Coronavirus- A sanitary worker disinfects a shrine in Qom, Iran, on February 25. (AFP)

By Camelia Entekhabifard

January 11, 2021

In March 2020, when Qom was declared the epicenter of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and Chinese seminary pupils its agents, the city’s representative in parliament announced the situation to be critical and requested the closure of the Masoumeh Shrine.

Mohammad Saeidi, the Friday prayer imam of Qom, protested against the request backed-by the health authorities, saying: “We consider the Shrine a healing center or Dar al-Shifa. That is, people can come here and get healing for their mental and physical illnesses. It has to remain open; people should be able to come here.”

A year has passed since the deadly coronavirus broke out. Many countries declared full or partial lockdowns, and with the onset of the flu season, large parts of Europe are still in quarantine.

The number of cases and deaths in the past year has been so high that with the start of the winter, Hassan Rouhani’s government has had no choice but to impose an evening curfew and shut down certain businesses.

Quarantining Qom in the first days of the outbreak could have had a different result for the whole country. Now that the coronavirus vaccine has been developed by the world’s largest pharmaceutical institutes and the efforts of prominent scientists, Ali Khamenei, the leader of the republic, says he does not trust the vaccine made by the United States and Britain, banning its import to the country.

Other clerics and officials close to the government have come forward to confirm the leader’s opinion and prove his point by promoting superstitions and using their religious influence among those close to the government and religious groups. The result is a divided society and sacrificing public health for the benefit of the regime.

Hossein Kanaani, the conservative political activist, says they want to implant GPS systems in our bodies through vaccines, and Anabestani, a member of the 11th Parliament, says that American and British vaccines are carcinogenic and sterilizing.

One can find many similarities between 21st century Iran, under the leadership of a Shiite religious government, and the events of a century ago during Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar’s reign when there was an outbreak of cholera in the country. In 1850, Amir Kabir ordered a full lockdown along the Iran-Iraq border to prevent the disease from spreading across the country.

In 1847, when vaccination for smallpox was declared compulsory, Amir Kabir proclaimed that anyone who did not want to get the vaccine must pay a fine to the government fund. But public ignorance and rumors spread by amulet writers and fortunetellers made people hide in water reservoirs or leave the city when vaccinators visited their homes.

Smallpox, cholera and famine caused many casualties in those years. Amulet writers had said that the jinn enters our bloodstream through injection and warned people not to cooperate with vaccination authorities.

Nasser al-Din Shah established the Health Protection Assembly to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as cholera, tuberculosis and the plague, which were the leading causes of death and widespread disease among Iranians at the time.

The Pasteur Institute of Iran was founded in 1920. With the establishment of Reza Shah Pahlavi’s reign, the head of the country’s health administration presented scientific and national programs to control infectious and contagious diseases in the country.

Exactly one hundred years after the Pasteur Institute was established and modern medicine was introduced in Iran and Iranian scientific institutes started cooperating with other reputable scientific and medical institutes, Iran is today among the countries that not only hasn’t been able to control the pandemic and its mortality rates, but its government has not taken any actions to get the right medicine and effective vaccine.

Iran no longer has a relationship with the United States and Britain (America’s most important Western partner), and the country has been strained by economic pressures and sanctions in recent years. It is the Iranian people who are paying for the sanctions, for Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the regime’s political and economic isolation with their lives, together with a hint of superstition and conspiracy theories.

Statistics show that on January 10, with 71 deaths, the death toll among people infected with coronavirus in Iran reached 56,171.

Two hundred members of parliament have said that they consider Khamenei’s orders regarding the coronavirus vaccine as the final verdict.

An hour after the Minister of Health announced that Khamenei’s order to ban “was based on scientific research” and described the leader’s relationship with the people as “father and children”, a number of lawmakers declared their allegiance to the supreme leader in an open letter.

They wrote that the companies had not provided their vaccine production documents to the authorities of Iran and therefore, they could not be assured of the “safety, health and efficacy of the American and British vaccines.”

They also claimed to have ample evidence that the Pfizer vaccine has caused “shock, side effects and death” after injection.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, targeted by Khamenei and his entourage, is the only vaccine certified as safe and effective by the World Health Organization.

The general vaccination program against coronavirus has been underway in recent weeks in the United States, Israel, the Arab Gulf states and European countries.

Ali Rahimi, a government-appointed cleric, wrote on his personal Twitter page: “The Pfizer vaccine may make women grow a beard or turn them into crocodiles. In the Pfizer contract it is written, we are not responsible for any side effects.”

In his book, “My Life”, Ahmad Kasravi wrote: “When cholera spread in Iran, it killed many in Tabriz. People hung the Quran from windows, so whoever passed under them would be safe. They laid down carpets in alleys, made vows and held religious rituals. One day they mounted the son of Tabrizi on a donkey and walked him in the streets of Tabriz so people could kiss his hands and clothes to avoid getting infected! The boy himself fell victim to cholera and died.”

“Instead of doubting their beliefs, the people said: ‘The Master took the disease for his own child, to save us! They believed that Tabrizi’s family took their burden hundreds of times!’”

Superstitions, false and unscientific statements, and the politics of the Iranian officials are on one side; the lives of those in danger and the collective health of millions of people threatened by these seasonal and politicized interpretations and decisions, are on the other.

Today’s Iran is not the Iran of the Qajar period and the era of ignorance when people could be deceived by lies and dishonesty and in the name of religion. The Iranian people want access to a cure for the coronavirus; they yearn to improve their deplorable living conditions and have security, comfort, choice and welfare.

Asharq Al-Awsat

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.