Iran’s Supreme Leader today again the government’s economic policies and called for a “resistance economy” that could stimulate domestic production and job creation in the country.  “With all my soul, I feel the pain of the people, particularly the lower class, and their problems such as high prices, unemployment, discrimination, inequalities and social tragedies,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised address to the Iranian people marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. He emphasized that youth employment should top the agenda. He added that the government has taken some positive steps but they are far from being satisfactory. He named 1396 the year of “Resistance Economy: Production and Employment.” Resistance economy is a term used by Iranian leaders for a set of economic policies to reduce the country's dependence on the outside world and promote self-sufficiency.

Comment: The Supreme Leader has recently stepped up criticism of President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking a second term in the upcoming elections.  “I have also told the honorable president that mentioning broad metrics [about economic growth in Iran] is good as long as the figures aren’t skewed; but they still do not have any impact on people’s lives in the short and immediate terms,” he told a gathering of Iran’s Assembly of Experts earlier this month.

On the campaign trail in 2013, Rouhan had pledged to negotiate a nuclear with world powers to remove sanctions and improve the country’s economy. But although nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted after the 2015 Iran deal, unilateral American sanctions and the Trump administration’s tougher line on the Islamic Republic have dissuaded international companies from doing business with Iran. Read moreover, the Rouhani government’s failure to tackle corruption and mismanagement is equally to blame. As a result, most Iranians have not felt the benefits of the nuclear accord the way they expected.

But Khamenei’s criticism of the government and expression of sympathy with the Iranian people are insincere. The Supreme Leader has the final say in all state matters and no major domestic or foreign policy decisions are finalized without his approval. He is directly responsible for Iran’s expensive military adventurism in the region at the expense of domestic priorities. Furthermore, some of the most corrupt and repressive officials in the country are his personal appointees. In the past 28 years, however, he has adroitly claimed credit for the country’s achievements while blamed the government for failures.