If we ever got to heaven, I reckon we’d have to help with the thunder.*
The poverty line is a black line, and in Iran, a change in the dark depths of society adds to its darkness, the poverty disappears in its heart and is replaced by another misfortune.
The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) released a study last week showing that half of the world’s population will fall below the poverty line due to the spread of the coronavirus. According to Professor Andy Sumner, one of the authors, “Corona delays the progress made in the fight against poverty by 20 to 30 years.” Before this study, World Bank President David Malpass had expressed concern that the coronavirus could cause severe malnutrition for billions of people. He had spoken about the downfall of millions of people to the depths of absolute poverty.
According to Rasoul Khezri, a member of the Social Committee in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament), in May 2019, months before the spike in gas price and the bloody November 2019 protests, 40 million Iranians, half of the population, lived below the poverty line. . This means that COVID-19 has added million more Iranians to that half already living below the poverty line. On the other hand, millions of Iranians who were below the poverty line in May 2019, are now thrown somewhere deeper in the lower, darker space of the poverty line, due to unbridled inflation, recession, widespread and institutionalized corruption in all government agencies and at all levels, national currency plunging and soaring prices of basic goods, etc., and finally destructive effects of the coronavirus outbreak on economy; the same black space mentioned at the beginning, the result of a new tragedy, which we will discuss below.
What is the poverty line that the World Bank talks about?
According to the World Bank criteria, every citizen in the 60 countries in the world with above average income including Iran, should have an income of more than $5.50 per day to be considered above the poverty line. And those with an average daily income of less than $ 1.9 are the same miserable people who are unable to meet basic living needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, in other words, living in absolute poverty. Last year (2019), the Statistics Center of Iran announced that the average annual income of each urban household last year (2018) reached 43,490,000 Toman, and this figure was 23,311,000 Toman for each rural household. In 2018, the average rate for each US dollar in the free market was 11,000 Toman, which means that each urban household had an average income of $10.8, and in the village an average family earned $5.8. An average urban household was announced to include 3.3 people and 3.4 for villagers. Accordingly, each Iranian living in urban areas earns an average of $3.2 per day and $ 1.7 is each villager’s share.
Conclusion: The average Iranian citizen lived below the poverty line last year!
Farhad Dejpasand, the Minister of Economy of the Islamic Republic, last week (June 9, 2020) revealed a 15% decrease in the country’s GDP this year. The free fall in oil prices and the plunging value of national currency to the point where $1 is worth more than 18,000 Toman, make the average Iranian citizen’s life even darker than last year.
Numbers have limited capacity to show the reality, and changes in the quality of phenomena are beyond their ability to reflect. In the above figures and statistics, it cannot be seen that in the last few decades, tins have turned into cartons. Sleeping slums have been transformed into sleeping cartons, and in its latest ugly appearance, they have been turned into “grave sleeping”. Poor children have been replaced by millions of working children, and many of these little ones are drowned in trash cans, looking for the “dirty gold”.
This depth and breadth of poverty, together with the doubling of population over the past four decades, the tsunami of rural migration to urban regions, the industrialization process along with the governmentalization of industries, and the repressive approach of the government to all social phenomena are very similar to what happened in 19th century Europe leading to the Industrial Revolution. In the 1930s and 1940s, a form of poverty along the lines of revolutions and the inevitable process of industrialization of society entered the realm of human civilization, which bears little resemblance to its well-known poverty: Pauperism.
Indeed, poverty can become its own antithesis, and this is clearly only because poverty has always been part of its antagonism.
Pauper was not poor in the first half of the 19th century, he had nothing, like the poor before him, he wasn’t incapable or disabled, he was healthy and worked, but no matter how hard he worked, his income was not enough to cover his basic living expenses. He is Omran Roshani Moghaddam, a worker at Azadegan Oil Field, who hangs himself in out of having nothing. The European pauper in history is oppressed when protests and takes to the streets, he is Ismail Bakhshi, a Haft Tappeh worker who is arrested, tortured, and fired. Pauper’s poverty is not the result of bad luck and personal fate, his poverty is structural poverty. He no longer lives scattered here and there on the fringes of society. He is an average citizen and part of a large statistical portion of society: he is a mass-person. 19th century French author, Emile Laurent describes pauperism as “poverty epidemic.”(1) Today, an Iranian laborer with a minimum wage of 2 million Toman in the face of a livelihood basket that had reached 8 million Toman for a 3.3-person household before the Corona crisis in the summer of 2019, is the same person caught in the poverty epidemic, the same pauper, the same person with nothing.
The Islamic Republic has created a kind of misery whose nature, quality and quantity are different from poverty before the 1979 uprising. The historical poor had a dialectical element hidden in him. He could at times appear to be reciprocated and possess what the rich could not afford: happiness. When someone helped a beggar, the poor person would pray for him, and in fact gave him something in return for financial help, because he was the owner, and the benefactor needed it as much as the beggar. The trade was felt by the benefactor too. The purpose of picturing these differences is not to beautify poverty in its old form. In explaining the qualitative difference between historical poverty and the current “misery” born thanks to the “sacred system”, it is enough to say that that poverty could have been voluntary, and in Sufism and Darwish. Basically, “faqir” which in Arabic is derived from “poverty”, refers to a Darwish. But today’s misery is either going to be destroyed or it destroys the man.
In one of his first published articles, Jürgen Habermas, in 1954, a century after Pauperism, he described this distinction as follows:
“Indeed, poverty can become its own antithesis, and this is clearly only because poverty has always been part of its antagonism. Misery, however, simply and clearly will either always remain the same as it is or be “fixed.”” (2)
It can be said that, yes, the Islamic Republic has eradicated poverty and created a catastrophe in its former place that has erased all humanity lines from its face, a miserable and massive being.
It is only natural that Iranians, now under unbelievable economic pressure that has been doubled by the coronavirus outbreak, would express their dissatisfaction and protest against the Islamic regime and its dysfunctional factions at the earliest opportunity. But what will turn these protests into a revolutionary movement, or, as it is commonly called today, “regime changers” movement, is not simply the result of pauperism or misery in society. The poor living conditions of the people will not necessarily lead to subversive protests. Because if there was such inevitability, we would have witnessed subversive and revolutionary protests in all societies that have similar or worse poverty and misery indicators than Iran. What has turned the nationwide protests, which in the early stages of their formation had economic motives, into a subversive movement aimed at overthrowing the regime, is a phenomenon that lies in the system’s own approach to widespread protests: oppression and violence.
Where violence enters politics, politics is over.
In September 2019, Farzaneh Marvasti, director general of social and cultural affairs in Tehran’s governorate, said: “The lawmaker has predicted three months to one year prison sentence for begging and the return of all property collected in this way.” And that’s another distinction between the “old poor” and today’s poor, who are criminals. Furthermore, this “legislature” with begging can be chosen as a model for the general definition of the regime’s approach with all its social and cultural problems.
Another example of this kind: In January 2016, Shahrvand newspaper published a report on “Nasirabad grave sleepers” in Shahriar, Tehran, which provoked various reactions. The next day, the same newspaper reported: “Now there is only one person left among the 300 empty graves in Nasirabad Cemetery; “Behrouz”. He was alone in the grave, next to 299 empty graves: “In the morning, the agents came, beat everyone, took their belongings and left. Now I’m the only one left.” These are the only words of Behrouz from inside the grave, the grave that has been lit with a small fire, the light has cast a shadow on his face. He stood firm, with the plastic he had thrown on his grave so that the rain wouldn’t wet him. Everyone was gone, the cemetery was empty, but Behrouz did not swap his grave with anywhere in the world and said, “I am hungry, I have not eaten anything since morning.”
In the latest example of this approach, the municipality of Tehran announced in an official directive on Sunday, June 16, 2020, that the garbage collection of children in the city is prohibited and citizens are obliged to “call 137 if they see children going through garbage.”
The regime recognizes only one solution to every problem it faces, and that is nothing but repression and violence.
In dealing with the phenomenon of modern misery, with absolute poverty and the resulting protests, the regime has always resorted to absolute violence. Absolute violence, as we saw in November 2019, not only silences people’s protests and suspends the laws enacted by the government itself, and creates an absolute silence, but also in the wake of the suffocation, it ruins the “possibility of politics”. Since man, as a political being, is possible only in “dialogue,” the phenomenon of violence in the political sciences is always thought of as a red line beyond which all conversations are extinguished and absolute silence prevails. “Because violence is dumb in itself, political theory cannot say much about it either.” Hannah Arendt continues, “Political thought is dependent on expressing oneself in relation to the phenomena in one’s surroundings and is related to what is manifested and recounted by oneself in the realm of human affairs […] Violence can never do more than protecting the borders of the political sphere. Where violence enters politics, politics is over.” (3) After the November 2019 massacre, the Islamic Republic can no longer be called a political system. By exposing violence, this system ceased to be political and became a repressive and dumb system that not only lost its power to speak within its borders, but also lost the ability to talk and negotiate with foreign political systems.
The Iranian people have witnessed the use of naked violence by the regime during the protests in the past few months, which have kept them away from the streets for only a short time. With the coronavirus outbreak and the “poverty epidemic”, future protests will undoubtedly not only be more widespread, but also will be more decisive and firmer than before in their expression of subversive identity.
*. Woyzeck, Georg Büchner
(1). “l’épidémie de la pauvreté “, Émile Laurent
(2). Die Dialektik der Rationalisierung. Vom Pauperismus in Produktion und Konsum, Jürgen Habermas
(3). Über die Revolution, Hannah Arendt
Translation of this article by Sahar.