The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was established in 1979 as a military organization but since then it has grown in every direction and today commands huge influence in every aspect of Iranian public life, from culture and the environment to security, the economy, politics and the judicial process. Whatever field or sector it is involved in, the IRGC is not required to report to anybody and is answerable to no one apart from the Supreme Leader.
The IRGC’s two major economic arms are the Guards’ Cooperative Foundation (Bonyad-e Ta’avon-e Sepah) and the Khatam-al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters. The two entities own companies that rank among the most powerful cartels in Iran, and which are responsible for building high-rises and huge shopping malls in many Iranian cities. This is especially true in Tehran, where this building work has been extensive.
The two allied cartels also build hotels, although it is difficult to find much coverage of these building projects in the Iranian media. Generally, domestic media refrains from publishing anything about this aspect of the Revolutionary Guards’ impact on the Iranian economy out of fear of facing reprisals.
One of these buildings is the high-end luxury hotel in the holy city of Mashhad, the Madinah Al-Reza, or “City of Reza” in honor of the 8th Shia Imam, whose shrine is in Mashhad.
The Madinah Al-Reza Hotel is one of the many properties owned by the Guards’ Cooperative Council. The five-star hotel opened in 2013 and has 450 rooms over 16 floors, occupying 46,000 square meters. It sits just 150 meters away from Imam Reza’s Shrine — a location that would not be possible without strong financial backing and lobbying power.
The deluxe hotel boasts a revolving restaurant, separate swimming pools for men and women, bridal suites and massage parlors.
A bridal suite at one of the hotels run by the Revolutionary Guards
It might be somewhat unexpected that the Guards would be inclined to offer such luxuries, given that earlier Guards commanders would have viewed them to be part of an aristocratic tradition that the IRGC should reject. But since the IRGC’s entry into commerce and business, it has acquired a solid knowledge of the marketplace, spurring it on to become involved in business ventures it might once have shunned.
Luxury with “Revolutionary” Roots
Many of the high-rises, malls and complexes built by the Guards in Iran's cities share common features with the Madinah Al-Reza Hotel. They are luxurious but never forget to display their loyalty to revolutionary and Islamic ideals. As well as offering luxury services for travelers and pilgrims, the hotel provides rooms for wounded and disabled war veterans, although the offer of these services is not on public display. In fact, the rooms, seen below, reflect the bygone ideology of former IRGC commanders. They are simpler than other rooms in the hotel, and are equipped with a wheelchair, as well as prayer mats and other religious paraphernalia and symbols.
Madinah Al-Reza Hotel offers rooms for Iran's veterans, as well as luxury accommodation
On the other extreme, however, there is the massage parlor. These days such services can be found almost anywhere in the big cities of Irans, so it should come as no surprise that the Revolutionary Guards offer them as well, even though many young revolutionaries still consider them to be symbols of aristocracy and decadence. Below are photos of a massage parlor at the Madinah Al-Reza Hotel.
Madinah Al-Reza Hotel also boasts a massage parlor
The hotel does not publish the cost of staying in one of these rooms on its website, though these figures are available on other websites. The cost of staying in the hotel’s cheapest room for a single guest for one night is at least 545,000 tomans ($130), but some rooms cost as much as two million tomans ($472) per night for one person. Although this does not sound like a huge amount when compared to cities like London and New York City, it is worth noting that the United Kingdom and the United States have a much higher GDP per capita, at US$44,920 and $59,927 respectively for the year 2017 according to the World Bank, whereas Iran’s GDP per capita in 2017 was $5,593.
The cost for a room for two people is around 1.48 million tomans ($350) per night. A room for two for two nights and a luxury bed is more than 2.8 million tomans ($660) and a suite of two rooms with three beds for two nights costs around 4.1 million tomans ($968). The hotel also offers a “diplomat apartment” that costs 9.6 million tomans ($2,265) for two nights.
When a customer reserves a room at the Madinah Al-Reza Hotel, they are informed that the hotel does not provide satellite TV or a billiard room.
But Madinah Al-Reza is not the only luxury hotel owned and operated by the Revolutionary Guards in Mashhad. The other is the four-star Golshan Razavi (“Reza Flower Garden”), but attempting to glean information about the prices and services for the hotel online is extremely difficult.
IranWire's Revolutionary Guards infographic
IranWire's Revolutionary Guards interactive diagram
Are Revolutionary Guards’ Economic Activities Legal?, May 7, 2019