The problems start with the failing health of Iran’s ruling class. The upper echelons of the Iranian leadership are overwhelmingly aging and infirm, and coronavirus is exacting a deadly toll on this cohort. As of March 4, the Washington Post had documented that the disease had afflicted “about two dozen members of parliament and at least 15 other current or former top figures.” That figure has expanded significantly since then, as has the number of high-profile casualties within the Islamic Republic. To date, the virus is known to have claimed the lives of Mohammad Mirmohammadi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former deputy foreign minister Hossein Sheikholeslam, parliamentarians Mohammad Ali Ramezani Dastak and Fatimeh Rehber, and at least three other officials. More can certainly be expected in coming days…

But coronavirus isn’t just a political challenge for Iran’s ayatollahs. It’s also a major blow to their ideological legitimacy. Religious centers in the country (such as the holy city of Qom) have become epicenters of infection. And the regime’s exceedingly slow response to the spread of the disease in those places has further highlighted the disconnect between the country’s religious establishment and the rest of its population. That’s because, as Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute notes, in recent years Iranian religious officials have been “uncompromisingly rejecting modern medicine and promoting ‘Islamic medicine’ as the true science inspired by divine knowledge.” Today, that policy is having disastrous consequences on the country’s overall health.