A newspaper close to the office of the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has suggested that financial institutions operating under his aegis should support low-income Iranians hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Islamic Republic) newspaper is funded by Khamenei's office and its editor Masih Mohajeri who wrote the article is known to be one of the Islamic Republic's old guards.
Likening the fight against COVID-19 to Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s, during which ordinary people provided the logistics for Iranian forces, Mohajeri wrote that the institutions should extend financial support to the underprivileged people whose livelihood has been endangered by the outbreak and its economic consequences.
However, he wrote, that "no economic support by ordinary people can alleviate the hardships imposed on the poor by this outbreak," adding that "big financial powers should come to solve the problem and rescue the people."
In recent weeks Iran has launched a diplomatic and public campaign to force the United States to suspend its economic sanctions, arguing that amid a pandemic these sanctions amount to “economic terrorism”. The U.S. State Department and others have countered that Khamenei controls billions of dollars and if the country needs money, he should loosen up his purse.
During the past week since President Hassan Rouhani introduced the idea of "smart social distancing" and allowed small businesses to resume their activities, there has been a lot of debate in the media and among officials and the people in Iran about whether concern for the state of the economy should come first and endanger people's lives by encouraging them to act as usual, setting aside epidemic restrictions.
Meanwhile, many observers, including the Iranian Parliament's research center warned Rouhani that the economic problems resulting from even partial lockdowns and closure of businesses might lead to protests and riots among by low-income Iranians.
Mohajeri in his editorial suggested that powerful and rich financial organizations including the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, the Mostazafan Foundation and the Executive Headquarters Carrying Out Imam's Order, three of the richest organizations operating under Khamenei's direct supervision should help out the people in this hard times.
Mohajeri reminded that "These organization's assets belong to the people and should be spent for them." He added that with their help, the people's problems could be solved during a short period.
According to a 2013 Reuters report, the Executive Headquarters Carrying Out Imam's Order was in possession of $95 billion in assets.
Mohajeri further mentioned some of the financial assistance these organizations extend to certain groups of underprivileged families, "But these are extremely rich organizations. They should come to the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 immediately and meet the requirements of the people who are suffering as a result of current economic hardships."
The editor-in-chief of the Jomhouri-ye Eslami further opined that "Certainly, either the managers of these organizations are not well informed about the extent of the problem, or they simply do not want to spend the funds at their disposal to help the underprivileged."
Mohajeri reminded that "two thirds of the country's population is self-employed and do not get paid regularly by the government. Very few of them can afford their expenses at this time. The rest of them, a majority, are now poor and empty handed," he said.
He further noted: "Many have lost their jobs and this dangerous trend still continues while the [presidential] administration is not financially in a position to help them under the pressure of sanctions and reduced revenues."
Mohajeri then called on the organizations under Khamenei's supervision to come to the frontline and spend people's money for the people. "How can they justify their raison d'etre if they don't spend their money to help the people?" Mohajeri asked.
The Jomhouri-ye Eslami newspaper was the mouthpiece of the Islamic Republic Party in the 1980s. Later when the party was disbanded, the paper continued its existence. For several years, Ali Khamenei's name was still printed as the daily's proprietor and managing editor, but his name was finally retracted in 1990s although his office still pays for the paper.
The significance of the editorial is that it appears in a paper owned and politically close to Khamenei although its slant in its economic articles favor President Rouhani's policies.