Motahari raises furor by accusing the IRGC of “interfering in politics”

This past week, Majlis representative Ali Motahari spoke out about what he perceived as the undue influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the 2012 Majlis election:

“The interference of the IRGC in many of the election centres came in the form of serious support for candidates which were to its liking. Many of the candidates, including those who were elected and those who were not elected, accept this reality and this is a blight on the IRGC, the Islamic Revolution’s future, and goes against the Imam [Ruhollah Khomeini’s] well-known admonition [regarding military non-interference in politics]. The duty to guard the ideals of the revolution which has been stated in the IRGC’s constitution does not mean interference in politics, but rather to fight armed groups like the Mojahedin, Forghan, and PEJAK who took up arms in rebellion.”

Brigadier General Ramazan Sharif, the IRGC’s head of public relations, responded almost immediately to Motahari’s comments, saying that the IRGC is not indebted to any political current or front, and does not define itself in their limited circle. Addressing Motahari’s reference to Khomeini’s injunction against the military’s intervention in politics, Sharif replied that while the IRGC took Khomeini’s advice into account:

“…experience has proven to us that after every election political individuals and currents raise claims about the [political] interference of the IRGC.”

Nonetheless, he affirmed that the IRGC had declared its neutrality during the election, and said that making such “worn-out” and “unrealistic” claims against the organization only created opportunities for the counter-revolution and foreign media. Sharif concluded on an ominous note by saying that if anyone had proof to the effect that the IRGC had interfered in the election they were “strongly urged” to turn over their documents to the relevant legal bodies, but:

“…the IRGC maintains the right to sue those who raise claims about the IRGC’s interference in the election.”

Following the IRGC’s official statement, more voices have joined the chorus. Masoud Jazayeri, a high ranking IRGC and Basij figure, gave a much harsher response to Motahari’s statement, calling on prosecutors to quickly confront those who defamed the military body, a veiled reference to Motahari. Jazayeri was emphatic in saying that regardless of their intentions, anyone who wanted to undermine the legitimacy of the recent Majlis election was taking an “anti-revolutionary action”.

The Society of War-Veterans of the Islamic Revolution also joined the verbal assault on Motahari, raising questions about his loyalty to the regime and asking whether he was being influenced by the sedition and deviant currents, references to the much maligned Green Movement and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei respectively – accusations which can carry serious consequences in the Islamic Republic.

On Tuesday, 22 May 2012, Motahari shot back at his critics, saying that a Majlis representative has the right to speak on any subject in the country and that no institution should be considered sacred in this regard. He maintained that his comments had not been an insult against the IRGC, but rather a statement of the IRGC’s record of unconditionally backing certain candidates. He emphasized that his comments did not imply that the IRGC had in anyway participated in electoral fraud, but rather that their backing of specific candidates was inappropriate. He went on to say that many IRGC members acknowledged the truth of his claims, and more importantly that he had been informed that:

“…the Supreme Leader of the Revolution [referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has been dissatisfied by the actions of some in the IRGC.”

He then raised the stakes in his ongoing dispute with the IRGC, hinting that:

“If some IRGC commanders continue such actions I will make their names public.”

Editor’s note: Despite high levels of political repression in the Islamic Republic, especially against those who oppose the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, criticism of the organization and its role in Iran’s politics and economy continue. In the past Pragmatists such as Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Reformists like Mehdi Karroubi had made claims similar to Motahari about the IRGC’s role in Iranian politics. The most recent criticism however comes not from the Green Movement or the opposition in exile, but from the very heart of the Principalist revolutionary establishment. While it’s unclear whether Motahari will carry through with his threat to expose the names of IRGC commanders who are “interfering in politics”, his willingness to make such statements in Iran’s current political climate is a sign that the despite severe vetting of politicians by institutions such as the Guardian Council, the regime has failed to create the completely obedient political class that it seeks.