The Revolutionary Guard: From Protecting Clergies to Vehicle of Repression
By: Majid Mohammadi (Sociologist)
Iran Briefing : The Revolutionary Guard is undoubtedly a significant political force in the political structure of the Islamic Republic, though its real function for the Islamic Republic establishment might be a matter of dispute.
The current economic, media, and military-security power of the Revolutionary Guard and its commanders is well beyond the needs of the clerical establishment and the clergies for whose protection the Revolutionary Guard was initially created.
As far as financial resources and revenue are concerned, only the Supreme Leader and its affiliated organizations are wealthier than the Revolutionary Guard and its commanders. Even the government’s revenue is to some extent taken away by the Revolutionary Guard and the organizations associated with the Supreme Leader. Moreover, the Revolutionary Guard is the only revolutionary institution created following the 1979 Islamic revolution which has been able to accumulate so much power.
What has been the relationship between the Revolutionary Guard and the clergies, between the Revolutionary Guard and the regime, and the Revolutionary Guard and the country during past 33 years? What did the Revolutionary Guard look like in 1980? How does it look in 2012? Is it a giant business, a political organization, an ideological institution, an organized army, a semi-organized army, a military-industrial complex, or all of them together? What is the relationship between the Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader, between the Revolutionary Guard and the government, parliament and other regimes’ institutions? Is the Revolutionary Guard a homogenous body?
Guardians of Clergies
The initial function of the Revolutionary Guard in Iran was to protect the clergies. The Revolutionary Guard was primarily set up not to protect the country’s security or even the revolution, but to protect the security of clergies and the ruling class. The revolutionary committees, which were formed shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution, were tasked to protect the security of infrastructures and urban areas. The early members of the Revolutionary Guard were appointed as bodyguards of the clergies and the regime’s officials. Those who later realized what they were doing and the real role of the Revolutionary Guard left it quickly. The next function of the Revolutionary Guard between 1980 to 1983 was repression of opposition to the clerical establishment. Such function led to the promotion of the Revolutionary Guard from merely protecting the clergies to the guardians of clerical regime. As a matter of fact, it was through this role that members of the Revolutionary Guard later founded the intelligence ministry.
The Iran-Iraq war later expanded the Revolutionary Guard’s role as protector of the clerical establishment. The country must have been cleansed from the Baathists, so that it could remain in the hands of clergies. In the ideology of Islamists, there was no place for patriotism. Prior to the Iran-Iraq war, each group of the Revolutionary Guard’s members was loyal to particular group of clergies. However, the Iran-Iraq war provided the Supreme Leader with a golden opportunity to keep the Revolutionary Guard exclusively loyal to himself. Members of the Revolutionary Guard were no longer guardians of the clergies, revolution or the country, but of the Supreme Leader. For the Revolutionary Guard, the Islamic revolution was defined, and still is being defined, as a clerical movement which ushered in leadership of Guardianship of the Jurists.
The Revolutionary Guard’s Real Identity
The Revolutionary Guard’s legal task is to protect the Islamic Republic at whatever cost and by whatever means possible. Following the Iran-Iraq war, the Revolutionary Guard became another Imperial Guard, the personal guard force of the Shah of Iran and an elite combat branch of the Imperial Iranian Army, with a task to protect the Supreme Leader. That is why the absolute power of the Islamists is called “divine light,” repression of the dissenters is called “divine’s victory,” and opposition to the decisions taken by the regime’s officials is called “sedition.”
“In various occasions like what happened during the bitter period of the so-called reform era which was to extinguish the divine light, members of the Basij militia have made numerous sacrifices to protect this revolution and the Islamic system. Following the revival of the Islamic values and resistance of the Supreme Leader and the people, enemies did all they could in order to hinder the Islamic Republic’s progress through the so-called soft or velvet revolution. But with sacrifices made by the people especially by members of the Basij militia, the 2009 sedition, which was a difficult test, was defeated by the people, and it was followed by divine’s victory,” Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guard, Fars news agency, October 8, 2011.
Due to lack of social popularity, Khamenei knew from the early days of his leadership that he needed a strong military force with the ability to repress any sort of dissident in order to protect the regime of Guardian of the Jurists. That is why he resisted any attempt to merge the Revolutionary Guard with the regular army, which has a task to protect the national security.
“Hashemi Rafsanjani had a plan to merge the Revolutionary Guard with the regular army prior to the leadership of the current Supreme Leader, Khamenei. Numerous meetings were held by Mr. Abdollah Nouri to to work out ways for merger of the Revolutionary Guard with the regular army. However, the Supreme Leader from the early days of his leadership raised opposition to the plan, and the plan ceased to be implemented. The Supreme Leader believed that the Revolutionary Guard and the regular army have to remain two separate institutions with different duties,” Rahim Safavi, Former Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guard, in an Interview with Fars news agency, February 7, 2012.
The Revolutionary Guard, like the Supreme Leader, is an extrajudicial and irresponsible power whose duty is to protect the theocratic regime, and it can take any shape to handle its duties. The Revolutionary Guard’s footprint is visible everywhere from shipping companies to drug trafficking mafias, from sending jamming signals for disrupting satellite channels to movie making firms, from publishing newspapers to publishing houses, and from banks to antiques dealing. No commander of the Revolutionary Guard and no defense minister, who is traditionally chosen among commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, has so far been questioned by members of the parliament. In fact, the parliament is not at all in a position to question the Revolutionary Guard. There are rare cases of criticism against the Revolutionary Guard in newspapers. And whenever there is criticism against the Revolutionary Guard in newspapers (like the critical article over Mosala of Tehran which was covered by Asr-e-Azadegan newspaper) it would be faced with an iron fist.
The Revolutionary Guard’s Interference in Politics
All three branches of the Islamic Republic regime , the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, must be subservient to the Revolutionary Guard and its members, and they have to be able to serve the interests of the Revolutionary Guard. If any of the mentioned branches including the government fail to serve the Revolutionary Guard’s interests, or if they fail to obey the Supreme Leader, it would be subject to the Revolutionary Guard’s severe punishment. (Like what happened after Ahmadinejad sacked his intelligence minister and refused to reinstate him following the Supreme Leader’s order, or when the Revolutionary Guard brought its military aircrafts in Imam Khomeini Airport during Khatami’s presidency in order to force him to give the contract to the Revolutionary Guard for building the airport.) The discrepancy between the Revolutionary Guard and the governments of Khatami and Ahmadinejad was automatically solved when the airport fell under the control of the Revolutionary Guard during Khatami’s presidency , and when the Oil Ministry fell under the control of the Revolutionary Guard during Ahmadinejad’ presidency.
By appointing its members in key positions in the government ,the Parliament and the Judiciary, the Revolutionary Guard has practically taken hold over all the decision making centers in the regime’s three branches. And if those appointed by the Revolutionary Guard appear to be taking wrong steps they would be immediately replaced with others.
The government’s high ranking officials are unlikely to be faced with problems as long as they are at the service of the Revolutionary Guard.
The Revolutionary Guard is Homogenous
Although middle and lower ranking members of the Revolutionary Guard (not commanders) might have different political propensities, they are all loyal to the Islamic Republic and are committed to preserve it. There is hardly any case of opposition to the Supreme Leader and to the Islamic Republic by members of the Revolutionary Guard. The regime’s concessions to the Revolutionary Guard, which was a heterogeneous institution till the late 80s, turned the Revolutionary Guard to an homogenous body.
Khamenei preferred to contaminate the members of the Revolutionary Guard in order to buy their loyalty and to make it an homogenous institution. A majority of the high ranking commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, who basically opted in to the Revolutionary Guard for ideological reasons, are economically corrupted, and that is exactly what has made them vulnerable to the power of a dictator. That clearly speaks of the fact why no commander of the Revolutionary Guard resigned amid the heavy crackdown on protesters following the 2009 disputed presidential election. Ali Khamenie had to rely on a strong military force to offset the loss of political legitimacy he sustained especially during the 2000s. It was in that framework that the Revolutionary Guard could, in one hand, take numerous concessions from the regime, and in other hand, relegate its duty as protector of Guardianship of the Jurists to protector of Ali Khamenie. By offering their loyalty to Ali Khamenie, the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard were able to take hold over the country and its affairs. Such a deal can be tempting for any group. Advantages of the deal have so far kept the Revolutionary Guard’s commanders alongside each other. However, the cracks are going to start to emerge only when the deal loses its appeal. Therefore, a critical letter written by one member of the Revolutionary Guard cannot be interpreted as a sign of fissure in the Revolutionary Guard which has become a vehicle of repression for the regime. Only the disruption in distribution of lucrative privileges can cause serious rift among the Revolutionary Guard’s members. Sanctions imposed on Iran’s oil and banking system are highly likely to cause that rift.
The Revolutionary Guard is Omnipresent
As the military arm of Guardianship of the Jurists, the Revolutionary Guard is ready to step in whenever the Supreme Leader requires it to do so. “Taking into account the threats facing the Islamic Republic, and the size of the Revolutionary Guard with the Basij Militia as its affiliated organ, the Revolutionary Guard is not only the Supreme Leader’s capable and strong military arm, but also his non-military arm. The Supreme Leader has placed no limitation against the Revolutionary Guard to conduct its duty to defend the Islamic Republic,” Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander-Chief of the Revolutionary Guard, Fars news agency, October 9, 2011.
No limitation means providing the Revolutionary Guard with a license to work as a gigantic firm, as a political organization, as an ideological body, as an organized army, as a semi-organized army, as industrial-military complex, or all of them together. Universities, foreign business, oil sector, media and the country’s communication and information infrastructures are the most important areas where the Revolutionary Guard exercises its social and political control. That is why the state-run TV, oil ministry, the country’s foreign business, and the country’s telecommunication networks are being totally run by the Revolutionary Guard.
The Revolutionary Guard’s Grip on Universities
The Revolutionary Guard not only has created its operational bases in all universities (the Student Basij), but also it is directing the universities’ educational and research programs to its own end.
“Universities should allocate 50% of their capacity to promote defensive capability. All universities must move in line with this strategy,” Kamran Daneshjoo, Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Khabar Online, October 18, 2011.
Compulsory military subjects in the universities’ curriculums has led the Revolutionary Guard’s members to move into universities. A majority of faculty members are chosen among the Revolutionary Guard’s members, and being a member of the Student Basij guarantees job opportunities after graduation. Due to its grip on major part of the country’s economy, the Revolutionary Guard is among the biggest institutions employing specialized work force.
Costly Expenses of Concessions
Of course the aforementioned concessions are not without cost for the Revolutionary Guard. The Revolutionary Guard has to pay back for two things. First, they have to be ready to kill as many of the opposition when the Islamic Republic is trapped in critical situation. “The blood of those who dare to rise up against the Islamic Revolution and Islam must be shed. Members of the MKO, Mujahedin Khalgh Organization, and the seditionists who sparked the 2009 riot are among those whose blood must be shed,” Saeedi, the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Revolutionary Guard, Tabnak, November 17, 2011.
Members of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij Militia must shed the people’s blood, so that the Islamic Republic Remains strong and intact. Those who take concessions must remain devoted to the clergies and regime’s officials. The Islamic Republic has created a mechanism that those who enjoy the concessions will not be able to hide themselves at the time of crisis.
Second, the opposition’s goal has been made clear. Today it is clear that in order to weaken or destroy the system the Revolutionary Guard has to be targeted. Even the clergies are not the prime target, because without the support of the Revolutionary Guard the clergies are not able to maintain the Islamic system even for an hour. The Revolutionary Guard has become powerful because of concessions it has taken from the regime, but that has made it susceptible too. Nearly, all the economic and political sanctions imposed by the western countries have targeted the Revolutionary Guard. In case of military attack, the Revolutionary Guard’s bases would be the prime targets. Collapse of the Revolutionary Guard would be tantamount to the collapse and demise of the Islamic Republic and Islamic regime in Iran.
Source : Radio Farda
English translation of this report is exclusive to Iran Briefing