Rouhani moves to Loosen IRGC Grip on Economy

By Mohammad Ali Shabani, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

Rouhani moves to leverage unrest to loosen IRGC grip on economy

In the aftermath of the recent protests in Iran, public announcements about a concerted effort to get the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian army (Artesh) to divest from the economy seem to signal that President Hassan Rouhani remains firmly committed to his agenda.

Indeed, unlike the past — when civil unrest was quickly assumed by default to weaken moderates as the security state stepped in — elite responses to the protests have this time acknowledged grievances.

Believed to have initially been instigated by hard-line foes who sought to undermine him, Rouhani is now using the protests to leverage his efforts to restrict the influence of unaccountable centers of power.

The endeavor is not new; rather, it has been on Rouhani’s agenda since he first took office.

To achieve this objective, the administration has avoided confrontation aimed at wholly emptying the pockets of its rivals. Instead, the president’s approach has been one of co-optation via the gradual opening of the books of his opponents, with the aim of one day demanding full accountability. His engagement with the IRGC is a case in point.

Broadly speaking, the administration’s effort to co-opt the IRGC can be divided into several phases. Initially, public debate on the highly contentious topic of the IRGC’s economic activities was brought to the fore. Rouhani then laid out a discursive framework in which he effectively ring-fenced the IRGC’s economic domain by publicly negotiating respective turfs.

Major projects outside the realm of the capabilities of the private sector were to be awarded to the IRGC, putting them in competition with revolutionary foundations and conglomerates controlled by religious endowments instead of the private sector. The impact of this was quickly visible: Only months after Rouhani took office in August 2013, Ali Saeedi, the supreme leader’s representative to the IRGC, said the IRGC “will continue to reduce the number of its projects, as it has already started to do.”

With the added incentive of seeking to “immunize” the IRGC from internal decay stemming from corruption, while also “protecting” the Iranian economy from external sanctions targeting the IRGC, the supreme leader has personally authorized the latest phase of Rouhani’s co-optation of the military: namely, its renewed focus on its core duties.

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