Slums growing next to Tehran neighborhoods. FILE PHOTO

Iranian Regime Sees Slum Dwellers As Major Threat

10/3/2021

Expanding shantytowns and slums around Iran's large cities have become a serious security problem for the Islamic Republic as unrest has grown in recent years.

According to experts, living in shantytowns has now become a normal part of life for a growing number of Iranians.

Mohammad Reza Mahboobfar, a member of the Iranian Land Management Association, stated on May 28, 2020, that more than 38 million people now live in shantytowns across Iran and 7.6 million people live in the vicinity of cemeteries.

By definition, a shantytown or slum refers to a poor neighborhood formed around a large city with residents who cannot afford to live in the city proper because of poverty.

Currently, there are almost no major Iranian cities without a significant portion of the population living on the outskirts in very poor and deplorable conditions. There are two main reasons for this phenomenon, which became accentuated after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

First, migration of villagers who leave their villages due to poor living conditions and move to cities in hope of a better life. But because they cannot afford the high cost of living in cities, they end up living in sheds around cities.

Wealth gap. Poor young man collecting waste.

Second, the catastrophic economic situation in Iran, with inflation above 50% has caused prices to skyrocket. Given that wages and salaries have not increased in line with the inflation rate, it has forced some in the lower middle-class, which is a large portion of urban residents, to leave their houses and apartments in the cities and move to much cheaper housing in what are considered shantytowns.

This quick expansion has been at such an extent that some regime officials refer to it as a security problem for the regime.

Some have said that as much as 80% of Iran's population currently lives below the poverty line, and one-third of Iran's labor force is unemployed. Many factories and manufacturing plants have either been forced to shut down or operate at less than half capacity.

Many youths, despite having university degrees, are working as laborers, or as cab drivers. All these factors have caused a significant portion of these people to no longer be able to afford the high cost of living in the cities, and as a result, they have moved to the outskirts of cities, where the cost of living is lower.

Although there are no accurate and up to date statistics of the actual number of these slum dwellers, according to figures from two years ago, more than 2.5 million people live on the outskirts of Tehran, 1.3 million people around the city of Mashhad, more than 800,000 people on the outskirts of Tabriz, about half million people live around Esfahan, 400,000 people around the city of Ahvaz, 300,000 people around the city of Kermanshah, and this goes on for all the major cities. This situation is getting worse by the day as poverty increases.

The scale of this problem has reached a point where it has become one of the most serious issues for the Iranian regime.

Living on the outskirts of cities is tough for the residents. They have little access to sanitation such as clean running water, sewage system, electricity. They have no cultural and educational facilities such as standard schools, park, sport fields, proper hospitals, and most importantly security.

Most of the people living in these areas are either unemployed or have unstable daily jobs. For this reason, they are forced to resort to illegal activities such as drug trafficking, theft, prostitution, and other crimes for their survival, and many of them are drug addicts.

According to Tehran Prosecutor Al-Ghassi Mehr, 90% of those who are sent to prison for drugs or robbery are unemployed. These people, most of whom are young not only have no hope for a better future but also have nothing to lose. These days, it has become common to see scenes of armed robberies or theft of cars captured on CCTV cameras.

But petty crime does not worry the regime. What worries Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and regime officials is the possibility of another uprising like the one in November 2019 when thousands of people in various locations suddenly came out into the streets to protest a hike in fuel prices. Youth from slums took control of many neighborhoods.

A government bank ransacked in November 2019, and 'Death to Khameni' sprayed.

In more than 100 cities some of them set fire and destroyed government symbols, such as 900 bank branches, 3,000 bank ATMs, 80 department stores owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and many police vehicles, police stations, militia (Basij) centers, seminaries, and statues and posters of Khamenei and Khomeini. But remarkably in this uprising, no shops, and property belonging to ordinary people were looted or damaged.

According to officials, Khamenei, seeing that the uprising was about to lead to the overthrow of his regime, ordered his forces to open direct fire on the people. Khamenei by deploying IRGC, armored vehicles, and even attack helicopters, killed more than 1,500 people in the streets within 2-4 days and imprisoned 12,000 people suppressing the uprising.

Of course, Iran had witnessed another major uprising in 2009, which took place after the controversial reelection of populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But there was a major difference between that uprising and that of 2019 nationwide protests. In 2009, most of those who took to the streets were the middle-class city residents, but in 2019 almost all those who took part in the uprising were from lower strata of society, especially the residents of slums,who used to support the regime. This time, they were demanding basic living standards. Through decades of suffering and hardship, the protestors had come to the unshuttering conclusion that the top leadership of the Islamic Republic was mired in corruption and would do nothing to improve their welfare and living conditions.

Opposition to the government among the lower classes, who now make up most of the society, has become a major threat to Khamenei and his president, Ebrahim Raisi. They are very much aware that another widespread uprising, like November 2019, could not easily be controlled. Fear of such a danger led Raisi to promise in his election campaign to build one million housing units a year for low-income groups.

The Raisi government is nursing a 50 percent budget deficit, or 22 billion dollars in free market exchange rate, and is incapable of budgeting for even 10,000 housing units a year.

Some in the Iranian regime's media say that shantytowns in Iran are like a barrel of gunpowder that is about to explode.

Mohammad Reza Mortazavi, Secretary-General of the House of Industry and Mines, said in an interview with Etemad online on May 25, 2020: "It is very clear to me that one day people will pour into the streets and take over the Bastille Hills ... Poverty is the result of an unjust distribution of wealth.”

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