Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Al Arabiya, 13 January 2017 - Iran’s Persian-language newspapers widely covered a recent speech delivered by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to university students in Tehran. Some of Khamenei’s remarks were classic in the sense that they were anchored in showing the importance of advancing Iran’s 1979 revolutionary values.
Intriguingly, Khamenei put great emphasis on comparing Iran’s enemies to thieves, which highlights several of Khamenei’s tactical shifts and recent concerns regarding the continuing rapprochement with the international community, particularly the West.
Iran’s Press TV stated: “The Leader compared the enemy to a thief who would seek to burglarize a house but pretends that the reason for its enmity is the defensive weapon held by the householder.”
Monopolistic economic concerns
Iran is rapidly reintegrating into the global financial system, which is bringing billions of dollars of additional revenues to the Iranian government. For example, Tehran has significantly increased its oil exports roughly 300 percent in a year, from 1 million barrels per day (bpd) to approximately 4 million bpd. Tehran is also trading in other industries including in mining and metals.
Iran’s oil exports to Asian countries rose by nearly 92 percent, according to its state news outlets. Iran’s oil sales to Turkey and other European nations has increased as well. The country is currently the third largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
However, Khamenei desire is to keep business with the West at bay. In other words, one of the main concerns of Khamenei and his gilded circle, the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is that Western companies might push to enter Iran’s market. The entrance of Western businesses into Tehran’s market will endanger the economic monopoly that the Iranian government holds over the market.
Iran’s major domestic companies and manufacturers (including in cars, cell phone services, furniture, clothing etc.) are either owned by the Supreme Leader or the IRGC. As a result, from Khamenei and IRGC’s perspectives, the entrance of larger foreign companies into Iran’s market will be robbing them of their total share of the market.
The more closely held the domestic economic system of Iran is, the more Khamenei and the IRGC can benefit from maintaining their monopoly and profits over the market. It is in Khamenei and the IRGC interests to keep Iran’s economy a state economy rather than a private one.
As Khamenei, himself stated: “Today, the geometry defining the arrogant powers’ confrontation with the Islamic Republic is directed toward robbing the Iranian nation of its material and spiritual power and conviction. In turn, we should preserve and strengthen that power day by day.”
Revolutionary, cultural and religious concerns
By calling the enemies “thieves”, Khamenei is also revealing his concerns about Western cultural infiltration which would take away the Iranian youth from pursuing the Islamic Republic’s 1979 revolutionary principles. This is crucial considering approximately 60 percent of Iran’s population is under the age of 30.
In fact, for Khamenei, cultural infiltration is more dangerous than an economic one. In a meeting with IRGC commanders, Khamenei ordered the IRGC to halt such infiltrations and added: “Economic and security infiltration are less important than intellectual, cultural and political infiltration; however, various officials especially the IRGC should prevent the infiltration powerfully… The enemy has the false hope of putting an end to the revolution and thinks about political-cultural infiltration… Identifying the enemy’s conspiracies, strengthening the revolutionary spirit and constantly moving toward realizing the causes will foil such plots.”
Finally, Khamenei is also sending a message that Iran will not fundamentally alter its foreign policies. Khamenei is reiterating the core pillar of Iran’s foreign policy which is anchored in amplifying and exaggerating the threat of the “enemy”.
This allows Khamenei and the IRGC to expand Iran’s hard power, use the nation’s wealth for military capabilities, suppress domestic opposition by labeling them as foreign conspirators cooperating with the “enemies”, diverting attention from domestic economic problems to the “enemies”, as well as blaming the "enemies" for the government’s inefficiency in addressing domestic issues.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist, is president of the International American Council. Harvard-educated, Dr. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University.