Iranian anger over corruption boils over after deadly building collapse
Evidence suggests that when the 10-story Metropol Twin Towers complex collapsed in the Iranian city of Abadan, property developer Hossein Abdol-Baghi was one of 32 victims.
There was an official DNA match. He was photographed in the building before the collapse. Her family was seen crying on television.
But that was not enough to convince those who took to the streets last week to protest against corruption. Deeply suspicious of the official narrative, they say his influential supporters helped him flee the country and escape their wrath.
“It’s too obvious he’s not dead. If his face and body were so shattered they required a rushed DNA test, why are his IDs in his pocket unscathed? said Reza, a 28-year-old unemployed man from Abadan.
“Why was Abdol-Baghi allowed to construct such an atypical building?” he added, implying that it was because of his connections to high-level officials.
The view that Abdol-Baghi had to escape speaks to the level of anger over corruption in the Islamic republic, where people are already grappling with rising prices and a struggling economy. With inflation nearing 40%, talks with Western powers over a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions have also stalled.
Khuzestan province, located on Iran’s largest oil and gas reserves, was the center of anti-regime protests in 2019. Protests over fuel price hikes ended in violence, causing more of 300 deaths across the country, according to Amnesty International. .
Local people say not only have their share of the oil-rich province’s natural wealth been meager, but new development projects have also benefited the corrupt.
“Discrimination and corruption of officials bother the people of Khuzestan the most. We walk on oil but our houses are still made of mud and bricks,” said Hosna, who moved from his native Abadan to Tehran. “Such incidents are an excuse for people to take to the streets and vent their pent up anger.”
Iranian leaders have acknowledged that corruption is a significant problem and have promised to tackle it. They blame dishonest individuals and say it’s not an institutional problem. Analysts say a generation of young businessmen has emerged loyal to the regime. Their expensive cars and large houses often irritate ordinary Iranians.
“In every city there are ‘Hossein Abdol-Baghis’,” Mostafa Tajzadeh, a reform-minded politician in Tehran, wrote on Instagram. “They have certain things in common: they have astronomical wealth, run charities, organize religious ceremonies. . . are close to members of parliament and municipal councils. . . have several large construction projects. . . As simple as that.”
The authorities’ delayed response to the tragedy also angered protesters. Official condolences were offered days after the building collapsed. The government of Ebrahim Raisi has called Sunday a day of national mourning.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was the main target of slogans in Abadan. Protesters also used a revolutionary new anthem, “Hello Commander”, which was widely promoted on social media, to signal their disapproval. Many are posting videos of the disaster on social media, saying “Hello Commander, watch this”.
In a film shared on social media, a woman walks through the ranks of riot police in Abadan. He can be heard asking them: “You are [sent by] “Hello Commander”? . . . Are we rioters? All of us?”
The anger “is rooted in the extreme poverty of this very wealthy province”, said Ahmad, 32, who migrated to Tehran from Khuzestan to seek employment in the hospitality industry. “Even for the oil companies, non-locals are recruited. Everywhere you go you see lots of young men standing in the streets, idle, chatting and smoking.
No deaths have yet been reported during the protests. According to unofficial reports, security forces fired live ammunition and ammunition and used tear gas. “It is a dire situation. There are protests every night,” said an Abadan resident who did not want his name published. “All the main streets are surrounded [by security forces].”
Authorities said they would take action against those responsible for the tragedy. Some officials, including the mayor, were arrested on suspicion of failing to properly oversee the construction project.
But Reza doubts the protests will bring change. “People will protest a bit more and soon they will have to go home and continue with their miserable lives while Abdol-Baghi enjoys his luxurious life in Dubai,” he said.