Homeless Skeletons in the Mayor’s Closet

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As the beast of the stagflation is rearing its head in Iran, some poor and working class families find themselves no longer able to afford the high cost of living.
While these people still work and contribute to society they are forced to live homeless on the streets of Tehran. Add to this, the deluge of migrant workers to Tehran and other big cities in search of work and you get “the homeless worker” phenomenon.
For a long time, there had been disturbing stories circulating among local NGO’s and social advocacy groups that the municipality of Tehran was engaged in what it termed “combating homelessness”. More specifically, it was suspected that the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (whose presidential ambitions are no secret to anyone) had sanctioned abusive behavior by his lieutenants to beautify his city by keeping this new class of “homeless workers” out of the voters’ sight.
When Mr. Ghalibaf ran for president in 2005, he did so as the standard-bearer of the moderate wing of the militocracy. This was in opposition to Ahmadinejad–who at the time was representing the far Right–and the pragmatists whose leader was Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In the 2005 election, Ghalibaf’s posters made him look like an American politician. He stood in front of a private jet, which reminded people of his service in the Revolutionary Guards (RGCI) Air Force. In the poster Ghalibaf sported stylish sunglasses, which was presumably meant to set him apart from the rest of the RGCI set. Despite his new modern hip image, Ghalibaf’s bid to become Iranian president at the age of 44 came to an abrupt end in 2005.
A few years later as things went from bad to worse during Ahmadinejad’s first term, people were willing to ignore Ghalibaf’s checkered past (he had been one of the 24 RGCI commanders who had threatened Khatami with a military coup back in 1999) and support him in a covert political war with Ahmadinejad.
In fairness, since Ghalibaf was elected mayor of Tehran in 2005 (which he won after losing the presidential election) he has done some work to enhance Tehran’s reputation as the capital of a flourishing oil-based economy. New parks have been built and garbage has been collected regularly, even in poor neighborhoods. Ghalibaf also has started to gain the support of the new middle class, the so-called YUMMYs (Young Upwardly Mobile Muslim Youth).
Ghalibaf’s high water mark came in the 2009 election when Tehran Emrouz (one of Ghalibaf’s several media outlets) reported that millions had marched peacefully in the Green Movement’s historic June 15, 2009 march. At the time, everyone on the Right was trying to belittle the Greens as a handful of saboteurs with no real mass support.
Albeit piecemeal and symbolic, Ghalibaf’s apparent support for the Green Movement helped many people overlook his questionable victory in 2005’s mayoral race. Ghalibaf had won the 2005 Tehran mayoral election through some backroom dealings.
For a spell during the nationwide protests, it had seemed there may be hope that Ghalibaf’s YUMMYs and the Green forces could join hands to pose a challenge to Khamenei-Ahmadinejad juggernaut. However, the Green Movement was crushed by the forces of the President Ahmedinejad and the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei.
Now in the years following the protest movement, there has emerged a deepening rift between the Supreme Leader and the president. And suddenly, Ghalibaf has became the Right’s new golden boy. Ghalibaf’s visits to the Supreme Leader’s office have become more frequent, rightist vigilantes have stopped picketing his public appearances, and many hardliners have begun attacking Ahmadinejad as Ghalibaf’s position seems to have improved considerably.
At this point, Ghalibaf’s past achievements have come under closer scrutiny. Chief among investigative tools used by the Iranian media has been the newspaper IRAN– controlled by Ahmadinejad– which had been a pillar of the Far “maniacal” Right but now has undergone something of a small transformation of late.
When the pictures reproduced in this article were printed on the IRAN newspaper website, they caused a small firestorm. It was revealed that the beatings and violent roundups of homeless people were routine operations and that this less-than-honorable job was assigned to private security firms whose owners were former RGCI officers many whom had past connections with the current mayor. Also the newspaper IRAN explained that many of the homeless had regular daytime jobs.
Dr. Mostafa Eghlimi, the head of the Association of Social Workers of Iran complained that his organization had repeatedly protested to no avail against the rough treatment meted out to the homeless by the municipality. Says Dr. Eghlimi, “There has to be a social worker present during their roundup operations but no social worker is willing to work with them because of their unconscionable and violent ways.”
Eghlimi added that this sort of violent coercion against the homeless working poor of Tehran has been going on for years by the Ghalibaf administration.
Eghlimi said that each private security group “rounding up homeless” gets paid per head. Each person or head pushed out of the public’s vision receives payment, explained Dr. Eghlimi. In this way the private security firms have an incentive to go after more and more homeless. After being taken by the security firms, the homeless are held in jail for one month before being released back on to the same streets to be preyed on once again by the private security firms.
Asked about the nature of the “warmhouses” (a name used by the municipality for “public shelters”) Eghlimi disputed that these shelters were suitable for keeping people. “These centers are putrid and infected. That’s why homeless people prefer sleeping on the street in the cold to contracting diseases (in the warm houses),” said Eghlimi.
Eghlimi believed that the municipality’s aim was to hide the homeless so that no one could see them stating that the Ghalibaf’s propaganda message was more important than what was really happening to the working homeless in Tehran.
Eghlimi concluded that the municipality and the private firms routinely demand a penalty from those they capture, thereby taking away the money of the homeless as a penalty.
Since these reports have been brought to light, new questions have been raised about Ghalobaf’s qualities as a leader. Is Ghalibaf the man to change Iran? Is he the right man to take Ahmadinejad’s place? And if so how would such a man who authorizes the beating of defenseless people on the streets of Tehran lead Iran?

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