Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Parviz Fattah as the new head of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF) last weekend. Fattah, previously the top manager of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) largest investment portfolio, will assume over a multi-billion dollar foundation hitherto controlled by Iran’s traditional conservative party, the Islamic Coalition Party. The move – which went virtually unnoticed amidst the fanfare surrounding the nuclear framework announcement earlier this month – has vast political significance.
The IKRF was founded immediately after the 1979 Islamic Revolution by direct order of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first Supreme Leader. Its mission was and remains “to carry out the high aims of the Islamic Republic System of Iran and the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent for uprooting poverty, supporting and giving relief to the deprived and the oppressed people and making them self-sufficient.” The foundation controls considerable assets and receives budgetary funding – as much as $1 billion in 2015. In addition, it receives discretionary funding from the Supreme Leader, domestic and foreign donations, and revenue from its own economic activities, such as real estate, mining, construction, and agriculture.
The IKRF subsidizes 4.4 million Iranians who live below the poverty line and depend on its aid to survive. The foundation provides food, grants scholarships for gifted students, offers low-rate loans, and provides financial assistance to young couples who want to marry (including dowry money). The result is extraordinary leverage over the lower strata of Iranian society – leverage which the Supreme Leader uses to mobilize support for the regime.
The IKRF also supports Muslims around the world, including in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, the Comoros, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Somalia, and Tajikistan. There, the foundation’s assistance buys loyalty to the Iranian regime and its affiliate groups abroad.
Fattah’s control over the IKRF will boost the IRGC’s leverage both at home and abroad. Domestically, the Guards will use the foundation to mobilize electoral support and keep challenges to the regime in check. Internationally, the IKRF’s vast presence and infrastructure will enhance the IRGC’s ability to recruit fighters and build local support in Iran’s ever-expanding areas of regional control.
In appointing Fattah, the supreme leader hopes to bolster the IRGC – his traditional power base – against the more pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters. Despite the excitement generated by this month’s nuclear framework agreement, Fattah’s appointment reveals Iran’s regime retrenching behind its familiar, militant lines.