The term "social capital" is an effective social element in the development process in which people play a central role. It is an important asset for the governments in the sense that it affects the sustainability and efficiency of state functioning and facilitates the building and maintaining of democracy as it broadly refers to those factors of effectively functioning social groups that include some tangible assets such things as interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms and values, trust, cooperation and reciprocity. These assets may become apparent when broken and in this case, they will not be able to engender trusts and thus cooperation and collaboration among people and state-people relations will fail or not bring the expected outcome. That is, the loss of social capital amounts to serious threats both to the state and the people.
Considering this, the aim is to assess the relevancy of this concept to the domestic crises Iran has been facing and how it can resolve the existing widespread discontentment to manage the potential threat to its already damaged internal stability. To help answer this, here are two facts and the observation of an ongoing survey.
First, considering the public outcry in Iran, opening a discussion that would assess the status of the aforementioned tangible assets is highly significant. Since the rising socioeconomic circumstances that caused continuous people's discontent and disapproval of the government is increasingly weakening the circle of friendship and unity among people and the state-people relation. These socioeconomic circumstances, on the other hand, may empower and strengthen the links among various social groups against the system; the average of this process is by no means in the national interest of the country, which means a security threat from within.
Secondly, Iran is a country with over 81 million inhabitants, in which there exists a diverse group of people with diverse needs. Iran is the 18th-largest country with huge natural wealth but with a top-down management and governance approach. The question arises as to why there is a frequent fall in the status of social capital; there is a huge gap and contradiction. In other words, as in case of many countries, this natural wealth should have positively influenced the status of social capital and in consequent should have resulted in a prosperous nation and a developed country. However, there are general realities about Iran:
1. The needs and rights of the Iranians under whatever laws – under the name of Constitutional Monarchy in the case of pre-1979 Revolution – or Islamic democracy have not sufficiently and independently managed, thus Iran and the Iranians have been continuously exposed to various risks and failures.
2. There has been no or the least tangible and sustained medium for citizens, for collective action and cooperation. Policymaking has been personalized, based on the "top-down governance model." In such a model, for instances, in the economic affairs, government plays the role of an actor itself rather than an executive, thus, it misses the chance of supervising and managing; the government passes the laws and regulations based on its own purposes and values with no or the least attention to the realities of the society, thus the laws are passed according to the political and economic games of the governments. Such an approach will damage the society's psychological motivation for cooperation. It ultimately damages the overall status of social capital: lack of transparency, nepotism and cronyism, taking unnecessary risks in various fields, continuous changes in policies are some of the characteristics of such model of governance.
3. None of the governments played expected role in a befitting manner as both protector and provider, as elements of the foundation a government should be built upon. People say they demand the government to act both as protector and provider whenever necessary while their support of the country for playing its role as "protector" is on the rise.
In all these realities, the role of both internal – corruption of all kinds – and external (anti-Iran policies) factors should not be underestimated. However, based on generally and specifically accepted norms and roles, it is the responsibility of the government to manage every situation to preserve the status of social capital.
A brief survey
Thirdly, I have recently carried a survey on the status of social capital in Iran. The survey is going on since June 2018. A number of citizens from nearly all class of society are questioned. There is an alarming erosion of trust and also a sharp social degradation along with decline in self-confidence and self-enhancement. The survey also indicates that the Iranians never trust the U.S. and many Iranians I spoke to, said they blame the U.S. and in particular Donald Trump for Iran's turmoil despite widespread pessimism about the capacity of government to meet current national economic, social and environmental challenges.
According to this survey, the status of self-confidence and self-enhancement of the Iranians is also tense these days. They are all about motivation and maximization of the feeling of self-worth, which help the citizen to maintain and enhance their self-esteem especially in situation of threat and failure. People with higher self-enhancement and self-determination are more supportive and participative. In case of Iran, some political and economic activists believe that paying attention to this matter is as vital as cabinet reshuffling, as the Iranians are seriously anxious, pressed by new round of sanctions followed by sharp devaluation of the Iranian rial against major foreign exchanges.
For Iran, International pressures still remain the biggest headache, as it hindered the government in its development path. Nonetheless, a healthier social capital could help the betterment of government's functionality since "people" are the most important part of a successful route to development.
A new approach to help the Iranians to voice their concerns and challenges in order to the social capital be rebuilt seems highly important and needs urgent attention. This is a big task that should not be underestimated by the government since it has already being misused; a sensitive case that was considered as the U.S. top anti-Iran policy agenda in particular since 2005, both by Condoleezza Rice (66th secretary of state) and Hillary Clinton (67th secretary of state) and has, in fact, resulted in the existing threatening situation that has provided grounds for the Donald Trump administration to start a stark reversal towards the Iranians in the post-JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) era , although, many analysts believe that these pressures will backfire against the United States.The threat posed to a country by its internal dynamics may be much more destructive and damaging than that of an external threat. Iran should, in the first hand, maximize the feeling of self-regard and self-confidence of its citizens to strengthen social capital and consequently resolve the existing widespread discontentment to manage potential threats to Iran's already damaged internal stability. Since the experiences of different nations indicate that the devaluation of self-confidence among the people have consequences, and as the result, the erosion of elements of social capital have caused even greater socio-psychological, socioeconomic and security crises.
* Iranian Researcher, Middle East Political and Security Analyst