Nor can Iranʹs socio-economic challenges be separated from its political economy that favours regime loyalists and is marked by mismanagement, cronyism, nepotism, corruption and the absence of much-needed structural reforms. Although U.S. sanctions have undoubtedly had negative repercussions, their overall impact on Iranʹs economic situation is often overstated.

For instance, in the summer of 2018, Hossein Raghfar, an economist at Tehranʹs Allameh Tabatabaʹi University, suggested that as little as 15% of Iranʹs economic problems can be attributed to sanctions. The "illiberal neoliberalisation" in various Iranian economic policies since the 1990s, featuring clientalistic privatisations and de-regulated labour market, has helped form nouveaux riches on one hand and precarious social strata on the other.

A chief failure of the Islamic Republic has been the lack of job creation, with jobless growth even increasing during oil booms. Unemployment rates remain high, especially among the youth, university graduates and women. Officially, every eighth Iranian is unemployed. According to the Iranian parliamentʹs research centre, the unemployment rate will reach 16% by 2021 in an optimistic scenario, 26% if conditions are less auspicious. Among the youth, one in four is unemployed (but some estimates go as high as 40%). These figures rank Iranʹs youth unemployment rate as among the highest worldwide.

Iranʹs Gini index of income inequality has remained consistently high at above 0.40, pointing to the lack of inclusive economic growth. Studying levels of inequality in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani found that inequality in 2002 was about the same as in 1972, adding:

The findings on inequality raise important questions about the nature of the Islamic Revolution. Did it significantly affect the power structure as a social revolution of its magnitude should have? This is particularly relevant in the case of Iran because, in addition to changes in the distribution of productivity, the distribution of access to oil rents also affects inequality. Since access is directly related to political power, inequality may reflect the distribution of power. Thus, the finding that inequality in 2002 was about the same as in 1972 raises questions about the significance of the Islamic Revolution as a social and political revolution.

In other words, the class character of Iranian society has remained unchanged, with one ruling class replaced by another, only with another social composition. In political cartoons, this was reflected in pictures of the shahʹs crown merely being replaced by the mullahsʹ turban. Such continuity led some scholars to interpret the 1979 revolution as merely a "passive revolution, a revolution without change" in class relations.

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