March 31, 2014 | Policy Brief

“Resistance Economy” Regains Resonance in Iran

March 31, 2014 | Policy Brief

“Resistance Economy” Regains Resonance in Iran

Iran’s top clerics have recently been busy urging the embrace of something called a “resistance economy” from the pulpit. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei resurrected this concept from the Iran-Iraq War lexicon to promote a policy of self-sufficiency.

The concept underscores a domestic debate about what course the country is expected take. There are essentially two choices: either liberalize, offer nuclear concessions, and receive foreign direct investment, or hunker down and resist international pressure. In other words, if Iran embraces the “resistance economy” it will have significant political ramifications, not just economic ones.

Khamenei’s usage of the term “resistance economy” can be traced to 2010, but it gained traction in the summer of 2012. This was a time when the country was facing increasing economic pressure from U.S.-led sanctions designed to deter the Iranian nuclear program. As Khamenei saw it, this policy was necessary since it was “the only way to pursue progress in the country” with sanctions increasing the cost, or eliminating, imports and reducing the availability of hard currency.

One of the beneficiaries of this “resistance” was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Through their numerous affiliated-companies, the IRGC initially prospered from both a less-competitive financial environment and increased reliance on domestic industries that the Guards controlled. It therefore comes as little surprise that the IRGC embraces this approach. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij Forces in May 2012 said, “The sanctions are the greatest blessing for our economy, and we must pray in all our prayers that they deepen day to day, because these sanctions have been the cause of our progress.”

As Iran debates the utility of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which has partially frozen its nuclear program, the notion of the “resistance economy” is gaining steam. In February, Khamenei released a 24-part plan highlighting key requirements for Iran’s “resistance economy.” President Hassan Rouhani responded by writing a letter supporting the concept. Iran’s Byzantine ministries and bureaucracy soon followed. Then came another Khamenei address on February 25, which may have been the spark for comments from IRGC Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, who touted a new “Economic Defense Base.”

Fars News Agency soon ran a headline reading, “The Basij, the Master-Key of Resistance Economics.” Some of Iran’s best-known ayatollahs took to the Friday prayer pulpit on February 28 and March 14 to promote this concept, too.

Iran’s desire for a “resistance economy” is nothing new. It's essentially the desire to be impervious to Western political and economic pressure.  What is noteworthy now is the coordinated campaign to promote this concept. It could be a troubling sign of Iran's future course.  Should the Islamic Republic choose to go this route, it would signal that, for all the talk of change in Iran, Khamenei's commitment to “resistance” – economic or otherwise – trumps whatever benefits have been offered through the JPOA. 

Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran Research Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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