Ali Motahari criticizes the IRGC’s political and economic influence

Maverick Iranian parliamentarian Ali Motahari has once again stirred controversy with a recent interview (originally published in the Nowruz edition of Etemad newspaper and republished elsewhere) in which he touched on a number of issues facing Iran, including what he considered the undue political and economic influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the country’s premier security body. While much has been written on the IRGC’s political and economic role by observers outside of Iran, statements by Islamic Republic officials have been limited not only because of concerns over Sepah-harrasi (“IRGC-phobia”) but probably due fear of retaliation as well.

Motahari has been an exception to this trend, and this week he spoke out on the IRGC again. The desire for power and wealth, he explained, has been pushing the revolution away from its intended path, noting that “Among the first order figures and close friends of the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] we did not have this diversion and penetration, however in the lower ranks [i.e. the IRGC], these unfortunately existed.” He indicated that in recent years these lower ranked figures diverted away from the path of the revolution and penetrated politics and the economy:

“This means that military, political, and economic power have come together and become linked. The IRGC has become political and also economic and resembles a political party. It is possible that in the beginning there was good intentions; however now this has made the foundation of the IRGC vulnerable.”

Motahari is among a very small group of Iranian politicians still in power who is willing to publically criticize the IRGC. Motahari was also a vocal critic of what he perceived to be the IRGC’s role during 2012 parliamentary elections, asserting that:

“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.”

While in the past Motahari has been a lone figure speaking out on such issues, since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president in June 2013 he has been increasingly close to the new administration, apparently even stepping up to lead an explicitly pro-Rouhani breakaway faction in parliament. While the Rouhani administration has limited its criticisms of the IRGC for the time being and appears to have a tentative concensus on the nuclear negotiations with the body, Motahari’s comments could be the early rumblings of a larger conflict between the two sides to come.

As of the time of writing the IRGC had not formally responded to Motahari’s comments, likey due to Nowruz national holidays.