The Iranian Asr-e Iran website, which is close to pragmatic circles, protested, in a February 19, 2023 article, against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s governance, along with that of his economic team, against the backdrop of his economic promises to voters and following the deterioration of Iran’s economic situation – particularly the significant devaluation of the Iranian rial. The article was titled: “Mr. President! Enough Generalizations! Tell Us: When And By How Much Did The Exchange Rate Drop And Inflation [Rise]? Your Economic Team Is Not Equipped To Handle This Matter.”
In February 2023, the value of the rial against the dollar dropped 30%; over the past year, it had dropped more than 100%. The unofficial rate fell to more than 60,000 toman to the dollar (10 rial = 1 toman), although the regime has set the fixed exchange rate at 4,200 toman to the dollar.
Asr-e Iran’s criticism comes against the backdrop of what it said was “President Ebrahim Raisi’s promise, in the presence of the leader of the revolution, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to reduce the exchange rate and inflation.” It noted that Raisi speaks to the public in generalizations, without giving specific data about the economy, criticized his lack of an economic policy, and called on him to either appoint a team of economists who understand the economy or step down. It went on to criticize Raisi’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the West and the U.S., apparently in the context of Iran’s inflexible position in the nuclear talks with the U.S., and called on him to change it in order to arrive at the economic achievements he had promised the public.
Then, a few days later, the Majlis representative for Tabriz, Ali Reza Bigi, said in a media interview following a February 25 Majlis meeting with the government’s economic team, that the government had no plan for solving the foreign currency exchange rate problem. According to Bigi, Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who also heads the government economic team, told Majlis members at the meeting: “We have no better solution for managing the [foreign] currency market. This is all we’ve got.” Bigi said about Mokhber’s statements: “We heard today the most irresponsible answer that could be heard from an official element, from the head of the government economic team and vice president. He announced loud and clear that ‘you will find no one better than us to manage the country’s foreign currency [situation]’ and that ‘that’s all there is.'” Bigi added: “We conclude from the meeting with the government’s economic team that [it] has no plan [for how to] to extricate [the country] from the current situation.”
It should be noted that solving Iran’s economic problems requires significant and comprehensive economic reform that is beyond the authority of the president. Such a reform would depend on guidelines from Supreme Leader Khamenei. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controls vital sectors of the Iranian economy, including infrastructure, transportation, and manufacturing, and even considerable portions of the petroleum refining and marketing industry. It also has significant income from the smuggling enterprise that it controls. These sectors yield massive profits but are beyond the reach of the government’s tax authorities. Additionally, corrupt politicians do not bother to pay their taxes. It must also be recalled that Iran is under harsh restrictions due to sanctions, and cannot conduct bank transfers using the international system due to a ban on its access to SWIFT as part of the sanctions on it.
In order to get the Iranian economy on the right track, many structural reforms are needed: privatization, reduction of government spending, more extensive taxation, and more. These reforms are possible only if the Supreme Leader is willing to carry out profound changes to Iran’s strategic and nuclear policies – and this is the direction Asr-e Iran was hinting at.
The following are the main points of Asr-e Iran’s criticism of Iranian President Raisi:
Asr-e Iran Article: “Mr. President! Enough Generalizations! Tell Us: When And By How Much Did The Exchange Rate Drop And Inflation [Rise]? Your Economic Team Is Not Equipped To Handle This Matter”
“In the presence of the leader of the revolution, Khamenei, President [Raisi] addressed us and the people, and said that the currency [i.e. the value of the dollar] and inflation would undoubtedly drop.
“It was very encouraging that this top man in [Raisi’s] government, in the personal presence of the senior regime figure [Khamenei], made such a promise to the people – but we turn Ebrahim Raisi’s attention to several points:
“Obscure statements do not heal anyone’s pain (so far it has not solved the citizens’ [pain]). If this statement by Raisi was to show that he is working on the matter – all right. But if, as the head of the government, and in accordance with the existing reality and the plans that are underway, he sees a downward trend in inflation and in [foreign] currency prices, we ask His Excellency: What is the experts’ assessment regarding the inflation rate and the currency [exchange rate]? How long will it be before they drop?
“The economy means nothing without numbers. An economic promise without numbers is just a jumble of words – it is as if someone who said he was selling his car did not give a price. Obviously, he’s just talking, and doesn’t intend to [actually] sell it. Thus, it is expected that the president should announce, seriously and correctly, exactly where the value of the rial [vs. foreign currency] is supposed to reach, and within what time period, and the same also regarding inflation.
“It is unacceptable for a candidate [Raisi] to announce during an election campaign the exact number of pages of [his] economic plan to win the citizens’ votes – he said ‘we have written a 7,000-page [economic] plan’ – but during the [actual] work period to leave the number out. No one ever saw these 7,000 pages. What page are we on now when the dollar is sky-high?! No one knows.
“And what happens if we are promised certain numbers and time frames and this does not happen? Does [Raisi] apologize and step down so that someone stronger – from among the ideological circles – who has better knowledge of the economy and numbers can come to power? And what will happen if he does not give clear numbers and time frames [for lowering inflation and the dollar-rial rate] and the current situation continues until the end of his term? Does he run again or forget about a second term because he cannot deal with the issue? It is not possible for him to make the same decision regardless of whether the currency and inflation go up or down!
“Doesn’t Mr. President want to make serious changes in foreign policy and in the team in charge of the domestic economy in order to achieve a lower exchange rate and lower inflation? Isn’t this current economic situation the product of both these? And, if there are no changes, the situation will continue on the same track.”
“Mr. Raisi Said During The Elections That He Would Nominate A Row Of Economists – But Instead He Has Handed The Economy To The Current Ineffective Team!”
“We say very clearly to Raisi that both foreign policy and the economic team must be seriously examined, as it makes no sense that the dollar exchange rate, which was 23,000 toman, has doubled in a year and a half – despite the fact that current government officials claim that petroleum sales and profits increased more than they did under the previous government [of President Rouhani].
“Mr. Raisi said during the elections that he would nominate a row of economists, but instead he has handed the economy to the current ineffective team! While [it is said that] ‘of a thousand good promises, not one will come true,’ for the sake of his personal political future, he has no choice but to abandon unknowledgeable officials, and the dreams and slogans of the current economic system, and to cling to real economists – regardless of their political views.
“We have not forgotten that [Raisi’s] labor minister really thought that with a little currency conversion he could exchange a dollar for 15,000 toman, and that in a short time, giving his instructions, diagrams, and PowerPoint presentations, he could transform [Iran] into the second [largest] economy in the world and likewise transform the country into paradise – only to ultimately find no better path than to resign. There are more than a few like him, and this is the source of the worst damage to Raisi’s government. It is impossible to change the outcome without changing the methods. You cannot keep the same route, driver, and vehicle and expect to arrive at a different destination!”  Eghtesadnews.com (Iran), February 25, 2023. Asr-e Iran (Iran), February 19, 2023.