Post-JCPoA, President Hassan Rouhani is trying to “sell” Iran as the “safest, most stable country of the region” and although red carpets have replaced the sanctions, the realities in Iran remain dismal in human rights and in the economy. Here are some facts you might want to consider before you buy into Rouhani’s idealization of Iran.
Reporters without Borders ranked Iran at 173 out of 180 in regards to freedom of speech and journalism. 173 out of 180, ahead only before Sudan, Vietnam, China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Korea and Eritrea. And that’s only in regards to freedom of speech.
As to general human rights, the Freedom House graded Iran at 17 out of 100 for problems which span across the whole regime. The main problem is that the regime is designed to maintain the status quo and to preserve the ideals of the Islamic Revolution and any impetus for change is muzzled or eradicated. Iran’s electoral process is intrinsically flawed because the Guardian Council, a group of 12 men, 6 clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader (a hardliner) and the other 6 are nominated by the chief of Justice (another hardliner) screen all candidates for all elections (President, parliament, Assembly of Experts…) based on political criteria – the Guardian Council just disqualified 99% of the reformist candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections for them being critical of the regime. It’s a closed system which is designed to maintain the status quo. The same is true for the elections of the Assembly of Experts, also in February, who is charged with choosing, supervising and, theoretically, firing the Supreme Leader. In this manner, political parties can exist only if they are loyal to the regime, media is censored to communicate only pro-regime content, religious minorities are oppressed, public demonstrations and strikes are allowed only if they are not “detrimental to the fundamental principle of Islam”, trials are notoriously held behind “closed doors” and forced “confessions” are the norm through torture and threats to family members and friends, charges include the detested Moharabeh (Insult to Islam or insult to the Supreme Leader) or simply the generalized “propaganda against the regime…
First of all, Tehran might be strutting like a big-shot tycoon but Iran is literally broke for now with a $40 billion “hole” after all frozen assets are released. The incoming deals are definitely good news for Tehran but analysts believe that Iran needs $500 billion in the near future to sail comfortably out of the stormy weathers of sanctions.
But Iran’s problems don’t begin and end with its deficit: The World Bank ranked Iran 119th out of 189 economies in the ease-of-doing-business index. The bureaucracy in Iran is notoriously tangled, the IRGC is involved in nearly all categories of business and politics play a huge part on whether a deal is made or not. As to corruption, Iran was ranked 130th out of 168 countries in the corruption perceptions index compiled by Transparency International. Iran’s credit ranking is also graded at a high risk “junk” level due to the “scars” of sanctions over the past two decades as well as the falling price of oil.
And yet, Iran is an attractive market for foreign investors based on two simple factors: It’s vast oil/gas reserves and, paradoxically, the fact that Iran has been under sanctions for all of these years, creating a lot of market opportunities where vacuums exist today.
If the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is settled, if the war in Syria finally winds down, if the tensions between the superpowers in the region cool down and if the whole issue of Islamic extremism fades away…Iran’s economy will definitely take an upswing direction. Until then, all of the variables remain question marks which are detrimental to mainstream foreign investments.