Nearly 40 years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini claimed that Iran’s Islamic Revolution would bring equality and social justice to Iranian citizens. Instead, members of the Iranian regime’s ruling class have enriched themselves and their families through decades of government corruption and privileges not offered to regular citizens.

Aware of their hypocrisy, many Iranian officials attempt to avoid public displays of their wealth. But their children have been less cautious, earning the derogatory title aghazadehs, or “children of the elite,” by average Iranians who see photos of the children’s lavish lifestyles on social media networks.

“Attractive 20-somethings flaunt $1,000 Hermes sandals and frolic poolside at lavish mansions in a capital where, perhaps in another part of town, the desperate hawk their own kidneys to feed their families,” write journalists for the Los Angeles Times Shashank Bengali and Ramin Mostaghim. They point to the “Rich Kids of Tehran” Instagram account in a January 2018 article.

Backlash to hypocrisy

The double standard of a wealthy ruling elite preaching a simple Islamic life to the public while living the opposite themselves has enraged ordinary, hardworking Iranians.

“Iranians see pictures of the family members of the authorities drinking and hanging out on beaches around the world, while their daughters are arrested over a fallen head scarf and their sons are jailed for buying alcohol,” writes Amir Ahmadi Arian, an Iranian journalist living in New York, in a January 2018 New York Times opinion piece titled “Why Iran is protesting.”

“Take Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “He is worth at least $300 million. He got this money from embezzling public funds into his own bank account.”

One man standing others sitting, all wearing traditional Iranian attire (© Atta Kanare/AFP/Getty)
Iranian judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani (center) attending a session of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran in March 2018. (© Atta Kanare/AFP/Getty)

The Trump administration sanctioned Larijani in January 2018 for human rights abuses.

Some Iranian media networks are now covering corruption scandals about senior government figures like Larijani, despite the risks. Sara Bazoobandi, a leading Middle East economist and scholar, writes that the Iranian media carried a story about a member of Iran’s parliament who narrowly escaped arrest for questioning why Larijani “had 63 personal bank accounts” that “generated billions of rials in interest.”

“The hypocrisy of the elite that has become apparent through these scandals has prompted widespread public anger in Iran,” writes Bazoobandi.