Coronavirus border closures is last thing Iran’s regime expected
Amid sanctions, floods and other pressures, the regime faces a real emerging crisis.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On Sunday, Pakistan and Turkey closed their borders with Iran due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the Islamic Republic and the unwillingness of Iranian leaders to be clear on the extent of the threat. Iraq had already conducted some border closures and bans on Iranians traveling to the country. Afghanistan and Armenia also closed their borders with Iran.Iran is now facing a real crisis. It was already under US sanctions, and the flood season is beginning there. But border closures due to the coronavirus were not something that the Iranian regime expected.Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had welcomed an Austrian delegation on Sunday as if nothing was wrong. But he already knew how bad the spread of the virus was because he compared it to US sanctions; he even downplayed it. Meanwhile, Turkish leaders had received details from Iran last Friday that the Islamic Republic had more than 750 suspected cases.Iran is facing an evolving crisis, but it has kept its media from reporting the full details. ISNA, IRNA, Fars News and Tasnim have all tried to keep information about the extent of the virus off their home pages. They only have had infographics and details about how to prevent the spread of the virus. The goal of Iran’s regimen is to pretend that nothing has happened. In English, it also tries to focus attention on other issues.Iranians are also on edge for other reasons. They know the regime lied to them about shooting down a Ukrainian airliner. They also know the regime killed 1,500 protesters last year. This means they are educated enough to understand the coded language being used by Tehran.They also know the regime has not bothered to take basic precautionary measures in some places. Although schools and universities were closed on Sunday and Monday, and efforts were taken to prevent price gouging on protective masks, the religious shrines in Qom remained open. Photos showed religious men in masks and people spraying disinfectant as people prayed. This appears to be dereliction of duty. But Iran’s regime is conditioned to blame foreigners, so it blamed foreign media for spreading rumors.The stigma against Iranians and Shi’ite pilgrims who travel to Iran is now growing in Iraq, Pakistan and other countries. This creates a mixed message and complex problems. In Iraq, Shi’ite religious leaders have offered prayers. Muqtada al-Sadr even returned from Qom, without being quarantined, and has called for possible protests against Iraq’s government, not connected to the virus.Meanwhile, it appears people who traveled to Iran and returned to Bahrain, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Lebanon have brought the virus back with them. So Turkey and Iraq are understandably on edge.
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