By Faramarz Davar
October 2, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak has prompted a range of conspiracy theories in Iran and across the world. Iranian officials have used the crisis to fuel hatred against the United States and to bolster its already prolific propaganda campaign against what the Islamic Republic labels “the Great Satan.” IranWire looks at the range of propaganda disseminated by Iranian officials over the last few weeks.
As the number of coronavirus infections and deaths in Iran reached a record high, Major General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, announced in a meeting with more than 200 members of parliament: “The United States is approaching its Chernobyl. It cannot manage a pandemic.”
Islamic Republic officials have stated that, in comparison with the United States, Iran has been successful in its handling of the pandemic, presenting the numbers of cases and deaths in each country as one clear piece of evidence.
However, comparing these figures is misleading: in a country with a population of 328 million, as the US has, the number of cases and deaths would naturally be higher than in Iran, which has a population of almost 82 million.
In the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, when it began spreading from China to other parts of the world, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed predictions from international health officials that a pandemic could erupt. He and other senior leaders in the country denied reports of the first cases emerging in Iran, saying it was a ruse to discourage the Iranian people from voting in the February parliamentary elections. He was quick to blame the US: “You Americans have manufactured this virus.”
In those early days, President Donald Trump’s administration, despite having imposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic Republic, told Iran’s leaders that it was ready to send medical aid and equipment to Iran.
But the Supreme Leader was quick to reject his offer. He used his first speech of the Iranian new year, which due to coronavirus was broadcast on television without an audience instead of at the shrine of the Eighth Shiite Imam in Mashhad, to revive conspiracy theories about the US, and showcase new ones.
“You can prescribe a drug, or bring it into the country to keep the virus alive and prevent it from being destroyed; if you have actually created this virus, you are capable of these things,” he said, as if he was addressing the US directly. He then went on to suggest that American officials might want to send someone to Iran “to see the firsthand practical effects of the poison they have produced. They may want to come and see how it works, how they should supplement their intelligence, and how to increase their hostility.”
Khamenei also accused the US of creating a strain of the virus “especially for Iran” when sending the virus into the country “using the knowledge of Iranian genetics that they gained from various sources.”
Of course, the Supreme Leader didn’t say anything about the fact that millions of Iranians live in the United States, so if the US government had created a virus to specifically target the genetic make-up of Iranian people, it could have conducted its operations at home.
The theory that the US manufactured the virus provided Khamenei ample opportunity to reject the US offer of medical assistance and give further ammunition to disputes between the two countries.”Well, we have many enemies, no surprise. In the Koran, God almighty says that there are both demonic enemies and human enemies, and that they help each other. The intelligence systems of many countries are working together against us,” he said.
Other officials have also used the epidemic to launch verbal attacks on the United States. President Hassan Rouhani coined the term “medical terrorism,” accusing the US of acting against Iran and targeting its most vulnerable people. While the import of medicine and medical equipment is exempt from US sanctions, Rouhani alleged that the Americans had banned medicine from reaching the country even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Following allegations against the United States, the Islamic Republic government asked Ayatollah Khamenei to allow €1 billion to be withdrawn from the National Development Fund to combat the spread of coronavirus. Five months after the money was withdrawn by the government, Dr. Saeed Namaki, Iran’s Minister of Health, said that less than 30 percent of the €1 billion that the government had drawn from the fund had been paid to the Ministry of Health.
Where’s the Money to Fight the Pandemic?
Verbal altercations with the Trump administration and politically-charged accusations against the United States have increased in recent months, and along with them, conspiracy theories about the link between coronavirus and the US government.
The theories are not only disseminated by Iranian officials; politicians and militant group leaders with links to Iran also use them. “The coronavirus is made by the United States,” announced Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, one of Yemen’s Houthi rebel leaders. Political and religious leaders close to Hezbollah in Lebanon have a similar mantra, and the Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah, like the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, accuses the United States of being incapable of fighting coronavirus.
Media in the Islamic Republic, following on from the leaders of the regime, report in a similar manner, publishing conspiracy theories and attacks on the US and translating anti-American articles and accusations from non-Iranian media into Persian. Although several anti-American campaigns have been doing the rounds in parts of the Middle East in recent months, the theory that the US has created and spread the virus is the most popular, as is the claim that the Israeli government was a willing and active partner in this sophisticated act of sabotage.