It’s always been a dangerous fallacy to believe that the main boosters of Islamic fundamentalism are the Muslim poor. Now, movements in impoverished parts of Cairo, Tehran and elsewhere are demanding more from their rulers than pious rhetoric
If you take an evening stroll around the southern fringes of Tehran, where the mountains plunge into the desert and the apartment blocks descend into haphazard neighbourhoods of self-built structures, you may be surprised to hear a rhythmic chant echoing from the blackened rooftops.
Allahu akbar, allahu akbar, the voices chant in unison: God is great, God is great. You might think that this is a cry of pious loyalty in the heart of the world’s only Islamic theocracy. After all, these are very poor people, migrant families and casual labourers, surely the lifeblood of the Islamic revolution.
But watch what happens. The chants draw motorcycle-bound members of the Basij, the zealous paramilitary volunteer branch of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Revolutionary Guards. Several times this year, they’ve managed to catch, beat, imprison and kill South Tehranis for doing this. They’re expecting another round of the chanting a week Monday.