Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islāmic Republic of Iran, has recently issued an order directing the government, with full legislative support, to plan austerity measures for the country as a “matter of urgency.” Critical to note is that the order has come amid the negotiation that the government of president Rouhani has entered, for the past few months, with the 5+1 countries to settle their differences over the country’s suspicious nuclear activities. The negotiation has reached a preliminary agreement with both sides committed to implement their parts. The agreement has since produced some positive results. Such results were, amongst other things and not limited to, included the US releasing over $4 billion of the regime’s frozen money, relaxation, in some limited areas, of international and American sanctions particularly in the fields of oil and gas export, banking and sales of airplane parts. Iran in return implemented verifiably its commitments under the agreement. In light of these somewhat positive developments, one would wonder what made the Ayatollah to issue such order now.
At first glance, two answers come to mind with each, of course, supporting different purpose. One is that the Ayatollah is bluffing. Why? He tries to send a message out to the 5+1 purporting his and his regime readiness, or preparing itself, to walk away from the current agreement and/or not having a further final and long-lasting agreement with the West. He may do this for two reasons, at least I think. First to warn the West that should it make further demand, such as instigating the issue of human rights and/or democracy, he is ready to abandon the agreement. And secondly, repudiate the widely pervasive belief that he and his regime have been coerced, under immense pressure by the West and through sanctions, to the table. This fact nevertheless is something he can run but never be able to hide from. President Rouhani admitted publicly in his 100-days-in-office-report that he “has inherited an empty treasury.” That sounds right with reports suggesting Iran selling only a million barrels of oil per day, before the negotiation, down from more than two and half million a year before the election; and doesn’t see any money for it simply because of the sanctions. Although this was the real reason behind the Ayatollah, and his regime, caving in against the West and may well offer legs to the bluffing purpose, Ayatollah can live with it.
What Ayatollah and his cronies cannot tolerate, however, the second purpose of his message by issuing the order, is more demand from the West. Increasingly demanding and/or speaking on human rights and democracy for Iran has a totally different meaning for the people of Iran in one side and the Ayatollah on the other. For the people means moving on step closer to their fundamental human and democratic rights; and for the Ayatollah packing! That makes him nervous. Recently, and on different occasions, the US adds to his anxiety. The US State Department, both in statements and commenting here and there, speaks about human rights and conditions under which political prisoners are held in Iran. A recent particular occasion, the anniversary on which the leaders of the Green Movement were being put under house arrest; made him angry. He responded by saying “the US shows its animosity toward Iran and its people by referring to the “leaders of sedition”. This is the term he and his cronies use when referring to Mr Mousavi and Karobi the leaders of the Green Movement.
By his austerity order, I think, the Ayatollah was saying; leave me and the regime my cronies and I lead in Iran alone or we are ready to walk away and fight! This is more in line with the underlying problem based on which the nuclear dispute escalated in first place over a decade ago. That is the demand for respect of human rights and democracy leading to regime change in Iran. Whilst this may be a different way of imposing changes to the political system in Iran; for the Ayatollah has only one unpleasant meaning, an unfinished business the US pursues since the earlier years of the last decade. He was unhappy then as he appears now. The events that were unfolding around Iran at the time had made him extremely nervous. In one particular occasion in Mashhad, a city north of Iran, after the collapse of the Saddam’s regime in Iraq, he said “US is extremely rude”. He was responding to rumours at the time that president Bush had ordered him to pack and go! That put the Ayatollah and his cronies in a collision course with the US. A path from which the Ayatollah releases some stem today by way of ordering urgent austerity measures for the country.
Notwithstanding his stem, no one can take serious an old man with so many enemies in the world of Sunnis Islam; not to mention above 90% of Iran’s population. He is not even bluffing; he is kidding.