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Coronavirus Chaos In Iran: Rouhani Wants Foreign Aid, Hardliners Don't

Closed shops in the Tehran Bazaar, Iran. March 25, 2020.

A visiting Doctors Without Borders contingent in Isfahan has been barred from offering its relief services to coronavirus patients because of indecision, chaos and conflicts surrounding Iranian government organizations.

President Hassan Rouhani says three of his cabinet ministers, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli and Health Minister Saeed Namaki had invited the France-based NGO. However, the Governor General of Isfahan, also an employee of Rouhani, disclosed that it is the Health Minister who says Doctors Without Borders should leave Iran.

The chaos has once again given rise to the key question: Who is in charge in Iran?

Clearly the health minister cannot overrule something approved by Rouhani and his cabinet. So, he must have got his orders from someone above Rouhani and that would be either Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, or the Revolutionary Guards, IRGC that furthers its agenda, often by use of force, regardless of Rouhani's position.

A vocal member of the Iranian Parliament Ali Motahari has called on the health minister on Wednesday to explain who made the decision to prevent Doctors Without Borders to set up a hospital in Isfahan. However, Namaki is unlikely to respond to the lawmaker's call.

Motahari called the officials' treatment of the French medical team "non-Islamic and against the people's well-being."

Whoever was behind the decision, one of the reasons could be pleasing Khamenei who said earlier that he does not want foreigners, particularly Americans to intervene in the fight against COVID-19, as they might manipulate the virus to make it a lingering problem. He also charged that American relief workers might also collect data about Iran.

Fanning the flames of Khamenei's conspiracy theory, one of his confidants, Hossein Shariatmadari said on Tuesday that there is no difference between the French and the Americans as they both want to do harm to the Islamic Republic.

Regardless of the statements made by hardliners, their involvement in stopping Doctors Without Borders' activity cannot be proven at this point. Based on what is available in the public domain, including statements by Rouhani, the Governor General of Isfahan and the Iranian Intelligence Minister, it could just as well be another example of indecision, chaos and conflict within the Rouhani administration.

Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said on Tuesday that his ministry has approved the arrival of the French doctors.

However, not only there have been conflicts between what Rouhani has said about lockdown and restrictive measures and what other officials in his administration have said during the past days, at times Rouhani himself contradicted what he had said before. The latest examples are his ideas about imposing quarantines or restricting travel.

On Tuesday, he said people are free to go around but they need to observe social distancing. On Wednesday he ordered a ban on the exit of any vehicle from any city, particularly from Tehran.

Iranians on social media speculate that generally the Iranian government does not want foreigners to be involved in disease control as their efficiency might highlight the haphazard performance of Iranian officials.

On Wednesday the Iranian army revealed the outcome of what it earlier described a hospital with 2,000 beds for patients discharged from hospitals. Pictures published today show several rows of beds covered with army blankets in a bare gallery with hardly any resemblance to even a makeshift hospital.

A makeshift facility prepared by the Iranian army for coronavirus patients. March 25, 2020
A makeshift facility prepared by the Iranian army for coronavirus patients. March 25, 2020

The place, a former venue for book fairs, lacks essential hygienic services such as toilets and showers inside. Very few toilets built outside for book fair visitors are by no means suitable for patients whose immune system has been impaired.

President Rouhani has said once again at the cabinet meeting that Iran welcomes aid from any country. However, with what happened to the French team, it appears what he meant was Iran welcomes cash, not medical experts and equipment.

After Iranian officials told Doctors Without Borders to leave Iran, they have said they are deeply surprised by Iran's behavior.

Semi-official news agency ISNA reported on Tuesday that they have brought equipment to set up a makeshift hospital with 48 beds worth 970,000 Euros. The agency later removed the report from its website.

Meanwhile, explaining the officials' treatment of the French doctors, Iranian MP Mahmud Saedqi said on Tuesday that some hardliners in Iran are simply against international cooperation.