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Leaders Accused Of Being Tone Deaf In Reaction To Devastating Floods

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani finally visits the hard-hit Golestan province, March 27, 2019
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani finally visits the hard-hit Golestan province, March 27, 2019

Iranian social media users are accusing their leaders of being out of touch after several politicians displayed glib reactions to massive floods that inundated much of the country last week, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured.

The floods, which affected 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces, began during the Noruz Persian New Year celebrations March 21.

Days after the worst had passed, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was the first high-ranking official to visit the devastation, making a trip to the flooded areas in his native province Mazandaran, as well as Golestan, where several towns are submerged.

Videos on social media show him walking among a circle of aides and bodyguards. A woman approaches and complains that she has lost everything and has nothing to eat. Larijani says: "Thank God that you are unhurt," and continues without looking at the woman.

Another tweeted video of the same interaction shows a cleric who tells the woman angrily not to approach Larijani, a member of the opposite sex.

Hundreds of Twitter users have lashed out at Larijani for his unsympathetic behavior, concluding that such scenes reveal the deep divide between the Islamic Republic’s officials and the people.

In another video, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari walks in shallow waters with a smile on his face with his bodyguards and plays in the flood water. A Twitter user says jokingly that this "intelligent move” by Jafari has stemmed the tide of the flood.

Also, there are several jokes and sarcastic comments about Vice-President Es'haq Jahangiri spending the night in his comfortable office and telling the people outside to be mindful of the flood. Many asked what can they do when the “mighty” Islamic Republic itself is incapable of helping its citizens.

Another Twitter user complained of officials and celebrities proudly displaying wet trousers on social media to show they had helped in the flood-hit areas, even though they were in places where the water had already subsided.

Many others harshly criticized officials for not predicting and warning people about the floods. Many asked why roads in the city of Shiraz, where hundreds of cars were swept away by the water, killing 19 according to official figures, were not closed to traffic before the floods hit.

Many called Islamic Republic’s spending on morality police tasked with keeping the sexes separate absurd when there was apparently no money for an early warning system to save lives in the event of a natural disaster.

Many social media users observed that residents, often themselves victims of the floods, rushed to help others, while the military did very little, even after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei ordered them to come the people’s aid.

In Shiraz, home owners, mechanics, restaurant owners, and other businesses offered free services to the thousands of stranded tourists who had come to the city for the New Year’s festivities.

One of the main targets for criticism on social media is a rail line constructed by the IRGC in the flood-stricken city of Aq Qala in the north without any bridge to allow flood water to pass through and pour into the Caspian Sea. IRGC forces were forced to detonate explosives to create an outlet for the water, ruining the rail line in the process.

But instead of draining properly, the explosions that destroyed the railway diverted water to the nearby town of Gomishan, causing it to flood.

Meanwhile, many social media users criticized President Hassan Rouhani for his failure to visit the flood-hit areas sooner, and for sending his Intelligence Minister to survey the damage rather than the Roads and Transportation Minister or Energy Minister, whose authority has more bearing on the problem.