The economic crisis has helped spark a wave of protests since January, and social tensions are running high. With widespread reports of corruption among current and former government officials, extravagant spending by their children has inflamed those tensions - and touches a nerve in a republic that was founded on a mixture of radical leftist and Islamic values.
“In 1979, Iran’s Islamic revolution was based on egalitarian values,” says Hossein Ghazian, an Iranian sociologist and pollster who lives in the US. “The revolutionaries were supposed to be poor. Being like ‘ordinary people’ was a value. But the world has changed. It’s changed for the generation of the revolution - and for their children.”
Four decades on, the children and grandchildren of the revolutionaries have Instagram and Facebook accounts. Many see no shame in posting photos and videos of their foreign travels and expensive possessions.
“These kind of images have a deep impact on Iranian society,” Ghazian continues. “They create a hidden but profound anger in society – the kind of anger that bubbles to the surface as violence. We saw an element of that with the protests that started in January 2018.”
Iranians use the term “aghazadeh,” or “noble-born,” to describe children of officials who are rich or powerful just because of their parents’ position in the government. The term has become popular on social media.
“Why during this financial crisis is an Iranian importing a Rolls Royce?,” one Twitter user wrote on Aug. 3. “Which aghazadeh paid for it?”
The general’s son: “It’s impossible for a 25-year-old boy to get that rich”
The latest “aghazadeh” to create buzz is Rasoul Tolouei, son of retired Gen. Saeed Tolouei of the Revolutionary Guard, a former conservative mayor of two districts in Tehran.
A conservative cleric with a large following on Instagram on Aug. 31 posted a photograph of the general along with images showing his son posing with a pet tiger, driving a Cadillac, and throwing a lavish party for his two-year-old daughter. “It’s impossible for a 25-year-old boy to get that rich,” wrote the cleric, Mahdi Sadrossadati.
Conservative cleric Mahdi Sadrossadati Aug. 31 posted images he said were taken from the Instagram account of Rasoul Tolouei, son of retired Gen. Saeed Tolouei of the Revolutionary Guard.
The cleric said the images came from two Instagram accounts operated by the younger Tolouei – one for him and one for his daughter. The accounts have since been disactivated.
Gen. Tolouei sued the cleric for defamation and wrote an open letter to the Iranian media. The former general said he was now working as a dentist earning 70 million tomans a week (€4,500), and that it was normal for his family to have expensive cars. He said the tiger belonged to a friend of the family.
Online, many Iranians were not convinced. One wrote on Twitter: “Dudes, don’t criticize Gen. Tolouei! It’s just that he thinks Iran belongs to him.”
Sasha Sobhani, son of Iran’s former ambassador to Venezuela, has an Instagram page that features images of himself with women in bikinis in places like Dubai and the Greek islands, on a yacht in Turkey, and sitting in business class on an airplane. He taunts less-fortunate Iranians, saying in one video: “People who haven’t worked to be as rich as I am are just jealous”.
Instagram account has more than 250,000 followers, many of whom appear to hate him.
Comments on this Instagram post by Sasha Sobhani include: “Enjoy your life using other people’s money until you puke up everything. You’re pathetic,” and “You’re the biggest bastard on the planet.”
While it is not clear what the younger Sobhani does for a living, his page does feature promotional videos for an online gambling site.
In this video Sasha Sobhani brandishes wads of cash and sings the praises of an online gambling site.
The Khomeini family and their handbags
While Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Republic, was famously austere, his granddaughters and great granddaughters have another reputation – for designer handbags.
The Khomeini family has said in the past that the women’s purses are inexpensive counterfeits. France 24 tried to contact the Khomeini family, and all the officials’ children mentioned in this article. If we receive their responses we will publish them.
“The system is corrupt”
When I first saw photos like this, I used to get angry. But I don’t even get angry any more. They’re just doing what all Iranians do – posting pictures of their day-to-day lives online. They don’t even care where their money comes from. Most of them had pages that were public before the recent revelations in the media.
If I were in their shoes, I’d probably do the same. What’s scary is that the system is so profoundly corrupt that no one can do anything about it. My friends and I have given up hope. Our anger has been replaced by disappointment. Some people get the chance to climb the ladder. We don’t.