Today, there is a strong public perception of high-income inequality, given the ostentatious display of wealth and nepotism by the offspring of regime affiliates, the so-called aghazadeh, which Iranians observe on the streets of Tehran or on their smartphones through Instagram accounts like "Rich Kids of Tehran".
The Islamic Republicʹs relative achievements in the fields of rural infrastructure, education, and literacy, along with its failure to create jobs, have produced a socio-economic paradox that is politically explosive. Iranʹs job market can simply not absorb the hundreds of thousands of university graduates.
This paradox has produced a stratum of "middle-class poor", as described by sociologist Asef Bayat. Defined as those with middle-class qualifications and aspirations, but suffering from socio-economic precariousness, this group was considered the social base of the 2017-18 uprising and is widely expected to continue to voice its anger and frustration.
On the situation of Iranʹs youth under the Islamic Republic, Bayat explained in a 2016 interview:
"The youth not only want a secure future – that is reasonable jobs, a place to live, get married and form a family in the future – they also want to reclaim their “youthfulness”, a desire to live the life of youth, to pursue their interests, their individuality, free from the watchful eyes of their elders, from moral and political authority. This dimension of young peopleʹs lives adds to the existing social tensions in Iran."
As alluded to before, Iranians face another structural impediment to socio-economic opportunities. Regime "insiders" (khodi) or those with access to state resources and privileges also enjoy privileged access to jobs. These frustrations have led many young Iranians to vote with their feet. Even under the Rouhani administration, Iran has continued to experience world record-breaking levels of brain drain, losing an estimated $150 billion per year.
Political freedom and democracy
In addition to social justice, the architects of the 1979 revolution contended that the toppling of the monarchy would usher in greater freedom. However, the brief post-revolutionary euphoria and sense of liberation quickly gave way to the new rulersʹ systemic Islamisation of state and society. That one dictatorship was replaced by another, and by an even more brutal one, became apparent in the Islamic Republicʹs first decade.
Between 1981 and 1985, nearly 8,000 people were executed, and similar numbers were killed during the so-called "great massacre" in the final year of the 1980-88 war with Iraq. By contrast, in the eight years preceding the revolution (1971-79), fewer than 100 political prisoners were executed. The Islamic Republic became one of the most repressive systems on the globe, more recently with the worldʹs highest execution rate.
In this process, modern Iranʹs three dominant politico-ideological formations, or political cultures – namely nationalism, socialism, and Islamism – were narrowed to heavy emphasis on the latter, which managed to incorporate elements of the others. Although there is some variety, the new political elite is largely limited to various stripes of Islamism. The revolutionary movementʹs political pluralism has been suppressed, with no veritable opposition party allowed by the state.
Likewise, Iranian civil societyʹs constitutive movements – women, students, and labour – have faced systemic repression, undermining their organisational capacities and leaving Iranʹs dynamic civil society weak compared to the state. State repression has also targeted dissidents of various ideological persuasions, non-Persian minorities and journalists.