Meir Javedanfar argues that “a quiet revolution ... has been taking place in Iran since 2001, in which both political and economic power is gradually being taken away from the clergy, and transferred to non-clerical revolutionary figures.”

There is also substantial evidence that Iranian public opinion has turned against political clergy and clergy in political control.

Can we have confidence in this projected shift of power away from clergy in Iran? If so, what would be the consequences of such as shift?

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Here is a highly pertinent discussion of this question by Rasool Nafisi from "Tehran Bureau":

The Death of the Republic and the Rise of a Militarized Islamic State in Iran

By RASOOL NAFISI | 6 July 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Comment The momentous June presidential election in Iran and its bloody aftermath will probably be remembered as a turning point in the life of this strange republic. The true face of the state, so meticulously hidden beneath a confusing veneer of “Islamic democracy,” surfaced in its true form—something conveniently forgotten after eight years of reformist rule.

Putting aside any pretense to civility or an electoral system, the Islamists adhered to what they know best: brutality. The June 12 aftermath dealt a major blow to the hope for a realignment of Islam and a representative state. In lieu of a hybrid Islamic Republic, a militarized regime emerged in earnest, a regime that had been taking shape since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his mark in the 2005 elections, and which is now embodied by a coalition of actors including Ahmadinejad, supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC).

Many scholars continue to wonder about the nature of the regime. The question is not whether it is some form of indigenous democracy as was purported, but instead, what is the role and influence of the clergy? In other words, is Iran still a clerical state? If not, what is the dosage of clerical power in the mix of this rather militaristic state?

The Islamic Republic has been in a state of metamorphosis over the past four years. In fact the state was never purely clerical. The war with Iraq during the 1980’s changed and twisted it at its onset. Symbolically, the post-revolution clergy carried rifles when leading Friday prayers. The merger of the military/security man and the clergy was intensified when clerics were dispatched to the war fronts, and became ideological commissars of the new regime. They inspired soldiers with recitations of the pain and sufferings of the martyred imams. In the meantime, they spied on officers and tried to convert them to the new politicized Islam. So what happened, in reality, was the conversion of the clergy to a military-security ethos, not the other way around.

Clerics such as Khamenei, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Hassan Lahooti were among the first cadres put in charge of military personnel and commissioned by Ayatollah Khomeini to create the IRGC, a security apparatus designed to run parallel to the state’s army, navy and air force. Khamenei quickly learned where the center of the state’s gravity rests, and consequently, never left the security forces. Today Khamenei is the consummate security-military cleric. As the commander in chief, Khamenei probably knows more about military and security issues than about traditional Figh and Shi’ite narratives. A militaristic state, vested in a clerical robe, and aided and abetted by uncountable Basij militia, extends its tentacles to all corners of society.

Never mind that the state can rapidly resume its “Islamic” façade whenever the need arises. Clad in burial shroud, scores of Qum seminary students are always ready to parade around vigilantly in order to demonstrate their readiness to fend off the enemies of Islam, while underscoring their belief in the sanctity of the regime at the same time.

The June election and the ensuing bloodbath served the purpose of bringing the regime’s regressive aspect to light. And it does not look good. By conducting more than twenty national elections in the past thirty years, the Islamic republic trained people in the ways of democracy. The June uprising was squarely a national call for more democracy, imbued by two months of real campaigning and six televised debates. To have curtailed the process would help neither the nation nor the state. But it was bound to happen. In all likelihood the new militarized regime will find no benefit in continuing the democracy game and it will in turn rely almost exclusively upon the traditional forms of hereditary republicanism, one that is more similar to the Syrian and North Korean models.

At the same time, it is unlikely that urbanites will place their bets on another election. In fact, it may be the very intent of the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-IRGC cabal to do away with the un-doable all together, and to assert the “Islamic state” prima facie.

The Islamic state so cherished by the likes of Ayatollah Messbah-Yazdi has now materialized. Messbah-Yazdi’s close follower, Ahmadinejad, celebrated the end of the Islamic Republic with the following words in a meeting with the employees of the Judiciary in late June: “Communism, liberalism and democracy are all dead; it is high time for [the rise of an] Islamic State.” What he did not spell out was this: The Islamic State wears boots and parades in military fatigue.

I take Mir Hossein Mousavi at his word when he announced he was coming out of political isolation because he was alarmed by the events threatening the essence of the Islamic Republic. As a romantic revolutionary still loyal to the outlandish ideals of his master Al Shariati for a “just Islamic government,” he bemoans what he perceives as a total departure from those ideals. Large segments of the clerical establishment apparently felt the same way when they came out against the election results. They are all rightfully anxious about what seems to be the end of clerical hegemony as they know it. The clerical rupture that followed the June events is quite telling. The entire body of the moderate clerics militated against what they felt was a mortal blow to Islamic republicanism.

Sensing the death knell of the clerical state, even hardline Ayatollahs such as Nasser Makarem-Shirazi distanced themselves from the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-IRGC coalition. Breaking his mysterious silence, the quintessential dealmaker Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani summarized the worries of those who feel betrayed: ”Today no clear conscience can accept what is going on in the country.”

The republican wing of the Islamic state was clipped on June 12 proper. What ensued were several desperate attempts at rebellion, incited by urbanites who were no longer blind to republican claims of the Islamic state. To lead their cause, they chose anguished clerics and romantic revolutionaries who were equally distraught. The new regime on the other hand pursued the trodden path of dictatorships, past and present, disrupting communications at the national level and raising the level of intimidation by brute force. The Chief of the Judiciary ordered all regions to clamp down on homeowners’ television receptors and internet “abusers.”

Prosecutor General Dorri-Najafabadi promised to teach the demonstrators in detention “a lesson they will never forget.” The lesson was indeed well rehearsed, and well received: It is the end of a great experiment, one intended to mix Islam and representative government. But the Sunday July 5 speech of Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC summarized the situation rather well. He clearly stated that the Guards are in charge of the country now. And accordingly, this had led to “a revival of the revolution and clarification of the value positions of the establishment at home and abroad.” He went on: “These events put us in a new stage of the revolution and political struggles, and all of us must fully comprehend its dimensions.”

To the romantic this is a tragedy, but to a detached observer it is just another romantic tantalization in the line of many in the twentieth century which was doomed to fail from its inception.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau
[Here is another posting from "Tehran Bureau" , which also sends daily updates by email.]

Introducing the Psst column, on the advice of a journalist friend. Items in Psst mean that it’s coming from a good source, but that it has not been independently verified.

PSST: More than any other city, even Tehran, Qom is reportedly under tight military control

[Translated] Since the presidential election of June 12, 2009, Qom has been encircled by police. The government wants to get rid itself of the ayatollahs, such that only 2 or 3 of them remain, that is because the great majority of the ayatollahs are opposed to the government and the Supreme Leader.

There are more military personnel in the city than there are seminary students. The coup ring is squeezing Qom’s throat more than it does Tehran’s in an attempt to suffocate it and prevent it from protesting.

A public explosion of anger and protest is under Qom’s “skin,” waiting to happen. Those who have contacts in many parts of the government have confirmed this.

Similar to the entire government bureaucracy in Qom province, more than 90% of all the people who work in the Office of Islamic Guidance of Qom [part of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance] voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi. There have been spirited debates and discussions among them, even after the election, in favor of Mousavi, and, in fact, there has been a 180 degree turn in their behavior and beliefs.

But, suddenly, a decision was made — and it is not even clear who made it — to fire most of the people who work in the Office of Islamic Guidance. On Monday June 6, most of them staged a sit-in in front of the Imam Khomeini Educational Institute, which is controlled by [ayatollah Mohammad Taghi] Mesbah Yazdi on Islamic Republic Boulevard, after Amin Boulevard [Mesabah Yazdi is a hard-line reactionary ayatollah and the spiritual guide of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad]. Many of them were arrested by police.

All of this to prevent the waves of protest and demonstrations from reaching Qom; if Qom does get involved with the protests, the religious legitimacy of Ayatollah Khamenei and his government will fall [further] into question. It is for this reason that any protest is immediately quashed, at inception. But pressure by people — both here in Qom and elsewhere — on the ayatollahs is at present stronger than any other time in memory.

N.B. Mehdi Khalaji, who is with the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy, suggests otherwise: “Shiite Clerical Establishment Supports Khamenei”
"It is not a theocracy anymore. It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system."-Rasool Nafisi, an expert in Iranian affairs and a co-author of an exhaustive study of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards corps for the RAND Corporation, describing the events surrounding the June 12 presidential election as a military coup. (New York Times, July 21)
TOWNHALL.COM Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revolutionary Guard tightens hold in Iran crisis


The Revolutionary Guard tightened its already powerful hold over Iran during the post-election turmoil, raising alarm among some Iranians that it is transforming the Islamic Republic into a military state.

The elite force and an affiliated volunteer militia, the Basij, led the crackdown against street protesters who claim mass fraud in the June 12 election after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in a landslide. At least 20 protesters have been killed in clashes and hundreds detained.

The Revolutionary Guard weighed in at key moments of the crisis.
Two days before the election, with the reformists' Western-style campaign at its zenith, the Guard warned it would crush any attempt at a popular "revolution." A few days after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admonished demonstrators in a Friday prayer sermon to stop protests or face the consequences, the Guard followed up with its sternest warning to prepare for a "revolutionary confrontation" if protesters take to the streets again. A harsh crackdown followed.

The Guard was created following the 1979 Islamic revolution as an ideological force to defend Iran's clerical rule and root out the enemies of the newly born Islamic Republic. The 120,000-strong force has its own ground, naval, air and missile units and is believed to be better armed and equipped than the far larger regular military.

On top of its enormous military power, the force in recent years has amassed a network of economic and political power extending to virtually every aspect of life in Iran. Now some fear it has gone beyond protecting the system to dominating it. Even Khamenei may have become overly dependent on the Guards, some experts say.

The Guard is also believed to be the vanguard for Iran's ties with militant groups abroad, providing training for Hezbollah in Lebanon and, the U.S. says, Shiite militants in Iraq. That has led Washington to brand the force as a supporter of terrorism.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims he won the presidential election, and other pro-reform leaders appealed to Iran's top Shiite religious figures over the weekend to speak out against the growing crackdown. They warned of "the spread of tyranny in the Islamic Republic system."

Last week, Mousavi warned Iranian society was becoming "more militarized" and being pushed into a "near coup d'etat atmosphere." He said security forces must adhere to the constitution to guarantee the voice of the people in decision-making.

But the Guard's power has been building for a long time and isn't likely to stop, Iran expert Frederic Tellier said.
"The current crisis is less a coup d'etat than the final phase of their conquest of power and a likely foretaste of a far more ruthless and systematic political purge to come," said Tellier of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
He predicted the force's final grab of the reins of power in Iran may come after the death of 70-year-old Khamenei, when they can impose a new political model: a collective leadership or outright military rule.

In recent years, the Guard has extended its power far beyond the military. It controls a multibillion dollar business empire, built up during reconstruction from the devastation of the 1980-88 war with neighboring Iraq.

Guard's companies now routinely land lucrative construction contracts in oil, gas and farming industries. They run networks of clinics and are believed to also control unauthorized docks to bring in much sought-after consumer goods to be sold on the black market.

Service in the Guard has become a stepping stone to national politics. Ahmadinejad and at least five members of his first term Cabinet are thought to be former Guard officers _ including defense, energy, justice and interior. The parliament speaker, many parliament members, Tehran's mayor and the head of the state radio and TV network also are thought to have served in the Guard.

"They are the breeding ground of a second generation of Islamic leaders who seek to preserve, if not radicalize, the revolution's ideals, master advanced technology such as nuclear energy, ensure Iran emerges as a regional power and acquire greater financial and political assets within the system," said Tellier.

Perhaps even more important is their bond with Khamenei, who stands at the top of Iran's clerical hierarchy and directly appoints Guard's commanders.

"The Guards and Khamenei have a symbiotic relationship. In return for their support of Khamenei, the Guards have become one of the most powerful political and economic institutions in Iran," said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert with the RAND. Corp., a Washington-based research center.
"But it appears that Khamenei may have become too dependent on the Guards," Nader said. "The recent presidential election dispute showed that Khamenei must rely on the security forces, especially the Guards, to keep his political opponents out of power."

Along with its own forces, the Guard governs the Basij, a sprawling volunteer civilian force that some estimate to number a million members. Basijis include plainclothes militiamen who have been seen and taped beating and shooting protesters. But others also volunteer in government offices, companies and other institutions, keeping an eye on the ideological loyalties of co-workers.

Like hard-line clerics, Guard commanders have depicted the protest movement that erupted in support of Mousavi as a plot to foment a "soft revolution" backed by foreign enemies and aimed at toppling Iran's clerical leadership.
In a speech earlier this month, Guard chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari opened the door for even more aggressive Basij action.

"Basij efforts should not be limited to the military dimension," he said. "This force must be prepared to neutralize the soft threat and a range of plots by the enemy on the political, economic, cultural and social levels."
He also said government officials must help Basijis in their mission.

Other Guard commanders have been fanning out across the country spreading their message.
Gen. Mohammad Ismail Saeedi told university students in Tabriz this week they should be trained on resisting a "soft revolution."
Associated Press reporter Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this report.

Showdown between Khamenei and IRGC?

Who’s really in charge? Is there a confrontation looming between Iran’s supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard?

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 28 July 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] analysis Two important developments over the past few days suggest that a possible confrontation may be under way between Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, and the high command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One development was the order issued by Ayatollah Khamenei overruling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his First Vice President (Iran’s president has eight vice presidents). The second was the firing of ultra hardliner Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei, the Minister of Intelligence.

A reliable source in Tehran told the author that both episodes were meant to be signals by the IRGC’s high command to Ayatollah Khamenei that they were in control, and that he should toe the line — their line. According to the source, Ayatollah’s Khamenei’s order to fire Mashaei was delivered to the Voice and Visage (VaV) of the Islamic Republic (Iran’s national radio and television network) on the day Mashaei was appointed by Ahmadinejad. The VaV was asked to announce the order on national television and radio, but Ezzatollah Zarghami, the director of VaV and a former officer in the IRGC, refused to do so.

As if to make sure that the Ayatollah got the message loud and clear, it took Ahmadinejad one week to relent and go along with the order. And it was only then that the VaV broadcast the Ayatollah’s order. When he did accept the order, Ahmadinejad sent the Supreme Leader a terse and very formal letter, devoid of the usual praises that his past letters to Ayatollah Khamenei have carried. The letter was considered by many supporters of the Ayatollah as a total insult; but also a clear signal. In order to further demonstrate his defiance, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei, a close relative and friend, as his chief of staff and special adviser.

According to the source, Ejehei was fired because he was reporting to the Supreme Leader without first letting Ahmadinejad know. He had reportedly said that the Intelligence Ministry had concluded that the accusations by the IRGC high command, that the demonstrations after the election were linked to foreign powers and represented a “velvet revolution,” were baseless. He had also reportedly said that the demonstrations had neither been planned in advance, nor could they have been predicted. Finally, the Intelligence Ministry is said to have reported that Mashaei, as well as Hossein Taeb, a cleric who is the commander of the Basij militia, represented security risks. The report apparently countered all the accusations made by the IRGC high command.

There is a precedent that helps support the theory that Ejehei was ousted for this reason. In the spring of 2008, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Ahmadinejad’s first Interior Minister, was also fired after he submitted a report to Ayatollah Khamenei about the elections for the 8th Majles (parliament) without Ahmadinejad’s knowledge. In that report, Pourmohammadi reported irregularities committed by Ahmadinejad’s backers. When Ahmadinejad found out about the report, he fired Pourmohammadi almost immediately.

According to the source, Ayatollah Khamenei had also ordered the closure of one of the jails, one in which the demonstrators and some of the leading reformist leaders are being kept; but the order has been ignored by the intelligence and security unit of the IRGC, which runs the prison. Saeed Jalili, Secretary-General of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, confirmed the Ayatollah’s order for the closure of a jail. Apparently, after the initial order was ignored, it was sent to the Council. While the source did not specify the prison, it might be the Kahrizak prison on the southern edge of Tehran near the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.

The prison is usually used to hold common criminals and narcotics traffickers, but there have been credible reports indicating that many people arrested in the post-election roundup have also been imprisoned there. Ejehei had apparently complained to Ayatollah Khamenei that the Intelligence Ministry had lost control over those arrested, and that the IRGC unit had taken control of the matter.

There is much speculation about Ejehei’s successor. According to Iranian law, the head of the Ministry of Intelligence must be a mojtahed (an Islamic scholar), and hence, a cleric. It will be interesting to see how Ahmadinejad navigates that one — finding a qualified cleric whose first loyalty is to him and the IRGC high command.

The author’s source also told him that the top commanders of the IRGC are firmly behind Ahmadinejad in his struggle to wrest full control of the government away from the clerics. But, the rank and file of the IRGC is divided into two main groups. The first group supports the reformist movement and remains silent for now (or perhaps it has been forced into silence). The second group is divided. One group is behind Ahmadinejad and the high command of the IRGC; they believe that the clerics should be purged from the government, and that Ayatollah Khamenei should be transformed into an ineffective and irrelevant figurehead. Others in the second group believe that Ayatollah Khamenei is Ma’soom (free of sin, from a religious perspective) and a deputy to Mahdi, the Shiites’ hidden 12th Imam who is supposed to come back some day to rid the world of injustice and corruption. Members of this group believe that obedience to Ayatollah Khamenei is their duty.

According to the source, Hossein Saffar Harandi, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance and a former officer in the IRGC, belongs to this group and was forced to resign, after he protested the appointment of Mashaei as First VP. Officially, Saffar Harandi is still part of the cabinet, because if he is formally sacked, the Constitution requires Ahmadinejad to seek a vote of confidence from Majlis since he has replaced half of his cabinet during his four-year term. Since his first term will expire in about 10 days, however, Ahmadinejad does not want the issue before Majles for a vote.

According to a second reliable source in Tehran, seven of Ahmadinejad’s ministers, including Saffar Harandi and Ejehei, wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei last week complaining about their boss and supporting Khamenei to sack Mashaei. It is widely believed that Ahmadinejad intends to fire the remaining five after he begins his widely disputed second term. The author already reported on two of the five ministers to be fired.

That the IRGC high command may wish to purge the government of clerics is no surprise. In addition to the fact that the IRGC did the bulk of the fighting with Iraq and eliminated the internal opposition to the political establishment in the 1980s, the IRGC has also been guarding and protecting the high-ranking clerics for the past three decades. The IRGC is therefor privy to much of their secret wheeling and dealings. The IRGC holds information on cases of corruption and nepotism among clerics over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.

When last year, Abbas Palizdar, an ally of Ahmadinejad, spoke of 123 cases of corruption among the clerics and their families, many interpreted that as a clear attempt by Ahmadinejad and his supporters to push most of the clerics out of power. Palizdar was later jailed and Ahmadinejad disowned him. But he was recently released from prison after posting a $300,000 bail. My sources in Tehran told me that the joke there was that after Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s Friday Prayer sermon of July 17, calling for the release of political prisoners, the hardliners released Palizadar!

Ayatollah Khamenei himself has played a major role in the rise of the IRGC. When Mohammad Khatami won the presidential election in 1997 by a landslide, a group of reformist leaders met with the supreme leader and asked him to heed the nation’s message of such a victory. In order to leave a credible legacy behind and save a political system in which had had played an important role, they advised the supreme leader to personally take a lead in the reform of the system. Not only did Ayatollah Khamenei refuse to do so, he more closely sided with the hardliners who were trying to gut the Khatami administration. It got to the point that when Khatami was president, he complained that the hardliners were creating a crisis for the country every nine days.

In 2005, after Khatami had to leave office after a second term, Ahmadinejad was elected president with the support of Ayatollah Khamenei. But practically from Day 1, Ahmadinejad began attacking many clerics in the name of fighting corruption. Ayatollah Khamenei continued to throw his support behind Ahmadinejad, presumably because he believed Ahmadinejad could force out his competitor Rafsanjani, his competitor in the power struggle.

Even when Rafsanjani wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei a few days before the election and warned him about possible fraud, the Ayatollah did not take any significant action. It is widely rumored that he told Rafsanjani that “Ahmadinejad’s defeat is my defeat.”

On Tuesday June 16, four days after the election, when the country was in deep crisis due to the huge demonstrations that had erupted, Ayatollah Khamenei summoned to his office representatives of all the presidential candidates, as well as members of the Expediency Council and the staff of the Interior Ministry, which supervises the election, in order to seek a solution to the crisis. Two people in that meeting, former Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri (representing Mahdi Karroubi, one of the two reformist candidates), and former Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, proposed that the problem be referred to the Expediency Council. But, Ayatollah Khamenei refused.

Instead, on June 19, during his Friday Prayer sermon, the Ayatollah threatened the Iranian nation and the reformists. When the next day demonstrations erupted again and many young people were killed, many Iranians held the Ayatollah (justifiably) responsible for the bloodshed. According to the author’s sources in Tehran, the high command of the IRGC recognized that the responsibility for the bloodshed would be squarely on the Ayatollah and therefore persuaded him to take a hard line. According to the same sources, the thinking of the high command of the IRGC is that, among conservative voters, Ahmadinejad is far more popular than Ayatollah Khamenei, and that therefore, the Ayatollah has trapped himself and has no clear way out of the difficult situation that he himself has created. This allows the IRGC high command to marginalize him.

What is not clear is the role of Mojtaba Khamenei, the Ayatollah’s son. Mojtaba is believed to be close to the high command of the IRGC. Will he be purged as well? Will the IRGC consider him as irrelevant, now that they have achieved their goal of “re-electing” Ahmadinejad? Or, does he have a role in any of this?

Ahmadinejad’s “re-election” is supposed to be confirmed by Ayatollah Khamenei on August 4, and he will take the oath of office in the Majles the next day. The next 10 days will as critical as they will be intriguing.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau
from the Middle East Forum

The Situation of Post Election Iran

A briefing by Ali Alfoneh
July 21, 2009
(includes an audio recording of this talk)

Ali Alfoneh is a visiting research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. A doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Copenhagen, Alfoneh researches civil-military relations in Iran, with a special focus on the role of the Revolutionary Guard. On July 21, Mr. Alfoneh addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call.

Alfoneh began his talk by stating that the Islamic Republic of Iran is in disarray. He contends that Iran is not in danger of collapse; rather, it will emerge from its present convulsions a changed nation—most likely for the worse. He argued that the election fraud and riots that Iran is currently experiencing are the result of militarization that Iran has been undergoing since 1997, when Ayatollah Khameini expanded the powers of the Revolutionary Guard in order to prevent reform.

According to Alfoneh, we are witnessing the end of the Iranian theocracy. The power of the Revolutionary Guard has grown to such an extent that they are now more powerful than the clergy. There are two potential futures for Iran. Iran could become a democracy—this is what most of the protestors want. The other, more likely, possibility is that the Guard will successfully quash the democratic movement, and Iran will transform into a military dictatorship.

In his view, Iran's election fraud was a calculated move by the Revolutionary Guard. For years, the Guard has been accumulating power under the pretext of preventing a "Velvet Revolution"—a Western-backed takeover by democratic forces. Alfoneh noted that, while Iran has a long history of election fraud, Ahmadinejad (himself a former Revolutionary Guardsman) was unusually blatant in stealing the 2009 election. The transparency of the fraud incited the democratic forces to action, thus giving the Guard an excuse to seize power.

Today, the president of Iran, most of his cabinet and the majority of the Iranian parliament are former Guardsmen. The Guard also maintains an extensive propaganda machine, and controls the Army through a system of commissars. Since the clergy depend upon the Guard for security, the Guard stands unopposed.

Alfoneh concluded by arguing that the West should unequivocally treat Iran as a growing threat. In particular, he called on America to take a strong anti-Revolutionary Guard stance, and to pursue a policy of containment. It is especially important that the United States work to forge an international consensus against the Iranian regime, in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from playing the major world powers against each other.

Summary account by Samuel Settle.
from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
PolicyWatch #1567

Militarization of the Iranian Judiciary

By Mehdi Khalaji
August 13, 2009

Widespread reports suggest that Sadeq Larijani, a young and inexperienced cleric with close ties to Iran's military and intelligence agencies, will officially replace Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as head of the Iranian judiciary on August 16. This appointment is particularly significant, since the judiciary in Iran wields considerable power -- albeit through the approval of Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- and has a great deal of latitude to make decisions without reference to law or Islamic concepts, especially when "safeguarding the interests of the regime" is deemed necessary.
Who is Sadeq Larijani?

Born in 1960 in Najaf, Iraq, Sadeq Larijani is the son of Grand Ayatollah Hashem Amoli and the son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, currently one of the most widely followed marjas, "sources of emulation" whose rulings are regarded as binding by devout Shiite believers. Larijani's two older and well-known brothers -- Ali Larijani, speaker of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) and former nuclear negotiator, and Mohammad Javad Larijani, the deputy head of the judiciary, former deputy foreign affairs minister, and mathematics graduate from the University of California, Berkeley -- are also married into respected clerical families: Ali is the son-in-law of the late Morteza Motahhari, an ideologue of the Islamic government, and Mohammad Javad is the son-in-law of Hassan Hassanzadeh, an ayatollah in Qom. Khamenei, at one point the supervisor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), became intimate with the Larijani family during Ali's several-year post as deputy commander of the IRGC.

Sadeq justifies his lack of political experience in a short autobiography on his website. Because he "felt that the West's cultural invasion was no less important than a military invasion," he decided to prepare himself for "confronting the cultural invasion," in part by learning English. He used his new language skills to translate several philosophical works, such as an article by Karl Popper on the philosophy of science and G. J. Warnock's Contemporary Moral Philosophy, the latter of which he annotated and critiqued from the Islamic point of view. Sadeq first made a name for himself by criticizing religious intellectuals such as Abdulkarim Soroush and eventually became one of the main voices of the Islamic Republic. Larijani taught courses on Islamic ideology, both at the seminary in Qom and at various IRGC bases around the country.

In 2001, Sadeq Larijani was the youngest jurist ever to be appointed to the Guardian Council, the twelve-person body responsible for approving all laws passed by the Majlis and for supervising elections. In the course of his Guardian Council activities, he has tried to remain under the radar by avoiding public appearances and media interviews. He has also made every effort to keep his relationships with Khamenei, the intelligence apparatus, and the IRGC under wraps.

Militarizing Iran's Institutions

In his twenty years in office, particularly in recent years, Khamenei has replaced military, political, economic, cultural, and clerical officials with a new generation of politicians and clerics who owe their political or religious credentials to him. The IRGC and intelligence apparatuses became the main avenues through which young ambitious men loyal to Khamenei could enter the political scene.

Although most of these new politicians and clerics are close to Khamenei, they are not traditional clerics with independent political and religious credentials, such as those who participated in the 1979 Revolution. Instead, most of the new generation began their careers in the military, the IRGC, and the intelligence services. Notable examples include Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former president Muhammad Khatami), an influential intelligence agent who is now a member of the Assembly of Experts and the Friday prayer Imam of Tehran; Ahmad Salek, Khamenei's representative in both the Qods Force and IRGC intelligence and a member of the Militant Clerics Society of Tehran; Hossein Taeb, the commander of Basij militia and former head of IRGC intelligence; and Sadeq Larijani.

Khamenei's Judiciary

Khamenei keeps close control of the Iranian judiciary: he not only appoints its head, but also gives unofficial recommendations to other high-ranking judiciary officials. Often a micromanager, Khamenei has been known to go over the judiciary's head, exemplified by his recent order to close the Kahrizak detention center in Tehran (a move that usually requires a court order). Critics say the closure was meant to prevent a Majlis investigation into abuse of the facility's prisoners -- most of whom were arrested following the postelection demonstrations.

Although the Iranian constitution mandates that the judiciary supervise all juridical and legal processes, some bodies, such as the Special Court of Clerics, work under Khamenei's direct supervision outside the judiciary's framework. Moreover, even though the IRGC, Basij, police, Intelligence Ministry, and Special Court of Clerics run many of Iran's detention centers, the judiciary has no jurisdiction over any of them. Further complicating matters, Khamenei is constitutionally the final arbiter in any dispute between government officials, with the right to overrule Islamic law when necessary to safeguard the interests of the regime. As such, the judiciary uses Islamic law as the basis for its decisions only when Khamenei sees such use as not in conflict with the regime's interests -- as he defines it.

Not only is the judiciary empowered to ignore Islamic law, it also bypasses the country's criminal law, particularly in politically related cases. This has led to harsh criticism by secular lawyers as well as clerics in the last two decades. In an open letter to Hashemi Shahroudi, for instance, published in Ettelaat newspaper on August 2, Ayatollah Mustafa Mohaqeq Damad, a prominent scholar of Islamic law, criticized the concept of the "interests of the regime," complaining, "The bitter taste of what happened in the judiciary under you, especially in recent days, would not be forgettable for Iranian people ... Under you, the judiciary, which is the pivot of society's security, is not only shaken but destroyed."


Iran's judiciary -- under the watchful eye of Iran's top leader -- has a great deal of power to shape the country's legal system and environment. Sadeq Larijani's ties to the IRGC and intelligence agencies provide ample reason to believe that he will use his new powers to crack down even further on human rights and civil liberties than did his predecessors. Moreover, Larijani's appointment signals that the judiciary, the IRGC, and the intelligence agencies will be more closely aligned then ever. Presumably, this state of affairs indicates that traditional ayatollahs deeply trained in Islamic law -- but who are not members of the intelligence-military-political circles -- will have a lesser role in government in years to come. Given the unstable situation in postelection Iran, such a scenario could be a recipe for continued and ongoing chaos.

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Iranian politics and the politics of Shiite groups in the Middle East.
THE NEW YORK TIMES August 17, 2009

Clerics’ Call for Removal Challenges Iran Leader


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A group of Iranian clerics has issued an anonymous letter calling Iran’s supreme leader a dictator and demanding his removal, the latest and perhaps strongest rhetorical attack on him yet in the country’s post-election turmoil.

While the impact of the clerics’ letter, posted late Saturday on opposition Web sites, may have been diluted by the withholding of their signatures, two Iranian experts vouched for its authenticity. Its publication followed other unusual verbal attacks on the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent days.

Last week a group of former lawmakers issued their own letter calling his qualifications into question. A day earlier, a member of the state body empowered to dismiss Ayatollah Khamenei called for an “emergency meeting” to address criticisms.

The letters do not pose any real threat to Ayatollah Khamenei, who retains the loyalty of the security services and most of the political elite. The clerical establishment is heavily dependent on him, and scarcely any member would dare challenge him openly.

Still, the verbal attacks illustrate the erosion of a powerful taboo. Long unquestioned, Ayatollah Khamenei’s status as a neutral arbiter and Islamic figurehead have suffered in the weeks since he blessed the June 12 presidential election, which many Iranians believe was rigged. The harsh crackdown on street protests that followed has only deepened public anger with him. In recent days the phrase “death to Khamenei” has begun appearing in graffiti on Tehran walls, a phrase that would have been almost unimaginable not long ago.

In their 11-page letter, the clerics blamed Ayatollah Khamenei for the violence after the elections, in which dozens of people, and possibly many more, were killed.

They accused him of turning the Revolutionary Guards into “his own private guard, and the media into an instrument to defend and propagate him.”

The clerics wrote that fear of Ayatollah Khamenei made it impossible for them to sign their names: “there is such a dictatorship that we, as defenders of religion who are also close to public officials, have to practice Taqieh,” a reference to a Shiite practice of lying or concealment for expediency.

Initially, some Iran experts seemed skeptical about the letter’s origins, but a prominent Iranian cleric and a former lawmaker said on Sunday that they had spoken to some of the authors and had no doubt the letter was genuine.

The cleric who said he had spoken to the authors said they number several dozen, and are mostly midranking figures from Qum, Isfahan and Mashhad, where Iran’s major seminaries are located. The cleric — who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reasons as the letter’s authors — said he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade them to sign the letter.

“The pressure on clerics in Qum is much worse than the pressure on activists because the establishment is afraid that if they say anything they can turn the more traditional sectors of society against the regime,” the cleric said.

As one indication, he noted that three senior clerics from Qum who have led Friday Prayer for years, but who signaled their support for the opposition movement, have been absent for several weeks.

The former lawmaker who said she had spoken to the authors, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, said she found the letter significant because it gave reasons why Ayatollah Khamenei was no longer fit to rule.

“This letter is in fact pushing the movement one step ahead,” said Ms. Haghighatjoo, now a visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “This is a very sensitive issue because even criticizing the supreme leader was one of the red lines.”

For its part, the government has sought to silence the opposition movement with a mass trial, which held its third session on Sunday.

Charges were read out against 28 men who protested after the election, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported. Fars said many read out apologies in court, asking the judge to show “Islamic clemency.”

The news agency also emphasized one unusual theme: several defendants blamed opposition leaders or newspapers for persuading them to take to the streets and riot or protest.

One defendant, Mehrdad Aslan, singled out the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.

Those accusations would appear to suggest a deliberate message from the authorities. A number of conservative figures have called in recent days for the arrest of Mr. Moussavi, who announced the formation of a new political and social movement on Saturday. In the past trial sessions, some defendants made confessions in which they recanted their political beliefs and blamed former allies. Their friends and relatives said those statements were coerced through torture.
Ahmadinejad’s Security Cabinet: More Influence from the Military

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 17 Aug 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced the list of people who will fill key cabinet positions, including those who will deal with security issues.

The author had already identified four candidates likely to be the next Minister of Intelligence (MI). One of the two top candidates, Heidar Moslehi, was announced as Ahmadinejad’s choice to head Intelligence. Moslehi is a mid-rank cleric who is currently the head of the Organization for Islamic Endowments (vaghf) and Charities, which runs a vast network of mosques, endowed Islamic charities, and other endowed organizations. When Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, he appointed Moslehi as his adviser for clerical affairs. At that time Moslehi was the representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in the Basij militia. But, his appointment was protested by many because he was involved with the Basij and, thus, he resigned after three months. Ayatollah Khamenei then appointed Moslehi to his present post.

If approved by the Majles (parliament), Moslehi will probably enhance dramatically the influence of the military in the security and intelligence apparatus because of his ties to the Basij. As previously reported by the author, the increasing influence of the military, particularly the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been a prime reason for the resignation of many senior figures in the MI.

When former Intelligence Minister Gholamgoseein Mohseni Ejehei and two of his deputies submitted a report to Ayatollah Khamenei, in which they rejected the claim by the IRGC and Ahmadinejad that linked the demonstrations after the rigged presidential election of June 12 to a plan for a “velvet revolution,” Ahmadinejad reportedly said during a gathering of the senior staff of the MI, that, “I am not happy with the Ministry of Intelligence.” He now has his own man at the Ministry.

The current Minister of Defense (MD), Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, will take over the Interior Ministry. There was already a clue that Najjar would leave his position at Defense and be moved to a new cabinet position: in the Majlis ceremony two weeks ago when Ahmadinejad took the oath of the office, Mohammad-Najjar, a Brigadier General, had appeared in civilian clothes.

Mohammad-Najjar was born in Tehran in 1956. He was active in the 1979 Revolution and joined the IRGC at its inception, three months after the Revolution’s victory in February 1979. There was some unrest in the Kurdistan province at that time, and Mohammad-Najjar actively participated in quelling that unrest (which had resulted in extensive bloodshed). He was then an IRGC staff officer responsible for the Sistan and Baluchestan province in southeastern Iran on the border with Pakistan. After Iran’s armed forces successfully pushed Iraqi forces from most of Iran in the spring of 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini approved the establishment of a Middle East Directorate, and Mohammad-Najjar, who speaks Arabic fluently, was appointed as its first director. The IRGC dispatched an expeditionary force to Lebanon in the summer of 1982 (after Israel had invaded Lebanon), which was stationed in the Biqa Valley in the eastern part of the country, where it trained the future fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which was officially founded in February 1985.

Mohammad-Najjar returned to Iran in 1985. At that time, the IRGC was under the control of the Ministry of the Guards, and Mohammad-Najjar held various positions in the armament industry that the IRGC was setting up. In 1989, the Ministries of Defense and Guards merged under former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Mohaamad- Najjar was appointed the head of the armament section of the Organization of Defense (Military) Industries (ODI), a position that he held until 2005, when he was appointed the Minister of Defense. During his tenure, the ODI was turned into a relatively efficient organization that has played a key role in Iran’s rapid advancement in the area of developing new missiles, and turning self-sufficient in producing a large part of its conventional ammunition. He has also played a key role in the expansion of military ties between Iran and Russia, having traveled there several times.

Mohammad-Najjar has a B.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from the Khajeh Nasireddin Toosi in Tehran, and an M.S. in executive management from the Organization of Industrial Management. He is considered a hardliner among the top commanders of the IRGC.

Mohammad-Najjar’s post at the MD will be taken up by Sadegh Mahsouli, the current Minister of Interior. He is known in Iran as the “billionaire minister.” When he was proposed by Ahmadinejad to be his first Minister of Oil in 2005, Mahsouli admitted in response to questions asked during his confirmation proceedings in Majlis that his net worth was about $160 million (or 1.6 billion touman in Iranian currency, hence the nickname), although many believe that his net worth is probably much higher. The Majles rejected his nomination as the Minister of Oil, partly because Mahsouli could not provide a satisfactory answer to the question of how he, a dirt poor IRGC officer in 1988 at the end of Iran-Iraq war, could amass such a large wealth during such a short time.

Ahmadinejad then appointed Mahsouli as his adviser. In November 2008, after Ali Kordan, Ahmadinejad’s second Minister of Interior was impeached by the Majles when it was revealed that not only did he not have a doctoral degree from Oxford University (as he had claimed), but that his most advanced degree was a simple Associates Degree, Ahmadinejad appointed Mahsouli as his Minister of Interior. (Ahmadinejad’s first Interior Minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, was fired). Mahsouli’s appointment was narrowly approved by the Majles. As the supervisor of the election, Mahsouli played a key role in events leading up to June 12.

Mahsouli was born in 1959 in Orumieyeh, located in Western Azerbaijan province. He received a B.Sc. degree in civil engineering from Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, where he was a classmate and friend of Ahmadinejad. He joined the IRGC, fought in the Iran-Iraq war, and held high military positions, such as the commander of the 6th Special Forces division, head of the inspection of the IRGC, and deputy MD in charge of planning. He was also the governor of Orumiyeh, and deputy governor-general for the Western Azerbaijan province.

It was during his work in Western Azerbaijan that Mahsouli amassed his initial millions. At that time Ahmadinejad was the governor-general of Ardabil province, which is on Iran’s border with the Republic of Azerbaijan. The two nations were swapping oil: Iran would buy oil from Azerbaijan for local use, and deliver equivalent amounts to its southern seaports for export. Ahmadinejad helped put Mahsouli in charge of oil swaps, which made him close to $10 million and got him started in his business ventures. Later, Mahsouli used his connections to illicitly take control of 17,000 square meters of land in one of Tehran’s best neighborhood, worth millions of dollars.

Saeed Jalili, Iran’s current chief nuclear negotiator and secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, will be appointed the new Foreign Minister (FM). The current FM, Manouchehr Mottaki, a career diplomat, will apparently leave the government.

Jalili was born in 1965 in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Imam Sadegh (Sadeq) University in Tehran. The University was established in 1982 by the powerful conservative clergy, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, the head of the Society of the Militant Clergy. The conservatives’ goal in establishing this university (and others, such as the Islamic Azad University, and the Payaam-e Nour University) has been educating and training conservative students to fill Iran’s bureaucracy. Jalili’s research was on political thinking according to the holy Quran.

From 2001-2005, Jalili was the director-general of the office of the Supreme Leader, where he worked closely with hardliners in that office. An old friend of Ahmadinejad, Jalili was his first choice for the post of FM in 2005, but after he was opposed by various factions within the conservative camp, Jalili was appointed the deputy FM for European and American affairs. In October 2007, after Ali Larijani, the current Speaker of the Majles, suddenly resigned from his posts as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, Jalili was appointed to both posts. But his inexperience in the nuclear area was so glaring that after his appointment, Larijani accompanied him to Rome for a negotiation session with the European Union.

Jalili has a reputation for being extremely arrogant. He is known to have given long lectures to his European counterparts in nuclear negotiations, repeating himself and his claims without paying much attention to what his counterparts say. He is, of course, a hardliner.

Jalili has played a key role in the June 12 election coup. Together with a few others, such as Hossein Taeb, the Basij militia commander, he was a major player in the “control room” leading the election coup, apparently led by Mojtaba Khamenei, and Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the IRGC’s top commander. His key role in that affair is now apparently being rewarded by Ahmadinejad.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

"Breaking the Bond between Mosque and State"

Excerpt: "Maybe for the first time, an Islamic Republic government has welcomed a separation of politics and religion, simply because even religion has turned against them."
Reprinted with permission:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"The “Coup” in Iran and What it Means"

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By Barry Rubin

For a couple of years it has been visible; for months the opposition has been talking about it. What’s happening is the gradual takeover of a huge amount of power by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian government has generally been radical since the revolution, 30 years ago. But now the most extremist faction of all has taken over, pushing out its rivals.

Of course, Spiritual Guide Ali Khamenei is the most powerful man in Iran. But obviously he has no problem with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being president and the IRGC becoming the power behind the throne.

This is important because the IRGC is the most fanatical and risk-taking part of the regime. It is very much committed to expanding the revolution and maintains the regime’s links with foreign revolutionary and terrorist groups.

Oh, and it will also be the institution that will have actual possession of Iran’s long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

Not only are these people nobody can make a deal with, but they are also the ones most likely to make a war some day.

The BBC reports that the IRGC now controls one-third of Iran’s economy, either openly or through front groups. This is probably too high. But more than one-third is controlled either by the IRGC or foundations under the control of regime hardliners so the basic idea isn’t far off. Moreover, Ahmadinejad has been appointing former IRGC commanders to a lot of top jobs, including cabinet ministries and provincial governorships.

Now the group has won a $2.5 billion contract to build a big railroad project. And the IRGC is taking control of intelligence, running key prisons, and taking custody of political prisoners.

This is one reason why foreign observers can underestimate the regime's stability. With the IRGC playing such a central role, so well-armed, united, and ready to fight, any serious threat of a revolution or internal collapse would be blocked, no matter how much bloodshed it takes. The opposition and those critical of the regime are also aware of that fact.

Another reason why this is important regards Iran's intentions after getting nuclear weapons. Whether or not it would fire off such armaments, Iran will certainly use them to become more powerful, threatening, and influential throughout the region. The loser here will be the United States, its interests, and policies.

Judging from his statements, President Obama seems to have the following picture of Iran: There are many factions; the supreme guide really runs the show; Ahmadinejad is just a noisy front-man without much power. Iran should be judged by its past record, which has often shown caution. In this conception, it is possible to engage Iran, appeal to its interest, and find some relative moderates or pragmatists who will make a deal.

One could argue this position two years, perhaps even a year ago. But it no longer applies. The Iranian regime has changed to become far more hardline and risk-taking.

My personal view is that Khamenei is preparing for his departure from the scene by putting the revolution into the hands of those who he trusts not to dilute it. While Iran is a country of endless factional bickerings, this analysis means that the power of Ahmadinejad and the IRGC will grow greater in the coming years. That provides still another reason why soft diplomacy won't work and that a world where Iran--meaning Ahmadinejad and the IRGC--have nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is far more dangerous.

That doesn't mean that Iran will immediately attack Israel with nuclear weapons. Even in the radical worldview that would be foolish. What is more likely is that Iran will systematically try to turn much of the region into Islamist satellite states, putting off any confrontation with Israel to the future. (This is parallel to the strategy of Arab nationalist regimes--despite their 1967 miscalculation and 1973 attempt at revenge--over the last half-century.)

Do you think the Arab states will choose to appease Iran or stand firm in the belief that President Barack Obama will go to war on their behalf?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.



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