Urbanization, Migration and the Politics of Protest

In the period since the 1978-79 revolution, the concerns of Iran’s migrant poor have continued to shape discontent and protest in the country’s rapidly expanding cities. Despite government attempts to attract individuals to more sparsely populated areas, the post-World War II trend toward urban expansion has not been reversed. Both internal and external factors have contributed to the lack of success. Urban population growth has been the product of continued citywide migration, exacerbated by high rates of natural population increase and the impact of the Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War, and the Afghan refugee crisis. While Tehran’s primacy continues to dominate Iran’s urban landscape, the city’s rate of growth in percentage terms has slowed considerably. Nevertheless, the city’s absolute population growth is explosive, almost doubling between the revolution and 1984.

This paper analyzes the Islamic Republic’s attempts to deal with political and social issues that have emerged as consequence of continued rapid urban growth. It assesses the congruence of the regime’s ideological pronouncements and its actual economic programs as it tries to cope with the pressing issues that concern the urban poor. The paper concludes that, just as in previous years, cities serve as the locus of protest activity. This time, however, demonstrations have been strengthened by successes experienced during the revolutionary period. Moreover, the issues of marginalized urban dwellers are now combining with the worries of Iran’s increasingly youthful population. Unless their central concerns are addressed, further discontent and protests are to be expected.

Farhad Kazemi & Lisa Reynolds Wolfe
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