Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad note that they agree with the methods employed by some scholars who look to the Tehran Stock Exchange for evidence that growing segments of the Iranian economy are free from monolithic government influence. But the authors nonetheless reject the notion that the Iranian stock market provides such evidence.
Instead, by looking at the relatively transparent majority ownership patterns that are revealed through the stock exchange, Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad find that one quarter of publicly-traded companies, at the very least, are owned by either Iran’s military institutions or by companies belonging to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And this is in addition to an indeterminate number of powerful economic assets that are owned by these organizations but not traded on the Tehran Stock Exchange.
The authors conclude by saying, “Privatization has largely benefited Iran’s deep-state—the ubiquitous military-industrial complex and religious foundations and holding companies close to the Supreme Leader.” They add that the expected cash-windfalls that will come to the Iranian regime as a result of the nuclear deal due on June 30 would only give greater economic power to the Supreme Leader, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other hardline elements of the regime’s power structure.
This argument cuts against the claims of optimists, including representatives of the Obama administration, who argue that economic improvements may contribute to more internal diversity and ultimately empower moderates and reformers.
What’s more, there are signs that the existing power structure is not waiting for the promised windfall of sanctions relief in order to further shore up their economic assets. This is certainly one way of looking at Tehran’s plans, reported upon in Wednesday’s The Guardian, to halt the across-the-board government subsidy payments that were put in place during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to ease the economic pain and socially destabilizing effects of a worsening poverty problem in the Islamic Republic.
The current government claims that it can no longer afford to make these payments, which are equivalent to about 15 dollars per Iranian citizen per month. This announcement comes in spite of the regime’s public statements expecting vigorous foreign investment and a quick return to full-scale oil exports following the signing of a nuclear agreement. It also comes in spite of the news of increased Iranian spending beyond its borders, as with the extension of a risky line of credit to the embattled Assad regime in Syria, which is reportedly a lynchpin to the Iranian regime’s regional military strategy.
The Times of Israel reported this week that the value of the new credit line is not known, but it comes in addition to an outstanding one billion dollar line of credit that was extended to Syria in June 2013 to help stave off the collapse of the war-torn nation’s currency.
On Sunday, Al Arabiya reported that at least 15 million of Iran’s 77 million people were recognized to be living in poverty, and that the real figure is likely much higher. The Iranian regime’s spending patterns then reflect a greater interest in maintaining and extending extra-territorial power than in improving the economic situation for the local citizenry.
In light of Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad’s conclusions, the Supreme Leader and Iran’s military institutions are largely responsible for this trend and are capable of reversing it. But the imminent end of subsidies suggests that these same figures are instead promoting the reallocation of domestic funds to either personal wealth or foreign military spending.