At the beginning of January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of coronavirus vaccines from the U.S., UK, and even France, which resulted in the immediate cancellation of 150,000 doses donated by American philanthropists.
While the long-term implications are not yet known, the regime has said that vaccinations will not begin into the summer and many are wondering if that will even help because the domestic vaccine is being panned by Iran’s medical experts and media.
It does not help that the government has underplayed the scale of the virus from the start in order to justify a lackluster response to it, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars under Khamenei’s control that could have been used to fund the healthcare system or pay non-essential workers to stay home.
They claim that there have been 57,000 coronavirus deaths, but the reality is that this number now exceeds 205,800 based on detailed reports provided by dissidents.
Even when the government acknowledges how bad the situation is, they shirk responsibility and blame the people for rising cases and deaths. People forced to make the heart-breaking choice between staying home and starving to death or going to work and possibly catching the coronavirus.
Worse still, the authorities may have a more malign reason for banning vaccine imports and refusing to lockdown the country than just wanting to keep more money for themselves.
The pandemic allows the regime to enforce bans on public gatherings because they fear that any gathering will turn into a protest and an uprising. Public fear over a contagious disease and increased power to stop mass gatherings are helping the government keep its shaky grip on power.
The establishment has every right to be afraid, considering that the previous protests of December 2017 and November 2019 very nearly saw them thrown from power.
Iranian authorities even admitted that these protests were the result of the dissidents, despite constantly claiming that the Resistance has little support in Iran.
But while the pandemic has so far prevented a protest, the anger is growing over the bungled response. That anger needs an outlet and soon the Iranian people will decide that they would rather risk death than live under tyranny.
Regardless of whether or not they have a vaccine, they will come to the streets and remove the theocratic dictatorship.
Not only has Khamenei all but assured the end of the government, but he’s also made clear that sanctions relief won’t help them manage the pandemic because they weren’t even willing to allow donations of vaccines.
The world should increase pressure on the autocratic government with the hope that this would ensure that the Iranian people are vaccinated quicker.