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Iran demonstrations and possible consequences

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Seven months after the largest protests in Iran’s history, Iranians have hit the streets once again.

They are fed up with the country’s poor financial performance and the recent devaluation of Iranian rial.

Having become one of the world’s most volatile currencies, the rial over the past few months has lost more than 50 percent of its value.

Iran’s central bank recently pegged the rial to the dollar, but the greenback – along with some other currencies – continues to be sold on a thriving black market, often fetching twice as much as its official price.

But while the current wave of protest may be seen as a manifestation of popular anger against perceived financial mismanagement, it also points to something else.

This time, the driving force behind the protests is the market, or the “Bazaar” as it is known in Iran, which has been a significant player in Iran’s modern political history.

The Bazaar – which played a crucial role in bringing the Pahlavi regime to its knees – has traditionally been used as a tool for the Iranian clergy to exert political influence.

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Contrary to Sunni-Muslim tradition, Iran’s Shia clergy has always enjoyed a strong bond with the nation’s upper class.

In line with the traditional system of Zakat (almsgiving), Muslims are generally expected to donate 1/40 of their annual income to help pay for community services.

In addition to Zakat, however, Shia Muslims are expected to donate 20 percent of their income to those they “most want to be like”.

Shia Muslims are expected to give this amount to the individual that he/she most admires; he/she is not permitted to donate this amount to the poor or allocate it for other purposes.

In Persian, this system is called “homs”, meaning “one in five”. This means that Iran’s Shia clergy generally ends up controlling some 20 percent of the Bazaar’s overall revenue.

In the past, the Bazaar has been controlled by a few wealthy families, which became deeply involved in Iranian politics following the country’s 1979 revolution.

Since then, they have grown even wealthier by developing deep ties with the ayatollahs through the homs system.

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© Middle East Monitor