In Iran, class resentment boils beneath the surface

The class gap is, to a moderate degree, an accepted reality in today's Iran.

But the class gap is widening, and is especially apparent in the extreme consumerism seen in Iranian society today.  Profound differences are seen in the living conditions and housing of the inhabitants of Tehran's outer impoverished suburbs, along with the nomads of these areas, versus the luxurious and expensive villas and cars within the city's upper areas.  Expensive foreign cars that the affluent residents of Tehran use to roam Tehran's streets are clear symbols of Iranian society's deep and terrible class gap.

This specter also testifies to Iran's economic instability, as individuals in the southern suburbs struggle for basic necessities and are resentful at the wealth that parades around them.

The distance between the suburban residents south of Tehran and the wealthy city of Lavasan is not more than 50 kilometers, or about 31 miles.  Yet the distance between the living faces of these two parts of Iran, between the slums south of Tehran and the inhabitants of the palaces and dream palaces of Lavasan and north Tehran, is immeasurable.  Perhaps an economic gap of this magnitude exists nowhere else in the world.

During a televised presidential election debate in May 2017, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, one of the Iranian presidential candidates at the time and the current speaker of Parliament, told Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, that "four percent of society are capitalists who have money, power, media, and can easily break down any obstacle in their way, deceive and constantly turn the ball of power and wealth among themselves.  In contrast, 96 percent include people from all walks of life who have tasted economic, social and cultural deprivation."

The Iranian parliament has officially confirmed that 60 million of the country's population live below the poverty line and are eligible for state subsidies.  This fact indicates that the class gap in today's Iranian society has reached a point where the children of the same 60 million people will not have the opportunity to start a family, living in minimal shelter years after reaching puberty.  In contrast to this majority deprived of basic living facilities, there is a minority that owns large numbers of housing units in Tehran and other metropolitan areas of the country. Since they have other significant income sources, these wealthy citizens refuse to offer these hoarded residential units to the market.

With this deep social gap in its current form of constant deprivation, the day is not far in the future when the affluent strata will not feel safe.  That small minority with all the blessings of life living in luxury towers, magnificent villas, and palaces will impose even harsher measures on the majority while ignoring how they contribute to this inequality in society. Such a situation is a time bomb planted under the surface of society.  The ticking of this clock is heard continuously here and there. The extent of the explosion that may come will not leave the establishment intact.

Baluchistan Firewood Ready to Ignite

The recent incident on the Shamsar Saravan border in southern Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan provinces this month demonstrates how close Iran's situation is to boiling over.  At least 40 fuel porters were killed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and hundreds of other Baluchis were injured.  The massacre turned the region into a scene of unprecedented radical protests and incidents.  Over the past few decades, there has been a steady uptick in the violence within this area.  The recent incident showed that the deep class gap makes this impoverished province ripe for an increasing number of protests and potentially more significant violence.

The cause of the widespread radical unrest throughout Baluchistan, where the initial protests from the border quickly spread to many non-border towns had an underlying cause of frustration at the deprivation of the simple necessities of life, such as water, roads, education, and employment.  Recent events with the fuel porters only poured gasoline on an already smoldering fire.  That province is ready to burst into flame anew.

Living with government subsidies has become commonplace for the people of the border areas.  The eastern and western borders of Iran have long struggled with poverty.  This situation has given rise to Kolbar unrest* in the west and fuel porter unrest* in the east.  Unfortunately, every time Kolbar is mentioned, the faces of Kurdish men and women come to mind.  With the phrase "fuel porter," this idea is repeated for the men and women of Sistan and Baluchistan Provinces.

If you compare the lives of the people in the deprived border areas of Iran with the lives of the people in the north of Tehran, maybe they are about 150 to 200 years apart.  This disparity and discrimination is a significant cause of unrest and upheaval.

Capital Flight

On the other hand, there have been few foreign or domestic investments in Iran for several decades.  Poverty and unemployment are rampant in the country. The combination of discrimination and economic poverty has given rise to the fuel porters of Kolbar, people who haul small amounts of fuel to Pakistan for sale, which has never been seen before in Iran's history.

The head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce has said that $100 billion in capital has exited Iran in the past two years.  Capital outflows mainly belong to the same 4% affluent strata, many of whom no longer hope for this system's future and are looking to protect their assets by moving them out of Iran.

In an interview with the Fararo website, Massoud Khansari did not provide details about the figures but said they were "documented."  Iran's neighboring countries benefit as these affluent Iranians are purchasing real estate to transfer financial assets out of the country.

In June 2018, the Iranian Parliamentary Research Center reported that more than $59 billion in "capital" had been withdrawn from Iran during 2016 and 2017.  Taking into account these figures, it can be said that according to the estimates of two official institutions, about $160 billion of capital has left Iran during the last four years.

This capital movement out of the country contributes to a deepening class gap, fueling an explosion from the poverty-stricken majority of Iranians.  It is a time bomb that will explode soon, and that explosion will spell the end of the regime.

* Kolbars are people who walk for tens of hours in the snowy mountains and stormy borders of Iranian Kurdistan to bring and sell goods across the border and survive.

* Fuel porters are people in Sistan and Baluchistan Provinces who take 60 liters or more of petrol to Pakistan and receive very little profit from its sale.

Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.