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Why Iranians Trust Celebrities More Than Government

Iranian soccer (football) legend Ali Daei, with quake-stricken children in Kermanshah Province

The recent earthquake in Kermanshah province in western Iran that left hundreds of people dead and thousands injured was followed by a huge wave of empathy from fellow Iranians.

Donations were pouring in from all over the country. Hundreds of volunteers rushed to the area to help the victims. But it seemed that the people’s reaction to the event was accompanied with a deep mistrust of the government.

I cannot believe it. I would not even dream about it!
Iranian academician Sadegh Zibakalam, amazed by the outpour of donations after he asked people to help him prepare a shipment of supplies to the quake-stricken in Kermanshah Province

In fact, many in social media compared the extent of the efforts by the Iranian government in other countries with those in the earthquake region and criticized the authorities for not taking up sufficient measures to address the needs of the victims of the earthquake.

To support this claim, social media users shared a video of an official saying that the Iranian government once restored electricity to 73 villages in Lebanon within less than two weeks and built 45 schools within 45 days.

“I wish Kermanshah was part of Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, or Iraq. Then the government of Iran would have rebuilt it better than it was before," reads a tweet by an Iranian user.

For the first time, celebrities in large numbers took the issue into their own hands and volunteered to collect aids for the victims. And their success was astonishing: Ali Daei, former soccer star, was able to collect more than $1.7 million in cash donations. Daei published a video showing him in a warehouse in front of piles of goods donated by citizens, stating that he had also sent 16 large truckloads of goods to the earthquake region.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a pro-reform professor of political science at Tehran University, who is famous for his lively critical speeches, received $500,000 in cash donations.

“I cannot believe it. I would not even dream about it,” said Zibakalam in an interview published by Iran Newspaper. If he knew that people would trust him that much, he would not have volunteered for it, because he was facing a huge responsibility now, he added.

It was a big surprise for many Iranians when the state TV announced that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had provided just $250,000 of cash donations he had received from his followers.

A video watched by more than 20,000 viewers on Youtube, concluded that Iranians have more trust in a former soccerstar and a university professor than in the “leader of the world Muslims”, as Khamenei’s supporters call him.

The public trust in the government has been damaged by the recent wave of corruption cases, Professor Zibakalam said. The authorities should acknowledge the fact and ask themselves, why people have more trust in him and some celebrities than state institutions, he suggested.

In recent years, several businessmen, bank managers, government officials and their close relatives have been convicted of embezzlement.

The most famous case is that of Babak Zanjani, a tycoon, for stealing $2.7 billion from oil sales on behalf of the Ahmadinejad government. Zanjani has been sentenced to death.

Currently, the brother of President Hassan Rouhani, the brother of his deputy, Eshagh Jahangiri, and the deputy of former President Ahmadinejad have also been charged with corruption. Ahmadinejad and his supporters, for their part, have accused Sadegh Larijani, the head of the judiciary and his brothers of serious financial misconduct. Larijani allegedly has 63 personal bank accounts where he has deposited millions of dollars of the judiciary’s income.

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    Mohammadreza Kazemi

    Mohammadreza Kazemi is an Iranian journalist and a former colleague at Radio Farda, who still occasionally contributes. He currently lives in the United States.