All the Guard's Men: Iran's Silent Revolution

The failure of pro-democracy forces to mount an effective show of force on the June 12 anniversary of the bloody repression of protests against last year's stolen election shows how well Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has consolidated its creeping coup d'etat and augmented its power throughout the last year.

In his Friday prayer sermon on June 18, after the anticipated anniversary demonstrations failed to materialize, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed, "Iran is not Georgia," and therefore Western powers cannot "unleash a velvet revolution" there. To make sure this does not happen, Khamenei has mobilized the IRGC officer corps to crush the Green Movement. For now, Khamenei's reliance on the IRGC seems to have paid off; the Green Movement, despite twelve months of brave civil disobedience and peaceful campaigns, has been reduced to limited outbursts of anti-regime protest. But increasing IRGC intervention in politics has also weakened Khamenei and his clerical regime and paved the way for the rise of the officer class of the IRGC as the new masters of the Islamic Republic.

Authority in the Islamic Republic has traditionally rested upon a fundamental alliance between the revolutionary Shiite clergy and the IRGC. Within the alliance there has always been a clear division of labor between the clerics and the IRGC officer corps, which is constitutionally mandated to "safeguard the revolution and its achievements" against internal and external enemies. But IRGC support of Khamenei has not come cheap, and in return for its assistance against reformist groups such as the Green Movement, Khamenei has had to bribe the IRGC with political, economic, and even ideological influence. The ultimate price of Khamenei's victories over successive reformist efforts, with the Green Movement as only the latest example, may be the transformation of the Islamic Republic into a military dictatorship led by the Revolutionary Guard, a development that would leave Khamenei a hostage in the hands of his own praetorians. . . .

This article is available in full by subscription from World Affairs.

Ali Alfoneh is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit: parseha/Flickr/Creative Commons

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About the Author

 

Ali
Alfoneh
  • Ali Alfoneh's research areas include civil-military relations in Iran with a special focus on the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Islamic Republic. Mr. Alfoneh has been a research fellow at the Institute for Strategy at the Royal Danish Defence College and has taught political economy at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Southern Denmark.

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