Yesterday, Friday 20th March, was Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In normal years, Iranians globally would be celebrating the ancient ritual of Nowruz, which marks the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of the first month – Farvardin – in Iranian calendars. It is traditionally a time of great joy for millions of Iranians and non-Iranians around the world who gather to celebrate a season of new life and to wish each other good luck for the year ahead. Sadly, this year, because of the Covid 19 coronavirus epidemic, Nowruz was not a time of great joy inside Iran. Indeed, for the past forty-one years, since the 1979 revolution swept the Ayatollahs to power, Nowruz has never been a time of unbridled happiness.

As the ultimate killjoys, the mullahs have tried to scale back Nowruz celebrations. Citing the pre-Islamic roots of the festival from thousands of years ago, the theocratic regime always frowned upon it, in the same way as they have tried to stamp out music, dancing and most kinds of carefree entertainment that they regard as anti-Islamic, western and decadent. But the 80 million Iranian citizens who have been horribly oppressed by the clerical regime, would not tolerate a ban on their age-old celebrations. It is sadly depressing that the corruption and incompetence of the mullahs has, albeit inadvertently, led to the virtual outlawing of Nowruz this year.

It is now known that the number of coronavirus fatalities in 199 cities  and in all of Iran’s 31 provinces, has exceeded 7,000. Resistance units of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main democratic opposition movement, are able to provide the only accurate and reliable information coming out of the beleaguered country. But despite the scale of the epidemic, which is spreading rapidly, the mullahs continue to tell the international community that less than 14,000 people have been infected by the virus nationwide and the death toll is 1,135. Dr Rick Brennan, the World Health Organisation’s Director of Emergency Operations, following a visit to Iran this week, said coronavirus cases in the country are five times higher than what is being reported.

These clumsy attempts at cover-up and deception by the mullahs are aimed at hiding the fact that the clerical regime failed to take any effective preventive measures to deal with the spread of the virus, including the quarantine of cities where the infection was raging. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime’s Gestapo, who control the Iranian economy, have channelled almost all the available funds and medical resources, including protective masks and clothing, to the regime’s officials and to its own military personnel. Even doctors and nurses who are at the forefront of fighting the disease in hospitals, have no proper medical supplies and protective suits. There are reports that specialist equipment supplied by the World Health Organisation has been sold on the black market by the IRGC.

From the very beginning, the mullahs knew that the virus had infected people in the Holy City of Qom, a magnet for Muslims, but concerned that it would impact on turnout at their parliamentary elections and celebrations to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, they covered it up and did not make any announcements to warn the wider population until it was too late. Nor did they make any preparations for preventing the virus from spreading. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even ridiculed the disease and said the coronavirus was an excuse created by Iran’s enemies to discourage people from voting! He has farcically even blamed the Americans for what he calls “a biological attack.”

Only now, as the extent of the epidemic has become obvious and knowledge is being widely shared on social media, have spokesmen for the regime begun to hint at the extent of the catastrophe.  It is evident that the number of those infected is increasing exponentially and referrals to the ill-equipped hospitals has engulfed their ability to cope. There are no longer any beds available in many hospitals across the country. According to sources within Kashan, a city in Isfahan province, hospitals are so full that patients with the disease are being transferred to Tehran, over 150 miles away. The hospitals have even run out of equipment for testing patients for the virus and medical staff have no personal protective kits. 

Physicians now reckon that by the first week of April, up to 40% of the Iranian population will be infected. With the nation in virtual lockdown and Iran’s citizens facing a virulent pandemic because of the stupidity and corruption of the mullahs, there is seething unrest across the country. Some masked and gloved protesters have even risked infection by gathering in towns and cities to register their disgust at the theocratic regime’s ineptitude. The Nowruz celebrations have been submerged under a sea of infection and incompetence. 

It is worth remembering that the New Year in question, under the Persian calendar, is 1399. There are uncanny parallels with what is happening in Iran today and events that occurred in medieval 1399. Back in the Middle Ages, Europe was just beginning to recover from the Bubonic Plague pandemic, which had killed millions. England in 1399, was ruled by the tyrannical Richard II, who believed he was answerable only to God and who was thought by many to be clinically insane. He ruled over a cruel and despotic regime where opponents were routinely arrested, brutally tortured and often hanged in public. Women were treated as second class citizens. 

The comparisons with 1399 Iran are striking. A tyrannical and irrational Supreme Leader, who claims he is answerable only to God, rules over a cruel and brutal medieval regime where arrests, torture and public hangings are commonplace and where misogyny and the treatment of women as second-class citizens are sadly all too familiar. In the opening scene of Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard II’, the King says: “Forget, forgive, conclude and be agreed: Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.” But the people of Iran are bleeding and they will not forgive or forget. We can only pray that the Persian year 1399 will see the Ayatollahs swept from power, ushering in a happy new year for Iranians.