Media Guide: U.S. Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Terrorist Organization

Media Guide: U.S. Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Terrorist Organization

By AIC Research Fellow Andrew Lumsden

On April 8, 2019, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would formally designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a terrorist organization. President Trump argued that the IRGC “actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism,” and that by labeling it a terror group, the U.S. would send “a clear message” to Iran that “support for terrorism has serious consequences.”

Trump’s move represents the first time the United States has labeled a part of another country’s government a terror group and it has sparked widely varying reactions from all over the world and intense scholarly speculation as to how the move will impact global politics.

This Media Guide will explain what the IRGC is, what it means to be labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., how the move has been received in Iran and internationally, and what consequences it is projected to have for both Iran and the United States.  

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Media Guide: Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi

Media Guide: Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi

By AIC Research Fellow Andrew Lumsden

On March 7, 2019, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Ebrahim Raisi,  a conservative cleric and 2017 presidential candidate, as the country’s Chief Justice. Raisi’s selection for this powerful position immediately set off a firestorm of international controversy. Human Rights Watch labeled it “disturbing and frankly frightening,” the U.S. Department of State called it “a disgrace,” and the Center for Human Rights in Iran went further, saying that “Raisi should be prosecuted, not head of Iran’s judiciary.”

This Media Guide will explain who Ebrahim Raisi is, why his appointment as Chief Justice is causing such consternation among human rights activists and what impact he could potentially have on Iran in the coming years.  

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Media Guide: US Coalition Against Iran

Media Guide:  US Coalition Against Iran

By Gabriela Billini, AIC Research Fellow

Introduction:

In January 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the opportunity of a regional trip to announce a new foreign policy strategy regarding Iran. This new strategy is to build a coalition that will actively counter Iranian regional influence and build an overall consensus against Iran. This strategy is to be reinforced in an upcoming conference in Warsaw, Poland, titled the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.

Below are some key details regarding the new coalition and background on the conference in Warsaw, taking place on February 13th-14th, which is expected to promote this foreign policy

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Industry Spotlight: Renewable Energy

Industry Spotlight: Renewable Energy

By Andrew Lumsden, Research Fellow

Rarely would the terms “Iran” and “renewable energy” be considered as having any positive correlation. The Islamic Republic has some of the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels and relies on their export for about half of its national revenue. It also is the seventh largest carbon emitter in the world, with its population consuming energy at a rate more than four times the global average. Only about 0.8% of the electricity Iran produces each year comes from renewable sources.

However, Iran’s leaders, particularly over the past five years, have been making considerable efforts to challenge the dominance of fossil fuels in the country’s energy mix. As part of the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, Iran pledged to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 4% by 2030 through expansion of renewable energy production and utilization. Though substantive progress has been made, particularly with regard to policy reforms and construction of green energy infrastructure, serious challenges to Iran’s renewable energy ambitions remain.   

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Media Guide: Inflation

Media Guide: Inflation

By AIC Research Fellow Andrew Lumsden

The term “inflation,” for most, brings to mind images of 1920s Germany or, more recently, Venezuela where the currency has been so devalued that a loaf of bread or a cup of coffee can cost million. Though not to the same degree as in these cases, nearly all economies around the world experience inflation and keeping it in check often requires diligent efforts on the part of governments.

Iran has struggled with relatively high inflation since the late 1970s, but seemed to have been making substantive progress in curtailing inflation during President Rouhani’s first term. However, the United States' monetary policies and its November 2018 re-imposition of economic sanctions has sent Iran’s economy into a tailspin, sending inflation soaring to high levels. What follows is a brief overview of Iran’s experience with high inflation over the past three decades and the ways in which its government and population have reacted to it and how they plan to approach the coming uncertain, potentially difficult years.

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Industry Spotlight: Tourism (2018)

Industry Spotlight: Tourism (2018)

By Marykate McNeil, Research Associate

The AIC last published an Industry Spotlight on the subject of tourism in Iran in December of 2016. At the time, the JCPOA had been in effect for more than a year, and tourism in Iran was on the rise. Indeed, by March 2017, less than two years after implementation of the JCPOA, “more than 6 million people visited Iran [that year], up 50% on the previous year, and three times the number in 2009”. Hoping to capitalize on this progress, the Iranian government  announced “about 1750 tourism infrastructure projects” in the form of improved highways, new hotels, increased flights to Iran, etc, with the goal of growing the number of visitors to 20 million a year by 2025. This government push helped bring  foreign corporations to Iran including: France-based AccorHotels, Spain’s Meliá Hotels International, UAE’s Rotana, and the UK’s EasyHotel. Additionally, British Airways and Lufthansa resumed direct flights to Iran.

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Myth vs. Fact: Geography of Iran

Myth vs. Fact: Geography of Iran

By AIC Research Fellow Andrew Lumsden

MYTH: Iran, like many other countries in the Middle East is primarily made up of arid, lifeless desert.

FACT: Iran’s geography is very different from those of surrounding nations. Compared with nearby Saudi Arabia (95% desert), Turkmenistan (80% desert) and Iraq (40% desert), only about 22% of its land area is desert. The majority of Iran’s territory consists of incredibly diverse landscapes, most of which teem with life. These include rangelands, forests, wetlands and even glaciers home to at least 8,000 different plant species, 293 species of bird, 219 species of reptile, 112 species of fish and nearly 300 other mammalian species.

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Media Guide: Regime Change

Media Guide: Regime Change

By Research Associate Marykate McNeil

Given the broadening conversation regarding the concept of regime change in Iran, and pursuant to AIC’s mission to further dialogue and understanding between the US and Iran, our media guide series may be a helpful platform on which to elucidate the details and complexities surrounding the concept of regime change in Iran. We hope this guide may help our readers and constituents better understand the issues involved.

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Industry Spotlight: Healthcare 2018

Industry Spotlight: Healthcare 2018

By Andrew Lumsden, Research Fellow

Although Iran’s 1979 revolution is known primarily for having transformed the country into a conservative Islamic theocracy, it also led to significant, progressive reforms on the country’s approach towards healthcare. The Islamic Republic’s constitution declares access to medical care a right for all citizens, and over the past three decades, Tehran has made notable investments in expanding health coverage nationwide, to good effect.  

Iran spends about 7% of its GDP each year on health services and has an estimated 954 hospitals, 3,700 clinics and 6,400 rehabilitation centers. About 60% of Iran’s hospitals are state controlled with the remainder run by private companies or non-governmental organizations, including charities.

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MYTH vs. FACT: JCPOA

MYTH vs. FACT: JCPOA

MYTH: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or “Iran Deal,” is a “bad deal” because (1) it does not prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon; (2) the International Atomic Energy Association is not able to thoroughly inspect some facilities and Iran can easily cheat without repercussions; (3) the nations involved were required to remove all sanctions on Iran, providing an influx of money to be spent on terrorist organizations and other military engagements throughout the Middle East; and (4) documents recently revealed by the Israeli government prove that the Iran Deal was “built on lies.”

FACT: While the JCPOA has flaws such as the sunset provisions of certain clauses, the JCPOA on the whole is a strong deal that cuts off all pathways to Iran creating a nuclear weapon.  It establishes clear restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program that are thoroughly verified by the International Atomic Energy Association to ensure Iran cannot cheat.  The nations involved removed only sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program, keeping in place sanctions related to human rights violations and other issues.  Finally, documents revealed by the Israeli government did not include significant new information regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

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Industry Spotlight: Agriculture

Industry Spotlight: Agriculture

By Andrew Lumsden, Research Fellow

Although Iran is primarily thought of as an oil-producing country, it is also one of the Middle East’s largest and most diverse agricultural producers. Due to the country’s expansive geography and extremely varied climate, Iran is able to produce a wide range of agricultural products, including grains such as wheat, barley and rice; fruits such as melons and grapes, as well as teas and medicinal herbs.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, close to 30% of Iran’s territory consists of croplands and livestock pastures. From an economic standpoint, the agricultural sector makes up about 10% of Iran’s GDP and employs about 16% of its labor force. Despite its size and importance to the country’s overall economy however, Iran’s agricultural sector still consists primarily of small, privately owned farms, generally no bigger than 24 acres. (The average family farm in the U.S. state of Texas, by contrast, is about 523 acres)

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MYTH vs. FACT: The Rouhani Administration

MYTH vs. FACT: The Rouhani Administration

MYTH: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is not a true political moderate and his promises of reform were disingenuous as evidenced by the results (or lack thereof) of his administration.

FACT: While it is true that Iran has not substantively transformed since Rouhani took office five years ago, some of the actions he has taken, alone and in conjunction with Parliament, suggest that Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate is not completely unfounded and that pro-reform voices may have a stronger presence in Iranian politics than commonly thought.

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Industry Spotlight: Oil & Gas

Industry Spotlight: Oil & Gas

By Andrew Lumsden, Research Associate

Like many of its Middle Eastern neighbors, the Islamic Republic of Iran sits atop considerable deposits of fossil fuels. It boasts the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas and the fourth largest reserves of crude oil. Iran extracts an estimated 4.1 million barrels per day of crude oil and nearly 200 billion cubic meters annually of natural gas, making it respectively the world's fifth and third largest producer of these fuels. Oil is critical to the Iranian economy with about half of the country’s total revenue coming from its sale. Until recently, however, natural gas in Iran has been almost exclusively for domestic consumption.

Iran's oil and gas sector has been buoyed by the 2015 Joint-Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which relieved U.S., U.N and E.U sanctions under which Iran’s ability to export oil and access foreign investment had been curtailed. With the European market again open to it, Iran’s oil exports have been on the rise. In 2017, the Islamic Republic exported nearly 800 million barrels of crude oil, 80% more than in 2016. These sales netted $41 billion in revenue.

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Industry Spotlight: Mining

Industry Spotlight: Mining

By Ariane Gottlieb, Research Associate

A large state replete with natural resources, Iran is among the most mineral-rich countries in the world, holding approximately 7% of the Earth’s supply with 45 to 60 billion metric tons of 68 different types of minerals.  Despite its natural advantages, however, Iran has failed to make the most of its mining sector. Mining employs just 620,000 people in the country and accounts for 0.6% to 1% of GDP.  With 90% of Iran’s potential mines unsurveyed, some estimates put the industry’s potential worth at triple its current value. The deputy minister of Iran’s Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Trade, Mojtaba Khosrowtaj, has indicated that copper, lead, and rare earth elements could ultimately generate more revenue than the crude oil industry.

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Media Guide: Sanctions Against Iran

Media Guide:  Sanctions Against Iran

By Research Fellow Gabriela Billini

Sanctions are a perennial subject in American political discussion about Iran as the US tries to curtail what it views as Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. Over the years, many rounds of sanctions have been imposed on Iran, in varying forms.  Some have primarily targeted institutions and individuals related to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, others have either directly or indirectly affected ordinary Iranian citizens.

This Media Guide will present a brief overview of the history of sanctions on Iran and highlight the effects that American and international sanctions have had upon the broader Iranian economy and average Iranians.

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Industry Spotlight: Transportation and Urban Services

Industry Spotlight: Transportation and Urban Services

By Ariane Gottlieb, Research Associate  

Given Iran’s geographic breadth and its sizable population, the task of maintaining and modernizing its public transportation system is immense. Cities in Iran are linked by 199,000 km of roads and 10,000 km of railroad. The country has over 300 airports.  Due to heavy traffic, the metro systems in all major cities are heavily utilized to avoid the congestion above. The Tehran metro, for example, is one of the busiest in the Middle East and estimated to service between two and four million people each day.
 
While impressive in its scope, Iran’s transportation system is in serious need of attention and improvement. The World Economic Forum’s 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Iran 76 out of 140 for overall infrastructure quality (other industrialized countries in the region received much higher ratings, such as Saudi Arabia at 31 and the United Arab Emirates at 2). 

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Media Guide: IRGC and al-Quds Force

Media Guide: IRGC and al-Quds Force

By Research Fellow Gabriela Billini

Aspiring to grow its clout across the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East, Iran has increasingly engaged its military in other countries in the region. From intervening in civil wars to fighting terrorism in foreign states, Iran’s security forces are playing a larger role in regional affairs and have thus emerged as a critical focus of the West.

The U.S. media typically covers Iran’s military involvement abroad as unfoundedly aggressive or destabilizing, without examining the broader role these organizations play within Iran itself, or Iran’s interests and goals for participation abroad. This media guide will focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the al-Quds force of the military with the aim to demystify these organizations, their role, as well the reasons and timing behind the government’s decisions to use them in foreign interventions.

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Industry Spotlight: Textiles

Industry Spotlight: Textiles

By Marielle Coleman, Research Associate

Iran has a rich textile history. Archeologists can date the country’s textile production back at least 6,500 years. In those early years Persia produced tapestries and carpets for domestic and international markets, which were particularly renowned for their elaborate designs and colors. To this day, Persian carpets are still considered among the most beautiful and well-crafted in the world; many are also regarded as artistic works and showcased in museums and private collections.

Not only is the textile industry an important part of Iranian history and culture, it also plays a key role in the country’s economy. Iran is the 36th biggest exporter of textile products in the world. Today, the industry represents 13 percent of all industrial jobs in Iran, most of them being concentrated in carpet production.

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Media Guide: Iran's Government Structure

Media Guide: Iran's Government Structure

By Research Fellow Gabriela Billini

Iran’s government structure can be difficult for foreigners to understand. In part, this is due to the intrinsic complexity of Iran’s system, which some argue is due to the combination of modern institutions (like the Majles and Assembly of Experts) with pre-modern ones (like the Supreme Leader).

While this dual nature of Iranian government has contributed to the confusion, a lack of media coverage in the West is also part of the problem. Western media has a mixed record with coverage of the Iranian government – at times covering the democratic process in Iran (as it did recently in the 2017 Presidential elections), but at others, portraying Iran as a dictatorship run by the Supreme Leader. This is unfortunate since understanding Iran’s government structure and process for decision making is crucial in order to interpret the government’s actions and policy positions. With this guide, we hope to provide some foundational information about each government body, its powers, the democratic forces that underlie its authority, and the extent of religious influence in each branch.

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