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Bazaaris are a merchant class in Iran, who have had a significant political role in the current State of Iran; they do share attributes with other powerful merchant classes in some Middle Eastern countries. They depend on informal but extensive financial systems outside formal banking institutions and consistent with Islamic financial doctrine. As a result, they have been generally opposed to globalization and modernization that would bring them into competition with organizations backed by international economics.

In Iran, the bazaaris have been among the three influential groups in revolution, the others being the clerics of the ulama and the intelligensia; the intelligensia were more a factor in the later changes. During the 17th through 19th century, there was increasing interdependence between the ulama and the bazaaris: the former receiving contributions and the latter receiving legitimacy. Their paired power first showed itself in the Tobacco Rebellion of 1890 to 1892, in which Shah Naser-al-Din had British Major Gerald Talbot rights over the entire tobacco sector. Even with limited communications, the ulama and bazaaris soon forced cancellation of the concession.[1]

Class analysis

Bazaaris have not typically been the subject of Marxist analysis, but they are recognizably a class, although "Marxists see classes only as they relate to the means of production, not as they actually function. ... The worker in a hole-in-the-wall shop in the bazaar is certainly in a position different from that of a big moneylender in the bazaar..." but they both identify as bazaaris.[2] In class terms, they have been described as traditional petit bourgeoisie. The Pahlavi regime threatened that role with modernization, which would have made the upper bourgeoisie, linked to world finance, at the top of the social system, much as a private large capitalist class emerged with the Industrial Revolution.

As a group, the bazaaris had joined with the ulama and large landowners to support the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution, after having been displaced by the 1963 Iranian White Revolution in their control of the peasantry.[3]

After the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, "the priority of the new regime was to protect the Tehran Bazaari from international competition and to provide state support." Industrial plants and financial institution of the former upper bourgeoisie were confiscated, and either put under the state or under bazaaris. "...Iran became the model for a kind of state capitalism, and the economic voids that were left by state were occupied by Tehran Bazaari. No other class apart from the state and the Tehran Bazaari class was allowed to take part in the sector of finance. The absence of an upper bourgeoisie became one of Iran’s distinctive characteristics."

When the Iranian Republic supported the bazaaris but also subsidized the peasantry, the latter saw the government as “benevolent state” and were transformed into the loyal supporters of the regime. [4] Current dissent, therefore, is more urban and among the educated young.

Evolving political role

Kaplan observes that while bazaaris may hold an ancient historical and economic niche, they are relatively new in political activism, especially in the Middle East. Beyond Iran, he points out that the archetype of the bazaari forms much of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. "Although that organization, so dangerous to pro-Western regimes in the Near East, consists largely of narrowly educated men of peasant background, it is the better-educated sons of traditional bazaaris, like Rafiqdoost, being a slight step up on the social ladder, who often lead the narrowly educated men in trying to topple an established order."[2] He was among the most powerful men in Iran in 1995, not only funding social welfare from the Bonyad but also possibly providing the money for "Hizbollah or for the $2m bounty on Salman Rushdie."[5]

Mohsen Rafiqdoost, who had been head of Ruhollah Khomeini's personal security detail, controlled the Bonyad-e Mostazafan (Foundation of the Oppressed), Iran's largest holding company. The Bonyads are a group of foundations that answer only to the Supreme Leader. Bonyad-e Mostazafan took over the assets of the Shah's Pahlavi Foundation, and is estimated to have at least $20 billion in assets. Rafiqdoost remains a member of its governing board. In September 2008, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad granted it a discount to purchase petroleum, possibly to gain its suppport in the upcoming presidential election. [6]


  1. Hani Mansouria (22 September 2007), "Iran: religious leaders and opposition movements", Journal of International Affairs
  2. 2.0 2.1 Robert Kaplan (March 1996), "A Bazaari's World", Atlantic Monthly
  3. Berch Berberoglu (2008), Class and Class Conflict in the Age of Globalization, Lexington Books, ISBN 9780739124307, pp. 105-107
  4. Atay Akdevelioğlu (20 October 2009), The Class-based Choice of Voters in Iran, ORSAM Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, Turkey
  5. Robert Fisk (26 May 1995), "War wounded find comfort from billion-dollar man", Independent (UK)
  6. "The Bonyad Scandal.", Entepreneur, 27 April 2009