<<

. 46
( 55 .)



>>

Let us assume that bazaaris are ˜˜religious™™ (read: practicing and
believing some form of Shite Islam that is considered orthalox). What
evidence do we have that bazaaris™ faith shapes their politics? For one
segment it most certainly does. The position of the members of the ICA is
dogmatically based on the Islamist belief that Islam is a holistic way of life,
one that can and should be the basis for government, and the preservation
of Islam should be the end of politics. This, however, is a minority
position that is not held exclusively by bazaaris, and it is surely erroneous
to extrapolate the ideology of tens of thousands of bazaaris from the views
of these few Islamist bazaaris. Given that nationalists and liberal Islamists
also held meetings in the Bazaar™s mosques in the 1970s,90 the idiom of
religion was politically quite inclusive. Lebaschi, admittedly a bazaari who
was a committed supporter of the National Front, argues that even those
bazaaris who are religious do not pursue religion as a political ideology.91
My experience as a participant observer in the Bazaar also made me aware
that we should be wary of overreading the political meaning and sig-
ni¬cance of religious practices. For instance, many observers of Shiite
Islam point out the political dimension of its founding myth, which is
commemorated every year. The story of Imam Hosayn™s martyrdom and
self-sacri¬ce in opposition to illegitimate and unjust rulers may very well
be used by some as an analogy for contemporary struggles and transform
them opportunities for collective action. However, participation in com-
munal rituals memorializing Imam Hosayn does not represent political
indoctrination.92 As my interviewees told me, only those who are already
90
Mehri, Masajed-e Bazar-e Tehran dar Nehzat-e Emam Khomayni, pp. 226“7.
91
Lebaschi, tape recording no. 3, 15.
92
Asef Bayat, Street Politics: Poor People™s Movements in Iran (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1997), p. 43 and note 39.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 253

predisposed to read religion as a political model interpret them as such.
Finally, we lack public opinion data from Iran, but the data we have leads
us to question the so-called ˜˜common wisdom.™™ Mark Tessler™s ¬ndings
that religiosity among Arab Muslims has a weaker effect on political views
than is often believed would surely make us question the causal rela-
tionship in the Iranian case.93 In short, even if we conclude that bazaaris
are exceptionally religious (in comparison to other Iranians, Tehranis,
and Muslims), this does not necessarily have a consistent or causal impact
on political sentiments and actions.
In a similar vein there is another problem with arguments relating the
religiosity within the Bazaar to the politics of its members, and that is
that even if bazaaris are religious and they base their politics on religion,
it does not logically follow that they advocate clerical rule or supported
Khomeini™s political vision prior to the establishment of the Islamic
Republic. Lebaschi mentions that the Bazaar may have helped Kho-
meini on an isolated, individual basis, but the organizations in the
Tehran Bazaar did not champion Khomeini as much as they supported
the revolutionary movement as a whole.94 Skeptics may point out that
Lebaschi was closely allied with the secular and liberal National Front
and was therefore unaware of Khomeini™s following, or simply unwilling
to acknowledge it. However, Mohammad Shanehchi, a broker in the
Tehran Bazaar and an activist closely af¬liated with the Liberation
Movement of Iran who had contacts with Khomeini and his students,
also downplays the Bazaar™s support for Khomeini. He recalls that the
Bazaar gave ¬nancial help to Khomeini, but that almost every single
group donated to Khomeini as well social.95 When I discussed the
Bazaar™s activities during the Revolution, rather like the rest of society,
bazaaris downplayed the support for Khomeini and distinguished
between general support for the Revolution and speci¬c endorsement of
a particular strain or ideological agenda. One interviewee mentioned
that reputable brokers, who often collected donations and organized
guild-based activities, refused to collect funds for any particular party or
individual. Instead, those bazaaris who did want to ¬nance Khomeini
would make deposits to an account established by his followers (˜˜Account
100™™ at Melli Bank). The hesitance of bazaaris as a corporate group

93
Mark Tessler, ˜˜Islam and Democracy in the Middle East: The Impact of Religious
Orientations on Attitudes towards Democracy in Four Arab Countries,™™ Comparative
Politics 34 (April 2002), 337“54. These general ¬ndings about the relationship between
the religiosity of Muslims and their political opininons are documented in many other
publications by Tessler and his coauthors and students.
94
Lebaschi, tape recording no. 3, 2.
95
Shanehchi, tape recording no. 4, 3.
254 Bazaar and State in Iran

to collect funds and donate them to any individual person or speci¬c
political current signals that the bazaaris themselves were cognizant of
heterogeneous political views within the Bazaar during the Revolution.
Rather like much of society, bazaaris uniformly targeted the power of the
Pahlavi regime, but diverged on issues of how to recast state power.
The immediate postrevolutionary era and consolidation of power in the
hands of the leaders of the Islamic Republican Party (IRP) also challenges
the assumption that bazaari actions are determined by political Islam or
Khomeini™s brand of clerical politics. We can infer the Bazaar™s overall
stance toward Khomeini™s faction from its backing of President Bani-
Sadr (January 1979“June 1981), who was allied with lay Islamists and
secular organizations, and opposition to the clerically dominated IRP,
which advocated Khomeini™s hard-line and increasingly exclusionary
interpretation of Islamic government. During 1980 and 1981, the
bazaaris siding with more liberal professional associations and student
factions organized a series of protests against the IRP, which was steadily
monopolizing all institutions of state power.96 When Bani-Sadr™s foreign
minister was arrested, the bazaaris in Tehran organized protests and
secured 30,000 signatures for a petition calling for his release.97 Mean-
while, bazaaris in Isfahan rallied in defense of their parliamentary
representative, who was attacked by the IRP for defending Bani-Sadr, and
condemned the IRP™s repressive tactics.98 Bazaaris also shied away from
an IRP-organized meeting in the main mosque in the Tehran Bazaar,99
and verbally attacked Mohammad-˜Ali Rajaii, the prime minister and a
member of the IRP.100 Their opposition to the IRP was so great that
Khomeini also intervened to stem the bazaaris™ support for Bani-Sadr,
stating ˜˜Today [as opposed to during the revolution], to close the bazaar
and to demonstrate is to defy the Prophet and to defy Islam.™™101
In the end, however, the hard-line IRP, which wielded both the
institutions of the state (court, media, and Friday prayer services) and
the brute force of vigilantes, used sheer coercion to overwhelm their
disparate opponents, who at that moment ranged from the moderate
LMI to various non-Tudeh leftist groups. Islamist groups monitored
and politically bullied bazaaris, while hooligans physically threatened


96
Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs, p. 134.
97
Ibid., p. 138. 98 Ibid., p. 139.
99
The Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 1980.
100
˜˜Tehran Bazaar Merchants Ask Raja™i to Resign,™™ Foreign Broadcasting Information
Service, South Asia, January 6, 1981, I 8.
101
Quoted in Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs, p. 156; also see Arjomand, The Turban
for the Crown, p. 145.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 255

the Bazaar itself.102 Also, we can conjecture that in this initial period the
cooperative hierarchies and physical localization that were resources for
autonomy and solidarity were manipulated into objects of control and
coercion. Ironically, in the end, in order to limit their mobilization
against and criticisms of the IRP, it was the government that was forced
to close down the bazaars.103 After Bani-Sadr was ousted from power
and ¬‚ed the country, the IRP cracked down on opposition groups,
including activists in the Bazaar.104 In July 1981, they executed two
merchants who had supported the Revolution, Karim Dastmalchi and
Ahmad Javaherian. The charges against the former included ˜˜creating
disturbances in the bazaar of Muslims, resulting in its closure.™™105
Events such as these forced many others bazaaris to ¬‚ee the country.106
The whole episode, occurring shortly after the Revolution, was indica-
tive of the Bazaar™s substantial toward strict clerical rule.107
Thus, religion was one mode of articulating bazaari opposition to the
state, and the clergy were a useful ally in their efforts to make claims
against the state. Yet it was not the only one, and mosque“bazaar
relations were certainly not an organic or inseparable alliance. Thus,
relations with the religious establishment and religiosity are a less
revealing measure of political attitudes and aspirations than analysts
tend to assume.

Transforming grievances and interests into mobilization
If ties to the clergy and religious motivations are insuf¬cient for
understanding bazaari collective action, other scholars have offered
interest-based interpretations. Grievances and clashes of interests with
the state are increasingly cited as mechanisms for bazaari mobilization.
Mozaffari, for example, asks, ˜˜Why does the bazaar rebel?™™ He relies on
a relative deprivation model to answer that the ˜˜peripheralization of the

102
Lebaschi, tape recording no. 3, 17.
103
Associated Press, December 1, 1980.
104
After the fall of Bani-Sadr, members of the left-leaning Islamist Mojahedin-e Khalq
and leftists who were not af¬liated with the Tudeh Party bore the brunt of the state
violence.
105
British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, July 15, 1981.
106
Parsa, Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution, p. 282.
107
A contributing factor in dampening the Bazaar™s opposition to the IRP may have
been the war. First, I suspect that some merchants saw the war as an economic
opportunity to make windfall pro¬ts. Second, some bazaaris may have privileged
national unity at a time of enemy attack and shied away from destabilizing the
regime. This is implied by a quote from a bazaari: ˜˜Wait till after the war. . . . Many
people will have to leave the political stage of this country.™™ The Christian Science
Monitor, November 18, 1980.
256 Bazaar and State in Iran

most homogenous social group [i.e. the bazaars] is a necessary condition
to unleash aggressivity of a historical dimension.™™108 This approach
re-directs our attention to the bazaars™ capacity to be agents in their own
right. Nevertheless, Mozaffari™s understanding of social mobilization,
like grievance-based approaches in general, suffers from overpredicting
rebellions.109 Instances of ˜˜peripheralization™™ abound and have been a
consistent theme since the formation of a centralized nation-state in the
Reza Shah era and the entrance of Iran into the world economy. What
causes bazaaris to mobilize at particular junctures? And why do they
target the state with their ˜˜aggressivity™™? These questions are all left
unanswered.
Smith approaches these issues head on.110 He identi¬es the state as
the force behind the ˜˜peripheralization™™ of the bazaar to hypothesize:
[T]he roots of bazaari protests lie in a determined effort to resist state
encroachment on the bazaar™s market autonomy. Social autonomy for the bazaar
can be de¬ned along a number of indicators but fair market standing relative to
foreign capital, freedom to set prices internally, and freedom from forced
competition with state-subsidized cooperatives are arguably the three most
important. Interference by the state in any of these arenas is likely to be seen
(often rightfully) as arbitrary and thus resisted, regardless of the type of gov-
ernment. . . . Bazaar mobilization, then, is a function of external factors, of which
I argue state policy is central, and . . . of mobilizing structures internal to the
bazaar itself.111
Smith isolates the speci¬c moments in which state actions create con-
ditions that ˜˜make it too costly for . . . the bazaari not to protest.™™112 By
analyzing the state as an actor as well, this approach explains why
protests are aimed at state power and bazaaris may part ways with the
clergy.
By emphasizing the ˜˜external factors™™ that frame and initiate social
mobilization, Smith makes short shrift of the bazaar™s agency and more
importantly the evolution of its internal structure and relation to the
Iranian economy. This is unwarranted because social mobilization is as
much a product of the capacity of social groups to create and take
advantage of opportunities as it is a function of political structures and
contexts that create opportunities for action and the framing of grie-
vances. As it stands, Smith™s analysis, which includes material from the
postrevolutionary era, predicts that the bazaar should mobilize against


108
Mozaffari, ˜˜Why the Bazar Rebels,™™ 389.
109
McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, chapter 1.
110
Smith, ˜˜Collective Action with and without Islam: Mobilizing the Bazaar in Iran.™™
111
Ibid.,190. 112 Ibid., 187.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 257

the Islamic Republic, which has radically restructured the commercial
market and infringed upon its autonomy by establishing state mono-
polies, heavily regulating trade, and initiating antipro¬teering campaigns
(e.g. 1995 and 1996) and new commercial venues that compete with the
bazaars.
Yet we rarely witness antistate mobilization after the initial revolu-
tionary era, and the mobilization that has occurred has never been
national or sustained. Clashes between merchants have erupted from
time to time, and they have sometimes turned violent.113 In Isfahan, for
example, the bazaar closed down for a day to protest ˜˜unfair™™ and
increasing taxes.114 Protests have also been political. Shopkeepers in
Sabzevar, a city in northeastern Iran, went on strike to protest the plans
to divide Khorasan Province into three smaller provinces, none of which
made Sabzevar the capital.115 But these and other instances of public
dissent were short lived, isolated, infrequent, and, as we see below,
limited to individual sectors. Lest we think that the decline in bazaari
protests is a function of overall social passivity or state domination
during the Islamic Republican era, we should recall that this trend does
not parallel those of other social groups. The urban poor and squatters
in large cities have often organized rallies and rioted, as in the case of
Tehran in August 1991 and 1995, Shiraz and Arak in 1992, and
Mashhad in 1992, to name just a few.116 Labor disputes and activism
have also been prevalent, with major strikes occurring in 1991 and
2000.117 Agricultural workers in the tea-planting region rioted in 2001
and 2002 to protest sectoral reforms. Some of these defensive protests
have been successful in impacting state plans.118 Finally, students at
major universities in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, and other cities have
organized sit-ins and large rallies, and clashed with security forces and
vigilantes in prolonged clashes in 1999, 2002, and 2003. All of these
events offered bazaaris both opportunities to protest and groups with
whom to cooperate.
The relative immobilization of the bazaar has not been due to its
contentment with the regime either. On the contrary, we have a fair

113
Traders in Ne˜mat-Abad (a small town southwest of Tehran) attacked the municipality
building. William Samii, ˜˜Bazaar Unhappy, but Is It Unstable?™™ RFE/RL Iran Report
3, 32 (August 2000).

<<

. 46
( 55 .)



>>