Scroll through the Instagram account @TheRichKidsofTehran or RKOT and ask yourself: Knowing how aggressively the Iranian regime has gone after those — particularly women — who flaunt their sexuality and expose themselves with hair uncovered and with parts of their body exposed that in Iran are supposed to be kept covered except at home, who would be putting these clearly inflammatory images of both semi-nudity and ostentatious financial excess online?
If anything would set off riots in Iran, it would be these brazen images of young Iranians who clearly have more money than they know what to do with, thumbing their nose it Islamic rules and at the long-suffering Iranian working class, who have been enduring staggering unemployment rates, inflation that has robbed them of life savings, and repressive religious police who force them to adhere to behaviors that many would prefer to ignore, or to violate them at home at the risk of punishment if caught.
I have no hard evidence, but you have to wonder why anyone would have participated in this project, and about who is behind it. According to Huffington Post, the “poster or posters” behind the account have announced that its intent is “apolitical.” As they wrote, apparently anonymously, in an Instagram post that has subsequently been taken down:
“We Love our city of Tehran. We are in no way trying to put a difference between rich and poor. We are trying to show the world how beautiful Tehran and people from Tehran are. The Middle East is always on TV receiving negative attention and we just wanted to show that Tehran is not like that. This page is in no way political and we never had any bad intentions. We never thought the page would make headlines all over the world. Some of the people featured in this Instagram account don’t live in Iran. #richkidsoftehran #welovetehran”
The Huff Post article also reports that at least some of the people shown in the RKOT Instagram images are the children of powerful men in Iran, and so are immune from any penalties for their exhibitionism, which may well be true. But still, it’s significant that this account first came out in mid-September right at the time that the Iranian government was launching a crackdown on social media in the country. As the article points out: “Last month, for example, seven young Iranians received suspended sentences of jail time and 91 lashes for posting a video online of themselves dancing to Pharrell’s “Happy.”
Nobody behind this account could have been unaware of how Iran’s poor and working class would react to its depiction of the obscene wealth of Tehran’s elite. Half of Iran’s urban population is reportedly living below the country’s poverty line — a result both of the sanctions imposed by the US and at least some of its allies, and of corruption in a government that is only nominally democratic, subject as it is, in the final analysis, to the dictates of an unelected group of religious leaders. And indeed, according to foreign news reports, much of the anger fueling the protests in the face of fairly brutal repression (so far 22 protesters are reported to have died at the hands of police since protests began on Dec. 28), resentment at the wealth gap in Iran has been a significant factor in stoking anger among the lower classes across the country. (Though it’s worth noting that polling conducted in Iran by the University of Maryland University’s Center for International and Security Studies would suggest that most Iranians, while upset at the country’s economic situation, aren’t that upset with the government, with 81% even supporting President Rouhani’s economic policies.)
Iran is a big country, and is going through difficult times, not least because the US under President Trump has has reneged on an international agreement reached by the administration of President Obama and governments of the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia with Iran to lift economic sanctions on that country in return for its agreement not to pursue any nuclear weapons development for a decade and to open its nuclear program to a regime of serious inspections. It would not have taken, nor do I think dirty tricks by such agencies as the CIA or Israel’s Mossad could in themselves have sparked the kind of broad protests taking place in Iran. But having said that, I find it hard to believe that those two agencies — both with their history of dirty tricks and given both countries’ stated desire to see “regime change” in Tehran, have not been seeking ways to stir the pot of simmering public anger towards Iran’s rulers.
And how easy it would be to do that with something like this Instagram account.
I remember once as a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economic Journalism at Columbia University in the late 1970s attending a private dinner with then SEC Enforcement Director Stanley Sporkin. Asked how the SEC managed to uncover the arcane investment swindles and pyramid schemes that it was busting under his tenure, he explained that his enforcement staff actually spent time thinking up ways to defraud the public. “It turns out,” he told us fellows, “if you can imagine it, somone else already has and is already doing it.”
While I’m not suggesting that the people in the images are anything but self-involved rich kids flaunting their goods (and surely in some cases at least risking punishment, either by the Iranian government or by their own parents!), this does make me suspect that the RKOT Instagram account itself is not just the innocent work of a few clueless rich kids but may have deeper roots in the intelligence services of the CIA and/or Mossad.
Only time will tell.