IRAN

Ahmadinejad allies shut up shop over tax dispute

The Iranian government is facing strong opposition from enraged merchants, who entered their sixth day of strikes on Monday in protest against a hefty annual tax increase. Generally considered close allies of the Islamic regime, the stall owners' protests are viewed as a serious warning to President Ahmadinejad. 

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Merchants pull down their shutters in the Tehran bazaar. Image from YouTube.

The Iranian government is facing strong opposition from enraged merchants, who entered their sixth day of strikes on Monday in protest against a hefty annual tax increase. Generally considered close allies of the Islamic regime, the stall owners' protests are viewed as a serious warning to President Ahmadinejad.

Merchants in the capital's bazaar began shutting up shop last Tuesday in protest against a supposed 70% annual tax increase. Despite having been introduced two years ago, no attempts to properly enforce the tax have been made until recently.

On Wednesday, Deputy Trade Minister Mohammad Ali Zeyghami lowered the tax increase to 30%, but the strikes continued. A meeting between trade unionists and officials on Saturday failed to resolve the dispute.

The bazaar usually

The busy bazaar during opening hours. Video posted on YouTube by “mixedkebab” 11 Dec. 2007.

“The merchants are highly influential and a group that the government can’t do without”

Alireza is a journalist from Tehran.

This dispute is hugely worrying for the government. The bazaar is the city's historic centre and the country's commercial hub; the bazaaris [bazaar merchants] hold a great deal of sway over the running of the country.

Their strength was proved in 1979 when they decided to go against the monarchy. It was their decision that led to the victory of the Islamic regime and the ousting of the Shah.

I think the decision to start implementing this tax increase was a direct response to the sanctions put in place by the West. The government feels vulnerable, so it decided to start using this tax in order to boost its revenue. But it was an ill-thought out plan. This is typical of Ahmadinejad's government. He doesn't think things through before putting them in place, and instead waits for the reaction of those affected to see whether he can get away with it. It's a practice that we find most baffling here in Iran.

The clash is a very bad signal for the government. It's shown that they have absolutely no control over the Bazaaris, despite decades of close ties. The bazaaris are very conservative and religious; they are closely linked to the Ayatollahs and the clerics in the city of Qom. They remained silent throughout the ‘green revolution', a stance which angered the anti-government protestors and delighted the authorities. It's a group the government can't do without."

The empty bazaar

Usually packed full of goods, merchants and shoppers, the bazaar today is empty. Video posted by "onlymehdi" 8 July 2010.