Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Subversive soft power

Can materialism undermine a revolution? (Ask Chinese leaders.)

Note who the identity of the major players in this construction boom.

(My problem with this article is that it conflates an "Iranian Elite" with the middle class.)

Lavish Malls Sprouting Up to Attract Iranian Elite
The low rumble of powerful engines reverberated against the high-rises of Zaferanieh, an upmarket neighborhood, as Porsches and Mercedeses lined up to enter the multistory parking lot of a fancy new shopping mall, the Palladium, the latest addition to Tehran’s shopping scene.

Iran may be facing a dangerous economic abyss, with an empty treasury, historically low oil prices and the continuing damage of Western economic sanctions, but one indicator is going through the roof: Developers have broken ground on a record 400 shopping malls across the country, 65 in Tehran alone…

[T]he mall-building boom also reflects other factors, as construction and investment companies affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the police have led the way.

“Under sanctions, with nowhere else to invest, building shopping malls is the only lucrative business in Iran,” said Jamshid Edalatian, an economist. “The Guards, the police and other institutions are the ones who have money, so it is logical for them to invest in what makes a profit.”

Together with banks, wealthy individuals and powerful foundations, tax-exempt organizations that are supposed to care for the poor [bonyads], Iran’s security forces are building malls with Western-sounding names such as Rose, Mega Mall and Atlas Plaza. Their bright neon letters stand in sharp contrast to the revolutionary slogans painted on murals in surrounding neighborhoods, labeling consumerism a Western illness and taboo under Iran’s rigid ideology…

“We cater to what people desire to do: spending money, buying stuff and enjoying themselves as they shop,” said the owner of the Palladium, Hassan Raftari… Mr. Raftari led a business expansion into the construction of luxury apartment buildings. During his trips abroad, he said, he would always wonder why shopping in Iran was so boring…

Malls comparable to the Palladium are mushrooming across the city… not just for the rich. Around Tehran’s southern bus terminal, one of the poorer areas of the city, three malls are under construction…

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the state has dominated public spaces, using murals, the morals police and state media to emphasize what officials say are unchangeable revolutionary values. In private, though, Iranians have moved on, embracing satellite TV and the Internet, widening their world views and comparing their lives to those of people in Turkey, Malaysia, Europe and other popular destinations…

Mr. Edalatian, the economist and a member of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce… noted that the state prefers the shopping malls to the chaotic bazaars, as it is easier to collect value added taxes from them, currently at 8 percent.

“Try to get taxes from four million individual shops in our country,” he said. “The more centralized, the better.”…

“This mall is not only changing our shopping culture, it’s also a place where people are nice to each other. Most people you see here are smiling and not stressed out as they are elsewhere in this city,” said Mobin Cheraghi…

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