Sanctions widen gap between Iranian poor and rich

Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:35am EDT
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By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN (Reuters) - While ordinary Iranians struggle to survive international sanctions and deepening economic uncertainty, the gap has widened between the disadvantaged and those who can afford to travel to Paris for a haircut.

The extravagant tastes of wealthy Iranians show no signs of abating in spite of tougher sanctions targeting the Islamic state over its disputed nuclear program.

Several new shopping malls packed with designer boutiques have just opened in Tehran and cities such as Tabriz and the holy Shi'ite city of Mashhad. Shiny vehicles clog the streets.

The "nouveaux riches" live a trendy life in Iran, which is accused by the United States and its allies of trying to acquire atom bombs under cover of civilian nuclear work. Iran says it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.

The center of power has shifted since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election in 2005 from bazaar merchants and traditionally influential clerics to the elite Revolutionary Guards and businessmen with ties to the government and the Guards.

"Companies with links to the Guards win tenders for big projects," said the chairman of a construction company, speaking on condition of anonymity. "All doors are open for them."

Unlike in other countries under sanctions, the streets of Tehran and other big cities are full of designer stores and advertisements for Rolex and Chanel watches, Dupont pens, Massimo Dutti and Gucci clothes.

"Iran is the best country to live in. I used to travel to Paris and Dubai to do shopping but now I can even buy Louis Vuitton bags here in Tehran," said Samira Shafeghat, 38, whose husband is a foodstuff importer and has developed successful businesses using links to the state.   Continued...

<p>An Iranian woman looks on as she stands next to a Benetton shop window in northern Tehran October 24, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl</p>