Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The rise of the Revolutionary Guard

Morris M. Mottale is a professor of International Relations and Comparative Politics at Franklin College, Switzerland. He wrote this analysis for Al Jazeera. Using historical and comparative examples, he describes the rise of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The birth of a new class
Ayatollah Khomeini's vision encompassed the notion of a political system derived from Plato's Republic and tinged with Shia Islamic values and messianic expectations.

However, 30 years after the formation of that regime, what stands out is the rise of a new ruling class… the IRGC or Revolutionary Guards - and their auxiliaries, the Basijs…

The Iranian experiment shows remarkable analogies with European experiences of totalitarian rule during the 20th century…

While Khomeini, in his last will and testament, called on the military forces to follow the guideline of non-intervention in the affairs of state, in reality the opposite took place…

In fact, Ayatollah Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini as Iran's supreme leader, came to use his position as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to expand his power.

In time, Khamenei came to appoint many Revolutionary Guard commanders to top political positions, thus blurring the line between military and civilian authority.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, Ali Ardeshir Larijani, the secretary of the supreme council of national security, Ezzatolah Zarghami, the head of state television and radio services, Mohsen Rezai, the secretary of the expediency council, and Mohammad Forouzandeh, the head of the Mostazafan Foundation, are all former members of the IRGC who were appointed by Khamenei.

Since the turn of the millennium, the Revolutionary Guards have become the dominant group in not only defence policy, but in domestic political and economic affairs…

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Guards began engaging in reconstruction and during the 1990s they developed a taste for commercial dealings, real estate speculation and the profits that came with them.

By the time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, the Guards had come to oversee many sectors of the Iranian economy, including oil, construction, agriculture, mining, transport, the defence industry and import-export companies…

It is estimated that one-third of the Iranian economy is controlled by the IRGC and its leaders…

The recognition of the Revolutionary Guards has come to be the most sought after form of patronage in Iran for those seeking political or economic benefits - a patronage that is coming to match, if not displace, that of the clerics themselves…

The relationship between the Revolutionary Guards and the ayatollahs has become a symbiotic one. The protection of the regime was given to the Guards in exchange for status, prestige, and economic wellbeing that, in turn, was increasingly linked to neo-patrimonial bureaucratic structures based on kinship and marriage...

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