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Firestorm In Iran As Politician's Son Credits 'Good Genes' For His Success

Iranian businessman Hamid Reza Aref, the son of former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref who is pictured in the background. (file photo)

The son of a prominent reformist politician ignited a firestorm on social-media when he said he owes his success in life to "good genes."

The comments by Hamid Reza Aref, the son of former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref, currently the head of the reformist faction in parliament, quickly led to a #goodgenes hashtag that has heaped scorn on the 39-year-old successful businessman and on cronyism in Iran in general.

"The reason for child labor is clear now: a lack of good genes," tweeted a user.

Iranian actor Mohammad Naderi wrote on his Instagram account:

"This is not an ordinary selfie. It's a failed attempt to find good genes in my face. Unfortunately, like most people, I have some useless genes that are good for nothing. They don't know how to import Porsches and Maseratis and seal contracts with foreign companies."

​"When you realize you lack good genes," said the caption of a photo on Twitter showing the puppet, Kermit the Frog, smoking while pensively looking out a window.

Many posted pictures of those who -- in their eyes -- have good genes, including soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the bloody 1980-88 war with Iraq.

Some posted pictures of political prisoners, including physicist Omid Kokabee, who was granted medical leave from prison in 2016 after having a kidney removed.

"He was a top student but, unlike Aref, his parents didn't have good genes so he was jailed for several years and suffered from a kidney problem," a user wrote while posting a picture of Kokabee.

Children Of The Elite

Many blasted the so-called aghazadehs, a term used in Iran to describe the children of the elite who are believed to significantly benefit from privileged connections and family ties.

The interview and its aftermath coincided with reports that the sons of several politicians have been promoted to top jobs despite a lack of experience.

The term "good genes" quickly became synonymous with aghazadehs and the privileges they enjoy. In Iran, where the unemployment rate among educated adults is about 20 percent, connections are often key to finding decent jobs.

In his controversial interview aired in late July, Hamid Reza Aref suggests those using the term aghazadeh are merely blaming others for their problems.

"I think the reason is that many are trying to escape from reality; we're used to putting the blame on others," he said.

Mohammad Reza Aref has defended his son, saying that Hamid's comments were "misused." (file phoro)
Mohammad Reza Aref has defended his son, saying that Hamid's comments were "misused." (file phoro)

Hamid Reza Aref said he managed to bring the South African mobile service provider MTN to the Iranian market when he was only 24 or 25. The company later won an auction at the Communications Ministry and took a large stake in the Irancell mobile network in Iran.

He denied that his achievement was related to the fact that his father was serving as vice president to former reformist President Mohammad Khatami at the time and, before that, as communications minister.

"I'm proud that [my] capabilities come from good genes, from two good bloodlines -- my mother's side and also from my father's," Aref said.

Many disagreed.

"In Iran all of the job offer ads are looking for cool guys, [as] aghazadehs have filled all the good positions," tweeted one person.

Another wrote: "[What is an aghazadeh? A person who's had nothing to do with his [or her] success in life and was only at the right place, at the right time."

"#Goodgenes is not just a hashtag, it's rather the courageous reaction of a talented and hardworking generation who's had nothing but unemployment and humiliation by empty aghazadehs," said one tweet.

The teasing of the younger Aref continued with this caustic twitter comment:

"The Little Prince: do you have good genes? The fox: no, that belongs to aghazadehs. I have intelligence."

"We mocked good genes but they were sent to the parliament and city councils," was how someone else put it.

"As a father I understand the sense of responsibility authorities have to make sure their children are employed, but what about the 99 percent of the youth who don't have fathers in top jobs and good genes?" asked another on Twitter.

Media Censure

There's been also criticism in the media.

"Bringing up the issue of good genes means that we're entering the issue of racism and tribalism, that's the view of kings and sultans," sociologist Gholamreza Alizadeh told the government daily Iran.

"There is no research proving that only genes contribute to one's success," Alizadeh said.

"Look at our politicians, they have graduated from special universities where one needs high financial means to study. Their children also study at the best schools and they go abroad to continue their studies," he added.

"They know that when they return to Iran they will have jobs ready, they will use special privileges," he said.

Aref's father, Mohammad Reza Aref, was forced to react to the controversy on the sidelines of a parliamentary session on August 30 when reporters asked him about his son's "good gene" comments.

He said his son's interview had been "misused" while adding that enough had been said about the controversial comments.

But Aref defended his son, saying that he has always been a top student.

"He's come in first at all the contests he's participated in since primary school," Aref added.

His comments led to more criticism.

"If you don't apologize, then please remain silent," tweeted journalist Amene Shirafkan, who covers parliamentary affairs for the reformist Sharq daily.

"Stressing that the prince was a top student is similar to the good genes comments," she added.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.