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Ugly Face of Marginalization in Iran: Corruption and Incompetencies of Government

Marginalization in Iran Marginalization in Mianrood town of Shiraz (Iran)

Marginalization is a global problem that negatively impacts upon societies across the globe. Marginalization is both a condition and a process that prevents individuals and groups from full participation in social, economic, and political life enjoyed by the wider society. Marginalization is often understood as both a current condition, and a dynamic process in the future. It is a multidimensional and dynamic process, channels the social relations and organizational barriers that blocks the attainment of livelihoods, human development and equal citizenship.

The disparities in attainment of opportunity between children in many countries across the world has the potential tendencies of placing them at risk of marginalization. The marginalization concept drawing from both sociological and psychological theories to forward a new theoretical framework as it applies to a wide range of contexts, can be conceptualized, interrogated and further investigated.

The “marginal man” is someone on the margin of two cultures and two societies which never completely interpenetrate and fuse. He is someone with spiritual instability, intensified self-consciousness, restlessness, and malaise.

The concept of marginality is important in sociological thinking and has different meanings. Since 1928, man had invented three forms of marginality: cultural marginality, which is determined by differences in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and other cultural indicators; social marginality, which occurs when an individual is not considered part of a positive reference group owing to age, timing, situational constraints, or occupational role; and structural marginality, which results from the political, social, and economic powerlessness of specific disadvantaged groups in societies. Perhaps, the biggest problem facing the developed urban world is informal settlements of slums or ghettos.

According to official statistics of UN Settlement, about one billion of the world’s urban population lives in the marginalized areas. According to the report of shantytown challenges in 2003, at least 40% of the global habitations are classified as livening in extremely substandard huts or  shanty places.

Marginalization is rooted in the history of human social life and its manifestations. Therefore, the ethnic religious ghettos used as settlements of the poor in the ancient societies. In its modern sense, this phenomenon have been incited by the emergence of capitalism and urbanism. The increasing migration from the rural areas to the cities took place first at the heart of capitalistic societies and then in under-developed countries. The implications of this colonialism are the rise of a number of social issues the most important of which are economic interventions, unemployment and migration from rural areas to the cities, which, in turn, worsen the issue of marginalization.


Marginalization, same as in other countries is major consequences of unsustainable economic growth and social crises in Iran during recent years as well, which has caused many problems on the margin of large cities such as metropolitan Tehran and other major cities.

Several studies conducted in Iran indicate the history of marginalization back to 1920 but it has been especially evident in 60s. At that time, the rise of oil price and its injection to the Iranian economy increased the per capita income prominently and then, more after 1979 revolution.

Lack of basic living standards in such slums or ghetto communities have caused massive environmental problems as well, which causes major health damages to its inhabitants and surrounding urban areas. Environmental degradations in these areas have caused great deal of concerns for various research disciplines. Underlying causes of slums or ghettos have never been fully investigated but as a preexisted condition one must point to factors such as political corruption, unfair distribution of wealth among various layers of the society and urban mismanagement.

Moreover, the wealth obtained from the divided lands in Iran tempted the landowners to move to the cities and invest their wealth in industrial shares. The decline of the agricultural sector due to the inefficiencies and of agrarian infrastructure support along with the failure of the industrialization policies like in many of the developing countries pushed the vast rural masses to the towns.

Owing to the fact that urban Iran’s industries were not able to employ this unskilled labor force. They were inevitably absorbed in the informal economy and unskilled service sector, creating a poverty belt around the urban fringe. The rate of migration is so high that today 20 Millions of rural population lives in the margin of the big cities in Iran. This figure is estimated to be doubled in the next 10 years and more than 90% of informal habitations are located within legal limits of cities.

Over the past five decades, the regional development policy has led to a rapid and significant change in Iran. Regional development strategies, has created various developments in the field of new economic geography which has challenged globalization theory in recent years. However, the margins in Iran as part of the city these days have commonly intertwined texture with the cities. The margins are often left out, culturally poor and remain crime-prone areas, and become problematic. Where, according to sociologists, cultural and regional poverty and crime is the main feature of this culture in Iran. Crimes born from this culture, not only is a threat to social safety, security and welfare of the people of the community, but also safety and security of city’s residents are threaten as well.

Once the margins expand and the border between cities and margins fades murder and crime in these areas increases. Consequently, the question arises: First, what factors make the crime incidences in these areas to increase. Secondly, what must be to improve this image and make these communities a caring part of the society.

Marginal settlements according to their morphology, physical and social qualities risen from geographical and cultural situation in various cities in Iran have several names, such as shack, slum, room, hell, grave, land without borders and helpless. High population density, low education, unemployment, lack of paper income, and most importantly lack social justice are main factor of encouraging to create social disorder.

History of towns, residential complexities and kind of migrants to these areas indicate that these places are without a coherent social identity and culture. So, in these areas, there are no guardian to maintain the established values and norms. Marginalized individuals are victims of social ostracism and are frequently against all principles and social norms.

Social and class conflict causes formation of subcultures of deviant and delinquent. These delinquent subcultures are usually coexisted with murder and act to pillage, vandalistic behavior, drug abuse, theft, street violence, criminal groups working with adults, prostitution and break of the law. They usually recruit in line their goals young women of the community. The actions of the security forces and government officials leads to institutionalizing and deepening of these social conflicts, while social scientists are suggesting inclusion and empowering of such communities.

Countries which have developmental instability and highly fluctuating macro-economic performances are likely to experience significant constraints and even some setbacks in housing sector development, with policies becoming fragmented and detached from an appropriate integration with development. This condition has been the experience in Iran.

There has been  two major periods of mass exodus from rural areas to the cities in Iran. One is the period after the Shah’s land reform and second one after 1979 revolution due mainly to the empty promises of the ruling clerics and specifically after Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988. This condition has  resulted an increasing ratio of rural to urban of 75/25 in 1960 to a 50/50 in 1979 to a 25/75 percent of now.

Instabilities arose from the redirection of political power with the overthrow of the Shah’s regime in 1979 and the installation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Revolution and change also affected economic policies for development. The Shah’s regime had sought a quick route to modernization by way of selected development of industry, but at risk of rural areas and with rural-urban imbalance. Then, under the Islamic Republic regime, development policies have preached to achieve the multiple objectives of social justice, modernization, and ‘politically correct’ Islamic institutions. These objectives have not been readily reconciled and Iran has experienced further instabilities of war with Iraq in the years1980–1988 and other regime made and natural disasters.

The experiences learned from agrarian uprisings in Latin America and elsewhere made it evident that Shah must do something not to face the unhappy peasants uprising. Therefore, the US administration convinced Shah of a land reform, which was called “White Revolution”. The ‘White Revolution’ was intended to be a bloodless change from above aimed at fulfilling the expectations of an increasingly politically aware general public as well as an ambitious and growing professional socio-economic group.

Doing such, anticipating and preventing what many considered to be the danger of a bloody revolution from below. Although many were looking to heal the socio-economic problems of the country, this was fundamentally a political program conceived by members of the political elite in order to sustain as much of the established relations of domination as realistically possible. This was a status quo centered upon the institution of the monarchy as the lynchpin of Iranian State and society. The dominant motivating ideology was that of ‘modernism’.

The results of the White Revolution were mixed. On the positive side, about half a million peasants obtained adequate land under the land reform program to engage in profitable farming and small towns and rural areas benefited from various government development initiatives. On the negative side, perhaps the most serious deficiency of the White Revolution was the raising of popular expectations that remained unfulfilled.

With respect to land reform, for example, one-half of all rural families received no land at all; among those obtaining land, about 73 percent got less than six hectares, an amount sufficient only for subsistence farming. The net result was the creation of widespread disillusionment in villages. This pattern benefited a minority but overall disappointment for the majority. Above pattern had characterized many of the White Revolution programs in early 1970s.

Despite the stated goals of land reform, the Shah’s government did not make agriculture and rural development a high priority. As a result, the landless peasant class began migrating to urban areas. After a period of rapid urbanization, the Shah’s government did little to provide support for urban migrants who looked somewhere for financial and moral support.

Land reform, however, was soon in trouble. The government was unable to put in place a comprehensive support system and infrastructure to play the role of the landowner, who had previously provided tenants with all the basic necessities for farming. The result was a high failure rate for new farms and a subsequent migration of agricultural workers and farmers to the country’s major cities, particularly Tehran. The extended family and the traditional support system in Middle Eastern culture deteriorated as increasing numbers of young Iranians crowded into the country’s largest cities, far from home and in search of work, only to be met with high prices, isolation, and poor living conditions.

Iranians were leaving the rural areas due to the government shift in economic prioritization, which was translated to perceived increases in urban employment opportunities. The modernization of mass communications in Iran allowed this information to become more widely disseminated. As migration from the rural areas to the industrialized areas of Iran occurred, coupled with the failure of the government to offer any economic incentive to stay, many of these former agrarian workers became disconnected from the newly industrialized economy. They essentially became marginalized.

These were the conditions that the shah’s modernizing policies relegated the rural workers; living in the urban areas to which many had never previously ventured and with few if any transferable skills for employment. According to scholar’s statement: “substantive traditions are more at risk by the disorder of urban idleness and the sup-plantation of local and tribal authorities than they are by the fragmentary and unsuccessful authority of a remote and spuriously rationalized bureaucracy”. All three of these factors were working against migrants for the traditional groups of Iran.

The modernization of Iran produced a climate of social upheaval, which increased the turmoil in the country. As a result, slums settlers who faced unimaginable change began to turn to religion for a foundation of familiarity and identity. Furthermore, the age structure of the country began to shift during 1970. In a way, that by the middle of the decade 2/3 of the population ranged from birth to thirty years of age. The young and energetic grown up population was products of the television era and the economic boom, emerging as people of greater exposure to outside ideas. Within this group, the language of religion which was previously considered old-fashioned surfaced as a new source of inspiration with the promise of justice and equality.

Urban districts are amongst the main economic, social and political centers of every country which are well known as the focal points of wealth, work, creativity and innovation. These centers, however, are faced with challenges such as social inequality, insecurity, unemployment, inadequate housing, traffic congestion and marginalization, which dramatically reduces the quality of urban life.

Policymakers and planners in national and international levels emphasize the ability of cities to promote quality of human’s life. Informal settlement, which was not considered as an outcome of Iran economic-social transformations, has turned into an important and controversial issue in most Iranian urban areas. The low quality of urban life was readily observable in these areas.

Khomeini and his supporters promised to end the gap between the rich and the poor, and deliver economic and social progress. They failed to fulfill their promises. The Iranian economy is in poor shape today, despite the oil revenues that holds back the economy from the brink of collapse. People are dissatisfied with high unemployment rates and hyper-inflation. They have little hope for the economic fortunes to turn to.

This is happening at the time that the gap between the grassroots and the ruling Clerics has widened in Iran. There is increasing dissatisfaction with the governance, plagued by corruption, nepotism, economic mismanagement, unaccountability and a foreign policy which has produced various regional and trans-regional adversaries.

A child laborer in Iran

However, while manipulated statistics indicate that absolute poverty has declined sharply, but a majority of Iranians continue to suffer from socio-economic precocity. Official sources state that 12 million live below the absolute poverty line and 25 to 30 million below the poverty line. Estimates suggest that one-third of Iranians, as well as 50 to 70% of workers, are in danger of falling into poverty. Fourteen percent of Iranians live in tents, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, and one-third of the urban population lives in slums. This living conditions are what anthropologists call Iran’s “ugly face” of urban life, which has a striking 17-fold increase in the number of Iranians slums. 50% of residents in such areas have only irregular employment; approximately 10 to 13 million Iranians “entirely excluded from health, work or unemployment insurance.”

The Islamic Republic’s relative achievements in rural infrastructure, education, and literacy, along with its failure to create jobs, have produced a socio-economic paradox that is politically explosive.

A chief failure of the Islamic Republic has been the lack of job creation, with jobless growth even increasing during oil booms. Unemployment rates remain high, especially among the youth, university graduates, and women., Every eighth Iranian is officially unemployed. According to the Iranian parliament’s research center, the unemployment rate will reach 16% by 2021 in an optimistic scenario, 26% if conditions are less auspicious. One in four of youth is unemployed (but some estimates go as high as 40%). These figures rank Iran’s youth unemployment rate as among the highest worldwide.

Along with the above mentioned phenomenon comes migration of elites. While some of the underlying causes of Iran’s brain drain are shared among most developing countries (e.g., lower wages compared to more developed economies), the main drivers of migration from Iran have roots in the unique socio-political landscape of the country.

The regime’s formal stance on the issue of elite migration has been in stark contrast with its de facto policies and actions. On one hand, large number of dissidents leaving the country are among the well educated ones, the Iran’s regime considers migration of such individuals as a blessing which purges problematic citizens and improves its so thought political stability in the long run. On the other hand, in authoritarian regimes such as the Islamic Republic, where elections and polls are devoid of true meanings, the tendency of migration is commonly interpreted as an indicator of the level of dissatisfaction and hopelessness across different segments of the society. Therefore, while the regime does not consider brain drain as an important threat, it is nevertheless sensitive to public perception of the issue and, as such, downplays the magnitude and consequences of the ongoing brain drain crisis.

According to the compiled data, the total number of Iranian migrants (including non-permanent) increased from about 130,000 in 1970 to 480,000 in 1978, spiked to 830,000 in 1979, then continuously increased to reach 3.1 million today. In the meantime, the migrant-to-population ratio of Iran has also steadily increased from approximately 0.5% in 1970, to 1.3% in 1978, to 2.2% in 1979, and finally to 3.8% in 2019. Since 1979, the annual flow of migrants from Iran averaged at about 63,000 people, with the largest spikes occurring in 1979, 2010, and 2016.

Additionally, Iranians face another structural impediment to socio-economic opportunities. Regime “insiders” (khodi) or those with access to state resources and privileges also enjoy privileged access to jobs. These frustrations have led many young Iranians to vote with their feet. These days, Iran has continued to experience world record levels of brain drain, losing an estimated $150 billion per year.

The exact level of poverty is unclear in Iran. However, it is fair to assume that almost 60% of the population lives around the poverty line and about 30% below the poverty line. Poverty and inequality have been driving forces of the protests, with politico-socioeconomic demands at their forefront. The demonstrators have pushed against corruption, unemployment, injustice and the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few.

Official figures on the socioeconomic misery of the Iranians are unsettling, while the real numbers may have been even higher.  The Islamic Republic constitutes an oligarchy, where wealth is monopolized and controlled in the hands of a tiny élite. On one hand, there are the economic empires of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps which occupies about 80% of the Iran’s economy and the religious foundations, run by both the establishments of conservatives and reformists. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei alone is believed to control a financial empire worth $200 billion. The Revolutionary Guard, which was established to defend the principles of the revolution, has turned into not only in an oppressive apparatus in hands of the Supreme Leader but also, a conglomerate of investment companies and subcontractors whose main preoccupation is securing access to and monopolizing economic resources in addition to regional and international terrorism functionaries. Also, the introduction of neoliberal economic policies in 1990s for privatization of state own companies made the elite layer to own everything of the country. This has included clientelistic privatizations and the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top.

Iranian newspapers these days are filled with the reports of corruption at the highest levels of government’s officials. Through informal financial networks, insiders exploit the unjust economic and political gains while around 70% of Iranians are in or below the poverty line.

To resolve the issue of slums, misery, poverty and inequalities in Iran is regime change. As long as, there is such a corrupt system of governance in Iran, no one should expect social justice, peace, security and sustainable economic development. All civilized people must side with the Iranians and their legitimate resistance to overthrow the religious tyranny. The world will certainly be a better place without a totalitarian religious dictatorship.


About Khalil Khani (17 Articles)
Khalil Khani PhD 2011-Now: Human Rights Activist 1974-Now: Various Research and Publications in Sustainable Natural Resources and others 1986-2011: Chief Engineer in Aerospace Industry in USA 2003: Health Psychology Graduate Studies at Arizona State University, USA 1985: Graduate Studies, Doctorate in Botany, University of Goettingen, Germany 1980-1985: Research and Teaching assistant in Botany, University of Goettingen, Germany 1973-1980: Research and Teaching Soil Conservation, Erosion Control, Rangelands and Watershed Management, Tehran University, Iran 1976: Master of Science in Forestry Tehran University, Iran 1975: Bachelor of Science In Forestry Tehran University, Iran

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