At the unveiling of the “Nora” Covid-19 vaccine on the morning of June 27, 2021, General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, bafflingly proclaimed Iran to be one of the world’s “top countries”.
"We have decided to be among the top countries in the world in every respect,” Salami told reporters, “and today, we are among the top countries in many areas.”
In which authoritative world ranking(s) is Iran listed among the top countries? Has the Islamic Republic managed to feature among the top-ranked countries of the world in any scientific, industrial, economic, political, or social fields? Given that Salami failed to state which “areas” he meant, for this report, IranWire tried to do it on his behalf.
Before this claim can be examined, it must be pointed out that Salami did not qualify what he meant by “top”. The Persian adjective he used, bartar, implies something first-class or even near-superlative.
With this in mind, IranWire proceeds on the assumption that Salami was suggesting Iran was among the top 10 countries of the world. This, at least, can be tested against Iran’s position in some well-regarded global rankings covering different fields.
On the basis that socio-economic indicators are a better way than most to gauge a country’s overall strength and health comparative to others, we started by evaluating the head of the IRGC’s claim through this lens. Below are some of the findings:
- GDP: The World Bank’s last available estimates, for 2018/2019, ranked Iran as the 28th largest economy in the world with a total GDP of $495.69bn.
- GDP per capita: The latest figures published by the International Monetary fund in April 2020 found Iran’s global had improved slightly – from 88th in 2019 to 79th in 2020.
- Entrepreneurship: The World Bank’s 2019 Entrepreneurship Index, which rates levels of economic activity and efforts to develop it by the state, ranked Iran 63rd out of 136 countries in 2019.
- Investment risk: Most globally well-regarded credit rating agencies have removed Iran from their lists in recent years. But credit rating agency Fitch, as fact-checking website Fact Nameh recently pointed out, ranked Iran as 7th in the Middle East and North Africa for short-term financial risk and 104th in the world. For long-term investment risk, Iran ranked 8th in the region and 115th in the world.
- Innovation: The World Bank has ranked Iran 67th in the world in its 2020 Global Innovation Index, which measures capacity for innovation. This was a significant drop compared to the previous year, when Iran ranked 61st.
- Gini coefficient: This is a scale used to measure income inequality. Data from the World Economic Forum, analysed by data tech firm Knoema, ranked Iran the country with the 44th-biggest income distribution gap in the world in 2018. In 2020, Iran's rank changed to 29th, meaning based on the available data inequalities had significantly deepened.
- Misery: The so-called “misery index” is calculated by adding the unemployment rate to the current inflation rate. Based on the available data, Statista rated Iran the 8th most miserable country in the world in 2020.
- Hunger: Iran ranked 39th out of 107 countries ranked in the 2020 World Hunger Index.
- Human development: Scores for this metric are calculated from life expectancy, education, and GNI per capita. The United Nations ranked Iran 70th out of 198 countries in its Human Development Index for 2020.
Officials of the Islamic Republic and state-aligned media have been at pains in recent years to prove that science and technology in Iran is thriving. Meta-studies also confirm that the number of papers authored by Iranian scientists published in scientific journals has soared. The Scimago Journal & Country Ranking calculates that with a total of 54,388 articles, Iran ranked 16th in the world in terms of the sheer number of published scientific papers in 2017.
This, however, does not attest to their quality or usefulness. The same platform also ranks countries by the average number of citations per document. According to this metric, Iran lagged behind at 121st in the world, with an average number of citations of 0.53 per article.
Nature Index has assessed that at least in 2018, no Iranian higher education institutions could be counted among the top 100 in the world. None of Iran’s Universities of Medical Sciences made the list for medical universities for that year either.
In terms of industry, the Supreme Leader's website also proclaims that Iran has become one of the top 10 producers of steel, cement, aluminum, copper and electricity. IranWire’s Persian team has previously investigated this claim and based on the available information, it appears to be completely false.
Finally, the Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) measures whether a country’s environment – including levels of access to high-quality information – is conductive to knowledge that can be used for economic development. Based on the available performance indicators, knoema placed Iran 93rd in the KEI world rankings for 2020.
It seems far-fetched to imagine that General Salami would have been referring to political indicators when he referred to Iran as a “top country”.
But just in case, it ought to be pointed out that Iran came in 152nd in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Democracy Index for 2020, 174th in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for 2020, 142nd in the Institute for Economics & Peace’s Global Peace Index for 2020, and 149 – where 179 was the worst available score – in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2020.
In terms of military might, as IranWire has previously assessed, Iran ranked 18th in the world in terms of military spending in 2018. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute does not regard it as a significant importer or exporter of military hardware. But Iran was assessed to have the world’s eighth-largest ground army in 2020.
A final indicator is the Legatum Prosperity Index, which is calculated annually by educational charity the Legatum Institute based on 13 different sets of data. These include security, governance, social capital, investment, the market, infrastructure, housing, health, education and the natural environment. Based on the evaluations for 2020, Iran ranked 120th out of the 167 countries surveyed across the world.
"We have decided to be among the top countries in the world in every respect,” General Hossein Salami told reporters on June 27, 2021, “and today, we are among the top countries in many areas.”
Based on the assumption that Salami’s use of the word “top” could be taken to mean “in the top 10”, IranWire surveyed of some of the world’s best-regarded international rankings in fields known to be important to the overall health of a country
Save for the size of its army, in no case did Iran come close to ranking in the top 10 for any of the positive and desirable values surveyed. It did rank in the top 10 for some of the negative ones, being officially rated the 8th most miserable country in the world and the 8th most risky place to invest.
On the assumption that this was not what General Salami meant, IranWire awards a “not true” badge to General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for his claim that Iran was “among the top countries in many areas”.
Not true: A false statement about a specific new event or something that has not been proven to be true before, using existing facts and evidence.
You can find out more about our fact-checking methodology here.
Other articles in the series: