Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bazaar Strike Revisited

By coincidence, this week I've been reading Arang Keshavarzian's Bazaar and State in Iran: The Politics of the Tehran Marketplace, an extremely theory-heavy political science monograph examining the effects on political mobilization of transformations within the Tehran Bazaar since the Iranian Revolution. It usefully examines the bazaar, not as a unity, but as a series of networks created by the space of the bazaar and the ways of doing business, and argues that under the Pahlavi regime, these networks gave rise to a "cooperative hierarchy" which allowed for mass mobilization of the type seen in the revolution, whereas the policies of the Islamic Republic have, largely as unintended side effects, reduced the importance of bazaar space and given rise to new "coercive hierarchies" which are related to patronage ties, tend to be segmented among different sections of the bazaar, and do not have the same social force as the pre-revolutionary bonds. This new situation means that bazaar strikes tend to be of short duration and limited to certain areas.

The current bazaar strikes have had an impressive duration, but how do they fit this pattern? Reading articles closely, one finds:
"A strike that began last week at the gold and textile sections of the bazaar in Tehran as a protest against a government plan to increase the income tax on merchants grew on Tuesday to other sections, according to the Web site Khabar Online."
There is also:
"On Sunday, subways heading to the bazaar were relatively empty. Whole swaths of the market were shut down...

"News websites said authorities arrested the head of the union of fabric traders in Tehran’s old bazaar for allegedly speaking to merchants through a loudspeaker to assemble in Sabzeh Maidan Square, the main gate of the old bazaar, against the tax hike.

"Some Iranian youth joined the merchants in protest at Sabzeh Maidan. Eyewitnesses report that when a student attempted to record the scene, police beat him with a baton and arrested him, spiriting him away to an unknown location. Witnesses claim that plainclothes policemen and government security forces then launched tear gas bombs at protesters...

"Some merchants continue to pay the taxes. A man who has been selling scarves in the bazaar for more than 40 years said he will comply with the law...

"In the sections of the bazaar still open, electricity brown-outs kept plunging the shops in darkness, even during daylight, and the merchants could be seen angrily fanning themselves with small hand-held fans, made in China."

One can see while this is a significant event, there is clearly a segmented element to its organization, and many shops, apparently those in certain areas which almost certainly sell similar products remain open. Organization is difficult even such a significant grievance on the part of the entire merchant class. Some unknown number of students are also involving themselves. Strikingly, Reformist leaders seem invisible, perhaps because they see the new taxes as necessary even if they condemn the policies of the oil boom years that led to the current situation.

UPDATE: Keshavarzian himself weighs in with Tehran Bureau.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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