Country Listing

Iran Table of Contents


The Middle Classes

After the Revolution of 1979, the composition of the middle class was no different from what it had been under the monarchy. There were several identifiable social groups, including entrepreneurs, bazaar merchants, professionals, managers of private and nationalized concerns, the higher grades of the civil service, teachers, medium-scale landowners, military officers, and the junior ranks of the Shia clergy. Some middle- class groups apparently had more access to political power than they had had before the Revolution because the new political elite had been recruited primarily from the middle class.

Prior to the Revolution, the middle class was divided between those possessed of a Western education, who had a secular outlook, and those suspicious of Western education, who valued a role for religion in both public and private life. In general, the more secularly oriented tended to be found among those employed in the bureaucracy, the professions, and the universities, while the more religiously oriented were concentrated among bazaar merchants and the clergy. Among entrepreneurs and especially primary and secondary school teachers, the secular and religious points of view may have had roughly equal numbers of proponents. Since the Revolution, these two outlooks have been in contention. The religious outlook has dominated politics and society, but it appears that the secular middle class has resented laws and regulations that were perceived as interfering with personal liberties.

The middle class was divided by other issues as well. Before the Revolution, an extremely high value had been placed upon obtaining a foreign education. The new political elite, however, regarded a foreign education with suspicion; accordingly, many members of the middle class who were educated abroad have been required to undergo special Islamic indoctrination courses to retain their jobs. In some cases, refusal to conform to religiously prescribed dress and behavior codes has resulted in the loss of government jobs. As a result of these tensions, thousands of Western-educated Iranians have emigrated since 1979.

Data as of December 1987