Conflict & Justice

Iran's vendors wield power

SK says the bizarre in Tehran is quite a scene: it's sprawling acre after acre, people are drinking tea and talking and talking. Commerce almost seems secondary. It's a dazzling scene in terms of sound and smell. The bizarre merchants have traditionally been an important force in Iranian politics. They played a role in the Islamic Revolution and many other political moments. The merchants often act together and when they do so they're a potent force. (How do they act together in the first place? Is there an equivalent of an AFL-CIO that's organizing these merchants?) They're both less and more organized than you suggest. There's no single organization among them or a chair who disciplines them. Nonetheless, they're super organized in an informal way, and this is typical of a country with weak state institutions. These people create their own institutions, which are in some ways stronger than institutions imposed from above. So when word passes and there's a collective sense that the government has gone too far, they act with a unity than is even greater than that of a formal union. (What about the government having a sense that the vendors have gone too far or does the government fear their power?) The government should fear their power. Many people in Iran not only dislike their president and supreme leader, they oppose the entire system under which they're governed, which creates a volatile system from below so the leaders have to be careful. (Why does Iran even need a sales tax?) Iran's oil industry is in bad shape and this is why Iran's long term strategic interest can tie into the interests of the U.S. this industry needs investment and modernization. The U.S. can provide that.

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