The Revolutionary Guards: An Introduction
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most important institution. The military-security institution commands huge influence in every aspect of Iranian public life, from culture and the environment to the economy, politics and judicial process. Whatever the field or area, the IRGC is not required to report to anybody and is answerable to no one.
The IRGC was created early after the 1979 Islamic Revolution by the order of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Its declared mission was to safeguard the revolution and its accomplishments. As the years have gone by, it has expanded its sphere of activities. The entities under its control have multiplied to such a degree that it now operates effectively as a parallel government. It interferes in all current affairs of the country and it aims to have control over every aspect of the way Iran is run.
In a series of reports, IranWire presents a detailed portrait of this powerful and mysterious institution and, for the first time, identifies and explains all bodies, institutions and other entities operating under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Guards, at the same time outlining its activities through an infographic and an interactive diagram.
The infographic is a visual representation of the Guards’ organizational structure and presents all institutions under the control of IRGC in one map. It resembles a family tree, a portrait of the IRGC with all its children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — a dramatic picture of power in Iran today.
In the interactive diagram, the viewer is able to use the mouse to see how various entities under the control of the Guards emerged, and how they are connected — exactly like a family tree.
IranWire has aimed for this series and the overall project to be informative and a solid research tool. But it is not perfect, and there will always be room for updates, enhancements and further information. We welcome your views, ideas and knowledge, so please do get in touch via email, Twitter or Facebook.
The Basij was established on November 26, 1979. A year later, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) formally recognized the organization as part of its mission to fulfill Ayatollah Khomeini’s wish to have an army of 20 million soldiers.
The cabinet passed the bill to make the Basij a governmental organization on April 30, 1980. According to the bill, “the National Organization of Basij is under the supervision of the commander in chief of the Armed Forces and is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Interior.” Also, the bill assigned the writing of the statute of the Basij to the Administrative and Recruitment Organization, which was then ratified by the cabinet.
The Revolutionary Council ratified and finalized the statute of the Basij on July 10, 1980. The Supreme Leader was in charge of appointing the commander of the organization and the policymaking was assigned to the Supreme Council of Defense. A few months later, on February 18, 1981, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) representatives voted to incorporate the Basij into the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Since then, the IRGC has been in charge of the Basij’s decision-making process.
As a subunit of the IRGC, the Basij began its operations in recruitment, training and transporting fighters to the front during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. At the same time, the Basij introduced two new subunits - the resistance groups and the resistance bases of Basij -which spread their influence all over the country, from small towns to big cities. Some of the Basij’s other activities during those years included helping the police to guard the safety and security of cities and helping security agencies to suppress various local riots and protests.
When the statute of the IRGC was finalized on September 6, 1982, the Basij gained its own organizational structure as a complete subunit of the IRGC. The statute devotes an entire chapter to the Basij, which introduces its mission statement as, “enabling law-abiding citizens who are loyal to the constitution and our revolutionary values to be able to defend the country and the Islamic Republic system, and also help other fellow citizens in case of natural disasters.” Based on this definition, the Basij was permitted to educate the citizens politically and ideologically as well as giving them “limited” military training. No definition for limited training was given in the statute. It was at this point that the Basij, in addition to fighting in the combat zones of the Iran-Iraq War, began expanding all over the country and setting up its resistance bases in every city. Also, it began to work with the Ministry of Education to introduce military training courses for high school students. After the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, this cooperation grew and the Basij had presence in universities and even launched financial and economic operations.
After 1988, three different groups within the Islamic Republic brought forward their ideas about the Basij. The first group suggested that there was no further need for the Basij to exist in the same capacity anymore. The second group believed that the Basij should be completely merged with the IRGC Ground Forces, while the third said that the Basij should be an independent organization. Those advocating the third option had the support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who became the Supreme Leader in 1989 and successfully established the Resistance Force of the Basij (Nirooy-eh Moghavemat-eh Basij), which was an important stepping stone for the Basij in its acquisition of power. At the time of this structural change, Ayatollah Khamenei also appointed a new commander for the force and raised the Basij to the same level as the four main military branches of the IRGC (Ground, Navy, Aerospace, and Quds).
It took five years to separate the Basij from the IRGC’s Ground Forces. The Basij also began its social program for the “promotion of virtue and prevention of vice.” In the following years, the organization entered the economic realm too and was given the green light from the administration of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to establish the Ghorb Headquarters.
The civil riots in the cities of Mashhad and Islamshahr allowed IRGC commanders to benefit from the Basij’s capabilities to suppress the opposition. Therefore, the Basij turned into an important player in the country’s national security. The establishment of two financial organizations (the Gharz Al-Hassaneh Fund and the Cooperative Fund), as well as cultural, scientific and educational organizations during this period, helped the development and growth of the Basij.
The next step was the formation of the Students’ Basij, first in high schools and then in universities. The first Basij intervention in politics came at the time of the 1997 presidential election, during which the Basij acted as opposition to Mohammad Khatami’s administration and, later, against the sixth reformist Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) which were mostly composed of pro-reform members of the parliament. In July 1999, and following the student protests, the Basij suppressed the demonstrators through violent means and showcased its capabilities in an urban setting.
The height of the Basij’s intervention in politics was during the controversial presidential election of 2009 when the Basij actively suppressed citizens protesting against the election result. In the same year, a notable change took place regarding the structure of the organization when its resistance bases in the provinces joined the IRGC Ground Forces.
Currently, each provincial commander of IRGC is in control of both the ground forces and the Basij resistance base. This structural change brought with it a name change, from “The Defense Force of the Basij” to “The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed.” At the moment, the Basij’s most important mission is to engage in the “soft war,” or ideological and cyber battles against critics and enemies of the Islamic Republic system. At the same time, the Basij has expanded its economic activities through the Basij Cooperative Foundation and the Basij Construction Organization.
The IRGC has attempted to establish militia units similar to the Basij in Iraq and Syria. These units are active in economic, intelligence and security matters. According to the former commander of the Basij, Mohammad-Reza Naqdi, in December 2016, the organization had more than 25 million registered members.
Basij members, or Basijis, have four ranks: regular, active, cadre and special forces. The regular members believe in the constitution and are loyal to the regime and the values of the Revolution. They work to support the constitution and the regime, and loyally promote and protect the “virtues” of the Revolution. They have passed the general military training course and in times of war, they will either fight or help with support and logistics. In times of peace, they engage in development, social, political or intelligence programs. Active members continue their training after the general course and are organized into larger units. The first regular and active members are unpaid volunteers.
As the Basij cadres pass the training they get more involved in the organization programs. They have priority over other applicants to be employed by the Basij. The special forces members of the Basij are the equivalent of IRGC officers and can be employed full-time by the IRGC upon request. Training for Basij Special Forces and staff members consists of eleven different courses in subjects such as war, command, military sciences and strategic studies. According to Article 42 of the IRGC statute, all the commanders of Basij resistance bases and centers are considered to be IRGC officers. Commanders for a regional resistance base are chosen from IRGC officers or Basij Special Forces members, commanders for a local base will be chosen from the special forces, and commanders for the groups are chosen from the active Basij members.
The smallest units in the Basij are called the “resistance nuclei.” For men who join the Basij at the minimum age of 16, and have regularly continued to work for the organization, part of the service period can be counted towards their mandatory military service. Special forces and active members of the Basij can request a permit from the IRGC Intelligence Protection Unit to carry firearms.
The founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s wish to create an “army of 20 million soldiers” has become an objective of the Basij as an organization. To this end in the early 1990s, the commander of the Basij, Alireza Afshar, stated that there would be 300,000 soldiers in the Basij Special Forces, the active members would constitute 3.7 million, and the regular members would total 16 million of the total 20 million soldiers.
In recent years, Basij commanders have claimed that the number of Basij members has reached 25 million. It is difficult to verify or reject such claims because it is impossible to access internal documents, and the Basij commanders have never brought forward any evidence to support their claims. In fact, none of the statistics in our research can be fully verified because at the moment the only organization that releases information on the Basij is the organization itself. No other independent body or supervisory organization can verify the claims of the Basij commanders.
The Chief of the Basij
The chief of the Basij organization is appointed by the Supreme Leader upon a recommendation from the chief commander of the IRGC. The chief of the Basij is also the deputy of the chief commander of the IRGC and a member of the Supreme Council of the IRGC. He is also a member of the General Council for Culture (Shora-yeh Farhang-eh Omoomi-eh Keshvar), the Youth Supreme Council (Shora-yeh Ali-eh Javanan), and the Social Council of the Country (Shora-yeh Ejteamei-eh Keshvar).
Amir Amjad, Ahmad Salek and Ahmad-Reza Akhavan were Basij chiefs during the years of 1980 to 1983. From March 11, 1983, to March 1, 1990, Mohammad-Ali Rahmani was the chief, and was succeeded by Brigadier General Alireza Afshar. Seyyed-Mohammad Hejazi was the next chief was appointed on March 11, 1998 and held the office until 2008. On July 12, 2008, Hussein Taeb was appointed as Basij chief and was succeeded by Mohammad-Reza Naqdi on October 4, 2009, who remained in the office till December 7, 2016. Since then, Brigadier General Gholam-Hussein Gheybparvar is the chief of the Basij organization and the chief commander of the IRGC’s deputy in the organization. His deputy is appointed by the chief commander of the IRGC.
The Deputy Chief of the Basij
The deputy chief of the Basij is the second most powerful person in the hierarchy of the organization and is appointed by the chief commander of the IRGC. Brigadier General Mohammad-Hussein Sepehr was appointed as the deputy chief of the Basij in April 2018.
The Supreme Leader’s Representative in the Basij
The representative is appointed by the Supreme Leader’s representative in the IRGC. One of the important subunits of his office is the Content Approval Office, which evaluates the media campaigns of the organization. Its approval is needed for any campaign that is to be implemented. Currently, Hojat-ol-Islam Mohammad-Reza Tuyserkani is the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Basij.
The Basij Divisions
There are 15 divisions in the organizational structure of the Basij: executive, operations, investigation and excellence, social and cultural, coordination, planning, internet technology and communications, parliament, administrative and financial, training, education, technology, science and research, civil resistance, public relations, and the political division. The director of the political division is appointed by the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Basij.
The Intelligence Protection Organization of the Basij (Sazman-eh Etela’at-eh Basij)
The Intelligence Protection Organization of the Basij is an internal and secret security organization. The head of the organization is appointed by the chief commander of the IRGC. The organization oversees security within the IRGC and reports back to the high-ranking generals of the IRGC Intelligence Organization. The current chief of the organization is General Morteza Nasiri. The IRGC Intelligence Protection Organization has a permanent agent based within the Intelligence Protection Organization of the Basij.
The Construction Organization of the Basij (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Sazandegi)
On May 6, 2000, the Construction Organization of the Basij was established by order of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current incumbent, and replaced the Agricultural Jihad Organization (Sazman-eh Jahad-eh Keshavarzi). To organize the Basij, Basijis youth were sent to less fortunate regions to work on development and construction projects. The government was assigned to determine the budget and exact locations of this plan. The chief of the Basij Construction Organization is appointed by the chief of the Basij.
There are Jihadi Group Headquarters (Gharargah-eh Gorooh hayeh Jahadi) working as Basij subunits in all 31 provinces of the country. There is a unit called the Support Staff for the Jihadi Campaigns (Setad-eh Poshtibani az Ordooha-yeh Jahadi), which acts as the link between the government of Iran and the Basij. The minister of the interior is the director of this unit at the national level, while at the provincial level they work under the supervision of each governor.
According to the Construction Organization of the Basij’s statute, which was ratified in 2007, the organization must focus on short-term, efficient projects in construction, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, health and medication, emergency training and services, cultural, religious, artistic and athletic activities, environment conservation, improving literacy among adults, helping small businesses through loans and other kinds of support, and other low-cost economic projects.
In addition to acting as a contractor for state projects, the Basij Construction Organization can acquire the necessary funds directly from the Plan and Budget Organization. Over the last 18 years, the organization has progressed from organizing construction projects for the young in underdeveloped regions during the summer months to operating as a formidable economic contractor. The organization now has construction, industrial, and agricultural projects. It has also gained financial independence from the government.
According to the organization, it now sends 800,000 volunteers annually to work in underdeveloped areas. The jihadi summer camps also provide medical care and cultural and social education in poor areas of Iran. The May 2018 report by the organization’s chief states that, so far, the organization has created 145,000 manufacturing units in 13 regions. Also, with the support of the IRGC banking network, it has been able to finance bigger projects.
Chief heads of the Development Organization of the Basij over the years are as follows: General Mahmoud Salahi (2000–2005); General Majid Khorasani (2012013); General Ebrahim Azizi (2013–2015). General Naman Qolami has been in charge of the organization since 2015.
The Basij Branches for 22 Different Social Strata (Basij-eh Aqshar-eh 22 Ganeh)
The Basij Branches for Different Social Strata were established at the same time the Resistance Force of the Basij was changed to The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed (Basij-eh Mostaz’afin Organization). Currently, this unit runs its own subunits targeting different social groups across the country. It formally started its activities in 2009, but its units had existed since the early days of the Basij. It is divided into the following units: 1. Media. 2. Women. 3. Atheletes. 4. Guilds. 5. Mosques and neighborhoods. 6. Physicians. 7. Artists. 8. Workers. 9. University professors. 10. Research and technology. 11. Fieldtrips. 12. Lawyers. 13. Primary and high school students. 14. University students. 15. Clergy and seminary students. 16. Tribes. 17. Teachers. 18. Eulogists. 19. Engineers. 20. Veterans and elderly political activists. 21. Government and private sector employees.
1. The Media Basij Organization (Sazman Basij-eh Rasaneh)
The Media Basij Organization, established in 2011, was the Basij’s 22 Branches’ first organization. The organization employs people loyal to the Islamic Republic, including journalists, editors, managers, photographers and TV producers. The stated mission of the organization is, “analyzing the enemy, understanding the Supreme Leader, promoting revolutionary virtues, and developing insight.”
The Media Organization organizes jihadi construction trips for youth to help people affected by natural disasters, assist pilgrims visit holy Shia sites, and organize road trips to religious sites and combat zones of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. In 2013, Basij officials proposed a bill to improve and expand the organization by introducing central structural changes. In the proposed bill, the Iranian government will be responsible for providing a portion of the organization’s expenses, and the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance as well as Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting organization (IRIB) have been asked to improve Basij’s Media Organization and help it expand. The Cultural Committee of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) has passed the bill, but it is still waiting for the final ratification from the Assembly. As of October 2017, there were an estimated 10,000 members of the Basij Media Organization. The organization operates in more than 130 cities through its Basij Media Centers. The organization has three subunits: the Association of Photographers, the Association of Political Writers, and the Association of Sports Writers.
2. The Women’s Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Jameh-yeh Zanan)
The Women’s Basij Organization, established in 2011, is another subunit of the Basij branches. Women have been part of the Basij since the early days of 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. At the time, the Sisters’ Resistance Bases and the social groups of the Warriors’ Aides (Ansar-al-Mujahideen) supported the delivery of supplies for the soldiers. Since 2011, and following the structural changes in the Basij, all those groups and bases have been gathered under the umbrella of the Women’s Basij Organization, which now directs all the Sisters’ Resistance Bases (Paygah hay-eh Moghavemat-eh Khaharan) in all 31 provinces of the country.
The subunits of the organization are: Hazrat-e Zeinab University for Female Students, the Chastity and Family Research Institute (Pajooheshkadeh Efaf va Khanevadeh), and the Army of Angels Publications (Lashkar-eh Fereshtegan).
The organization also claims that it manages a network of 100,000 “circles” all around the country called the Halghe-haye Salehin (Virtuous Circles). This network consists of small groups whose mission it is to convey the organization’s messages and work to society. There is another national program established and run by the organization of more than 3,000 “Koranic” daycare centers in the mosques to teach children the Koran.
Two other subunits of the organization are the Kowsar and Al-Zahra Squads, which are engaged in medical emergency training. The Kowsar Squad is the organization’s special forces unit.
The commanders of the Women’s Basij Organization claim that its total number of members is 10 million women, who are active in 20,000 bases around the country. In addition, the organization runs 500 offices of the Sisters’ Basij in the country.
3. The Athletes’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Varzeshkaran)
The Athletes’ Basij Organization organizes religion, ethics and morality classes and programs for athletes. It also acts as the IRGC spokesperson when it comes to making statements on current events and issues in the area of sports. For example, since the 1979 Revolution, Iranian athletes have avoided competing against Israeli athletes because the government of Iran does not recognize the state of Israel. In 2019, when an Iranian wrestler lost a competition in order to avoid an Israeli athlete, he was applauded by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Commander Davoud Azarnoush accompanied the wrestler in a meeting with Khamenei. The commander later said that the wrestler must receive “double the amount of any champion, because he’s both a champion and a hero.” Creating “virtuous circles” and morality classes for athletes are part of the routine practices of the organization. The organization claims to have more than 200,000 athletes as members.
4. The Guilds’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Asnaf)
The Guilds’ Basij Organization is active in economic matters and makes statements on behalf of the IRGC and the Basij regarding all issues related to the economy. According to the organization it has 600,000 manufacturers as members. The organization has been responsible for the establishment of an “Islamic market” and development of a “resistance economy” to confront sanctions. The organization monitors the activities of its members through its representatives and also has representatives in all the guilds and chambers of commerce across the country.
It has also set up a multinational working group called the AALIS - representing Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. The aim is to improve exports to these countries, which Iran refers to as “the Axis of Resistance.” The organization also runs three different levels of courses in Shia theology: a basic course, supplementary course and specialized course. Individuals who wish to obtain a business license must pass the basic course.
5. The Neighborhood and Mosques Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Masajed va Mahalat)
Basij commanders consider The Neighborhood and Mosques Basij Organization the backbone of the Basij. It has 23,000 resistance bases in mosques all over the country. The Basij has managed to create a link between the Basij and Shia clergy through this organization. Basij members of the Mosques are also part of the neighborhood Council for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Any disagreements that arise between this organization and clerics is settled by the Committee for Dispute Resolution between the Imam of Friday Prayers and Basij Commanders.
6. The Medical Society Basij Organization (Sazman-e Basij-e Jameh-e Pezeshki)
There are 186,000 physicians, paramedics, nurses and dentists who are members the Medical Society Basij Organization in 400 bases across the country. In addition to providing medical care in Iran, the organization also helps Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq and Syria. Other programs run by the organization are mostly part of the Shahid Rahnamun project (named after Mohammad Ali Rahnemoun, a physician killed in Iran-Iraq War in 1984). These programs include, deploying medical teams to underdeveloped regions, providing portable hospitals, help and relief operations, and staging military parades and other public displays to showcase the organization’s achievements.
7. The Artists’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Honarmandan)
The Artists’ Basij Organization was established in 2005. According to organization officials, as of 2017 it had more than 100,000 artists as registered members. Its operations include organizing pilgrimage camps, running the Congress of Martyred Artists, promotion of virtuous content, artistic and literary festivals and other affiliated activities. The organization runs more than 300 Basij art societies and more than 400 art and literary centers across Iran. A significant subunit of the organization is the University of Islamic Arts located in Mashhad.
8. The Workers’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Kargari)
The Workers’ Basij Organization was established in 2009. The mission of this organization is stated as the “promotion of religious culture, changing the consumption model and promoting Iranian products.” The organization executes its operation through “labor resistance bases” across the country. In 2015, the membership of the organization was estimated to be 500,000 workers.
9. The University Professors’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Asatid)
The University Professors’ Basij Organization was established in 1998. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution ratified its statute in 2001 and it currently has more than 32,000 members. The organization operates through its “Basij Centers for Professors” in each of Iran’s 31 provinces. There are estimated to be over 700 of these centers. The mission of the organization is stated as “recruitment of faculty members, organizing Rahian-e Nur (Voyagers to Light) road trips to important battle sites of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, joint meetings with the seminaries, establishing Koran and Hadiths centers, and the promotion of Basiji culture and ideas in universities.”
10. The Research and Technology Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Elmi Pajuheshe va Fanavari)
The Research and Technology Basij Organization was established in 2009. The Basij deputy director of research and technology is the head of the organization. Two of its main subunits are the Home of the Elites (Khaneh-yeh Nokhbegan) and the Growth Center (Markaz-eh Roshd). The organization holds the annual Science and Technology Jihadis Festival and, in collaboration with the Islamic Azad University, plans to establish the Science and Technology Headquarters at Azad University. The organization is also planning a science and technology fund to help Basiji scientists. The male members of the organization can benefit from two to 12 months off their mandatory military service period.
11. The Field Trips Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Orduei)
The Field Trips Basij Organization was established in 1998 and is the most active member of the strata. Its most important task is the organization of the the Rahian-e Nur (Voyagers to Light) field trips to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War combat zones. It has eleven permanent camps in the cities of Ramsar, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Hamedan, Behshahr, Abadan and Qom to provide entertainment and tourism for the members of the Basij and the IRGC.
According to the organization’s officials, by 2017, the organization had sent 11 million people on field trips - seven-million of whom were Rahian-e Nur visitors who went to the Iran-Iraq War combat zones in the south and west of the country. The organization is under the control of the Rahian-e Nur Central Headquarters, run by the IRGC. It is a trans-divisional organization that coordinates all activities related to these field trips across all IRGC organizations and units. The headquarters communicates regularly with various organizations, including state institutions, the IRGC in provinces, and the local IRGC bases to plan and execute each road trip.
These field trips date back to 1997 when the University Students’ Basij first started their field trips to visit the combat zones of the Iran-Iraq War. Currently, eleven headquarters are active in this organization, including the army, IRGC, Basij, police force, agricultural Jihad, cultural, university students, high schools, clergies, media, naval, and international.
12. The Lawyers’ Basij Organization (Sazman-e Basij-e Hoqouqdanan)
The four major missions of this organization are to improve the legal system, the protection and promotion of the virtues of the Islamic Revolution, to improve the efficiency of the Islamic Republic, and to meet the major needs of the legal community. It is estimated to have around 36,000 members. The organization has offices in all 31 capitals of the provinces of Iran and 200 offices in other cities, in addition to seven offices in Tehran. The organization is also part of an active network comprising of the Basij Organization of the Ministry of Justice and the Basij Organization of the Judiciary.
13. The Primary and High School Students’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-e Daneshamuzi)
The Primary and High School Students’ Basij Organization is rooted in the establishment of the Basij Office of Students in 1984. That office was set up to provide pre-university students with military training. The Primary and High School Students’ Basij Organization was formed in 1994, and in 1996, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) passed a bill to expand it. In 1998, with the transformation of the IRGC and Basij structures, the organization gained its own independent statute. According to the statute, which was ratified by the government in 2007, it is formed of three units: “Omidan” (Juniors), “Puyandegan” (Sophomores), and “Pishgaman” (Seniors), in primary, junior and senior high schools. The Basij Support and Coordination Council of Students is in charge of Basij activities in schools. Members of the council include the minister of education, the Supreme Leader’s representative in the IRGC, the Basij commander and the head of the Basij Organization of Students. Some of the funds for the organization’s operations are also provided by the Ministry of Education. Student membership is estimated to be more than five million in 60,000 schools across Iran. Male members of the organization can benefit from two months off their military service period.
14. The University Students’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Daneshjuei)
The University Students’ Basij Organization origins date back to the leader of the 1979 Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s decree on November 23, 1988 to establish clerical and university students’ Basij groups. The first unit of the organization, in its current form, was established at Tehran University in 1990 and was tasked with the establishment of the offices of the organization in other universities across the country.
On December 13, 1998, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) passed a bill to expand the organization and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution ratified its statute on September 26, 2000.
The head of the organization appoints the director of the Basij in each university. The budget and facilities for the organization’s operations are provided by the following ministries: the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Education and the Islamic Azad University (Free University) also sponsor the organization. The organization has more than 3,000 offices in universities across the country and can be considered the most influential political entity of the Basij and the IRGC. The turning point for the political activity of the Students’ Basij Organization came to the fore during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and the rise of the reform movement in the same period. Backed by Iran’s leader, Khamenei, and its newly legislated statute, the Students’ Basij Organization increased its “counter-activities” against the reformist activists and the university students. The Basij were rewarded by the Majlis for carrying out activities that supported the regime hardliners with a bill passed in 1999 providing favourable university entrance quotas to Basij students. This quota set aside “40 per cent of entry space available to tuition-free universities and to Islamic Azad University, a semi-private institution with several campuses in different cities, for active Basij students.” Under the presidency of Ahmadinejad, the Basij’s political power and influence took a new turn. In the aftermath of the post-election protests in 2009 and the Basij’s active role in suppression of these protests, the Students’ Basij Organization was further rewarded as the regime expanded the 40 per cent admission quota for Basij students to state universities. Additionally, former heads of the SBO gained entry to the Majlis and the government. A case in point was the MP, Ali Reza Zakani, a previous head of the Students’ Basij Organization. Another example, was Mehrdad Bazarpash, a previous head of the Student Basij Organization who was appointed as the Vice President for National Youth Organization under the Ahmadinejad administration.
15. The Clergy and Seminary Students’ Basij Organization (Sazmanye Basij-eh Tollab va Rohanioun)
The Clergy and Seminary Students’ Basij Organization was established by the order of the leader of the 1979 Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on November 23, 1988. The Seminary Students’ Basij was a part of the Basij Organization of University Students. Since 2001, in accordance with the order of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini in 1989, the Seminary Students’ Basij has been under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Basij. The organization has 1,400 bases in seminaries across the country and it is estimated to have 160,000 members.
The director of Salehin Circles (Virtuous Circles), which are present in every division of the Basij, are appointed by this organization. The organization also sends its representatives to Rahian-e Nur (Voyagers to Light) camps to visit the 1980-88 War combat zones and schools across the country. The Imam Sadegh 83rd Brigade, located in Qom, is tasked with the military training of Shia clerics across the country. The clerical Basij units of Qom and Khorasan Razavi provinces are directly under the command of this brigade.
16. The Tribal Basij Organization (Basij-eh Moqavemat-eh Ashayeri).
The Tribal Basij Organization’s origins began as the Tribal Border Unit in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. That unit continued its activities through local tribal Basij bases until 2008. In that year the Tribal Basij Organization was officially formed. The organization is active in 27 provinces. It claimed to have 525,000 members in 2016. It operates in its six regional bases, fifteen local tribal organizations, and 39 resistance bases.
On order of the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the organization has also armed thousands of tribes to help defense and security operations carried out by the IRGC and the Basij. Officially, the reason for arming nomadic tribes was defined as a need for them to defend themselves. To start the program, the IRGC collected 200,000 hunting rifles from the tribes and then began to issue firearm permits to the tribes. The permits, which are issued by the Artillery Center of the IRGC, are renewed annually. The center issues 15,000 permits each year. On the other hand, some of the tribes have also been armed to assist the IRGC in its operations. The Tribal Basij Organization has also started economic activities and, in collaboration with the Basij resistance bases, provides loans to the tribes.
17. The Teachers’ Basij Organization (Sazeman-eh Basij-eh Farhangiyan)
The Teachers’ Basij Organization was established in 2000. Until 2003, it was a part of the Basij Organization of Primary and High School Students. In 2004, it gained independence, but, again, in 2008, became a part of the Basij Organization of University Students. Once again, in 2011, the organization began operating independently. Total membership of the organization is estimated to be over 500,000. The majority of the organization’s members are ministry of education employees, especially schoolteachers.
18. The Eulogists’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Maddahan)
The Eulogists’ Basij Organization was established on December 30, 2009. There are estimated to be over 50,000 members of this organization, which consists of eulogists, panegyrists and heads of local religious associations. The organization has been tasked with organizing, registering and training eulogists across the country. The organization has established eulogists’ associations in both small towns and big cities to support eulogies and eulogists in the country. The Supreme Council sits at the top of the organization’s hierarchy. The eulogists or religious singers play an important role in the mourning rituals, particularly for the of month of Muharram which runs up to the 9th and 10th days of the same month known as Ashura, “a day Imam Hussein was killed during the battle of Karbala by Yazid, the Umayyad caliph.” The eulogists are involved in chants and telling stories about Karbala in mosques, private homes and public gatherings. In more recent years, eulogy has turned into a lucrative business and the eulogists’ singing and rituals have gone beyond mosques and religious centers to public gatherings as increasing number of citizens are holding religious ceremonies hosting the public. Fees for a eulogist can vary from as low as 50,000 toman (£10) for a single day to 1.5-2 million tomans (£300-400) for a two-hour session. Some eulogists have gained “celebrity status by appearing on national television and performing in ceremonies sponsored by well-known and influential figures in the ruling establishment. Their fees are estimated to be fifteen million tomans (£2000-3000) per performance.”
19. The Engineers’ Basij Organization (Sazman-e Basij-e Mohandesin)
The Engineers’ Basij Organization was established in 2000. The organization has four independent branches: civil engineering and architecture, industrial engineering, information and communication technologies, and agriculture and natural resources. According to organization officials, 75,000 members are active in the industrial engineering branch and 40,000 in the civil engineering branch. Members regularly meet in Salehin Circles (Virtuous Circles) and Hey’at Hay-eh Andishe Varz (Think-Tanks). The organization’s mission is stated as “training loyal and professional experts for the Islamic Republic.” Since 2013, the agriculture and natural resources branch has become more active and has been able to recruit 45,000 agricultural engineers. There are estimated to be around 8,000 IT engineers, who are tasked with promoting Islamic doctrines and defending against cyber threats.
20. The Veterans and Jihad Pioneers’ Basij Organization (Sazeman-e Basij-eh Pishkesvatan-eh Jahad va Shehadat)
This organization was established in 2010. Its most important mission was to organize retirees of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic, but it mainly focuses on IRGC and Basij retirees. Some of the organization’s operations include establishing Koranic circles in retirement homes for military personnel, organizing Rahian-e Nur field trips to 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War combat zones and jihadi camps, religious walks, and formation of advisory groups such as defense and security, social and cultural, education and training, promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, development and poverty alleviation councils. The organization is also active in other Basij programs, including think-tanks and the Salehin Circles (Virtuous Circles).
The organization has branches in all 31 provinces of Iran and more than 400 regional offices. It is run by a central council. The head of each region’s central council is appointed by the IRGC chief of the region.
21. The Employees’ Basij Organization (Sazman-eh Basij-eh Karmandan)
The Employees’ Basij Organization is one of the oldest organizations of the Basij strata. It was established in 1990 after resistance bases were established in different offices and sectors around the country. It was formally established in 2009 as part of the Basij Branches’ structural transformation. Its most important missions are stated as “training loyal human resources for the Islamic Republic” and “training and membership of employees in the Basij.” According to organization officials, in 2017, 64 percent of government employees belong to the organization.