- The Iranian government faces a crisis of legitimacy as the coronavirus outbreak exposes the weaknesses of its authoritarian rule.
- Iranian authorities may be underreporting the extent of the outbreak and suppressing dissidents.
- Covid-19 is literally killing government officials and could do more to lead to regime change than the Trump administration ever could.
The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was a watershed moment. It demonstrated the lengths to which the Trump administration was prepared to go to achieve its foreign policy goals in the Middle East. But the coronavirus outbreak may do a better job of undermining the Iranian government than airstrikes and brutal sanctions ever could.
The deadly disease is literally killing Iran’s leaders.
But even more importantly, it is undermining their ability to rule by exposing the weaknesses and censorship in their authoritarian regime. While coming at a staggering human cost, Covid-19 is turning into a massive victory for Tehran’s enemies in the White House and elsewhere.
Covid-19 Is Devastating Iran
Authoritarian governments tend to be the worst at handling infectious disease outbreaks. As we saw in China, the Communist Party prioritized control and censorship over people’s lives in Wuhan, leading to the coronavirus outbreak spiraling out of control in the province.
China may still be dramatically undercounting the true extent of the crisis to save face and protect the reputation of its government. And it looks like Iran’s authoritarian regime is pursuing a similar strategy.
According to official data, Iran has 1,501 confirmed cases of coronavirus, most of which are located in the central city of Qom. But despite only reporting 1,501 infections, Iran has a staggering 66 deaths from the virus, second only to mainland China.
This 4.4% fatality rate is significantly higher than the 1-2.5% reported in other locations. Inaccurate data may be behind the discrepancy.
Is Tehran Underreporting the Numbers? Its Enemies Think So
But Iranian officials may be underreporting the number of coronavirus deaths too.
According to hospital officials who spoke to the BBC, over 210 people have already died from the disease. The People’s Mujahedin, a Marxist anti-government Iranian organization, claims that Covid-19 has already killed over 300 and infected 15,000 across the country.
U.S. officials have levied similar allegations Here’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:
The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country.
The Coronavirus Is Killing Iran’s Leaders
Covid-19 is having a direct impact on Iran’s leadership, with several top government officials falling ill from the disease.
Iran’s Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, appeared on national TV sweating profusely while telling reporters that his government had “almost stabilized” the coronavirus outbreak. He openly opposed quarantines, calling them outdated.
The next day he was in quarantine – infected with Covid-19.
Awful as the virus is, Covid-19 is doing a more effective job of incapacitating Iran’s regime than Trump’s airstrikes or sanctions ever could. While this is an extremely sensitive subject, it has undoubtedly caught Washington’s attention.
Coronavirus Creates a Crisis of Legitimacy
On top of killing Iran’s leaders, Covid-19 is undermining the Islamic Republic’s ability to lead.
In China, the Communist Party’s cover-up ignited severe backlash, with many Chinese netizens openly speaking against their government and calling for free speech. They used Twitter and other social media platforms to voice dissatisfaction with the way authorities handled the crisis.
Iranians are using similar tactics to expose the regime’s mishandling of Covid-19.
Some are criticizing their government’s religious fundamentalism and delay in closing holy sites in Qom.
Others are criticizing Tehran’s censorship and refusal to release accurate information about the outbreak.
They share disturbing videos of people collapsing in public. These images are similar to what came out of China during the height of the epidemic in Wuhan.
The Regime Is Still Reeling from the Downing of a Ukrainian Jet
Covid-19 could not have come at a worse time for the Iranian government. The Islamic Republic is still reeling from several catastrophic setbacks as it struggles to maintain its grip on power.
In January, the Iranian government shot down a Ukrainian jet carrying 176 people, killing everyone on board. This event – and the government’s attempted cover-up – led to an unprecedented wave of protests calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
If the Iranian regime continues to mishandle Covid-19, those protesters – along with President Trump – may finally get their wish.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth.