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Government In Iran Spends Over $24.5 Million Per Day On Suppressing Dissent

Special anti-riot security forces in Iran during drills. FILE photo
Special anti-riot security forces in Iran during drills. FILE photo

Widespread protests in in over 100 Iranian cities in November were met with the Islamic Republic's usual reaction, which is violent suppression. This time it was even more violent.

"Suppression" is the most frequently used keyword in Iran as it is how the government deals with any gathering, protest, and movement by any Iranian group may be it students, workers, teachers, women and people from all other walks of life.

In November, security forces used unprecedented violence against protesters, shooting hundreds directly in the head or heart.

Aware of the depth of its inefficiency and economic crisis, the Islamic Republic's security forces have prepared themselves for the inevitable protests everyone knows can erupt at any given time.

A glance at the network of suppression in Iran reveals that they have always been funded with hefty budgets regardless of the country's economic problems and mindless of whether a so-called reformist or a hardliner is in charge.

Generally suppressive institutions within the Islamic Republic can be divided into two categories. The first group specialize in suppressing dissent on the streets. It organizes the suppression machine and provides the human resources for it.

The second group usually has a different function, but when the need arises, it join hands with the first group and plays an important role in the crackdown. The state TV is one of those in the second group. It broadcasts fabricated news and "confessions," and fake documentaries and acts as the media arm of the suppression machine.

Another such body is the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) which makes decisions about the most sensitive security issues. In one particular example, according to the Rouhani administration's spokesman Ali Rabiei, it was the SNSC that banned releasing casualty figures after the protests in November. The SNSC is headed by President Hassan Rouhani, who, next to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is one of the main elements who orders the suppression and massacre of the protesters.

Nevertheless, the most important part of the suppression machine that practically carries out violent suppression is the first group which is consisting of four pillars: The Intelligence Ministry, The Police, The IRGC and the Basij militia.

Although these four military intelligence and policing institutions have various functions for which they receive regular budgets, they spend the lion's share of their budget on suppressing domestic dissent.

The following table show the funds these four institutions received from President Hassan Rouhani’s government in the Iranian year 1398 (March 2019 – March 2020), as well as the year 1393 which was the first year of budgeting under the Rouhani administration and the next year (1399).:

In billions of rials
Agency1393 Budget1398 BudgetProposed 1399
Intelligence Ministry16,15050,42460,629
IRGC – Revolutionary Guard65,680150,230180,315
Basij Organization8,22017,4449,230

The table shows that the Intelligence Ministry, The Police, The IRGC and the Basij militia have received a total of 370,718 billion rials [$9 billion] at the government rate of 42,000 rials per US dollar] in the current year 1398, ending March 20, 2020.

However, the $9 billion dollar is not the only money at the disposal of these entities. They all have considerable business empires, with monopoly powers, which generate unreported and unaudited cash. The $9 billion figure can be characterized as the government’s assistance to these security entities – not their total budget.

The biggest business empire belongs to the Revolutionary Guards, which is itself a creditor to the government to the tune of an accumulated $9.5 billion debt.

The highlight of the table is to show how government appropriations for the security entities have grown. They received a budget of 130,532 billion rials [$3.1 billion] in the first year of Rouhani's presidency which was supported by Iranian reformists. This shows that the money these four institutions received from the government grew by more than 240,000 billion rials [$5.7 billion] in six years of Rouhani’s presidency.

Special forces during a drill in Iran, 2019.
Special forces during a drill in Iran, 2019.

This massive allocations in the current year and proposed for the next budget cycle for security organizations come amid an economic crisis marked by a sharp drop in Iran's oil exports to 213,000 barrel per day according to Kepler Energy website.

At the same time, Iran's education, welfare and government services sectors have been suffering from serious budget deficits in recent years. Just as an alarming example, it is worth mentioning that the fire brigade in Kerman does not have enough budget to purchase a ladder.

Another point to consider is that the figures reflect "official" allocations. Apart from business incomes of security entities, they have also secret appropriations. The real figures which are much higher are not known as these are kept secret.

These expenditures may curb the protests in the short run, but as we have seen in other despotic regimes, dissent will be alive like fire under the ashes.

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    Youhanna Najdi

    Youhanna Najdi is a political economy analyst and an Iran specialist living in Germany, who occasionally contributes to Radio Farda.