By Ali Ranjipour
July 2, 2021
In recent days the name Farhad Rahbar has come to the fore in Iranian media as being the likely first vice-president in President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s new cabinet.
Rahbar’s background complex, and others speculate he is more likely to be appointed minister of economy, budget chief at Iran’s Central Bank or even a minister of science, research and technology. The only thing beyond doubt is that he is one of Raisi’s closest allies, and will have a key role to play in future developments in the Iranian economy.
Who is Farhad Rahbar, what is his political and professional background, and what might qualify him for one of these top executive roles?
Farhid Rahbar’s Early Political Background in Iran
It was in 2005, around the same time as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured the presidency in Iran, that Farhid Rahbar’s name first came up in the media. By this time, though, Rahbar already had over a decade’s worth of managerial experience under his belt.
Back in 1989, the year Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani took over the presidency, Rahbar was afforded a five-year tenure as director-general of the Presidential Center for Strategic Studies. Then during the Mohammad Khatami presidency, he worked behind the scenes for three years as an economic deputy at the Ministry of Intelligence.
Then when the scandal of the chain murders came to light in the mid-2000s, which ultimately led to the dismissal of Intelligence Minister Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi in 2008, Rahbar left the Ministry and took on a full-time position at Tehran University’s faculty of economics.
For a period of two years and three months he also served as chairman of Iran’s Management and Planning Organization, after being appointed on August 23, 2007 on the request of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This entity was ultimately dissolved and it is not clear what role Rahbar had in this process, or what his relationship with Ahmadinejad had been in 2005 and 2006. During his tenure, though, he oversaw the implementation of schemes on targeted subsidies and gasoline quotas.
Economic and Political Partnership with Ebrahim Raisi
From 2013, after Hassan Rouhani came to power, Farhad Rahbar remained active in middling official positions such as vice-chairman of the strategic council for the Iranian National Tax Administration.
Farhad Rahbar and Ebrahim Raisi then appeared to draw closer after the latter was appointed head of powerful religious “charitable” institution the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation, which oversees the administration of the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, in February 2016.
That May, Farhad Rahbar was recruited as a “consultant” and secretary for the conglomerate’s Astan Quds Razavi Economic Workgroup. Twelve months later, he went along with Raisi to the Interior Ministry and registered alongside him as a candidate in the presidential election. Both failed in this endeavor, though, and Hassan Rouhani won a second term.
Farhad Rahbar was then made the president of Azad University in early July 2017. This came on the suggestion of the university’s board of trustees, with the approval of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. However, he is understood to have then had a fallout with Akbar Ali Velayati, a conservative politician and chair of the board, and his tenure there lasted a mere 13 months and three days.
Rahbar then resurfaced at the Interior Ministry in April 2021 – just in time to play a key role in Raisi’s presidential campaign. This time around, the result of the election was already set in stone. With Farhad Rahbar as his stage manager, Raisi sailed into the presidency.
Farhad Rahbar’s Scientific Background and Economic Views
“Classical economics creates an unconditional dependence on global arrogance [the Iranian regime’s word for imperialism], which is contrary to the beliefs of our nation.”
So said Farhad Rahbar during a televised debate 14 years ago, speaking out against Iran’s rolling five-year development plans, which are used as a blueprint for future development and shared with the international community. But under the bellicose rhetoric, and despite his long tenure in the economics department of Tehran University, Farhad Rahbar’s actual economic stance is still unclear.
Thus far at least, Rahbar has not articulated any specific idea or plan to deal with the ongoing financial crisis. He has not commented directly on any of the major challenges, such as the budget deficit, inflation, the devaluation of the toman or sanctions. In his few, scattered interviews, he has tended to rely on the same keywords that litter Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speeches, and on complimenting his political peers.
The academic articles published under his name at Tehran University are similarly opaque. Most do not go beyond heaping praise on Khamenei-branded obscure concepts such as the “resistance economy.” In an article entitled The Paradigm Model for Countering Economic Sanctions, which was published in winter 2017 in the quarterly National Defense Strategic Management, Rahbar addressed strategies such as “striving for self-sufficiency”, “raising people’s tolerance” and “using religious teachings”.
In another article, entitled Strategies of the Three Branches of Power of the Islamic Republic to Combat Economic Corruption, published in early 2018 in the quarterly National Security, Rahbar again offered almost no specific formula with which to combat institutional corruption. He did, however, continue to quote generalized past statements by the Supreme Leader.
IranWire’s View: Is Farhad Rahbar Qualified to Lead Iran Out of Economic Crisis?
In the view of this correspondent, the short answer is no. The scale of the economic crisis in Iran is now such that no short-term solution is conceivable. Regardless of any ideas that Raisi and those close to him may have – and if they do have any, they have not yet shared them – it will be impossible to compensate for the cumulative recession of the 2010s in Iran, or to curb inflation in the short term.
The lifting of sanctions might allow for some temporary growth. But the long-term impact of a decade of sanctions will not be erased any time soon. Enterprises large and small are in a black hole of liquidity and debt that no state-sponsored efforts will be able to pull them out of.
During campaigning for both the 2021 and 2017 presidential elections, Ebrahim Raisi repeatedly took a stab at populist signalling by claiming to have “saved” or “revived” several thousand “production units”.
The opposite was true; the regime suspended claims by the banks and gave them a deadline to call in overdue loans from bankrupt producers. When banks’ claims are suspended, their debts to the Central Bank increase, prompting greater liquidity and inflation. This in turn leads to producers sinking deeper and deeper into the red.
Once again, Farhad Rahbar’s exact role in these heroic gestures is unknown. All we know is that he was present at the time, as a seasoned economist, and not only allowed this to happen but did not articulate any better ideas himself. The absence of a publicly-stated economic plan by the Raisi administration at this stage is worrying enough; the fact that one of its potential key figures is still enamoured with Khamenei’s “resistance economy” is cause for serious alarm.