Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, May 11, 2015

Inequality, corruption, and religion in Iran

The economic cleavages in Iran burst into the open because of a car wreck. Oh, and is corruption exposed too? And how big an issue is religion? Is everything connected?

In Iran, Fatal Porsche Crash Unleashes Middle-Class Anger at Elites
It was 5 o’clock on a recent morning as the canary yellow Porsche raced up the treelined Shariati boulevard in Tehran. The young woman at the wheel, it later emerged, came from the poorer south side of the city. The young man next to her, the nouveau riche grandson of an ayatollah, had bought the car just two days earlier…

To that point, the scene could have passed for normal in North Tehran, where increasing numbers of the children of the well-connected live their lives as if the country’s restrictive Islamic laws were written for someone else. Their luxury cars have become symbols of a growing inequality in Iran, where a new class of untouchable one-percenters hoards money, profiting from sanctions and influential relations, leaving Iran’s middle classes to face the full force of the country’s deepening economic woes…

[T]he first-time Porsche driver, Parivash Akbarzadeh, 20, lost control of the car, slamming into the curb and hitting a tree. She was killed instantly, and the car’s owner, Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi, 21, died hours later of his injuries…

Not long after, pictures appeared on social media of the wreckage of the sports car, lying mangled in one of Tehran’s most prominent streets. Almost as quickly, the identities of the two victims were revealed: A young, big-eyed beauty and a grandson of a prominent cleric, who to make matters worse, was engaged to be wed, but not to Ms. Akbarzadeh…

[T]the crash unleashed a storm of comment on social media, the majority of it very nasty.

“Good riddance,” someone wrote on Ms. Akbarzadeh’s Instagram page under a picture of her posing with a ring studded with diamonds in the shape of a dollar sign. “This girl set fire on normal people, now she set fire to herself.”…

What rankled most was the cocktail of double standards that the crash symbolized, particularly the intertwined issues of rising corruption and inequality.

During the tenure of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a select few, often well-connected, individuals were catapulted into fabulous wealth after having been granted rights to sell oil, dollars and gold. These “middlemen” started venturing into other businesses, often spreading a culture of corruption, economists and government, officials say.

Many of these middlemen continue to sport their three-day revolutionary beards, in a sign of their loyalty to the system. But their children shop in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for designer clothes, and tool around in expensive cars…

Mashregh news website reported in September that nearly 100,000 luxury cars had been imported since 2009, even though the owners have to pay a tax of 140 percent…

Even Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who promotes a pious and sober life, felt compelled to comment on the uproar. “Some young people, highly proud of their wealth, take over the streets with their expensive cars,” he said this week, addressing a meeting with police officials. This, he said, “creates psychological insecurity in the society” and called for action by the police…

Mr. Rabbani-Shirazi was mocked for being the grandchild of an important aide to the founder of the Islamic republic… but driving a Porsche…

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