1979 things that went wrong

The year was 1979. It was the year of change and reconciliation. Yes, it was the year of change. A mullah came out of no where and gave a series of promises to millions of people of no mans land and then betrayed the same people who fought and helped him to come to power.

The mullah's name was Khomeini, the people were the Iranian people and the country was Iran. I remember that time. I was only 6 years old. I could see the happiness, confusion and some sort of hope in people's eyes the first few days. My father used to drive in his small beetle (ghoorbaghe-ee) and hand out Cigar Shirazi to all soldiers and then grab their head and give kisses on their foreheads.

Then suddenly that happiness turned to chaos right after few months of Khomeini's arrival. Entire streets turned to some sort of battleground. You could see men at every street corner or valley with a baseball bat (chomaagh) looking for opponents to the regime, mostly Tudehi or Mojahed, the same people who gave their lives to bring the revolution. It seems like the story of Iran repeats itself repeatedly and we do not learn from it.

The reason I am actually writing this paper is, the other day I was listening to the old tapes of Khomeini's speech [listen to excerpts (part1) (part2)] when he came to Beheshte Zahra (the grave yard of many Iranian teenagers who gave their lives for our mother land may god bless their souls and punish those who killed them). My friend has six tapes from Khomeini's speeches. In all his speeches, he just gave promises after promises to the people.

You may say that is what all politicians do, but Khomeini was not a politician. When you listen to those tapes, you are listening to a con man. Khomeini was someone who betrayed millions of people. In those tapes, he spoke of freedom, free electricity and energy, free water and food to all the people. He spoke of equality and prosperity. He spoke of growth and happiness.

Freedom, prosperity, happiness? Who was he kidding. None of this ever happened in Iran. The first few months when he came to power thousands of Iranians were executed, imprisoned or tortured. What kind of freedom was he referring?

If you look at the Iranian economy today we are doing horrible even compared to some of our neighbors in the region. Inflation and unemployment is at records high. There is such a brain drain in our country that our top and brightest students are going to countries such as India or Pakistan to work as help desk support. Our heavy reliance on oil revenues has diminished our desire to grow and invest in other sectors of economy, not to mention the ongoing corruption amongst the clerics. The recent price hikes in oil prices has allowed Iran to increase its revenues by three folds compared to last year, however, the current fiscal years budget laid out by the president does not show any signs of that oil revenue.


In the run-up to Iran's parliamentary elections, there is much interest in the two-thirds of the country's population aged fewer than 30. The post-revolution baby boom generation strongly backed President Khatami's election in 1998, but the young are now considered widely disillusioned with the pace of change and many may not vote.

Cost of living
A large proportion of Iranians are employed by the state. Inflation, about 16% last year, particularly hits those such as teachers and civil servants whose wages are not driven by consumer prices. Unemployment is a serious problem, with about 28% of 15-29 year olds out of work, and high rents are a concern for the young.

The Rafsanjani cartel
He and his family control almost 60% of Iran's industry, anywhere from the Iran Khodro car Industry to Iran's media and even the condom factory, which is, ran by one of his brothers. Not to mention they have a huge stake in Iran's Mostazafan account. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been named an ayatollah, or religious leader. He was the speaker of parliament and Khomeini's right-hand man in the 1980s, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997 and is now chairperson of the powerful Expediency Council, which resolves disputes between the clerical establishment and parliament. Rafsanjani has more or less run the Islamic Republic for the past 24 years.

He played it smart, aligning himself in the 1960s with factions led by Ayatollah Khomeini, then becoming the go-to person after the revolution. A hard-liner ideologically, Rafsanjani nonetheless has a pragmatic streak. He convinced Khomeini to end the Iran-Iraq war and broke Iran's international isolation by establishing trade relations with the Soviet Union, China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In the 1990s, he restarted Iran's nuclear program. He is also the father of Iran's “privatization” program.

During his presidency the stock market was revived, some government companies were sold to insiders, foreign trade was liberalized and the oil sector was opened up to private companies. Most of the good properties and contracts, say dissident members of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, ended up in the hands of mullahs, their associates and, not least, Rafsanjani own family, who rose from modest origins as small-scale pistachio farmers.

“They were not rich people, so they worked hard and always tried to help their relatives get ahead,” remembers Reza, a historian who declines to use his last name and who studied with one of Rafsanjani brothers at Tehran University in the early 1970s. “When they were in university, two brothers earned money on the side tutoring theological students and preparing their exam papers.”

The 1979 revolution transformed the Rafsanjani clan into commercial pashas. One brother headed the country's largest copper mine; another took control of the state-owned TV network; a brother-in-law became governor of Kerman province, while a cousin runs an outfit that dominates Iran's $400 million pistachio export business; a nephew and one of Rafsanjani sons took key positions in the Ministry of Oil; another son heads the Tehran Metro construction project (an estimated $700 million spent so far).

Today, operating through various foundations and front companies, the family is also believed to control one of Iran's biggest oil engineering companies, a plant assembling Daewoo automobiles, and Iran's best private airline (though the Rafsanjani insist they do not own these assets).

None of this sits well with the populace, whose per capita income is $1,800 a year. The gossip on the street, going well beyond the observable facts, has the Rafsanjani stashing billions of dollars in bank accounts in Switzerland and Luxembourg; controlling huge swaths of waterfront in Iran's free economic zones on the Persian Gulf; and owning whole vacation resorts on the idyllic beaches of Dubai, Goa and Thailand.

However, not much of the criticism makes its way into print. One journalist who dared to investigate Rafsanjani secret dealings and his alleged role in extrajudicial killings of dissidents is now languishing in jail. He is lucky. Iranian politics can be deadly. Five years ago, Tehran was rocked by murders of journalists and anticorruption activists; some were beheaded, others mutilated. Some of the family's wealth is out there for all to see.

Rafsanjani youngest son, Yaser, owns a 30-acre horse farm in the super-fashionable Lavasan neighborhood of north Tehran, where land goes for over $4 million an acre. Just where did Yaser get his money? A Belgian-educated businessman, he runs a large export-import firm that includes baby food, bottled water and industrial machinery.

Who really controls Iran?
Certainly not Mohammad Khatami, the twice-elected moderate president, or the reformist parliament. Not even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a stridently anti-American but unremarkable cleric plucked from the religious ranks 14 years ago to fill the shoes of his giant predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, is fully in control. The real power is a handful of clerics and their associates who be in charge behind the curtain and have gotten very rich in the process.

Crony capitalism
The economy bears more than a little resemblance to the crony capitalism that sprouted from the wreck of the Soviet Union. The 1979 revolution expropriated the assets of foreign investors and the nation's wealthiest families; oil had long been nationalized, but the mullahs seized virtually everything else of value–banks, hotels, car and chemical companies, makers of drugs and consumer goods. What distinguishes Iran is that many of these assets were given to Islamic charitable foundations, controlled by the clerics. According to businesspersons and former foundation executives, the charities now serve as slush funds for the mullahs and their supporters.

The social structure
The 1979 revolution was supposed to make everyone in Iran religious fundamentalist and abolish corruption and acts of sins such as alcoholism and sex before marriage. Actually, the 1979 revolution has turned Iran in to one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The mullahs are at the top of corruption. Not to mention that drug and alcoholism abuse amongst our young people has sky rocketed. Thanks to the mullahs who control the drug cartel who smuggle hashish and heroin from the Afghanistan and Pakistan border and then redistribute it amongst our young people.

According to one mullah, the drug use is high by affluent Iranians and they deserve to die. Contrary to his statement, actually drug and alcoholism abuse is high among poor Iranians who have no hope for their future. I would like one of you to take a walk in one of the Tehran's Park you will see those young homeless teenagers at high numbers on the corners of parks, streets and sidewalks. Girls flee home from their fathers or brothers who are junkies who repeatedly rape or sell them for prostitution. Thanks to the regime and it's Arab, style fundamentalism philosophy that has destroyed our pride and joy, which are our kids.

I cry and feel helpless whenever I see these young boys and girls on the streets of Tehran, which are mostly forced to prostitution and drug abuse.

  Iran U.S.
Population 67 million 283 million
Percent under 25 65% 35%
GDP per capita $1,800 $37,000
Inflation 25% 2%
Unemployment 18% 6%

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Department of Labor; Atieh Bahar Consulting; Forbes estimates.

Development Iran has invested heavily in healthcare and education, achieving standards above the regional average. However, it ranks 106th on the UN's index of overall human development, well behind other oil producers Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, as well as countries with much lower GDP per capita, such as the Philippines and Uzbekistan.

Women The gap between male and female literacy has narrowed among the younger generation. Women now make up an estimated 60% of students enrolling in higher education, although the number of women working remains well below the number of men. Women have had the vote since 1963, and there are currently 13 female MPs.

Communications Iran has more telephones and personal computers per 1,000 people than the regional average, but the spread of televisions and mobile phones has been comparatively slow. There has also been rapid growth in internet use, with one in 10 people now thought to have regular or occasional online access.

Oil Iran is the Middle East's second biggest producer of oil, relying on oil and gas for more than 80% of export earnings. Nevertheless, with its large population, state-dominated economy and the US's trade embargo, Iran's GDP per head is much lower than that of other regional oil producers such as Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE.

Economy Economic growth in Iran is heavily influenced by oil prices. The economy is currently booming – high prices have pushed growth to 7% for the past two years. This follows a slow-down when oil prices dipped in the late 1990s. Analysts say growth has also recently been strong in the non-oil sector.Meanwhile the clerical elite has mismanaged the nation into senseless poverty.

With 9% of the world's oil and 15% of its natural gas, Iran should be a very rich country. It has a young, educated population and a long tradition of artisanship and international commerce. However, per capita income today is actually 7% below what it was before the revolution. Iranian economists estimate capital flight (to Dubai and other safe havens) at up to $3 billion a year.

I ask myself did the 1979 revolution have a positive effect on us? I would say yes or no. It did have a positive effect in a way that we the people of Iran managed to overthrow a tyranny that was long time over due, but then we replaced it with another tyranny that brought upon on us more destruction and sorrow. Moreover, the current regime has not only created problems for us but also for the rest of the world.

At least during the Pahlavi era outsiders had a different image of Iran. An image of princesses, kingdom and a rich oil country, but now the word Iran is synonymous with the word terrorism and destruction. Yes the revolution gave millions of people who were oppresses a voice a sense of belonging and sense of pride but that all was short lived because days after Khomeini's arrival thousands were executed and thrown into Evin prison.

The countries economy and infrastructure took a dive to self destruction. People are still living in mud and brick houses today. Millions of Iranians are still going hungry to bed. Practices such as arranged marriage, honor killing, and Stone Age laws are still being carried out. Our courts and judiciary systems obey the law practiced based on the holy book that was written 1000 years ago and practiced by Arabs tribes' man.

Iran an oil rich country with abundant rich natural resources has GDP less that some African nations. Our country needs a leader, a new leader with a vision for the people and Iran's future. A leader that will think only about the national interest of Iran and the Iranian people. One who will help the people to see that we the people of Iran can also be prosperous, successful, and be part of this ever-growing global economy.

* Economic numbers in this article are largely from forbes.com.

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