Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during a meeting with a group of Iranians in Mashhad, March 20, 2024

Khamenei's Annual Economic Slogan Reflects Wishful Thinking

Friday, 03/22/2024

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi refrained from addressing economic challenges like poverty and soaring inflation in their Norouz Iranian New Year messages.

Khamenei's vague statement, "What has been done was good and should continue," brushed over the people's dissatisfaction, and despite Iranian media reports indicating that one in every three Iranians lives below the poverty line.

Relatively independent media outlets and pundits in Iran have warned that one-third of the population now lives below the poverty line, which is defined as roughly $400 of monthly income for a family of three. Many Iran International TV viewers have told he network that many families can no longer afford items such as meat and dairy products. The Central Bank of Iran has put the annual inflation rate at over 40 percent, but inflation for some food items is in triple digits.

The serious downturn began in 2018 when the United States withdrew from the JCPOA nuclear deal and imposed tough sanctions on Iran. However, Tehran has continued escalating its nuclear program and regional policies targeting US interests and Israel’s security.

As in previous years, Khamenei has bestowed a name upon the New Year: "The year of surge in production with people's participation." This "name of the year," as coined by Khamenei, is often seen by many Iranians as a play on words.

Iranian people shop at a flower market, ahead of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, in Tehran, Iran March 17, 2024.

According to a Khabar Online report, for the eighth consecutive year, Khamenei has been emphasizing "production" and "surge in production" in his annual naming tradition and Norouz messages. Despite his repeated use of these terms, there has been no tangible improvement in production or other economic activities. Instead, financial corruption has continued to escalate. Two of the latest cases are a land grab by Tehran's Friday Prayers Imam Kazem Sedighi and the embezzlements in Iran's vehicle manufacturing industry. 

Raisi's New Year message, like his previous speeches, focused on "achievements" that cannot be independently verified. Despite promising to construct four million houses, Raisi claimed in his message, without any evidence, that half of this target has already been achieved. However, Iran International's readers and viewers frequently express concerns about the increasing cost of housing in Iran.

Khabar Online reported that Khamenei began naming the years approximately three decades ago. Initially, "the name of the year" primarily reflected ideological and religious values, such as "the movement of serving the nation" in 2003. However, over the past 16 years, these names have predominantly focused on executive and economic issues. For instance, in 2001, it was "national authority and creating jobs," in 2018, "supporting domestically made goods," and in 2023, "curbing inflation, boosting production."

Over the past 8 years, Khamenei's focus has predominantly centered on domestic production. It began with "resistance economy, production, and employment," progressed to "knowledge-based production" in 2021 and culminated in "The year of surge in production with people's participation" for 2024. This progression suggests that Khamenei may have gradually lost confidence in the government's ability to improve the economy and is now turning to the people for participation.

Meanwhile, the middle class and private sector have been almost totally ruined by what even many regime insiders believe is government policies.

While Khamenei's annual theme may focus on economic growth and the country's development, observers in Iran, particularly since the 2022 nationwide protests, argue that the economic and foreign policies pursued by the Iranian government make development unattainable.

Year after year, many Iranians note that these themes neither provide guidance to the government and the people, nor do they reflect genuine intent. Instead, they seem to serve as fleeting slogans, repeated by officials to appease the originator of the themes, possibly as a means for him to express frustration about an economy that not only stagnates but often regresses.

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