Gold-flecked ice cream wasn’t part of the picture that Shiite Muslim clerics painted during the Iranian Revolution, when they promised to lift the poor by distributing the country’s vast oil income equally across society.
But more than three decades later, record oil profits have brought in billions, and some people here are enjoying that decadent dessert. The trouble is, it’s just a small group of wealthy Iranians. Despite the promises of the revolution, many here say the gap between rich and poor has never seemed bigger.
Iran’s new wealthy class has succeeded in tapping the opportunities provided by a vast domestic market, sometimes aided by corruption and erratic government policies. It includes children of people with close connections to some of Iran’s rulers, as well as families of factory owners and those who managed to get huge loans from state banks at low interest rates. The trickling down of the oil windfall — nearly $500 billion over the past five years — has also played a central role in establishing this small group that is visibly enjoying its profits.
Both supporters and critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say some of his economic policies designed to counter inequality are actually making things worse for many. And although some statistics show the gap between the Islamic Republic’s rich and poor has been stable over time, scenes of the rich flaunting their wealth have left many Iranians complaining.
The new wealthy are buying Porsches, getting caviar delivered to late-night parties, and eating $250 ice creams covered in edible gold at what’s billed as the highest rotating restaurant in the world.
From the top of Tehran’s 1,427-foot-high Milad Tower, Iran’s poor are reduced to tiny dots, swarming in the streets below.
“We provide a calm and luxurious atmosphere, away from Tehran’s daily problems,” said Ahmad Talaee, one of the owners of the Crown restaurant, as he received guests in the VIP section, with room for nearly 300 to enjoy $280 fixed-price menus, golden ice cream not included.
Construction workers in worn-out shoes waited in the hallway one recent afternoon to make final fixes at the restaurant, which opened in June, as a young couple in designer clothes fed each other shrimp flown in from the Persian Gulf. “As you can see,” the owner said, “we are re-creating the fairy tales of the legendary stories of ‘1,001 Nights’ right here in Tehran.”
But that ritzy lifestyle, set against a backdrop of increasing economic hardship for millions of ordinary Iranians, is leading to open criticism.
The Islamic Revolution was all about bringing morals back to Iran. Apparently, however, the governing morality in the regime of the theocrats is to allow friends and relatives to get financial rewards by virtue of their connections. Why anyone thinks that the brand of governance ought to continue is beyond me.