Long Lines, Empty Hands: Rouhani Government’s Distribution of Small Economic Relief Packages
One hundred days after his election, Hassan Rouhani told reporters in November, “The Government will provide something small this year for people in low-income tiers. God willing, we hope to present people with two packages of staples for the low-income tiers by the end of this [solar] year [March 20, 2014].”
Amid high inflation and unemployment rates, and a failing economy caused by sanctions and mismanagement, on February 2 the Iranian Government started distributing the free rations of staples, consisting of one 20-pound bag of rice, two packages of feta cheese, two bottles of cooking oil, two frozen whole chickens, and 24 eggs, to a narrowly defined group of Iranians. Thousands of people lined up before 7:00 a.m. in sub-zero temperatures, rain, and snow in Iranian cities to collect their packages. Many, however, returned home empty handed after hours of waiting in line, having learned that they do not qualify for the government gift.
Beginning February 2, the distribution plan aimed at providing minor economic relief to millions of Iranians is supposed to run for 15 days. Though there is a website where people can inquire whether they qualify for the plan, many people appeared in person on the first day, both because the website stopped working several times due to the high volume of inquiries and because a large percentage of those who might qualify are retired individuals who do not know how to access a website through the Internet. According to the plan, among other requirements, only those who earn a maximum 500,000 toman (US$170) per month qualify for the “Free Staples Basket.” Fars News Agency reported that a protest gathering against the plan was formed yesterday in Tehran by those who earned only slightly more than $170 per month and therefore did not qualify to receive the much-needed food items.
The $170 per month condition for retired individuals on social security, according to Mehr News Agency, means that only 13% of retired Iranians qualified to receive the package, with the remaining 87% unable to receive it.
At his August 4, 2013, inauguration ceremony as President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani said, “The people wish to be free of poverty and discrimination, and to have respect and dignity. People want to live in a free, spiritual, and rational environment. The fathers and mothers in our society are searching for a secure future for their children. Our youths want to have a chance to blossom, work, and innovate. In short, people want to live better, to have respect, to enjoy a stable life, and to find their deserved position among the nations.”
However, images of the thousands of Iranians nationwide who were waiting to receive staples they may not be able to afford otherwise show a situation neither respectful nor dignified. A man said, as aired in a BBC report, “What has become of us? We have become beggars. The people have turned into beggars. They must go knock on the government’s door, to maybe get something. This is so ugly. This is ugly for a country like ours.”