A protest against Iran’s political elites (synonymous, of course, with its religious ones) erupted this week over a seemingly apolitical incident – the deaths of two Iranian youths, a man and a woman, in a fatal car crash in Tehran.
The accident was tragic enough in itself, but it was the details – the identities of the two, and the circumstances of their calamitous 5 a.m. ride – that ignited a social media furor among the Iranian middle class.
The young man and woman were Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi, aged 21, the well-off grandson of a prominent cleric, and 20-year-old Parivash Akbarzadeh, a young woman from a middle-class neighborhood of Tehran. Akbarzadeh was driving the car, a Porsche (a fast, fancy car of the type often used in Iran to articulate the class struggle) at the time of the accident; Rabbani-Shirazi, who was engaged to marry another woman, was in the passenger seat. The young woman reportedly lost control of the car and slammed into the curb. She was killed on impact; her companion later died of his wounds, causing a storm of censure to be unleashed on Akbarzadeh, who was blasted as an “upstart” by some critics.
Of the major English-language news agencies, we could only find coverage of the incident on AFP, which focused its report on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of “young people from the generation of wealth … making the streets insecure.” What was it exactly that the leader condemned? Certainly not the (interconnected, again) religious and political climate that spawned the inequality that has enabled said youths to become an untouchable elite, to the detriment of their middle- and working-class compatriots (particularly in a time of deepening economic strife) – nor the hypocrisy inherent in their open disregard for (and exemption from) Islamic restrictions.
Over at The New York Times, Thomas Erdbrink devoted an extensive report to the incident and the subsequent backlash, describing both in poignant detail and exploring an aspect of Iranian society that is rarely discussed – not simply the oppression and repression of women, but the skewed (and deadly) power balance between Iranian playboys from powerful families and the young middle class women who mingle with them, hoping for a chance for what would otherwise be financially impossible for them – marriage.