Iran's domestic woes raise questions about its external ventures

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad


An Iranian woman walks through a flooded road on January 13th in the village of Dashtiari in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan region, as severe downpour led to floods across the region, blocking roads and damaging homes. [Alireza Masoumi/ISNA/AFP]

A wave of popular demonstrations in Iran that have seen protestors rail against fuel price hikes and the accidental shooting down of an airliner have embarrassed the regime and highlighted its failings, experts told Al-Mashareq.

The demonstrations draw unwanted attention to the Iranian regime's domestic failures, even as its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attempts to expand Iran's foreign influence through proxy militias.

This domestic failure of governance has raised questions in the region about Iran's ability to improve the lot of neighbouring countries through its intervention, when it cannot meet the needs of its own people.

"It is absurd that at a time when Iranians are demonstrating against the regime's policy that has drained their resources and isolated them from the world, there are others in other countries who believe the IRGC's fables and lies," Iranian dissident political activist Mousa Afshar told Al-Mashareq.

The Iranian people are discontent and their situation is dire, he said, noting that since 1979, the quality of life in Iran has been on the decline.

According to Iran's Minister of Welfare and Social Security Abdolreza Mesri, in August 2017 there were around 9.2 million people living in poverty in Iran, and two million people living in extreme poverty.

Earlier this month, the World Bank said the Iranian economy is contracting at a faster-than-previous rate, estimating it shrank 8.7% in 2019, compared to the previous year.

The World Bank's forecast for Iran's gross domestic product (GDP) growth is 0% in 2020 and 1% in both 2021 and 2022.

A sharp decline in GDP per capita and double-digit inflation are expected to have a strong negative impact on poverty rates through the labour market and increasing costs of living, the World Bank said.

'Selling an illusion'

The IRGC has been active in neighbouring countries, Afshar noted, while "it is the Iranian people who need water, electricity, health and educational services, freedom of expression, a secure future and [jobs]".

In its foreign ventures, the IRGC is selling an illusion, and those who buy into it "will reap nothing but blood, ruin and backwardness", he said.

No one should believe that aligning or co-operating with the IRGC will change their lives for the better, he said, as the IRGC "essentially enters a country to plunder it and hijack its decision making, not help it".

The IRGC cannot promote justice, freedom, economy, jobs, services or a decent life in other countries of the region when these are not available in Iran itself, Yemeni affairs expert Adel al-Ahmadi told Al-Mashareq.

"The promotion or promise of any of these things, whether by the IRGC or its proxies in the countries suffering from Iranian interference, would be laughable," he said.

Iran "will not be able to bring any good" through interfering in countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, al-Ahmadi said, as its own people suffer from rampant unemployment and poverty.

While Iran meddles in regional affairs under the pretext of "exporting the revolution", the suffering of Iranians has been increasing since 1979, said Iraqi Rafidain Centre for Strategic Studies researcher Mohammed al-Tamimi.

"Iranians yearn and long for the past," he told Al-Mashareq.

The Iranian regime should work to improve conditions for its own citizens, he said, instead of wasting funds by forming and arming proxy militias that in turn fuel conflict in other countries.

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