Skip to main content

Iranians lash out at preferential treatment of pilgrims

While many Iranians have criticized the authorities’ decision to allow visa fees for the Arbaeen pilgrimage to be paid at the secondary foreign currency market rate, the move could, in reality, be filling the administration’s coffers.
Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims run between the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines as part of a ritual of the Ashura ceremony in Karbala, Iraq September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen - RC1A6C155200

The decision by Iranian authorities allowing pilgrims who wish to visit holy sites in neighboring Iraq to pay visa fees at the rate afforded to importers on the secondary foreign currency market has sparked criticism from both religious and non-religious segments of Iranian society. The controversy is partly fueled by the government’s parallel adoption of policies that seem to increase the cost of leisure travel as part of its austerity measures in the aftermath of the nosedive in the value of the national currency.

On Sept. 18, each dollar was traded for 145,000 rials on the open market — 86% higher than a month before. Over the past year, the rial has lost roughly 70% of its value in what experts believe is a result of a combination of factors, including a massive rise in liquidity in recent years, economic uncertainty resulting from the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, and corruption in Iran. Rates on the secondary currency market, where exporters may sell their hard currency proceeds to importers at a negotiated level, hover slightly below the open market rate. The official dollar rate has been fixed at the much lower level of 42,000 rials and set aside for authorized imports of a list of essential goods.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.