“The Owj Arts and Media Organization:” An Iranian NGO, tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, plays a central role in the struggle for hearts and minds at home and abroad

Source:  The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center At the Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center

 

Main Argument

The Arts and Media Owj Organization (literally: “climax”) is a non-governmental organization operating in Iran since the spring of 2011. The organization initiates, leads and promotes activity in the spheres of art and culture inspired by the values of the Islamic Revolution and in accordance with the official ideology of the Iranian regime. The Owj organization is tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the content distributed by it is used to promote radical worldviews reflective of the position of the Iranian regime and the revolutionary current in Iran. The productions of the organization reflect a critical position toward the nuclear policy adopted by President Rouhani, deep hostility toward the United States, Israel and recently Saudi Arabia as well. The anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist activism of the organization includes, among other facets, involvement in Holocaust denial and production of movies and television serials that reflect anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic views.

Tehran by Owj, titled “American-style honesty” (ISNA, October 26, 2013). The purpose of the posters was to warn Iranians involved in the nuclear negotiations not to trust their American counterparts. On the left: a poster from a competition titled “Death to America” that was organized by Owj (Tasnim, October 23, 2013)

 

  • The Owj organization operates through centers specializing in specific fields, such as: production of feature films, production of documentary movies, graphic design, production of short videos, productions for children and youth, etc. As part of its activities, the organization produces a wide variety of content that is distributed through feature films, documentaries, television series, billboards, books, computer games, poetry nights and more. A large share of the Owj organization’s work currently focuses on the cinema and television industries in Iran. In recent years, the organization has become one of the central institutions involved in this industry, producing hundreds of movies and television programs.
  • Although most of the Owj Organization’s work is focused on Iran, it began carrying out cultural activities beyond Iran’s borders, in particular in Syria and Iraq. The activities of the organization in Syria and Iraq are part of Iran’s efforts to employ soft power to secure its interests in the region (along with “hard power”) and entrench its hold over these countries in part through economic, religious and cultural activities. Over the past two years, the organization has also played a role in the propaganda campaign waged by Iranian authorities in an effort to rally Iranian public opinion to support Iran’s ongoing military involvement in Syria and Iraq as well as to forestall internal criticism against these interventions. In addition, the organization is involved in commemoration of Iranian fighters killed in the military campaigns in Syria and Iraq.
  • In recent years, Iranian and Western media connected the Owj organization to the IRGC. The claims that the organization receives financial support from the IRGC were recently confirmed by the organization’s director, who declared in February 2018 that he is proud that his organization receives financial support for its activities from the IRGC. The IRGC’s backing of the organization also involves logistical support for Owj’s activities, for example by granting permits for filming movies on sites used by the IRGC. This support for the Owj organization provides the IRGC with an additional channel for activity and influence in the spheres of media and culture, as well as direct involvement in content distributed to the general public. At the same time, this involvement in artistic and cultural work has also aroused internal criticism.
  • In summary, in recent years, the Owj organization has emerged as a central Iranian institution that plays an increasingly expansive role in promoting cultural activities and spreading radical messages in line with the ideology of the regime and in accordance with the principles of the Islamic Revolution. The significant resources at its disposal, its ties to the IRGC and its worldview, which is aligned with the official ideology of the regime, make the Owj Organization into a leading player in the intensive hearts and minds campaign waged by the Islamic Republic internally and regionally.
The structure of the report
  • The report includes the following chapters:
    • The Owj organization: establishment, mission and modes of action
    • Evolution of Owj’s activities
    • Owj’s extensive work in the Iranian film and TV industries
    • Criticism of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) and hostility toward the United States and Saudi Arabia
    • Owj’s involvement in the hearts and minds campaigns in Syria, Iraq, the Shi’ite world and Saudi Arabia
    • Anti-Israel activity and Holocaust denial
    • Owj’s ties to the IRGC