Ali Asghar Kazemi
(Professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran)


Almost 30 years after the fall of the monarchy, the Islamic regime is still fomenting revolutionary fervor and slogans in Iran. Revolutions by nature carry destructive forces which can not be easily routed to construction and development. Those who advocate the Shiite belief of perpetual revolution look forward to the time when the savior of all mankind will reappear and take the lead of humanity to the path of salvation. Meanwhile the revolutionary regime will have to tackle with various mundane problems of a state, while paving the way for the advent of the promised day.

We are not in a position here to pass judgment on the wisdom and suitability of such a doctrine to run the complicated affaires of a modern state. We want just to examine the obstacles before a revolutionary regime to fulfill its earthly pledges to its people and the context in which some military elites may be tempted to enter into the political process.

Among all political activities in Iran after the revolution, presidential and parliamentary elections have been always surrounded by rumors, mysteries and controversies. One such controversy relates to the phenomenon of military involvement in politics. How much this contention is accurate, who are these military men, and what are their objectives?

At the outset let’s clarify the terms military in the present state of affaire in Iran. By military we usually refer to the conventional definition of regular armed forces whose cadre is recruited and educated through a well-established and rigorous disciplinary and hierarchical system. The conventional military man in Iran is historically under strict military regulations which prohibit any involvement in politics while in active duty.

However, this is not true for the volunteered army “Bassiji” and “revolutionary guards” (Pasdaran) composed of devoted men who originally have fought in a patriotic war against Iraq without much background and education in the field. These were essentially young people who dropped from high schools and colleges who chose to offer their priceless lives in the defense of the homeland alongside with the regular army. Many of them were killed or injured and those who returned back from the fronts were reorganized as revolutionary guards “Pasdaran” and incorporated in the armed forces.

After the war they have been given various civilian projects like constructions of dams, roads, irrigation canals, and other economic activities in order to keep them busy and happy. At the same time, they have been offered special quota in higher educations and universities to continue their studies. Many of them are now graduated in various fields and carry the titles of doctors, engineers, generals etc. To be sure, by “military in politics” we refer to these people.

There is no doubt that there are many devoted, clever and bold men among the revolutionary guards’ corps who fought the 8 years Iraq-Iran war with loyalty and patriotic zeal. They have been occupying many important billets in high civilian and military positions. They have shown their aptitude to learn and acquire experience in some jobs and continue to work in various posts such as members of parliament, governors, mayors, city councilors etc.

Except few countries where historically military intervention in political affaires is accepted as final solution to crises and emergencies, armed forces are forbidden to get involved in politics. Turkey, Pakistan and a handful of Latin American states are among those exceptions. But nobody can imagine such thing to happen in democratic Western states. Constitutional provisions usually do not permit military people, who possess the real instruments of power and forces, to take side with any particular party in political strata.

There is no specific mention with respect to military involvement in political affairs in the Islamic constitution. However, while the regular army is “entrusted with the task of protecting the independence, territorial integrity and the Islamic system…” (Art.143) the “Revolutionary Guards Corps” (Pasdaran) has been given the main responsibility of “safeguarding the revolution and its ensuing outcomes” in a separate provision. (Art.150)

In reality, the Revolutionary Guards are in a sense the elite corps in the Islamic Republic armed forces and inherently possess political power and leverage over all other institutions. This is especially true during crises and civil strives like university students and workers unrests during past several years. Here we are reminded of a number of ultimatums and harsh declarations issued by a group of Pasdaran commanders threatening to use iron fist against dissidents, cut journalists’ tongues and topple the government during President Khatami’s tenure in office.

Mr. Ahmadinejad (a former Bassiji) ascendance to power as president was the consequence of a delicate balance with respect to military involvement in politics. But, his poor performance to fulfill its promises in economic and other areas incited a number of high ranking commanders to get directly involved into political fronts. The fear of repeating the tumultuous years of reformists reign, which in their view, brought the Islamic regime to edge of disintegration, gave Pasdaran the necessary pretext to step in for the purpose of avoiding their resurgence to power in the parliament and executive branch.

The problem now is that the elite corps, as guardian of the revolution, is not satisfied with the ongoing process and the share given so far to it in political scene. Pasdaran may think they merit to be taken into play in all affairs of the country. They see themselves more competent than anybody else to run the state. Perhaps in the back of their minds they rationalize they were able to participate in the war without much specialty and education why should not they be allowed to conduct the country in peacetime.

In the final account, Pasdaran see themselves as the ones who saved the revolution and the Islamic regime despite all internal and external conspiracies. They have been already given many lucrative projects during the privatization programs, including the ones in oil and gas industries. But, it seems that economic power alone does not satisfy their expectations; they are asking for more political power.

Indeed, they have now forcibly accumulated much more experience and knowledge in various domains. However, their capacity to run the sophisticated affairs of a state is subject to query. Since, so far no impartial and independent evaluation about their performance in war and their efficiency in civilian positions has been made. They are only fit to function in crisis situations and emergency cases where immediate actions are needed to establish order and secure the status quo. In other words, they can perform only through revolutionary manners, which mean without accountability.

Apparently, the Islamic regime has no other choice than to go along with their increasing demands. Since, they are the ones who have both the material instruments of power and potential motivation to get rid of the cleric rule under the pretext of rescuing the revolution and Imam Khomeini’s legacy. They could, if they so decide, emerge as hero savior in public eyes, as did Napoleon Bonaparte in French Revolution and Colonel Reza Khan after the constitutional revolution in Iran.

The future has many turnings beyond which it is difficult to see. Who knows? May be in the long run we will be deceived in our judgment.

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