Trump’s presidency: a blessing for the IRGC and the Iranian hardliners ?

By Chloé de Radzitzky

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is a military revolutionary institution that was established by Khomeini in 1979. Its original duty was to protect the achievements of the Revolution. They are loyal to the Supreme Leader and are considered as a strong ally to the hardliners in Iran. This alliance between the conservative factions and this group can find its explanation in ideological and economic reasons.  The relationships between Iran and the US have been complicated since the revolution, and the IRGC has always been the first body to declare its distrust toward the West. The election of Rouhani in 2013, symbolizing the coming back of a pragmatic faction after the Ahmadinejad’s presidency and its more open position toward the West (with for instance the signature of the nuclear deal) has hired on IRGC’s interests and beliefs. The arrival of the Trump administration and its strong positions on Iran could be benefiting the hardliners and the IRGC, by indirectly helping them to come back in power in 2017. The future president has indeed declared to be willing to “stand up to Iran”[1] and that its first priority would be “to dismantle « the disastrous deal with Iran »”[2].

Trump’s election and its position towards Iran could benefit the hardliners. This political faction is characterized by a commitment to Khomeini’s conception of Iran’s relationship with the Western world, especially with the US.  The adoption of this old rhetoric about Iran, departing from the “olive branch” proposed by Obama comfort the hardliners believe concerning what should be the country’s foreign policy toward the West. As a former reformist official declared, « If Trump adopts a hostile policy towards Iran or scraps the deal, hardliners and particularly the IRGC will benefit from it ». The IRGC will benefit from it, not only because it shares hardliner’s position toward foreign policy; but also because it is going to discredit President Rouhani. Since the beginning of its mandate, the pragmatic president has tried to limit the power that the IRGC had gained during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The coming back of a hardliner leader could allow them to regain political power.

The IRGC is not only a military group, it is also an economic complex; and the arrival of Donald Trump and its declarations on cancelling the nuclear deal is likely to affect the group’s economic interest. The beginning of the IRGC economical function started during the reconstruction period. They started controlling the Khatam al-Anbi complex, which comprises a mix of companies involved in agriculture, education, industry, transportation, import …[3]. This economic power further expanded under Ahmadinejad, and their political loyalty was largely rewarded with state contracts by the Leader and the hardliners. The future of the Iranian nuclear deal is likely to affect the economic power of the organization. The IRGC sided with the Khameni for what concern the nuclear deal, distancing themselves from the hard-line position on that matter. They did so partly because they had an economic advantage in doing so, partly because their loyalty goes to the Supreme Leader. But if the implementation of the deal benefited to the IRGC by attracting foreign contractor and promoting economic growth, its cancellation would provide the group facing foreign competition. Hence, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington says “The IGRC is not a monolith. Some feel threatened by a deal that could open up the Iranian economy and force them to compete with major international companies”[4]. The abortion of the deal could also contribute to discredit Rouhani by enhancing the failure of its economic programme aiming to stop Iran isolationism.

To conclude, the IRGC is a powerful player in Iran, which is involved in what the West consider as terrorist operation. The organisation is loyal to the Supreme Leader, and tends to shares hardliners view on what should be Iranian politics. Relationship between Iran and the US cooled down a bit during Rouhani’s mandate, once the reformist faction came back after Ahmadinejad’s presidency. However, the game will change now that an American hardliners have taken over the White House. The Iranian moderate and pragmatic factions will appear as naïve for being willing to cooperate with the US. It might benefit to the hardliners factions and the IRGC. As a senior government official said to Reuters « The IRGC will use Trump’s win to convince the clerical rulers to give them more political and economic backing. This is what they have been hoping for since the deal was reached, »[5].


[1] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/11/trump-play-hands-iranian-hardliners-161124115749230.html

[2] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/11/trump-play-hands-iranian-hardliners-161124115749230.html

[3] Wehrey, F., Green, J.D., Nichiporuk, B., Nader, A., Hansell, L., Nafisi, R., Bohandy, S.R.,

  1. The Rise of the Pasdaran [WWW Document].

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-economy-insight-idUSKCN0PG1XV20150706

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-politics-guards-idUSKBN13G1NB