.S. sanctions specifically do not affect medical or humanitarian aid. Rouhani then farcically said, "The process of production must go on as usual, in order to confront the conspiracy."
Khamenei compounded the farce by stating in his Nowruz (New Year) message that the coming year will be a year of "surge in production in Iran." His fatuous comment led one courageous young Iranian to post an observation on social media saying, "This is nonsense; which surge? What production are you talking about? This is the year you will all be brought to trial."
The 80 million Iranian citizens are fed up with their corrupt, fundamentalist rulers. They are fed up with living in poverty and deprivation as the mullahs siphon off the country's wealth to fill their coffers and to finance conflict and terror throughout the Middle East. They demand the release of Khamenei's stolen billions to pay for proper healthcare and for financial support for workers who have been forced to stay at home.
The Central Bank of Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion in emergency loans to help contain the virus and mitigate its effects on the struggling economy. But Iranians are demanding that any such loans be carefully monitored to ensure they go to helping the population and not into funding terror or into the mullahs' pockets. Most of all, the people of Iran are asking the U.N. Security Council to investigate the regime for its ongoing crimes against humanity.
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.