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Warnings About a "Colossal" Danger: Iranian Clerics Continue to Complain About High Prices

By Mahshid Boroomand, Rooz Online

As prices of daily goods continue their unrelenting climb for ordinary Iranians amid the political battles of the country’s ruling elite, ordinary and senior clerics carry on with their complains about this issue and warn that its continuation could turn the masses against the regime.

Related Story: Iran's inflation rate hits 27.4%: Central Bank

Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, for example, recently addressed this. Speaking to officials from West Azarbaijan province, the senior cleric who enjoys religious supporter said, “Officials must break the horns of this huge inflation otherwise this will become a dangerous issue for society; Everybody is responsible to inform the government of the problem and state officials need to come up with plans to resolve them.” He went on to criticize the quarrels of the leaders of the three branches of government: “Creating conflict equates to the crime of polytheism.” “Under the current conditions it is necessary that we remain vigil lent and strengthen domestic unity as this is the most import of all tasks. Differences can cause consequences such as an earthquake or a lightning over a society.”

As inflation and unemployment have been both on the rise in the country, Shirazi is among those senior clerics who have continuously been warning about public discontent.

Earlier, in late December (on 7 Dey) he had said, while speaking after his class lecture at Azim mosque in the city of Qom, “People write us letters and say they expect the clerics to communicate their problems to state officials ... Officials present inflation statistics which may be accurate from their perspective but what people deal with are food, clothing, housing, household goods and medicine which when monitored will show that their prices have changed by 50 and in some cases even 100 percent and over.”

He emphasized that the issue will not go away if we simply ignored or covered it up. And with his eyes on the June 2013 presidential election he warned, “Tomorrow we expect people to participate in the election, which they will, and the problems of the last election should not be repeated through the watchfulness of people and officials. People must be kept happy.”

Other clerics too have echoed these concerns. On December 31 ayatollah Mohammad Ali Alavi Gorgani, another senior marjae cleric in Qom said, “We must rescue people from these problems so they do not feel the high prices and not suffer from it. Economists should come up with programs to rescue the public from such problems.”

In his talk, he too made a reference to the differences among the leaders and senior officials of the Islamic republic. “As children of the revolution and the regime we must hold our hands together and set our differences aside. If we disregard each other, the enemy will dominate us and will exaggerate the problem. There should be no differences in the body of the regime so that the enemy is denied the opportunity to use it.”

About mid December, ayatollah Jaafar Sobhani, a senior marjae cleric from Qom also spoke of inflation in strong critical terms. “These price fluctuations have broken the people’s back and these economic problems must be checked. Price fluctuations in the country are not good for the regime and its consequences will harm the Islamic regime.” He continued, “If people’s complains rise because of economic conditions, the interests of the regime will face a serious threat.”

These warnings and criticism about the leaders and officials of the Islamic republic come after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s differences with the supreme leader went public in 2011 and since international sanctions against the country have taken a more aggressive and expansive nature, the country’s overall economic situation is deteriorating, and differences and conflict among the leaders of the three branches of government have been dramatically escalating in public and have reached new levels.

Yet while some measures have been taken in response to the new economic realities and complaints by officials, such as the creation of special committees and inter-agency work-groups, differences among members of such panels have prevented agreement on any measures to control economic issues.

And as the international economic sanctions continue to bite and are being expanded, Fars news agency belonging to the Revolutionary Guards published a report last week that indicated a 97 percent inflation growth I the last 20 months. This figure contrasts sharply with what the government has published through the Central Bank where inflation was marked at between 26.1 and 36 percent.

Not only do different organizations in the country present very different economic indicators, but the finger pointing for the causes of the economic problems points to different sources depending on who is speaking. Generally, however, the government has refrains from publishing statistics on actual rates of unemployment, inflation, drop in oil sales, etc.

During a seminar in October when Haddad Adel, a former Majlis speaker and an influential politician with presidential aspirations and support was asked about inflation rates, he responded by saying that “according to a decision by the Supreme Statistics Council (shoraye alie amar) figures published by it are “classified information” and would be provided to government managers and decision-makers.”

The deputy Speaker of the Majlis Mohammad-Reza Bahonar however had talked about inflation figures, pinning them at 22 to 27 percent, but adding that with the current hikes they could reach the 40 percent levels by the end of the Persian calendar (ending on March 20, 2013).

Inflation and unemployment have also reported impacted the food situation in the country. On October 16, 2012 the head of the Food Industries and Science Research Center affiliated to the ministry of sciences and research touched on the subject during a food conference on the occasion of the international food day and spoke about people suffering from hunger in Iran. Dr.Rasool Khodai said that while developing countries had an average of 15 percent of their population suffering from lack of food, in Iran the figures stood at 5 percent.

Following these remarks, Mardomsalari newspaper used Khodai’s figures and reported that there must be over 3.750 million people struggling with hunger in the country, adding that as people’s purchasing power declined, the real figures on hunger were probably even worse and would increase in future.

In another related event, Hossein Raghfar, an economics professor and specialist had told ILNA labor news agency in September/October that “poverty in Iran stood between 25 to 32 percent of the population.” He added that while poverty had increased around the country, the gap in economic conditions among the population too had become more severe in the last 7 years.

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