The Chairman of Iran’s influential Guardian Council and Speaker of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati says he is worried about what the future holds for the Islamic Republic.
Jannati is considered a hardline, conservative cleric, who has fully backed Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s policies.
The 91-year-old Jannati was speaking about the country’s outlook ahead of the Iranian New Year March 21. His statement comes one month after wide-spread anti-establishment protests over economic hardship and lack of freedom shook the nation.
“We should not expect people to refrain from protesting, but protests should be within a legal framework,” Jannati said February 5.
While boasting that Iran had “attained significant spiritual and material achievements,” Jannati said Iran’s leaders should nevertheless “Hear the cry of the nation and not distance ourselves from the people, as their living conditions are awful.”
Critics of the Islamic Republic have been saying that it is mainly institutions such as the Assembly of Experts and officials such as ayatollah Jannati who have stifled the free flow of information, freedom of speech and free and competitive elections in Iran.
Jannati further called on Iran’s authorities to live an ascetic life, saying officials should “live in poverty and austerity to prevent people dying of grief,” cautioning that “When it is hard to make ends meet, the poor people pour into the streets to protest since they cannot bear the burdens of hardship anymore.”
The elderly cleric acknowledged the wealth disparity between Iran’s ruling elites and average people.
“People’s quality of life is terrible. Since I cannot do anything about their hardship, I do not want to elaborate on that, but, whenever I eat, I am disturbed because we [officials] have all the necessary means, while regular people cannot afford to buy food and suffer hunger.”
Jannati warned President Hassan Rouhani that the growing gap between rich and poor will continue to bring people to the streets in protest. He laid responsibility for addressing the economic woes clearly at the government’s door.
“The government is accountable for the people's living standard and their earnings,” he said. “If we have failed to redress people’s grievances, they should also accept that we did our best, but failed.”
The Rouhani administration has accused the hardliners of organizing the first protests in Mashhad on December 28, 2017, which quickly spread to other cities and became a self-propelling popular uprising.
While hardliners present economic hardship as an issue the Rouhani government should solve, many experts and critics believe that during Khamenei’s tenure as Supreme Leader, mismanagement, favoritism and corruption have led the country into an economic impasse.
Beyond the possibility of continued protests over economic hardship, Jannati singled out “subversive threats” to the foundation of the Islamic Republic as his main worry for the country in the New Year, though he did not elaborate on these threats, saying only that they should be “taken seriously and neutralized.”