converting grievances and opportunities into collective underwriting of
insurgency.137 The cooperative hierarchies, hence, were the existing raw
material that distributed leaÔ¬‚ets, coordinated shutdowns and demon-
strations, and mobilized resources. Cooperative hierarchies are excep-
tionally powerful forms of organization because they not only provide
selective incentives that are helpful in mobilizing the apolitical or
apathetic, but also produce collective awareness that is necessary to
maintain and direct, if not broaden, self-interested action.
Coercive hierarchies as a source of quietism
Coercive hierarchies, on the other hand, neither generate solidarity nor
reduce the cost of participation or increase the cost of nonparticipation. It
is not that today‚Ä™s Bazaar lacks the many resources that it had at its disposal
during the prerevolutionary era. Many bazaaris continue to be wealthy.
Despite the decline in the Tehran Bazaar‚Ä™s centrality in the national
economy, it continues to be an important urban space and contact point
for the business community, and social relations remain essential for
business. The difference is that these social relations are positioned in a
new, more segmented web of networks, one that lacks the breadth of
coordination and the generalized trust available to cooperative hierarchies.
Political and network cleavages are accentuated by the patronage system,
Ashraf, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Nezam-e SenÔ¬Ā va Jame‚Ä˜eh-ye Madani,‚Ä™‚Ä™ 21.
Also see Asnaf, no. 88 (Shahrivar 1379 [August‚Ä“September 2000]), 11.
McAdam, political Process, pp. 45‚Ä“6.
264 Bazaar and State in Iran
which places non-bazaaris and competing superiors as heads of hier-
archical value and chains. Hence, orchestrating of mobilization is more
time consuming and cumbersome. This is why oppositional activity is
suppressed through pressure by state agents.
As posited in Chapter 3, social solidarity has gradually declined since
the Revolution. Many of the social spaces helping to make it ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜a unique
type of community center‚Ä™‚Ä™138 that brought bazaaris together to
exchange information and opinions have declined. The number of
coffee houses and restaurants in and around the Bazaar, institutions
known as areas of discussion and rumor, has plummeted. While it is
difÔ¬Ācult to say whether Iranians are less religious than thirty years ago,
evidence suggests that prayer in mosques and participation in public
religious gatherings has declined.139 Surprisingly, during a Friday ser-
mon one of the Supreme Leader‚Ä™s representatives in Qom opined that
Iran‚Ä™s mosques have become ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜morbid places‚Ä™‚Ä™ and young people have
good reason not to attend Friday Prayers.140 In the Tehran Bazaar,
many bazaaris who are tired of the political manipulation of the pulpit
choose to pray in the privacy of their shops and homes. Consequently,
one more public space for social interaction and developing political
attitudes become obsolete in the Islamic Republic. More generally, the
secretive nature of the coercive hierarchies, the unrestrained nature of
competition, and alliances with external actors has undermined the
bazaaris‚Ä™ sense that their fate is inextricably tied to the Bazaar.
Under these conditions it is not surprising that collective action and
mobilization against the state has been Ô¬‚eeting and uncoordinated. This
has resulted in isolated and typically unsuccessful actions that neither
mobilize the entire bazaar nor attract the support of other opposition
groups or social groups. This is so even within the context of countless
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜political opportunities‚Ä™‚Ä™ for mobilization ‚Ä“ various elections, factional
disputes, sudden changes, policy shifts, legislative and judicial conÔ¬‚icts,
and protests by students, industrial workers, and the urban poor.
On the rare occasion when closures and demonstrations have taken
place in the past few years, limited to select guilds, which the network
Robert Graham, Iran: The Illusion of Power, rev. edn. (New York: St. Martin‚Ä™s Press,
1980), p. 223.
Abdolmohammad Kazemipur and Ali Rezaei, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Religious Life under Theocracy: The
Case of Iran‚Ä™‚Ä™ Journal of the ScientiÔ¬Āc Study of Religion 42 (September 2003), 347‚Ä“61;
John Simpson, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Along the Streets of Tehran,‚Ä™‚Ä™ Harper‚Ä™s Magazine 276 (January 1988),
37; British Broadcasting Company, July 7, 2000; Mosharekat, 4 Esfand 1378
(February 23, 2000); and Fariba Adelkhah, Being Modern in Iran, trans. Jonathan
Derrick (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), p. 113.
This was quoted by the Nawruz newspaper. William Samii, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Morbid Mosques Fail to
Promote Piety,‚Ä™‚Ä™ RFE/RL Iran Report 5, 24 (July 1, 2002).
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 265
conceptualization would except. Notably, sectors in nonstandard goods,
such as the carpet sector discussed in Chapter 5, which have maintained
forms of governance that somewhat approximate cooperative hierarchies
have been sites of protest. For instance, jewelers in the Tehran Bazaar, a
nonstandard good sector with relatively dense relations, have gone on
strike. In October 1994, more than 300 went on a two-day strike to
protest the hundredfold increase in taxes on gold.141 The news report
claimed that the protest was the Ô¬Ārst to be organized by a guild since the
Revolution. Hand-woven carpet dealers in the Tehran Bazaar went on
strike to protest high taxes in July 1996.142 The Salam newspaper
reported that the merchants gathered in the Azeri mosque, which was a
prime political location earlier in the century. The Azeri mosque is
signiÔ¬Ācant because it is located in the heart of the carpet bazaar in
Tehran, and as the name implies its congregation are predominately
Turkish-speaking Azeris, who are the dominant force in the carpet trade
in Tehran.143 Their action was in response to what they viewed as
cumbersome, arbitrary, and Ô¬‚uctuating regulations, as well as high
taxes, which together they claimed had caused a recession in the carpet
trade. ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜In other countries, governments provide great beneÔ¬Āts to mer-
chants in order to boost exports. But in this country it‚Ä™s quite the
opposite,‚Ä™‚Ä™ one merchant told the newspaper.
I too witnessed an instance of protest by the carpet merchants. In the
spring of 2001, I arrived in the Tehran Bazaar to see the metal curtains
on the stores and ofÔ¬Āces pulled down, while the shopowners and their
apprentices were standing around in the alleys. They explained that the
night before a warehouse was burglarized, one of several such incidents
in the past couple months. The merchants were furious that the police
were indifferent to their concerns and had not pursued the seemingly
serial acts of crime. As a show of public discontent, all but a handful of
bazaaris decided to shut their shops and remain closed until noon. But
one merchant explained that a strike beyond noon would not hold since
merchants believed that strikes are now ineffective, while others would
simply open since there is no ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜cooperation‚Ä™‚Ä™ (hamkari). When I asked
the identity of the few merchants who were open, I was told that they
were members of the Islamic association. The strike ended at noon and
the issue seemingly faded away without a police investigation. Later that
day, when I mentioned the strike to a china wholesaler located a few
hundred feet from the carpet bazaar, he was completely unaware of the
Agence France Presse, October 13, 1994.
Xinhua News Agency, July 24, 1996; and Associated Press, July 24, 1996.
Mehri, Masajed-e Bazar-e Tehran, pp. 189‚Ä“237.
266 Bazaar and State in Iran
burglary or the closure. The wholesaler, who prided himself on
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜knowing all the news,‚Ä™‚Ä™ was surprised by the response of the carpet
merchants, saying, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜I didn‚Ä™t know they still did those kinds of things [i.e.
went on strike].‚Ä™‚Ä™ I was surprised that word had not reached his ears.
Looking back, it was another example of the existing sectoral divides.
The expression of surprise may also reÔ¬‚ect the perception among at least
some bazaaris that these forms of collective and public contention are no
longer effective means to shape policy or challenge rulers because either
the nature of contemporary politics differs from earlier decades or
current conditions are not subject to change.
This sort of incident, even in the carpet sector, where information
quickly and rapidly permeates its channels, is rare. The isolated nature
of these protests also suggests the inability of the bazaaris to organize
nationwide protests. The large carpet markets in Tehran, Tabriz, Isfa-
han, and Shiraz, for example, have not coordinated mass strikes or
demonstrations on behalf of the entire sector. Since the more coercive
hierarchies have detached them from one another and increased com-
petition among them, national-level coordination is unlikely.
One might expect that the Islamic Republic‚Ä™s incorporation of the
bazaaris and the establishment of coercive hierarchies tied to state and
regime agents would facilitate mobilization as a form of social control on
behalf of the regime. This would seem especially likely since the regime
has been successful is controlling bazaari associations so as to ensure
that they represent only the most staunchly pro-regime and conservative
views. The Society of the Islamic Associations of Tehran‚Ä™s Guilds and
Bazaar, which from its inception has been completely dominated by the
staunchly conservative Islamic Coalition Association, regularly holds
meetings and makes public statements declaring that it represents the
interests of the ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Islamic Bazaar‚Ä™‚Ä™ and pledging its commitment to the
Islamic Revolution and the system of rule by a supreme jurisconsult
(velayat-e faqih). Repeatedly since the Revolution, it has urged bazaaris
to remain loyal to the Islamic Republic. At a speech given at the monthly
meeting held by the society, Habibollah Asgarawladi-Mosalman, who is
one of the founding members of the Islamic Coalition Association and
comes from a family of merchants, declared, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜If the Islamic Bazaar is
united, the Islamic Republic will open the path for the Islamic Bazaar
to be at the service of the people‚Ä™s revolution and realizing their
own reght.‚Ä™‚Ä™144 He also added that each guild must have an Islamic
association to preserve Islam. Simultaneously, these political statements
and speeches representing the ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Islamic‚Ä™‚Ä™ Bazaar oppose any and all
Asnaf, no. 40 (Azar 1375 [November‚Ä“December 1996]), 29.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 267
groups that support reforms or question the powers of the leader of the
Revolution by dubbing them agents of ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜foreign enemies‚Ä™‚Ä™ or ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜hypo-
crites.‚Ä™‚Ä™145 Since the mid-1980s, the views of the society and coalition
have been most clearly represented in the pages of Iran‚Ä™s best-known
independent conservative newspaper, Resalat. These statements are
often taken by non-bazaari observers to be expressions of the Bazaars
However, not only does the society, which has only 2,500 members
out of a Tehran Bazaar that contains some 40,000 individuals,146 not
reÔ¬‚ect the bazaaris‚Ä™ sentiments, but recent evidence suggests that it can
no longer mobilize their support. While the Islamic associations retain
the authority to call for a closure of the Bazaar and use this power to
make such calls from time to time, in the past few years more and more
bazaaris are resisting their dictates and ignoring their calls for closure.147
In September 1999, the call to close the Bazaar in response to a student
play that was deemed offensive by conservative clerics was only grud-
gingly followed by bazaaris, with a very few attending the antireformist
speech held in the Bazaar.148 Six months later, when the society called
for another strike, bazaaris did not even close their shops.149 In 2003, a
prominent reformist newspaper reported the society‚Ä™s announcement
that the Tehran Bazaar would close for two hours in protest against a
cartoon that they regarded as mocking the cleric. For two days black
banners were hung by the entrance of the Bazaar announcing the strike.
However, the vast majority of the Bazaar stayed open, refusing to close
for even two hours! the article concluded by stating that ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜the bazaaris
lack of support for the Bazaar closure represents a trend that has existed
in previous years. Those knowledgeable [about affairs in the Bazaar] say
that at present the coalition [i.e. ICA] and the [Islamic] associations do
not have great inÔ¬‚uence among the bazaaris and the weekly meetings,
despite widespread advertising and the presence of well-known right-
wing Ô¬Āgures, are not well received.‚Ä™‚Ä™150 As some of the most politically
active, experienced, and adroit activists have left the Bazaar‚Ä™s networks
and have been subsumed into institutional politics, the capacity for both
anti- and pro-state mobilization has been undermined.
For a recent statement see the society‚Ä™s declaration commemorating the anniversary of
the June 1963 uprising. Resalat, 15 Khordad 1382 ( June 6, 2003).
Iran News, July 31, 2000.
Iran, 21 Aban 1382 (November 12, 2003).
Christopher de Bellaigue, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Struggle for Iran,‚Ä™‚Ä™ New York Review of Books 46
(December 16, 1999), 57.
New York Times, April 23, 2000.
Hayat-e Naw, 24 Day 1381(January 14, 2003).
268 Bazaar and State in Iran
In the summer of 2003, Tehran was in the throes of yet another round of
demonstrations by critics and violent reactions by pro-regime vigilantes.
Tehran University was the focal point, and apparently a large number of
members of the middle and upper-middle class also joined in the pro-
tests, which were triggered by talk of introducing tuition-paying grad-
uate students to the otherwise free public university system. But again,
the Bazaar was quiet. No statements were issued, no strikes in support
of the students were called, and deÔ¬Ānitely no rallies from the Bazaar to
the gates of the university were organized.
Shortly after the demonstration began to subside, The Times of London
featured a wonderfully evocative and honest article about a bazaari
family.151 Hadi, an under-thirty velvet dealer from the Bazaar, tells the
journalist that ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜he was never interested in politics before,‚Ä™‚Ä™ but for over a
week he and his bazaari uncle had joined the demonstrators outside the
university and called for changes in the regime. ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜ ‚Ä˜I go because I am
against the system. I want my freedoms,‚Ä™ he said, eating with his family.
‚Ä˜Me and my friends, we hate this system, the clerics, the basijis
(volunteer Islamic militia groups). There is so much corruption here,
they have created it themselves. Before, there wasn‚Ä™t an opportunity to
demonstrate. Now these protests have given us the opportunity.‚Ä™ ‚Ä™‚Ä™ He later
adds, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Clerics should not run this country, they should go back to the
mosques where they belong. They are just good at issuing fatwas. They
aren‚Ä™t efÔ¬Ācient or good with the economy.‚Ä™‚Ä™ His uncle, who participated
in the Islamic Revolution as ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜a student leader, organising demonstra-
tions, distributing Khomeini‚Ä™s statements underground,‚Ä™‚Ä™ echoed these
sentiments: ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Religion and politics should be separate. . . . We were
wrong to believe it could work.‚Ä™‚Ä™ Hadi, his uncle, and his mother all
voted for Khatami in 1997, but have lost hope that his reformist agenda
will succeed. Hadi feels that the tide is changing and he comments, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜In
the bazaar things are changing. There‚Ä™s a radical new element that wants
the end of the regime. Those who want to keep the status quo are in the
minority. The system is breathing its last breath.‚Ä™‚Ä™ His enthusiasm is
tempered by an astute and pragmatic observation by his mother:
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜There‚Ä™s no leadership, no united structure. Before the Islamic Revolu-
tion, we were all united, leftists, communists, intellectuals, whoever.
Now everyone is split. Not even the security forces work together. But if
there was a united front I would join it.‚Ä™‚Ä™
The Times, June 21, 2003, emphasis added.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 269
This chapter supports the comparative analysis of Hadi‚Ä™s mother.
Dissatisfaction and antipathy run through the Bazaar as they do in much
of Iranian society. However, as has been shown, grievances alone do not
ensure political mobilization. Just as the actions and the condition of the