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Revolutionary Guards vs. Rouhani: 19 Flashpoints

June 27, 2017
Reza HaghighatNejad
25 min read
Revolutionary Guards vs. Rouhani: 19 Flashpoints

When Hassan Rouhani was a presidential candidate back in 2013, he had a lot to say about Iran’s nuclear program and the house arrests of reformist leaders.  

He raised the issue on May 27, 2013, leading the ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan and other hardliner media outlets to remind him that his views were very different to what the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had said on the same matters.

These long-running disagreements are particularly significant because they help fuel a serious rift between the executive power and the sprawling institutions controlled by the Supreme Leader, especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Since 2013, Rouhani and the Guards have been at loggerheads over no fewer than 19 issues.


1. The Missile Program

The IRGC considers its missile program to be indispensable when it comes to defending Iran and national security issues. Unlike Rouhani, the Guards do not believe that the nuclear agreement has removed the shadow of war from hanging over Iran. In their view, it is the might of Iran’s missiles that has actually prevented war.

IRGC officials have accused Rouhani’s government of being scared of the United States, and say this fear has driven the government to hide airborne missiles in warehouses and appeal to the Guards to be discreet when testing their missiles and avoid any unnecessary advertising about what they are doing.

Tensions between the government and the Guards really began to take hold in the final months leading up July 14, 2015, when the nuclear agreement, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed. Before the agreement was due to go into effect in October 2015, the IRGC conducted missile tests — a demonstration of its disregard for the UN Security Council resolutions and a clear reminder that it can make its own decisions without government approval. And when the Guards launched a missile attack against ISIS targets in Syria on June 18, it dismissed Rouhani’s suggestions that the decision had been made by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), which, as president of the Islamic Republic, Rouhani chairs. The Guards say they receive their orders from the Supreme Leader and that they merely “inform” the council of what they decide.

Now that the US is likely to impose new sanctions on Iran, the IRGC says the main target of these sanctions is Iran’s missile program. According to the Guards and their affiliated media, the US plans to use the missile program as an excuse to present Iran as an agent of disorder and danger in the Middle East. To achieve this end, they say, the Americans want to plant doubts among the Iranian people about the usefulness of the program and, through Rouhani’s government, usher in a second JCPOA that limits or eliminates Iran’s ability to develop a ballistic missile system. So the recent attack against ISIS was not only about combatting terrorism, it was about demonstrating to the Iranian public that the program was robust, powerful, and necessary.


2. Intelligence and Security

The first serious disagreements between the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit (RGIU) started with the case of Babak Zanjani (pictured below). Zanjani, a billionaire who amassed a fortune by helping Iran, especially the Revolutionary Guards, bypass sanctions, is now in prison and has been sentenced to death.

When Rouhani assumed the presidency, a number of Intelligence Ministry officials who, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had supported Zanjani, moved to the Revolutionary Guard’s Intelligence Unit (RGIU), thereby disrupting the investigation into Zanjani’s case. Rouhani wanted the Intelligence Ministry, nominally the body responsible for security cases, to remain involved in the case, but the judiciary ignored his request. It was only in April 2017, after four years of backing and forthing, that the judiciary agreed to let the Intelligence Ministry resume focus on the case.

Parallel to this drawn-out battle over Zanjani, other disputes between the Intelligence Ministry and the RGIU reached a climax as well. One such dispute was over who was going to handle the case of Mehdi Hashemi, the son of the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2015 on a range of charges including “security-related” violations.

In late 2014, the reformist website Saham News reported that the RGIU was expanding its activities and installations to undermine the Intelligence Ministry’s power and take over its responsibilities. Intelligence Ministry officials were not willing to officially confirm the report but in one interview, a ministry official publicly accused the Revolutionary Guards of usurping the ministry’s authority in several cases, such as the arrest of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a Baluchi terrorist organization, or when it came to repatriating blocked Iranian funds from abroad. The official left no doubt that Intelligence Ministry’s grievances against the Guards were many and deeply rooted.

The Guards took revenge for this public airing of grievances by arresting several administrators for pro-Rouhani Telegram channels, one of whom had close relations with the intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi. The Guards also denied that the ministry had played any role in identifying ISIS positions targeted in the missile attack.

In this ongoing fight, it appears that Iranian judiciary has allowed itself to become a tool in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards. The courts have sentenced online activists who had been arrested by the RGIU to a total of hundreds of years in prison, despite the fact that Rouhani himself has publicly called for their release.

Regardless of any protest by the government, the RGIU has been pushing to extend its domain around the country, even in areas traditionally left to the police. The Guards’ role in the attack on MP Ali Motahari at Shiraz Airport in March 2015, the arrests of some dual nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured below), as well as of online activists and Telegram channel admins in Tehran and across the country, are good examples. In addition, the unit has increased its influence over parliament, and actively challenged the Guardian Council on some of the candidates it qualified to run for election.

The fight over security and intelligence has now turned into one of the most contentious issues between the Revolutionary Guards and Rouhani’s government.

3. The Internet and Online Activism

The RGIU made its first serious attempts to control what Iranians do online in 2013 when it arrested staffers of Narenji (“Orange”) website. Narenji had championed information technology and innovations since 2007, and a domestic competition recognized it as “the best website” on Iran’s internet industry in 2010. The most recent cases are, of course, the arrests of Telegram channel admins. But since 2010, the Guards have shown their power a number of times by arresting models and people working in the fashion industry who have been outspoken online or who have posted photographs of themselves not wearing hijab; ordering smartphone apps to be filtered; publishing numerous articles on the social, political and moral dangers of social networks; and applying pressure on the High Council for Cyberspace — the body officially responsible for formulating Iran’s online policies. The RGIU has also repeatedly attacked Minister of Communication and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi. The list goes on.

This behavior reflects two clear goals: To present the internet as a dangerous western tool and, because of this, make clear the absolute need to control it. On this, Ayatollah Khamenei is in lock-step with the Revolutionary Guards, as his speeches on the subject clearly show.  “The real war is a cultural war,” he said in a speech on February 15. “There are so many television and internet networks that are busy diverting the hearts and minds of our youth away from religion, our sacred beliefs, morality, modesty and the like. The real war is this.”

Revolutionary Guards are keen not to fall behind when it comes to cyber warfare. They train hackers and have launched cyberattacks on other countries, including one in 2015 on the US State Department. When it comes to this tactic, the RGIU has no need to coordinate its activities with the government or to acquire its permission.

4. The “Resistance Economy”

Ever since sanctions caused the Iranian economy to plummet, the “resistance economy” has become one of the Supreme Leader’s favorite phrases. In his view, the resistance economy will free Iran from the need to deal with western economic powers and their demands — directly contradicting the Rouhani administration’s policies that aim to attract foreign business and investment. Nuclear-related sanctions have now been lifted, but this didn’t matter to Khamenei. In his message to mark the Iranian new year on March 20, the Supreme Leader referred to the new year as “the Year of Economy of Resistance: Production and Employment,” a simple way of sending a message to Rouhani and his ilk.

Over the last four years, the Revolutionary Guards have presented themselves as the key champions of the resistance economy. Through the Basij Organization, their paramilitary subsidiary, the Guards have announced or have implemented projects in this “resistance” context. But they have also accused the government of being unwilling to use the capabilities of the Basijis to benefit the country. Needless to say, these development projects, due to be implemented in poorer areas of the country, will enhance the power and the control of the Revolutionary Guards.

Revolutionary Guards commanders have accused the government of ignoring the resistance economy by looking outside Iran’s borders for economic salvation. They say that Rouhani is trying to fix the economy with a “broken key.”

5. The Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA)

While nuclear negotiations were going on, the Revolutionary Guards played it both ways. They announced that they supported “heroic flexibility,” but in practice they tried to undermine the negotiations by describing them as a “poisoned chalice,” raising technical objections, supporting opponents of the JCPOA though their affiliated media, and by paying for the anti-US billboards across Tehran — just to name a few tactics.

After the nuclear agreement was signed, IRGC top commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari felt freer to talk, and decided to stop mincing his words. In a speech [Persian link] on November 2, 2015, he said that over the last four decades Iran had had to deal with four “seditions” against the revolution: The 1980 Iraqi invasion of Iran, the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami to the presidency, the protests against the outcome of the 2009 presidential election, and the 2015 nuclear agreement. And during another speech delivered on April 5, 2016, he told [Persian link] Revolutionary Guards commanders that the JCPOA was not something to be proud of, that people has accepted it reluctantly and that the dangers to Iran have only intensified following the agreement.

Discrediting the JCPOA has been on top of the Revolutionary Guards’ agenda for the last two years. Ayatollah Khamenei, of course, cannot dismiss the nuclear agreement in so many words because he could have vetoed it and did not. But he has lost no opportunity to cast doubt on the agreement, accusing the US of undermining the JCPOA through maintaining or imposing non-nuclear-related sanctions and by scoffing at any expectation of economic benefits from the agreement. And he was quick to dismiss the idea that the JCPOA could signal an opening toward the US. “We will not allow the JCPOA to become a tool for American pressure,” he said in a speech in November 2016.

6. Implementation of the JCPOA

In the television debates in the run up to the 2017 presidential election, Hassan Rouhani pointed to two examples of attempts to derail the implementation of the nuclear agreement: Showing off about underground missile silos and testing missiles that had the words “Israel must be wiped out” painted in Hebrew on their sides. (Rouhani, of course, just made reference to this behavior, and did not directly speak of it.)

If nothing else, these two examples show that the Revolutionary Guards have a sophisticated plan to undermine the implementation of the JCPOA. Other moves meant to create trouble for Iranian diplomacy include the harassment of American warships in the Persian Gulf through provocative maneuvers of their boats and the capture of 10 American sailors in 2016 (pictured below) — something that Ayatollah Khamenei described as “an act of God.”

The Revolutionary Guards, their media and their allies consistently argue that the US has repeatedly violated the JCPOA and that Rouhani’s government has chosen to ignore these violations. They also describe European financial and business delegations’ visits to Iran as mere marketing efforts to sell their products and create jobs for European workers. They criticize the deals already agreed upon, such as the purchase of passenger planes from Boeing and Airbus.

During the campaign for the 2017 presidential election, Ebrahim Raeesi, the Revolutionary Guards’ preferred candidate, accused Rouhani’s government of lacking competence to “cash” JCPOA’s “check”. And Ayatollah Khamenei has left no doubt that he agrees with such criticisms.

7. Regional Diplomacy

In early 2016, in a speech to a visiting Hamas delegation [Persian link], General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the expeditionary Qods Force fighting in Iraq and Syria, said that in negotiating with the West, Foreign minister Zarif “has no authority” to make deals except on the nuclear issue. This statement showed that he was very confident about his own authority to conduct Iranian diplomacy in many parts of the Middle East. And on June 20, 2016 when the relations between Iran and Bahrain took another turn for the worse, Soleimani’s statement was published before Zarif's.

But the Revolutionary Guards’ interference in regional diplomacy has not been limited to embarrassing the foreign minister. As Hashemi Rafsanjani revealed, the Qods Force must approve many of Iran’s ambassadors to the region. Officials in countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen and Afghanistan have repeatedly accused the IRGC of espionage, conspiracy and interference in their domestic affairs — and when the Guards get into a jam, the Foreign Ministry is required to make diplomatic efforts to get them out.

General Jafari talked of creating a “Shia Crescent” a “Shia Economic Crescent” or a “Shia Liberation Army” commanded by General Soleimani, and it is this notion that mainly influences Iranian diplomacy in the region. To these one might add General Jafari’s wish to overthrow the Saudi regime, General Soleimani’s speech referring to the Saudi regime as “illegitimate” and incidents like the torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran by elements close to the Revolutionary Guards.

Currently, the Revolutionary Guards are involved in direct and proxy wars, and have pushed the regional diplomacy of Rouhani’s government into irrelevance.


8. Relations with the US

In 2013 General Jafari, chief commander of the Guards, referred to the telephone conversation between President Rouhani and President Obama “a mistake.” He added, however, that it could “be compensated for.” Not long after,  he said Hashemi Rafsanjani was lying when he claimed that Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, had agreed to remove the “Death to America!” billboards displayed in Iranian cities before he died. Since then, all IRGC officials have supported an anti-rapprochement line when it comes to relations with the United States.

In September 2016, Ali Saeedi, the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, accused Rouhani [Persian link] of trying to establish relations with the US under the cover of the JCPOA with a view to reaching other agreements apart from the nuclear issue. He said that the Supreme Leader had “engineered” the nuclear agreement in a way that made such attempts impossible. Since Saeedi is an official representative of Ayatollah Khamenei, it is unlikely that he was speaking without some input from the Supreme Leader.

On August 19, 2015, as the Revolutionary Guards commanders increased their verbal attacks on Rouhani and the nuclear agreement, Rouhani warned them to tone it down [Persian link]. “We must not get the idea that after the agreement we can talk and act every which way that we please,” he said. The next day, General Jafari counterattacked [Persian link]: “Some believe that we must behave in the framework defined by the enemy and say that we cannot talk and act the way that we want because others will react to it...This is the start of eroding the independence and the dignity of the Iranian Islamic system and revolution.” In other words, without anti-American pronouncements, the Islamic revolution and the independence of Iran would wither away.

9. The Fight against Money Laundering

A very crucial point of contention for the Iranian economy and Iran’s international relations is the question of money laundering. The Rouhani administration is trying hard to carry out its agreements with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization founded in 1989 to combat money laundering. If Iran does not fulfill its obligations as specified by FATF, it will practically be shut out of the international banking system.

To carry out its obligations, the Iranian government must make its financial system transparent to prove that it is fighting money laundering. But the IRGC is steadfast in its opposition to such a course of action because, it says, it would effectively put an embargo on the Guards and its associated funds, even in the domestic market, since the IRGC is still on the international sanctions list and any money transfer to or from the organization would be considered to be money laundering.

If and when Iran fulfills its obligations to FATF and seriously begins to combat money laundering, the IRGC will have a lot to lose. The expeditionary Qods Force has been accused by various international watchdogs of drug trafficking, smuggling, and helping terrorist groups. This is on top of the vast financial network that IRGC created to bypass sanctions. It is obvious that transparency in the Iranian financial system would not serve the interests of the Revolutionary Guards.

10. Fight against Corruption

Over the last four years, Rouhani’s government and the Revolutionary Guards have also locked horns over corruption. The aforementioned case of Babak Zanjani is just one of many revelations about corruption, and about charges against the IRGC in particular. In retaliation for Rouhani’s focus on the Guards, the IRGC has targeted figures close to Rouhani and the government. Among the many examples is the well-publicized case of Hossein Fereydoon, President Rouhani’s brother, who has been accused of a range of financial crimes and instances of misconduct.

The IRGC is trying to portray Rouhani as being soft on corruption — to say the least. With the implementation of the JCPOA, the Guards are in danger of losing their advantageous position in Iran’s economy and financial dealings, and they fear that individuals and groups with no loyalty to the Guards will soon be the recipients of the benefits they once reaped.  

Iranians have never had any illusions about the pervasiveness of corruption in their country. But those in power usually approach the subject with caution. Now, however, charges and counter-charges of corruption have been used as weapons in this key political fight.

11. House Arrests of Green Movement Leaders

In December 2014, a weekly newspaper published by the IRGC claimed [Persian link] that the reformist leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were placed under house arrest not because of the disputed 2009 presidential election but because they wanted to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Therefore, trying to lift the house arrests was the same as supporting the subversives.

This has been the IRGC’s line and it has stuck to it. In its view, the right way to deal with these “seditionists” — the term the Guards favor when talking about dissidents or reformists — is to execute them, or, if not that, certainly to keep them under house arrest or put them on trial. At the very least, they want Mousavi and Karroubi to repent and to apologize, as Ayatollah Khamenei has demanded.

A relatively recent myth pushed by Supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei and the judiciary is that it was the High National Security Council (HNSC) that ordered the house arrests. As president, Rouhani is the head of the council but, according to reports, when he tried to put lifting of the house arrests on the HNSC’s agenda in early 2015, he failed. Another council member, IRGC’s General Jafari, blocked him.

12. Oil Projects

The IRGC also claims that the Oil Ministry has ignored national interests and is allowing Iran’s enemies to take over national resources, specifically with regards to working out new contracts. With some help from influential members of parliament, through organizing demonstrations and launching a media campaign, the Guards have successfully delayed the new contracts for about two years now.

One prominent case used as part of their propaganda campaign was the deal with the United Arab Emirates-based company Crescent Oil. Hardliners accused Rouhani’s government of costing Iran $18 billion by processing the contract, and claimed that some government officials with links to the contract were guilty of financial corruption. And, in mid-October 2015, the Revolutionary Guards arrested Siamak Namazi, director of the strategic planning office of the Crescent Oil Company. In the end, the Guards succeeded in forcing the government to include its own engineering and development company, Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, in the list of eight qualified contractors to work on oil projects.

But the fight over oil money is far from over. The IRGC believes that the government is trying to portray Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters as inefficient and incompetent so that it can take the company off its list of recommended partners for oil projects.

13. The “Infiltration Network”

In 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei introduced the specter of an “infiltration network” — an insidious plot by the “enemy” and the opposition outside Iran to undermine and eventually overthrow the Islamic Republic through “soft” tactics. But it was the IRGC-affiliated media that actively promoted and acted upon this rumor.

Many journalists were arrested on charges of belonging to an infiltration network and colluding with hostile Western governments. The IRGC’s Javan newspaper published an article that claimed Iranians returning to the country from abroad were part of a sinister plot hatched by the opposition and was supported and implemented by Rouhani’s government.

The commander of the paramilitary Basij volunteer organization said the European Union had no right to open an office in Iran, and Basiji students staged protests against meetings between European Union officials and Iranian human rights activists. The Guard’s Intelligent Unit started arresting Iranians with dual nationalities, including Siamak Namazi, his father and the Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. Even Kim Kardashian was identified as an agent of cultural infiltration.

The Guards’ Intelligence Unit even tried to implicate an advisor to the Nuclear Negotiation Team and arrest him, though the Intelligence Ministry refused to cooperate.

In autumn 2015, the High National Security Council agreed that many of the arrests carried out by the Guards’ Intelligence Unit were political and not related to national security. Yet the Guards continue to raise the issue of “infiltration networks” to harass and intimidate Rouhani’s government, and to issue it with a warning.

14. Military Budget

Since 2013, when Foreign Minister Zarif talked about the superiority of America’s military might and its ability to crush Iranian defenses, any time Rouhani’s government has shown a commitment to military projects, the IRGC has reacted with suspicion. No matter how many times the government reiterates that it has increased the defense budget and will continue to do so, the media affiliated with the Guards and its commanders continue to accuse the government of negligence in this area.

This cycle of IRGC complaints and government explanations is certain to continue throughout Rouhani’s second term.

15. Reformists’ Return to Politics

In late 2013, when a group of reformists gathered at the campus of Tehran University, the newspaper Javan threatened Rouhani, saying he would suffer the fate that former President Mohammad Khatami did. After he supported reformist candidates in the 2009 presidential election, Khatami lost the favor of the Supreme Leader. Today, Khatami faces a media ban, and outlets are forbidden from publishing photographs of the former president .

And there are other warnings. Khamenei is currently threatening Rouhani with the same fate as that of Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, who fled Iran in June 1981 after the ruling clergy rose against him and parliament impeached him. But beyond this, it is quite clear that the IRGC was very unhappy with the reformists’ return to Iranian politics and their success at the recent elections for councils and parliament. According to General Hossein Nejat, the Guards’ vice president in cultural affairs who is now also deputy commander of IRGC Intelligence Unit, their return amounted to another “sedition,” a direct reference to the dissident action that followed the 2009 presidential election. Hossein Nejat was not the only one with this view. Around the same time, Ayatollah Khamenei told Qom’s provincial governor that “seditionists” must not be allowed into executive positions.

IRGC intelligence agents arrested several reformist figures when they returned to Iran to resume their political activities. They made sure several reformist candidates running for parliament were disqualified, and that senior reformist figures were summoned to court. Khatami’s call for a “national reconciliation” came under intense attack and was firmly rejected by Ayatollah Khamenei.

But despite the Revolutionary Guards’ best efforts, reformists scored high in elections for parliament and the local councils, and were instrumental in Rouhani’s victory in the 2017 presidential election. Nevertheless, the IRGC continues to push back against the reformists every chance it gets.

16. Economic Development Projects

In 2013, President Rouhani tried a subterfuge to ease the Revolutionary Guards out of the economic arena by offering them a few big projects. But the Guards were not fooled, and in spring 2014 General Jafari publicly complained that the government was refusing to accept the IRGC’s economic “advice”. His meaning was clear: the IRGC would not accept being involved in just a few projects, however big they were. It would only be satisfied with maintaining its absolute influence and might across the Iranian economy.

Disappointed with the government, the IRGC turned to Tehran’s municipal government under Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. In the summer of 2014, news emerged that the Guards and Tehran Municipality had signed a letter of understanding worth more than $6 billion.

Although between 2014 and 2016 the government did grant a few important projects to the Guards, it was not enough. In December 2016, the government made a deal worth $650 million with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries for 10 tanker and container ships. The IRGC had coveted such a contract for its own Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters and Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the hardliner daily Kayhan, wrote an editorial that effectively accused Rouhani’s government of treason.

The government has tried to placate the Guards by appointing IRGC commanders to various advisory roles, but it has failed to mollify them. And the IRGC has redoubled its efforts to expand its economic might through non-governmental foundations and entities, including  Astan Qods Razavi under the guardianship of Ebrahim Raeesi — the candidate the Guards enthusiastically supported in the recent presidential election.

The Revolutionary Guards seem to want nothing less than to become an economically independent government, impervious to the policies of the formal government of the Islamic Republic.

17. Long-Term Vision of the Islamic Republic

The IRGC approaches policy questions within the five-stage roadmap laid out by Ayatollah Khamenei: Islamic Revolution, Islamic Government, Islamic State, Islamic Society and, finally, New Islamic Civilization. According to the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, we are now at the third phase, the creation of the Islamic State. But it’s a slow process. Hence the IRGC’s large-scale and fierce opposition to government policies and to international covenants such as UNESCO’s Education 2030 Framework for Action, the Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and so on. 

By contrast, Rouhani and his government show no signs of following anything resembling the roadmap. As a result, the Supreme Leader’s representative for the Revolutionary Guards accuses the government of deviance.

18. The “Soft War”

As part of fulfilling Ayatollah Khamenei’s plans to carry out a cultural war to counter “western cultural invasion,” the IRGC has launched a number of large-scale projects, creating cultural centers and sponsoring events outside the government’s control, such as Ammar Film Festival. These projects enjoy support from dozens of news agencies and well-financed websites, all of which are opposed to Rouhani’s government.

The IRGC has created a virtual “war room” to fight the cultural fight, setting up a constant surveillance operation of websites in Iran. It has established “Islamic” social networks, and set up parallel cultural organizations for filmmakers, journalists, publishers, women and other groups. It also spends a vast sum of money on animations, graphics and feature films. None of these activities are controlled by the government. General Jafari believes that the Revolutionary Guards are duty-bound to defend against “soft” threats and conspiracies, and they have no need to seek the government’s permission.

19. Interference in Politics

By law, the Iranian military is banned from interfering in politics. But in practice this is not how the IRGC has operated. According to Ali Saeedi, the Supreme Leader’s representative with the Guards, the IRGC promotes the aims, values and views of the Supreme Leader. If interference is required as part of this aim, then so be it. Revolutionary Guards’ commanders have issued a number of statements, particularly during and after the 2009 presidential election, and they clearly demonstrate this belief.

Since the 2009 presidential election, however, they have somehow modified their tactics and conduct. Interference by proxy and through their affiliated media has been the key approach. This was evident during the campaign for the 2017 presidential election, when the Revolutionary Guards put all their resources at the disposal of Ebrahim Raeesi.


The list above could go on. The IRGC has been sending its forces to Iraq and Syria without any input from the government. It has expanded the paramilitary Basij organization into even the smallest population centers. It has created “Koranic” childcare centers — in fact, it is interfering more and more in education. It supports vast propaganda efforts and campaigns to promote “Islamic lifestyle” and to fight against “bad hijab” and western fashion. And it has carried out, and continues to carry out, operations to remove satellite dishes from residential buildings. In other words, there is hardly any area in the daily lives of Iranians in which the Revolutionary Guards do not interfere.

In March 2013, in an interview with the newspaper Etemad [Persian link], MP Ali Motahari said that, with the fusion of military, political and economic power, the IRGC “resembles a political party.” In 2014 Rouhani reiterated this, and said that the concentration of guns, money and media in one institution would lead to corruption. Then, on June 23, he put it more bluntly. Speaking about corruption [Persian link] in the process of privatization under Article 44 of the constitution, Rouhani said that “part of the economy was controlled by a gun-less government, but now we have delivered it to a government with guns.”

Rouhani now recognizes who the adversary is. In early 2014 Mostafa Tajzadeh, the reformist politician who was then in prison, came up with a good name for this adversary: Iran’s al-Sisi generals.




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