Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticized Iranians for “travelling abroad too frequently” and told them to “quit this bad habit,” while “the enemies are plotting to exert economic pressure” on the Islamic Republic.
However, Khamenei, who was delivering a sermon to mark the end of Rmadan and the Eid Al-Fitr holiday on Friday, June 15, encouraged Iranians to continue their “pilgrimage to holy places as this would not add to the country’s financial burdens.”
In recent years, Iranians have been travelling to Iraq for pilgrimage in millions at least twice a year to take part in Shia religious ceremonies spending at least hundreds of dollars each in foreign currency.
Official statistics put the number of religious pilgrimage to Iraq and Saudi Arabia at around two million per year while media reports have said up to four million Iranians travel to Iraq for Shia mourning rituals Ashura and Arba’in that mark the martyrdom of the sect’s third Imam.
Figures released by Mohammad Moheb Khoda’i the deputy to the head of Iran’s Tourism Organization indicate that 4,229,000 Iranians left Iran for pilgrimage to holy sites in Iraq and Saudi Arabia only during the past year, reported tourism news website Kojaro.
Earlier in June, Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seyf had also called for limiting outbound tourism, naming it as one of the reasons that lead to devaluation of the Iranian currency rial by boosting demand for foreign currency.
Subsequently, Iran’s leading economic daily, Donyaye Eqtesad compared outbound tourism in Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabi, stating that outbound travels from Saudi Arabi has risen from four million to 20 million, while outbound tourism from Turkey remained between seven to eight million over the past decade. During the same period, outbound tourism from Iran grew from four to five million in 2014 and then it dropped to around of four million.
The statistics, which was widely cited by other Iranian media, shows that contrary to what Iranian officials have said Iranians have been travelling abroad less frequently since 2014.
In his sermon, Khamenei called for more austerity measures including a ban on importing foreign goods.
Khamenei also criticized Iranian media for “repeating enemies’ statements,” which are “meant to frustrate Iranians,” adding that “enemies are adamant to take advantage of Iranians protests in order to create havoc.”
He made the remarks only one day after President Hassan Rouhani had also criticized Iranians for relying on foreign-based Persian media.
Iran’s top Judiciary officials have also claimed recently that the US and Israel were taking advantage of widespread protests to “difficult financial conditions” in Iran and threatened to “deal with protestors who might undermine the country’s security.”
Economic analysts have been warning during the past month that renewed US sanctions against Iran following the United States’ withdrawal from the big-power nuclear deal with Tehran might ignite further unrest in the coming months.