Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Ayatollah's Praetorians: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the 2009 Election Crisis

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Ayatollah's Praetorians: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the 2009 Election Crisis

Article excerpt

One of the central questions of the 2009 Iranian Presidential Election crisis has been the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). This article argues that what we are witnessing goes beyond the institution of the IRGC to the unmasking of a new faction in Iranian politics, which has been overtly (through elections) and covertly (through penetration of state institutions and the economy) transforming power in the Islamic Republic of Iran since at least 2003.

The Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) created the Praetorian Guard from among the best and most loyal legionnaires to protect himself from the machinations of generals in the provinces. In time, the Praetorians became a power unto themselves, installing and removing emperors at will. The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) today is witnessing the coming of age of its own Praetorian Guard. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), tasked by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to defend the new regime from its foes after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, has outgrown its original role into a vast social-political-economic-security complex.1

The rise of the IRGC has been the subject of much debate since the election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, an ex-Basij2 member with ties to the IRGC, to the presidency in 2005. The 2009 Iranian presidential election crisis, in which the organization was visibly involved, has raised even greater questions about its role in the polity. Yet the literature surrounding this phenomenon has failed to provide a simple and accurate framework for understanding the IRGC's ideology and goals and their methods for realizing them.3 This article introduces two concepts that provide such a framework. First is the idea of the "Neo-Principalists,"4 the political manifestation of the IRGC's leadership that first entered politics in the 2003 City and Village Council elections as the Abadgaran-e Iran-e Islami [Developers of Islamic Iran]. Although they have been closely allied with the Principalist faction in Iranian politics, we show that they are in fact a new faction with a distinct ideology and goals that represent a direct challenge to the established order. Second is the idea of the "Masquerade Coup d'État," the Neo-Principalists' strategy of simultaneously taking power by overt electoral and covert coercive means. Their election to political office in the 2003 City and Village Council elections, 2004 Majlis [Parliament] elections, and 2005 presidential elections has been paralleled by their covert penetration of the economy and state institutions. The election crisis is the most visible step in the Masquerade Coup; the perception that the Neo-Principalists have committed electoral fraud and are seizing power has created a popular opposition movement against them. Consequently, they have been forced to show their hand and accelerate the completion of their seizure of power in a manner that has resembled more closely a traditional coup d'état.

This article sheds light on these two concepts, and how the processes they represent may reshape Iranian politics. First, we briefly highlight the main political factions of the IRI since 1979, namely the Islamic Right/Principalists and the Islamic Left/Reformists, to set the entry of the Neo-Principalists in context. Second, we will look at the origins of the Neo-Principalists in the IRGC as an institution, starting with the Guard's beginning as a pro-Khomeini militia in 1979. We follow the IRGC's transformation into a social and military force during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), expansion into the economy during the era of President Hashemi-Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and emergence as the dominant domestic security organ and a political force in the era of President Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005). Third, we shift the study from a historical overview to an analysis of the Neo-Principalists, identifying their ideology and goals. The fourth section attempts to unpack the Masquerade Coup. Although the IRGC has arguably been expanding its role in the IRI since its inception in 1979, we focus on the period from 2003 to the election crisis in 2009 when the Neo-Principalists emerged as a distinct faction. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.