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Islamic revolution and Anfal

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The Islamic revolution is nothing but Islamic revivalism or the establishment of an Islamic state based on Sharia. In this paper, I focus on the Islamic revolution in Iran that has been exceptionally considered as a ‘social revolution’ targeting an overhaul of the economic institutions. Can the economic model of Islamic revivalism be reduced to one of the principal dichotomous models of state socialism or free market economy as suggested by many economists? It will be shown that Anfal or the Imam’s exclusive property over all public properties known as res nullius has been the major invention of the Islamic revivalism in Iran. This provides an independent Islamic model that has been left unnoticed by specialists in Islamic economics that can be characterized as a specific economic system, namely Islamic political capitalism. This system is not reducible to state socialism or competitive free markets. This paper fills the gap and demonstrates that Anfal institutionalizes a confiscatory regime enhancing a rent-seeking society hindering private property rights and competitive free markets.

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  1. Jama’at-i-Islami (Community of Islam) is an Islamic movement founded in 1941 in British India and was a political party till 1947 following partition of India by the Islamic author, theorist and political philosopher, Seyyed Abul Ala Maududi.

  2. It is a Persian expression for the guardianship of an Islamist jurist (Faqih or jurisconsult) who is vicegerent exercising delegated power on behalf of the Prophet and his righteous successors, namely the Imam. It pertains to a political system that underpins the way the Shi’i theologians govern Iran since the 1979 Revolution. In this system, all political and religious authority belongs to the Shi’i clergy and particularly to the Supreme Jurisconsult who makes all the state’s key decisions. The Supreme Leader as the representative of the Imam provides guardianship (Velayat) over the nation and secures the top-down Islamization of the sovereignty. Articles 5, 57, and 110 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran describe the scope of authority and various functions of the jurisconsult of the vicegerent.

  3. Abu Dahrr was the fourth or fifth person converting to Islam and was a member of Muhajrun (emigrants) who accompanied the Prophet in his emigration from Mecca to Medina. Abu Dharr is remembered for his strict piety and also his opposition to Muawiyah.

  4. Badr happened in 624 A.D. in what is modern-day Saudi Arabia’s province of Hejaz. It was the first defensive clash between the Meccans and the Muslim people of Medina after they fled from persecution in Mecca. This Surah is part of Madani Surahs (Surah Madaniyah) or Madani chapters of the Koran that were revealed at Medina after Muhammad’s hijra from Mecca. These Surahs often elaborate on moral principles, legislation, warfare, and principles for establishing the Muslim community (McAuliffe, 2006, p. 111).

  5. See Vahabi (2023, chapter 5) for the details regarding the Koranic and historical references to Anfal and the controversial issues between Sunnite and Shiite interpretations of Anfal.

  6. This is the author’s translation. For an alternative official translation see PURL: retrieved on September 10, 2021.

  7. See Iran (Islamic Republic of)’s Constitution of 1979 with Amendments through 1989,, retrieved on June 28, 2021.

  8. Revolving doors is the outcome of the intricate mechanism of the so-called ‘unethical’ but yet legal behavior: “In the last decade, the ‘revolving door’ phenomenon—defined as such when the heads of state agencies, after completing their bureaucratic terms, enter the very sector they have regulated—has intensified, and has been widely documented as having negative effects on the economy.” (Brezis & Cariolle, 2019, p. 595). The authors document its presence in many sectors including the pharmaceutical, telecommunication, and defense. Zingales (2015) underlines its significance particularly in the finance sector. According to an OECD report (2009), the revolving door has been one of the major causes of the 2008 crisis. Vukovic (2021) demonstrates the ‘political bailouts’ by exploring the relationship between political connections and corporate bailouts during 2008–2009.

  9. See Iran Data Portal,

  10. There are other estimations about the total value of assets. According to Mohsen Rezai (July 5, 2006), the total amount has been 1000 thousand billion Rials.

  11. Some Iranian economists, political scientists and sociologists prefer the term ‘neoliberal’.

  12. Mir-Hossein Mousavi served as the seventy-ninth and last Prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989. He was known as an advocate of a statist program during the Khomeini’s era and then became one of the two so-called ‘Reformist’ candidates along with Mehdi Karoubi against the administration of incumbent President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the 2009 presidential election. According to official results, he did not win the election, and following alleged vote-rigging and manipulation, his campaign sparked a long protest that eventually turned into a national and international movement against Ahmadinejad’s government and the Supreme jurisprudent Ali Khamenei. Mousavi chose green as his campaign color, and his opposition ‘reformist’ movement was known as the Green Movement. Although he insisted on his loyalty to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he, his wife and Mehdi Karroubi were detained at their residence and are currently under house arrest.

  13. This term was often used by many radical and leftist economists who had a strong sympathy for the ‘popular anti-imperialist’ and so-called ‘equalitarian’ tendencies of the IRI during 1979–1989.

  14. “The private sector is defined as a sector composed of all companies and associations in which 80 percent of their shares belong directly or indirectly through legal persons to natural persons.” (Najafi Khah, 2016, p. 123).


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Vahabi, M. Islamic revolution and Anfal. Public Choice (2023).

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