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 Cooperative Foundation (Bonyad-eh Ta’avon-eh Basij)
According to its statute, the Basij Cooperative Foundation is a “non-profit and independent entity” and at the same time is “one of the Basij Organization’s affiliates.” The foundation was established in 1996 and its mission includes “promoting the spirit of teamwork and cooperation among members of the Basij,” “support and help for members of the Basij to benefit from government economic help and guidance,” and “providing members of the Basij with services.”
Trustees for the organization are, the Commander of the Basij, the representative of the general staff of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic, the representative of the chief commander of the IRGC, the representative of the minister of defense, the chief of staff of the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Basij, the head of the Coordinator Division, and the head of the Basij Intelligence Protection. The board carries out the following responsibilities, closure or dissolution of the foundation, any change in the statute, setting long-term policies, and appointing and discharging the CEO. However, the board requires the Supreme Leader’s approval before any of these decisions take effect.
According to the statute, the foundation was previously exempt from tax, but in 2003, and after persistent pressure by the Iranian National Tax Administration, it lost this privilege and it must now pay taxes. Also, based on the statute, “in case of dissolution of the foundation, all its properties and liquidities will be handed over to the Supreme Leader.”
The foundation has the following subunits:
1. The Basij Medical Organization (Moassesseh-yeh Tamin-eh darman-eh Basijian)
This organization provides Basij members with health and life insurance and has 50 medical centers in 22 provinces. Other operations include: financial and medical support for infertile Basij members, publication of books to promote the Islamic lifestyle, teaching Iranian and Islamic medicine, and providing medical services during religious ceremonies.
2. Basij Consumer Goods Provision Organization (Moassesseh-yeh Tamin-eh Aghlam-eh Masrafi-yeh Basijian)
This commercial organization has a number of supermarket chains across Iran. The supermarkets are open to Basij members and other Iranian citizens. The Basij Cooperative Stores is the biggest chain with more than 300 stores in the country. Basij members can shop at discounted prices by presenting vouchers. Supemarket chain Yas-e Novin Parse, or Yas Stores, is another subunit of the organization. In recent years, the organization has promoted the Islamic lifestyle and government-approved apparel for women. Also, since the rising age of marriage has worried the Iranian government and the clerics, Basij Consumer Goods Provision Organization has been providing basic necessities to young married couples at a discounted price.
3. Basij Housing Organization (Moassesseh-yeh Tamin-eh Maskan-eh Basijian)
This organization was established in 1998. In its first phase of operations, the institute acquired as much land as possible, and in the second phase it established a number of housing units for members of the Basij. They included housing units with names such as Omid (Hope), Basirat (Insight), Isargaran (Fighters), Montazaran-e Mahdi (Those Awaiting Mahdi, the 12th Hidden Imam of Shias), Mehr-e Fajr (Love of Victory) and Tolu-eh Yar (The Sunrise of the Loved One, referring to Imam Mahdi). The organization and its affiliates are also involved in building mosques across Iran. Over the last two decades, the organization has faced many challenges and controversies, and its subunits were forced to change their names or re-structure a number of times. This has made an accurate assessment of its performance almost impossible. However, according to the last publicly available data, which dates back to 2003, in the first five years of operation, the organization built 184 apartment complexes and handed over more than 32,000 blocks of land.
4. The Warriors’ Scientific and Pedagogic Services Institute (Moassesseh-yeh Khadamat-eh Elmi va Amouzeshi-yeh Razmandegan)
Initially named the Scientific Institute for Warriors, the institute was established in 1987 through a 20 million dollar donation from the leader of the 1979 Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The institute’s tasks include: training students for the national university entrance examination, providing them with developmental plans, publication and distribution of supplementary textbooks, and building and managing schools. Currently, there are 53 schools in 13 provinces under the umbrella of the Meraj-e Andishe (Ascent of Thought) and Khatam-al-Anbia (The Last Imam) institutes. The two most significant educational programs of the institute are “Aye-ha-ye Tamdon” (the Civilization’s Verses) and “Jahad-e Elmi” (the Scientific Jihad). These programs also take part in the Hekmat Program, which is a comprehensive national program that provides children of military personnel with educational aid and benefits.
5. The Islamic Warriors’ Artistic and Cultural Institute (Moassesseh-yeh Farhangi Honari-yeh Razmandegan-eh Islam)
This institute is active in film production and screening, as well as management of “Koranic kindergartens.” The Ravi Cultural and Art Institute or the Ravi Film, a subunit of the institute, has more than thirty movie theaters in Iran. Since 2017, Ravi Film became part of the Cinema Association of the Holy War and the Revolution under the direct control of the IRGC. Other activities of the Ravi Institute are: documentary production, written work and research, conducting media work and research, and implementing various projects in the field of cyberspace and setting up online systems.
6. Kowsar Accounting Firm (Sherkat-eh Hesabresi-eh Kowsar)
This is an internal firm in charge of accounting and auditing companies, institutes and affiliates of the Basij Cooperative Foundation.
Commercial Corporations Affiliated with the Basij Cooperative Foundation
The Basij Cooperative Foundation has turned into a major economic player via vast investments in the stock market, mining, industries, services, crude oil and petrochemicals, and banking. It is difficult to assess the operations of affiliated companies to the foundation because they frequently buy and sell major stocks. Furthermore, in an attempt to bypass US sanctions, the foundation regularly introduces new investing firms to the market to make it more difficult for them to be identified as an affiliate of the Basij. There is no public information available regarding the finances of these affiliates.
Some of the most important affiliates of the Basij Cooperative Foundation include:
1. Mehr Eqtesad Bank
The history of this bank goes back to the establishment of the Basij Interest-Free Loan Fund, which was established in 1993 through an initial “hebeh donation” from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hebeh is a form of Islamic donation that can be recalled at any point in time by the donor. The interest-free fund changed its name to Mehr Credit Union in 2000, and in 2009 it changed name to Mehr Eqtesad Bank. Currently, the bank has more than 6,000 employees and 800 branches across the country. According to the bank report for 2016, more than 76 percent of the bank’s shares are owned by affiliates of the Basij Cooperative Foundation. Since early 2018, there have been rumors of a merger between Mehr Eqtesad bank and two other IRGC-owned banks, Samen and Ansar. Such mergers will be time-consuming and complicated. Bank officials stated that they would only enter into such mergers if there were “an executive order” issued by the Supreme Leader. Such an order equates to a final decision on any matter in Iran.
2. Mehr Eqtesad Financial Group (Gorooh-eh Mali-eh Mehr-eh Eghtesad-eh Iranian)
First operating under the name of The Tajali Samane Investing Company, the group changed its name in 2013. The major shareholders of the group are Iran Mehr Eqtesad Company (Sarmay-eh Gozari-eh Mehr-eh Eghtesad-eh Iran), Iranians’ Future Investment Company (Sarmay-eh Gozari-eh Tadbirgaran-eh Iranian), Negin Sahel Royal Company, Iranian Tajali Mehr Company, and Ayandeh-Negar Financial Services Company.
Mehr Eqtesad Financial Group and its affiliates are the main owners of Iran Zinc Mines Development Holding. The holding is estimated to be worth more than eight trillion Iranian rials and has major investments in zinc and lead production. The subsidiaries of the holding include the Iran Zinc Manufacturing Company, Iran Mining Materials Processing Company, Bafq Zinc Melting Complex, Iran Zinc and Lead Company, Zanjan Acid Makers and Alvand Rouinkaran, Zinc Manufacturing of Bandar Abbas Company, Qeshm Zinc Melting and Reduction Complex, Engineering and Research Institute of Non-Ferrous Metals, Anguran Zinc and Lead Complex, Industrial and Mining Company of North West Shahrud, Alpha Machine Puya, Anguran Mining Company, Jam Omid Alborz Company, Persian Catalyst Chemical Company, Calsimin, and Zangan Zinc Industry Complex. The accumulation of all these companies in Iran Zinc Mines Development Holding has turned it into a conglomerate in zinc and lead mining, sulfuric acid production, excavation and exploration.
3. Javan Seir Isar Transportation Company
The company was established in 2001 as a transportation company for visitors to Shia religious sites, Rahian-e Nur field trips to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War combat zones and other Basij trips. But, the company is also the largest transportation company in Iran. It operates 61 franchises and five exclusive bus terminals in the country, which in turn operate 750 buses. In recent years, the company has also gained the exclusive rights to transport visitors to Karbala in Iraq for the Shia ceremony of Arbaein. Javan Seire Isar Travel Agency is a subunit of the company and is involved in purchasing train and plane tickets and making hotel reservations.
4. The Rail Tarabar Saba Company
Established in 2009 it runs the Tehran-Mashhad and Tehran to Ahvaz train lines. It also owns Ghadir luxury trains.
5. The Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Brokerage Company
The Basij’s stock brokerage firm was established in 2000. The major shareholders of the company include Mehr Eqtesad Financial Group, Andishe Mehvaran Investment Company, Iranians’ Future Investment Company (Sarmay-eh Gozari-eh Tadbirgaran-eh Iranian), Negin Sahel Royal Company, and Mehr Trade Services Company.
6. Iranian Tajali Mehr Company
Specializing in construction and infrastructure projects, the company was established in 2009. The following companies operate as subsidiaries and include design and engineering consulting firm Kusha Engineering Consultants Company, construction and infrastructure specialists Ansar Construction Company, construction and investment firm Eftekhar-e Khuzestan Company, building contractors Kowsar-e Azerbaijan Company, and the construction company Farasu-ye Shargh Company which is active in Razavi Khorasan province.
7. Atieh Sazan Mehr Eqtesad Company
A subsidiary of Mehr Eqtesad Bank the company has a variety of activities including food services, beauty salons, marketing, banking, building dams, technology projects, crude oil and petroleum.
8. Negar Nasr Income Generating Company
Established in 2011, its main shareholders include the Basij Cooperative Foundation, the Basij Housing Organization, and the Basij Medical Organization. Those seeking employment can register on Negar Nasr’s website, and are given advice on how to find employment and generate income. Negar Nasr organizes workshops and training courses for those seeking employment and guides for small businesses on how to apply for business loans.
9. The Isar Logistics Company
Established in 2012, the company is a supplier of sports goods, kitchen supplies, electronics and computer gadgets, furniture, audio-visual products and office supplies.
10. The Noavaran Moj Company
Established in 1995, the company is a supplier of electronic and cellular communications systems, radio equipment and computer hardware.
11. Atieh Iran Tadbirgaran Investment Company
Established in 2011 the company has invested in a number of businesses. It is a major shareholder of the Fanava Holdings, which is one of the three major Iranian internet service providers.
12. The Negin Sahel Royal Corporation
This is an investment and trading company. In recent years, the corporation has obtained stocks of major Iranian companies including the Iran Zinc Mines Development Company, the Tidewater Middle East Company, the Bahman Automaker Company, and the Technotar Engineering Company.
13. The Atieh Sazan Mehr Eqtesad Company
Established in 2016 the company is owned by the employees of Mehr Eqtesad Bank and is active in investment, trade and leasing.
14. Taktar Investment Development Company
The company owns 50 percent of Iran Zinc Mines Development Holdings. Since 2017, the company has traded stocks of large companies on behalf of the Basij Cooperative Foundation.
15. Technotar Engineering Company
Established in 1996, the company is one of the major producers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Iran, with pumps in every gas station across the country.