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Iran's Revolutionary Guards Battle New President To Maintain Influence, Riches


They are called the Sepah, and some say their influence is getting out of control. Iran’s central government is under pressure from domestic critics and international backers to rein in the influence of the Sepah—the 120,000-strong Revolutionary Guard corps sworn to protect Iran’s theological regime—to make it clear that the country is not run by military men. Iran’s new president has signaled an intention to remove some of the Guards’ economic and political power, but at the same time has reassured the Guards that the changes won’t be dramatic.

That’s good news for the Guards and their extensive economic and political power, which the Financial Times took an in-depth look at this week. The Guards, reports the FT, own companies and banks with annual revenues of perhaps $100 billion. As former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani put it, the Guards “now control the country’s pulse in the economy, foreign and domestic politics and would not be happy with anything less than the whole country.” They own jetties where goods are imported and exported beyond the control of the government. They operate construction companies, consultancies, communications firms, mines, dams, oil and gas fields. Along with their associates, they have access to international banks, through which billions of dollars are funneled to escape international sanctions. And they are resolutely opposed to any sort of deal to end the nuclear program.

Moreover, the Guards, like other other pillars of the Iranian theocratic regime, benefit from holding the United States and its allies up as great enemies. “That antipathy is an ideological pillar to keep junior forces loyal,” reports the FT.

The power of the Guards—and the Rouhani administration’s reluctance to seriously address it—will be a significant block on the road to some kind of nuclear deal. The top commander of the Guards blasted Rouhani’s phone call with President Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month as a “tactical mistake.” Rouhani can’t expect to remain in power for long if he were to disregard their interests.

[Revolutionary Guards photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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