Saturday, March 10, 2007

Perspective: Iran's successful blend -- charity, ideology

Moqtada al-Sadr's organization has paid for surgery for poor Iraqis at Shariati Hospital in Teheran under a cooperative charity arrangement.

TEHRAN, IRAN - Masumeh Delavar's life was in ruins a decade ago, and getting an education seemed a distant dream.

"My parents had died, and the rest of the family were drug addicts," says the soft-spoken art student, as she tells of her rescue by Iran's largest charity, the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation.

"This is the best thing that has happened to me," says Ms. Delavar, sitting Thursday with a handful of young women with similar stories at a Tehran women's shelter run by the charity. She wants to finish her university degree, find a job, and "be independent" – steps all paid for or heavily subsidized. "If I had stayed home, I would not have any of these opportunities."

Iran Thursday marked an annual day of giving to the charity, known as Komiteh Emdad in Farsi, which is named after the founder of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Today, Emdad reaches 4.5 million of Iran's 68 million residents, and by its own tally caters for 92 percent of Iran's poorest people in 52,800 towns and villages.

From its inception before 1979 – when it had no name, and focused on sustaining the families of strikers challenging the government of pro-Western Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi – this organization has grown along with the Islamic Republic, using charity to win public loyalty and support for clerical rule.

This Iranian example – of translating good works that range from job creation, bank loans, and orphan care to building cheap housing, into political power – has been copied by the Shiite militant group Hizbullah in Lebanon, and to a lesser degree by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor