With the coming of the Persian New Year in late March, the government of Hassan Rouhani recently presented Iran’s 2021 budget bill to the parliament. The bill, proposed to parliament on December 2 by Iran’s Vice-President, Hossein-Ali Amiri, has raised the budget for 21 religious institutions by 50%. This is while half the Iranian population lives in absolute poverty according to official figures.
How much are religious institutions getting?
Many Iranians have not even heard of the Al-Mustafa International University, which is getting a budget of 465 billion tomans, 157 billion tomans more than this year. The “university” has been established to spread Shia Islam around the world. According to the former head of the institution, the university has successfully converted 50 million people to Shia Islam. This is while there are only around 400 million Shias in the world.
The regime’s Seminaries are also getting a budget raise according to the 2021 budget bill. The Religious Seminaries Services Center will get a 20% increase with an overall budget of 100 billion tomans, equivalent to the budget of Iran’s Ministry of Education.
With 691 billion tomans, the Supreme Council of Religious Seminaries’ budget has almost doubled in size. Compare that to the Department of Environment’s budget which is only 590 billion tomans. The Policy Council of the Sisters’ Religious Seminaries will get a separate budget of 325 billion tomans.
The Policy Council of Friday Imams, tasked with preaching the Supreme Leader’s rhetoric every Friday in mosques, will get more than 35 billion tomans.
The Rouhani administration has allocated more than 34 billion tomans to publish the writings of the long-dead founder of the Islamic Republic, Rohullah Khomeini. Another 18 million will be spent to tend his lavish 2-billion-dollar mausoleum in southern Tehran. A group of clerics will get another 23.5 billion tomans, 4.5 billion more than this year, to conduct research about Khomeini’s ideas.
The Islamic Advertising Organization will receive 361 billion tomans, 160 billion more than this year, to spread the regime’s propaganda.
Many of these institutions are exempt from taxes and are not held accountable for their expenditure.
The budget increase for religious institutions has even led to criticism from regime officials.
“All of these institutions eat up 100 billion tomans. Considering people’s livelihood problems, it was expected that… this 100 billion be allocated to impoverished regions,” Former member of parliament Ali Nazari wrote in a tweet.
Mohammad Reza Zaeri, a cleric who runs a regime affiliated weekly and is often interviewed by state-run TV also criticized the budget.
“If it was up to me, I would cut off the government budget for all religious institutions so they would have to struggle… and understand the dissatisfaction of the people,” the hardline cleric wrote on Instagram.
Most Iranians not only do not adhere to but despise the regime’s brand of Islam. During major protests in 2019, Iranians chanted, “We don’t want an Islamic Republic” and specifically targeted the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is at the core of the regime’s ideology.
Other institutions according to the 2021 budget bill
After Qods Commander Qasem Soleimani was killed by the US early this year, a so-called cultural institution was set up in his name. Now the bonyad, run by his daughter, will get 8.5 billion tomans to “promote the thoughts and actions” of the number one terrorist in the world and the second most powerful man in Iran “at the international and national level”.
The biggest budget increase for a cultural institution was awarded to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting or the IRIB. Iran’s state-run TV will get a 50% budget increase to continue to spread the regime’s lies and ideology making cheesy TV shows and series. This is while most Iranians have shunned state-run TV and even chant slogans against the IRIB during protests.
The proposed budget for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), tasked with domestic suppression and terrorism abroad, is more than 38,564 billion tomans which shows a 58% increase compared to last year.
The army’s proposed budget will get a 53% increase, while the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SEPAND), formerly headed by the now dead Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, will see a 500% increase, from 40 billion to 245 billion tomans.
The Ministry of Defense also has a 75% increase in next years’ proposed budget, receiving 379,400 billion tomans.
In the 2021 budget bill, the budget for military institutions has increased by 11% and is more than the budget allocated to health. This is while more than 177,000 Iranians have died from COVID-19 and according to the General Director of the Medical Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran is considered in the top five countries in terms of the COVID-19 death rate.