Iran’s state-controlled media on Monday continued to push what appeared to be very mixed messages about the effects sanctions are having on the country’s economy and population.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and military leaders have not digressed from the message that Iran can overcome sanctions.
However, Iran’s state press, particularly its English-language channels whose messages are aimed at a Western audience, has started to report that the embargoes are causing severe humanitarian issues.
“West sanctions jeopardize lives of Iranian patients,” read a headline on Sunday in PressTV, the Islamic Republic’s English-language channel, in one of several reports claiming that sanctions have caused severe shortages of essential drugs.
PressTV quoted a unnamed patient as asking why ordinary Iranians should die because of medicine shortages, while in a previous report, the state-run channel claimed that the sanctions are causing “carnage” and that six million Iranian lives were at stake, using the figure to hint that the US and Europe were committing genocide in Iran.
“Is the West taking sadistic pleasure in incurring genocidal deaths or does the West naively believe that they are achieving their fiendish goals in the Muslim country?” the report questioned.
The figure of six million originates from a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon by Fatemeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and head of Iran’s Charity Institute for Special Diseases.
Hashemi Rafsanjani wrote the letter two months ago but Iran’s state media has reported the move only now.
The decision to run the medicine shortage story comes after earlier reports – by the Persian-language reformist website Kaleme, close to reformist leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi – that members of Iran’s Majlis Industry Committee are investigating how the regime imported luxury cars, including Porsches, at the official exchange rate of 12,260 tomans to the dollar, while patients are having difficulty obtaining essential drugs.
PressTV does not mention the Majlis investigation in its reports on the drugs shortage.
While Iran’s state-run press has begun to highlight the humanitarian effects of “illegal” sanctions, Khamenei continued to downplay the effect of the embargoes and to repeat vows that Iran will never back down over its nuclear program.
Through official speeches, Khamenei has repeatedly urged Iranians to shun foreign goods as a way to boost Iran’s “resistance economy,” which he has said involves reducing dependence on oil, empowering the private sector and managing consumption.
“Domestic consumption increases domestic production. When domestic production is increased, it tackles unemployment and reduces inflation. These are all connected,” he said this month.
While Khamenei’s message has been consistently defiant, other religious leaders have warned that the Iranian people might not feel the same way.
Three grand ayatollahs – Makarem Shirazi, Safi Golpayegani and Shobeiri Zanjani – warned Khamenei and the Iranian government via an open letter published this month that Iranians had complained about “economic difficulties, particularly extreme and intolerable rising prices that have targeted the lower classes,” according to the Al- Monitor website.
On Monday, however, Khamenei continued to argue that while the West has “created problems” for Iran, Western sanctions are also affecting the US and Europe.
Monday’s edition of the hard-line daily Kayhan, which serves as a mouthpiece for Khamenei, led with the headline “Widespread protests in Italy, France and Spain: Iranian economic sanctions ricochet in Europe.”
“European citizens are protesting against the sanctions on Iran, and saying that the embargo has worsened their living conditions and has led to an increase in poverty and unemployment,” Kayhan claimed.
The Persian-language service of Fars News, which is affiliated with the IRGC, also reported on Monday that the sanctions would “backfire” against the West.
Much like Khamenei, Iran’s military leaders have also continued to emphasize the “resistance economy,” continuing to state publicly that sanctions are not affecting Iran, but have helped boost domestic military production.
On Sunday, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told reporters that the “unfair” sanctions had helped “advance science and technology in Iran through boosting self-reliance.”
Speaking at a Tehran conference, Vahidi said the sanctions amounted to “economic war” on Iran, and aimed to force the Islamic Republic to surrender by hitting hard at its economy.
“The winner is not the one that fires the first shot. The winner is the one who survives the final shot,” he said.
According to Prof. Scott Lucas, an expert on Iran and US foreign policy from Birmingham University in the UK, the mixed messages in the Iranian media are in part because of muddle and uncertainty within the regime.
“While the overall line – set by the supreme leader – is supposed to be the triumph of the ‘resistance economy,’ there has been increasing concern as economic problems have escalated and this has fueled political tensions.
"So whereas Ahmadinejad was saying earlier this year that sanctions were no more than a scrap of paper and others – including the leading academic voice Seyed Mohammad Marandi – had been saying that the West and Europe would suffer most, there is now an acknowledgement that the ‘economic war’ is taking a toll,” Lucas told The Jerusalem Post.
Lucas said the regime’s strategy over the sanctions message seems to be to unite Iranians in a valiant fight against the enemy.
“That means, while the message of triumph will continue, the perfidy of the enemy in hurting Iranians will be highlighted,” Lucas added.