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Clergy Demand More Money Amid Popular Anger At Economic Hardship


Iranian Conservative Clerics Ahmad Alamolhoda (2nd L), Ahmad Emami Kashani (C) and Kazem Sedighi (2nd R), in a gathering in Mashhad, undated.

Tehran’s Friday prayer leader has demanded more money from the government for Shi’ite seminaries in Iran, while many believe boosting allocations to religious foundations in Rouhani’s newly proposed budget was one of the factors that triggered recent widespread protests in the country.

“The budget allocated to the cultural sector is not significant. If we are going to promote and spread religion [Shi’ism], we should earmark an appropriate budget for the Shi’ite seminaries and cultural centers”, Iran Students News Agency, ISNA cited mid-ranking clergy, Kazem Sadighi as saying, Friday, January 12.

Tehran’s Friday prayer Leader has demanded a larger bulk of Iran’s budget for the seminaries at a time that conservative opponents of President Rouhani have blamed him for “mischievously” publicizing the details concerning governmental budget allocated to the fast-growing tax exempt religious schools and a potpourri of Shi’ism institutions across Iran.

Al-Mostafa Seminary in Qom, training thousands of foreign students of Shi'ism. It serves as a tool for spreading the influence of the Islamic Republich well beyond its borders.
Al-Mostafa Seminary in Qom, training thousands of foreign students of Shi'ism. It serves as a tool for spreading the influence of the Islamic Republich well beyond its borders.

Responding to his conservative opponents, Rouhani said it was a step forward for transparency to table government’s financial assistance to the institutions supervised directly by the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani’s proposed budget, for the first time in the Islamic Republic’s history, highlights government’s financial support for such institutions in detail.

Immediately after the new budget bill was published, many campaigns were launched on social media under the banner of “Changing the Budget in Favor of the People”, calling for less money to institutions and entities under the direct supervision of Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These include state-run broadcaster, IRIB, Shi’ite seminaries and the Islamic revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

A huge increase for religious institutions, more than 10% compared to the previous fiscal year, angered many ordinary citizens right before they poured into the streets on December 28, to protest rising prices, unemployment, systematic financial corruption and unemployment.

The proposed budget while boosting allocations to these institutions, reduced subsidies for fuel and other necessities, which also enraged the people.

A huge increase for religious institutions, more than 10% compared to the previous fiscal year, angered many ordinary citizens right before they poured into the streets on December 28, to protest rising prices, unemployment, systematic financial corruption and unemployment.

The following are some of the examples of funds allocated to ideological entities:

$110 million for the High Council of Religious Seminaries, which oversees all religious seminaries in the country and issues permits for the establishment of new schools, among other things. Its budget shows an increase of more than 16 percent compared to the previous year.

$105 million for “supporting religious seminaries.” From that amount, $88 million will be allocated to training male clergymen and $16 million for “cultural and promotional activities” by male students of religious seminaries.

$5 million for supporting religious “research activities” by seminary students.

$150 million for the Service Center for Religious Seminaries, a welfare institution that provides support to retired and disabled clergymen and the families of deceased clergy. The institution also pays scholarships for religious seminaries and funds cultural and sports activities for students.

$75 million is allocated for Al-Mustafa International University, an umbrella organization for religious seminaries providing education to foreign students of Shi’ism, within and outside of Iran. This institution is also used for expanding influence abroad.

A group of Al-Mostafa seminary students in Mashhad.
A group of Al-Mostafa seminary students in Mashhad.

The list goes on reaching almost one billion dollars.

It is worth mentioning that the budget allocated to Al-Mustafa University is much higher than the fund provided to some of the major regular universities, like Amir Kabir University in Tehran with $63 million, and Tabriz University with $64 million.

Meanwhile, Rouhani has openly expressed his dissatisfaction by insisting that all the religious institutes assisted by the government are not accountable to it and do not present any financial reports.
Furthermore, forcing the government to increase their budget has its opponents amongst the clergy as well. Religious entities that were independent of the government before the establishment of the Islamic Republic, have been turned into state-run units deprived of any popularity, they argue.

“Allocating state budgets to the seminaries lays the groundwork for corruption”, a [Shi’ite holy city] Qom based pro-Rouhani Grand Ayatollah and Shi’a’s source of emulation, Yousef Sane’ei has cautioned, demanding, “What’s the use of all these buildings and schools, being added to the seminaries?”

It should also be noted that funds from the government budget are only a part of the income for influential clergymen and the religious institutions they control.

Citizens and businesses also donate tens of millions of dollars to ayatollahs, shrines, and related small and large religious networks. In addition, senior ayatollahs control foundations that are huge economic empires, with real estate holdings and industries.

Paris based political analyst, Morteza Kazemian has made a comparison highlighting the fact that while Shi’ite seminaries annually “devour more than $120 million, the annual budget for universities of Tabriz and Ferdowsi in Mashhad is roughly $70 million and $90 million, respectively.

Nevertheless, the parliament controlled by pro-Rouhani MPs has insisted that, while rejecting government’s proposals to increase fuel price and tax for travelling overseas, the new budget will be ratified.

Moreover, the disclosure of an $8 billion budget for the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps has also enraged ordinary citizens who are against Tehran’s extraterritorial military interventions and suffering from what they have listed as rising prices, poverty, dictatorship and mismanagement.

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