'The Rich Kids of Tehran' may help explain why people are rioting in Iran

Alex Eriksen
While social and economic inequality has brought protestors onto the streets, others in Iran seem happy to share images of their opulent lifestyle via social media
While social and economic inequality has brought protestors onto the streets, others in Iran seem happy to share images of their opulent lifestyle via social media. (Photo: Facebook/Rich Kids of Tehran)

Turmoil continues in Iran as outrage over low wages, poverty, inflation, and government corruption has reached a boiling point.

The government has responded with force, killing 20 demonstrators since riots began earlier this month. They’ve also shut down access to social media platforms like Twitter in the country to prevent protesters from organizing and from disseminating images of the violent government crackdown to the outside world.

The demonstrations first began in the provinces — once pillars of support for the regime — but these rural, mostly religious areas have risen up in the face of widespread corruption and economic inequality.

To find the source of the protesters’ ire one need only look at Instagram. The enormous income disparity between rich and poor is on full display in accounts like @TheRichKidsofTehran — which recently changed its status to private after the glare of international notoriety. While it was publicly visible, the account showed the millennial children of the country’s elite frolicking beside pools and on luxurious yachts; they show off designer clothes and cars while cheerleading for the regime.

The Rich Kids flaunt their bodies in addition to their wealth, in the process offending their deeply conservative religious state. Photos like this one are a regular feature of their posts:

A post shared by RICH KIDS OF TEHRAN (@therichkidsoftehran) on May 16, 2016 at 12:16pm PDT

A post shared by RICH KIDS OF TEHRAN (@therichkidsoftehran) on Dec 19, 2017 at 2:52pm PST

There are numerous photos of them consuming alcohol, which is strictly forbidden under Islamic law.

A post shared by RICH KIDS OF TEHRAN (@therichkidsoftehran) on Nov 27, 2016 at 6:48am PST

A post shared by RICH KIDS OF TEHRAN (@therichkidsoftehran) on Sep 20, 2016 at 5:04am PDT

Meanwhile, on the streets of Iran, women are thrown into prison if their headscarves fall off and men are locked up for buying alcohol. The disparity between rich and poor has come sharply into focus over the past 10 years as Iran’s economy has deteriorated.

Consumer prices are rising at double-digit rates and Iran’s currency has lost nearly one-tenth of its value since May, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, hampering the spending power of ordinary Iranians. This despite having $100 billion in assets unfrozen as a result of signing a nuclear deal with several world powers.

The deal, brokered by the Obama administration two years ago, opened the floodgates of cash to Iran’s ruling class by loosening economic sanctions. In addition, the Obama administration loaded an unmarked cargo plane with $400 million in cash and delivered it to Iran.

That money seems to have found its way into the pockets of the wealthy elite rather than for the benefit of a society in dire need of jobs, credit, and infrastructure.

“The regime over-promised and the deal under-delivered,” said Rob Malley, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama and now the president and chief executive of International Crisis Group, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “The over-promising reflected both their genuine expectation of greater returns from the deal and a desire to hype its anticipated benefits to sell it to their domestic detractors.”

There has also been wide speculation that the Iranian government has funneled that money to Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization it sponsors, among other militias in the region. Hezbollah has been linked to everything from terror attacks to international cocaine smuggling.

As for the so-called Rich Kids of Tehran, there are several posts on their account extolling the virtues of the regime. One post was dedicated to Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs. Another one, which appears to mock Jews victimized by the Holocaust, calls, ironically, for an end to “propaganda.”

In light of reports on Iran’s current social and economic unrest, the account and its posts paint a picture of an elite class deeply out of touch with the struggles of ordinary Iranians. Conditions are so bad for some, in fact, that they have resorted to selling their organs. But it’s unlikely we’ll see that on Instagram.

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