ISTANBUL – The lives of the privileged young people of Iran – including expensive holidays, bright parties and access to cash and jobs – have aroused public anger in recent months, while US sanctions are pushing the economy.
The young elite, some with connections from the government, show off their wealth on Instagram and in the streets of the capital Tehran, sporting designer clothes and flashy cars and holidays in chic resorts.
They are promoted to state jobs, receive lucrative scholarships and travel easily. Even the granddaughter of the late leader of the Iranian Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was photographed last year in London with what seemed like a $ 3800 handbag – although some speculate that it was fake.
But few in Iran can afford such conveniences as the costs rise and the wallet shrinks. And Iranians have begun to speak out against inequality and a culture of nepotism that they say are in favor of what are called the "aghazadeh" or "noble-born" children of the elite.
Last month, the son-in-law of President Hassan Rouhani, Kambiz Mehdizadeh, was forced to resign after only two days as head of the Geological Survey of Iran after public outrage and online accusations of nepotism. Mehdizadeh, 33 years old, had previously been an adviser to the Iranian oil ministry, but for many Iranians his bond with Rouhani was proof that favoritism played a role.
This uproar followed a similar campaign last summer, when Iranians on social media urged politicians to openly recognize all the privileges their children enjoyed due to governmental influence.
"I thank God that after my mission to the United Nations, my children … have returned to Iran and live and work with their families in Tehran," said the Iranian newspaper Donya-e-Eqtesad in August, Foreign Minister said. Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Around the same time, however, a conservative clergy struck popular on Instagram Rasoul Tolouei, the son of a retired Revolutionary Guard commander, for messages with a pet tiger and an exuberant party he threw for his 2-year-old daughter.
"It is not possible for a 25-year-old to be so rich on his own!" Wrote the spiritual, Mahdi Sadrossadati, on Instagram. "People are struggling to buy diapers for their babies," he continued. "In which state do you live?"
In all respects, the Iranian economy is crumbling – and ordinary people feel the pinch.
Unemployment is high, deficits are high and the currency lost more than half of its value last year.
In November, the United States imposed sanctions that subsequently damaged the oil and banking sector of Iran and paralyzed external trade. The sanctions follow the decision of the Trump government to withdraw the nuclear pact that Iran negotiated with the world powers in 2015. That agreement restrained Iran's nuclear program in exchange for major sanctions.
But even before sanctions were reopened, inequality grew in Iran, the result of years of government austerity, said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a professor of economics at Virginia Tech.
"The economic system of Iran not only treats people at the bottom of the economic ladder, but also people at the top," he wrote in his blog about the Iranian economy.
According to Reza Akbari, who is investigating Iranian politics at the Washington-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the dire economic conditions have led to "extraordinary resentment against corruption, nepotism and the aghazadeh, who appear to be immune to the turbulent reality. of the country."
While members of the ruling class of Iran once held back their lavish lifestyles, the elite Iranians now shamelessly boast about their wealth online and in the media.
The son of one diplomat, Sasha Sobhani, has ridiculed his quarter of a million followers on Instagram in posts from Greek islands or on yachts decorated with champagne. "How long are you jealous of me?", He said in one message, that was taken away.
A shameless Instagram account, "The Rich Kids of Tehran," shows the lives of some of Iran's most glamorous young people, with images of raw pool parties, exclusive dinners and retreats in the mountains.
A video posted last year – amid national protests about poor living conditions – included images of young elite celebrations and private jets, with dollar bills on top of the images. Other messages include bikini-clad women drinking beer at the pool or, in one case, someone who hits a pet hunt.
"This is RKOT," said the subtitles of the video, with an abbreviation for The Rich Kids or Tehran. "If you are politically frustrated," he continued, "leave this area as a fart."
Another post this month included photos of two luxury cars, including a Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV. The price tag of these whips in #Tehran would surprise you, "said the caption.
Akbari, the researcher, noted that "the lives of the elite and their statements about their happiness are plastered everywhere on the Internet … and are attested by the masses in a much more ubiquitous way." He added : "The current government is certainly sensitive to the criticism and is aware that it can not be silent in the face of public outrage."
Iran & # 39; aghazadeh & # 39 ;, originally defined as young men of means and influence, arose in the nineties, when the children of the revolutionary elite became known by family ties.
They "used their positions within the hierarchy, access to insider information and a preferential status to collect wealth and status," wrote Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Brookings institution's foreign policy program, about the first generation of aghazadeh in her book, "Political economy of Iran since the revolution." Such "nepotism," she wrote, "has led to the replication of influence between generations."
In 2017, the son of the prominent reformist politician Mohammad Reza Aref caused a firestorm by declaring that his success in life was the result of "good genes", which inspired a viral hashtag that Iranians still use to mock the upper class.
In November, when his father posted on Twitter and urged the Iranians to work hard and unite in the light of new US sanctions, an Iranian lawyer replied with a torment that the first thing Iranians should do is "get rid of the # good genes ".
In the midst of the controversy about the appointment of Rouhani's son-in-law Mehdizadeh, another Iranian criticized on Twitter the minister who supervised the promotion.
"Apparently [he] just want to satisfy those around him by using #goodgenes instead of concentrating on using experts to solve problems, "the post said.
But the relationship culture is so pervasive that Iranians say that there is little they can do – at work, at school or sometimes in their daily lives – that requires no form of influence with influential contacts with the government or elsewhere. From business deals to real estate to art and the humanities, it is almost always people with a bond with the power being promoted or given priority.
In Iran's entertainment industry, for example, "connections are always part of the deal," said a television writer from Tehran, who spoke about the condition of anonymity to respond freely to his work.
"Projects are given and taken through connections, and everyone has accepted that," he said. "Only when someone who is extremely inexperienced or unskilled gets a job, everyone gets angry."