The Iranian supreme leader’s representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) told reporters yesterday that the IRGC has “limited” their economic projects.
Hojat al-Islam Ali Saeedi, who represents Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the IRGC, which is known as Sepah in Iran, said: “Just as up until now it has limited its projects, Sepah plans to continue to do this and turn over its national projects to the private sector that has the capacity for these projects.”
Since taking office, President Hassan Rouhani has had to maintain a dual track message with respect to Sepah’s economic activities, which operate under the engineering conglomerate Khatam al-Anbia and its many subsidiaries. While Rouhani has asked Sepah to continue their large scale infrastructure projects, he has been seeking a larger role for the private sector, especially for smaller economic projects.
In defense of Sepah’s economic activities, Saeedi said, “Sepah’s primary goal in entering economic projects is in movement of the direction of Sepah’s natural responsibility, meaning defense of the Islamic Revolution.” Sepah’s function is to “defend the revolution,” a duty that has given it wide powers at various moments.
Saeedi continued: “The time two large companies, Shell and Total, pulled out of their prime projects, an institution must carry this load on its shoulders so that harm does not enter the movement of the revolution, as a result, this action by Sepah is a strategic result.” As Iran was hit with economic sanctions, Sepah, given their experience during the Iran-Iraq war and close relation with the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration, stepped in.
Total and Shell ended their Iran investments in 2010. In 2011, Rostam Ghassemi, a former IRGC commander who had also worked at Khatam al-Anbia, became Iran’s petroleum minister under Ahmadinejad, in a move that many viewed as Sepah’s growing influence in the energy sector.
In recent years, many large-scale industrial projects have been awarded to Sepah. Smaller companies have struggled acquiring business contracts and competing in the market due to sanctions and lack of access of funding, leaving even smaller projects to Sepah. Sepah subsidiaries are all not known and it is unclear to what extent Saeedi means that Sepah has turned over economic projects to the private sector.
At the World Economic Forum last week, Rouhani expressed high hopes for recovery for the Iranian economy in light of the partial sanctions relief as a result of an interim nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries.