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Will Islamic Republic Surrender to Coronavirus, Clerics Or Doctors?

Smoking Syrian Rue, a plant believed to cure sickness in Masoumeh Shrine in Qom on February 25, 2020

The Islamic Republic's approach to preventing the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran is a religious-security approach rather than a scientific-functional one.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has condemned the spread of the virus as a conspiracy by the enemy to curb the turnout in last week’s Majles elections and President Hassan Rouhani characterized it as "the enemy's political propaganda."

Senior clerics in Qom have prevented hygienic and health care measures in that city. While public health officials demanded the closure of busy pilgrimage sites in Qom and Mashhad, the clerics in charge of the shrines obstructed the attempts to control the virus. They have even resisted the decisions of the Provincial Security Council and disease control task force.

But why clerics in 19 out of the 31 Iranian provinces have prevented disease control although they are aware of the dangerous consequences of the epidemic and why they insist on their religious-security approach.

How can they circumvent or prevent the scientific and hygienic approach to virus control? Why they insist on their non-functional approach at the expense of endangering the lives of thousands of Iranians and people elsewhere in the world?

They can’t arrest a virus

Throughout the past 41 years, the Islamic Republic has arrested, tried, imprisoned, tortured and executed its critics and political opponents, trying to ensure its survival.

In the religious arena, the regime which is based on the absolute rule of clerics, not only omitted the followers of other faiths including its own sizable Sunni minority from political competition and power, but it has also suppressed its Shiite critics.

Now, Coronavirus has challenged the efficiency of the Islamic Republic. But a virus cannot be arrested, tried and forced to confess against itself, nor can the Islamic Republic condemn it for heresy. Clerics cannot eliminate Coronavirus in the same way they got rid of intellectuals and political activists. The clerics have nothing to defend themselves with against the virus and the people know that. Nonetheless, clerics are not going to surrender to doctors and experts.

While the structure of decision making and the hierarchy of power is clerical-security in nature, security forces and clerics do not wish to acknowledge that they cannot cope with Coronavirus and that they need to surrender to experts' knowledge.

According to man's accrued experience, only experts and medical doctors may be able to control the virus and find a way out of the crisis based on mankind's collective knowledge. But the Islamic Republic has a problem with every bit of this scientific approach.

They can’t surrender their supremacy

The Islamic Republic's leader, President and senior clerics see themselves as the representatives of God and the imams who are saints and thus innocent. They are not willing to acknowledge that there are problems for which they do not have a solution, and thus should follow what experts say. From the point of view of the leader, the President and senior clerics, such a practice would undermine the supremacy of the clergy in the country's political system. It will also undermine the fundamentals of the economic regime that is based not only on donating to the clerics but also allowing them to control large chunks of the economy.

This is exactly why the leader and the president attribute Coronavirus to the enemies. At lower levels, clerics in charge of religious sites in Qom and Mashhad will not give in to the doctors' call for suspending some religious rituals such as Friday Prayer gatherings. Theoretically, this is against what clerics have preached at the seminaries for hundreds of years.

Some religious scholars believe that in certain matters people should listen to experts, in this case doctors. But now that the Health Minister has officially declared on behalf of the disease-control task force that gatherings should be limited in pilgrimage sites for safety concerns, the clerics in Qom find it hard to accept the experts' views and obstruct their measures. As far as they understand, shutting down these places closes the clerics' business and sets a dangerous precedence for the future.

Inefficiency is the main issue

While the regime has proved to be inefficient in many areas of governance, it is not willing to acknowledge its inefficiency and resorts to lying, disinformation and concealing the truth about the spread of Coronavirus.

In order to conceal its inefficiency, the regime has forced the media to propagate its religious-security approach. But social media has put an end to the state-controlled TV's monopoly on news. Twitter, Instagram, Telegram and other social media platforms have given everyone access to news that can expose misinformation.

In spite of the power of social media, the problem in confronting Coronavirus is that decision makers still come from the ranks of security forces, revolutionary guards and senior clerics rather than relevant experts.

As long as this group of decision makers prioritize their clerical-security views in making national decisions to confront Coronavirus, and as long as they ignore the views of medical experts, there will be little hope in surmounting the Coronavirus crisis. The only way out for Iranians is if senior clerics and security officials' surrender to the attestations of Iranian doctors and and other scientists who have global connections and good information.

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    Morad Vaisibiame

    Morad Veisi is a journalist and an editor at Radio Farda and is considered an expert in affairs related to Iran's IRGC and the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei.