One of IranPolitik’s main interests is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its role as a political actor in the Islamic Republic. Since at least 1999 they have intervened in Iranian politics, and are now assuming a position at the pinnacle of power. One of the central figures elucidating the organization’s political preferences has been Ali Saeedi, the supreme leader’s representative to the IRGC. Saeedi, among others, has been making a serious effort to do this in part because of a phenomenon known as “Sepah-Harrasi” or “IRGC-phopia” inside and outside Iran. This has made the IRGC sensitive to accusations that it has been getting involved in partisan politics, leading it to attempt to clarify its role. As an interview by Fars News Agency (FNA) with Saeedi on 13 February 2013 revealed, the IRGC views its role in the regime as being inherently political, albeit within certain limits.
Before starting the interview, FNA noted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his representative Ali Saeedi are the main figures who determine the IRGC’s thinking, giving added weight to Saeedi’s subsequent words. In the interview Saeedi stated that the Islamic Republic’s enemies want to create a sense of fear around the IRGC; however, “Political participation is one of the responsibilities of the IRGC.” He formulated the organization’s political responsibilities in three key points: Having “political knowledge”, having “political insight”, and inculcating a correct “political tendency” in its membership. In this sense, Saeedi acknowledged that the IRGC is a political entity, saying: “These are the aspects of the IRGC’s political participation…there is an essential difference between the IRGC and the regular military which is that political activity is a part of the the IRGC’s responsibility.” He specified that the IRGC was merely forbidden from entry into party politics and political groups.
In attempting to explain the implications of the IRGC’s political role, he asserted that the organization’s ideological leadership taught its membership about the social and political scene in Iran, distinguishing between those who are against the ideals of the revolution from those who are in favour of it. He maintained that these efforts “create the foundation for the correction political tendency.” Interestingly, he noted that this was in part done by analyzing 15 of Iran’s most important political currents which have been active in the last 50 years and producing seven books, each with 400 pages, for its membership to read.
In attempting to further justify the IRGC’s role in politics, Saeedi raised the specter of the soft war, which the regime believes is an attempt by its domestic and foreign enemies to capture the hearts and minds of the Iranian people and turn them against the Islamic Republic. Saeedi was emphatic in saying that the IRGC had to have an active role in the soft war, but that such a role did not necessarily mean that it was engaging in politics. He drove this point home by proclaiming that:
“If one group stands against the revolution, and takes positions in opposition to the slogans of the Imam [Khomeini], must the IRGC not take a stand? …We do not meddle in partisan factions and organizations and their squabbles, but in adjudicating between right and wrong and the confrontation of a [political] current or group against the regime, we can not remain indifferent.”
Editor’s note: With the exception of a famous comment attributed to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, beseeching the IRGC not to become involved in partisan politics, the role of the organization since its foundation has been inherently political. It was not founded as a conventional military force, but was essentially a praetorian militia sworn to defend the regime against enemies foreign and domestic. Saeedi’s interview with FNA attempts to gloss over this by portraying it as a strictly and narrowly defined role of fighting against the enemies of the revolution. But herein lies the problem: How can the IRGC confront and suppress some political currents without, by definition, supporting others? Take for example the 2009-2011 Green Movement demonstrations; whatever one thinks of the Green Movement’s claims, by using violent force to crush this essentially peaceful movement, the IRGC was by definition siding with incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saeedi’s sophistry can not disguise the fact that by virtue of its narrow definition of what it means to be in favour of the revolution, the IRGC excludes the overwhelming majority of political tendencies in Iran and supports a narrow group of hardliners, who we here at IranPolitik label the Neo-Principalists.
This is the clearest admission by a senior IRGC figure thus far regarding the organization’s political role. As the 2013 Iranian presidential campaign unfolds, we are likely to see the IRGC’s hand at work with greater frequency.