Iranian state and society are witnessing multiple challenges such as high crime rates, malnutrition (i.e. more than 70 percent of the population), outdated transmission lines and electrical grids, school dropouts, the vast destruction of the environment, and governmental illegitimacy. Despite these challenges, there are three deep crises (i.e. national identity/infrastructure/wealth gaps) that have been worsening over time but have never been adequately addressed by any government besides every political figure and party merely making false/empty promises during political campaigns. The revolutionary generation believed that the Islamic Republic would answer the crisis regarding identity and plug the wealth gap in society but the government has made both of these issues much worse.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranians lost their national identity, which had helped them to recognize their national interests and to unite in order to overcome socio-economic crises facing the country. While national identities arise due to different factors, such as people sharing a common language and culture as well as collective pride in past glories or uniting because of a common foe, the Islamic Republic’s leadership chose the last factor to attempt to bind the Iranian people together. However, this never worked out. The United States, where millions of Iranians live, and Israel, which has never threatened to wipe Iran off the map, have never been hostile to the Iranian people. Thus, it is exceedingly difficult for the Islamic Republic’s leadership to promote hostility towards these two countries to most Iranians. In addition to identifying a common foe, the Islamic Republic’s officials have also promoted political Islam as a factor to unite all Iranians, but it has failed in this objective too.
The pipes that carry Iran’s drinking water are in a critical state and need attention. According to an expert, 30 to 40 percent of Iran’s pipes have been in use without any repair or upgrading for nearly 60 years. The aging pipe system makes water leakages more prevalent, which means 30 percent of treated water is lost each year. Power interruptions have become more common and are likely to worsen if no attention is given to Iran’s deteriorating energy system.
The majority of Iran’s power transmission and distribution lines were built in the1950s and 1960s with a life expectancy of about 50 years. They are now outdated and need urgent upgrading. Schools in Iran are under-funded and unable to maintain their buildings. About 30 percent of these buildings are in poor condition. Roads are in bad condition. About 30 percent of road accidents are due to poor infrastructure. Iran’s bridges are aging. Many of the aforementioned issues are not even reviewed annually by Iran’s government in its infrastructure assessment to decide whether there is a need for improvement or not.
With special privileges for the ruling class, structural corruption, and the distribution of government rents to members of the ruling class and their relatives, the government has created a vast wealth divide between the ruling class and the Iranian people. This fault line deepened in the 2000s and 2010s, despite unprecedented oil revenues and the influx of oil money after the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015. The fault line diminished in the 1980s as the religious ruling class provided social justice in accordance with their 1970s slogans. In the 1990s, the rent-seeking strata grew and the military’s involvement in the economy led to the supreme leader gaining more control over Iran’s economic sectors.
In the decades that followed, the Iranian economy and politics became more entangled in corruption. This led to a crisis in 2018 and 2019 when spontaneous protests broke out in small towns and poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of big cities. Today, according to government reports about 23 million to 40 million people live below the absolute poverty line, and more than three-quarters live below the relative poverty line. To survive, these people depend on government subsidies as the cost of living is 9 million tomans per month for most families who often have only one breadwinner. An average worker or employee receives approximately 3 million tomans per month.
Between 2018-2020, the number of Iranians living in slums increased from 19 million to approximately 38 million. In Iran’s social and political literature, there are different names for those who live in slums: grave-dwellers, slum-dwellers, brick factory- dwellers, low-quality housing residents, and residents of slums. The water shortage crisis, high unemployment rates in small towns, and natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes have played a role in increasing the number of people living around large cities. In general, Iranians are getting poorer. The country’s per capita income decreased by 34 percent between 2011-2019 while the ruling class has been getting richer leading to the wealth and income gaps in the country increasing and putting further strain on the state and society.