Inequality in Iran

This is what happens when a government is not only massively totalitarian, but also corrupt beyond belief:

The nouveaux riches in Tehran drive Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis and live in multimillion-dollar luxury apartments replete with walk-in closets, Bosch appliances and computerized shower systems.

I was stunned when I caught a glimpse of what Iran’s megarich can afford — on, of all things, a program made by Press TV, an English-language news organization sponsored and monitored by the Iranian state. It was not just the wealth that struck me, but how freely Iran’s “one percenters” flaunted the symbols of Western decadence without fear of government retribution.

Thirty-five years after a revolution that promised an egalitarian utopia and vowed to root out “gharbzadegi” — the modern Westernized lifestyles of Iran’s cosmopolitans — how have some people become so rich?

Much of Iran’s wealth, it turns out, is in the hands of the very people in charge of maintaining social justice. Hard-line clerical leaders, together with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (the branch of Iran’s military in charge of protecting the country’s Islamic government), have engineered a system where it is largely they, their family members and their loyal cronies who prosper.

“When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became supreme leader in 1989, he built his own system of patronage by building a network with the I.R.G.C.,” said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an author of its report “The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an economist, and the political scientist Emanuele Ottolenghi, writing in The Wall Street Journal, estimated that the Revolutionary Guards Corps controls about 20 percent of the market value of companies traded on Tehran’s stock exchange, across the telecommunications, banking, construction, metals and mining, automotive and petrochemical sectors. Mr. Nader said the corps was also involved in sanctions-busting and the smuggling of alcohol and drugs into Iran, both forbidden under Islamic law.

The corps also runs large parts of the economy. Since 2006, Al-Monitor reported, it has been awarded at least 11,000 development projects, from construction and aerospace to oil and gas. Khatam al-Anbiya, a company that acts like the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the construction of roads, bridges and public works, subcontracts to firms owned by businessmen with connections to the Guards.

And of course, it ought to go without saying that if one confronts any of the thugs running the Iranian government about the fact that they have constructed a mafiocracy in Iran, they will either try to deny the undeniable, or they will pretend that God somehow wants the governing mafia to be wealthy and prosperous . . . while the rest of the country suffers.