Morning Brief

For the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, protecting the Islamic theocracy takes priority over duty to the Iranian nationhood

Why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will remain with the regime until the end.
Published by
Central Office
on October 22, 2022
on October 22, 2022
Image Source:
Foreign Affairs Magazine
Image Description:
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces founded after the Iranian Revolution on 22 April 1979 by order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Imagine a place where you are dissatisfied with the system that constrains you and deprives you of many needs, but with all that you are afraid to react. Imagine a political class that you no longer consider legitimate in your social microcosm, and yet you are afraid to confront it. And finally, imagine an army that, supposedly national, serves private interests. One might say such a place exists in the imagination of eternal totalitarian regimes whose populations do not know such things as liberalism, free-speech and free-will. But it is still a place that once tasted liberalism and democracy, and between 1910-1925, it was even considered a constitutional monarchy and later an important ally of the United States in a tumultuous region that struggled between Arab nationalism and Islamism, between socialism and conservatism. If you haven't guessed yet, this place was Iran, once a centuries-long dynastic empire turned constitutional in 1906, authoritarian in 1925, again pseudo-democratic in 1941, pseudo-authoritarian in 1949, authoritarian in 1953 and then theocratic in 1979. All these stages transformed the Iranian people and society, made it wish, dream and expect several changes in life, it made it arbitrary in the social contract with the political class, and the most important of all, it made it more politically active than ever. It reacted against Qajar and the capitulations that basically sold the state to British and Russian interests, in favour of a more balanced sharing of power and an accountable monarch who was supposed to reign, not rule. It welcomed Reza Khan in the 1920s only to denounce his excesses two decades later. It accepted his son as a product of British-Russian-American new geopolitical calculations for the region at the beginning of the World War II until they made him abdicate 35 years later following an intellectual revolution that had Ali Shariati and Imam Ruhollah Khomeini as main protagonists, and which ended with the installation of today's Islamic Republic of Iran. And after four decades, Iranians are active again in the eternal renegotiation of the social contract that establishes the terms of operation in the society: how many liberties the politics can permit against how many political excesses the civil space can accept. But today, that renegotiation is conducted in the terms of the former, and not even of the politics entirely, but only of those willing to conserve the theocratic regime and stand by it until the very end. The civil society after decades of impunity in renegotiation, might find it hard today, even way too dangerous to present the very truth of the period since the country used to be called Persia: 'that people have power'. At the basis of such a lack of impunity in naturally acting and bravely reminding the politicians that the civil space must be heard, is the security establishment, and not the army, but the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In the past, the potential of civic participation or engagement was always dependent on the possibility of the army to react (or not). During the 2011 Arab Spring, people could easily react with impunity against Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia as the army refused to back the regimes. Even in Iran, in the tumultuous 1978-1979 the Iranian people could act with impunity against the excesses of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the army officially declared neutrality. But while the Iranian army was national and thus expected to serve the Iranian state and nationhood, the IRGC is much more ideological and therefore more loyal to the regime rather than the nation. The brutality of the IRGC against protesters throughout the last years does not serve a national interest, but a purely existential one, which makes its methods of maintaining order far exceed ordinary practices of other security establishments. The IRGC is the product of the Islamic revolution, and its very existence depends on maintaining this revolutionary theocratic order. While an ordinary national army could survive a regime transition, the IRGC cannot exist outside current political order making any uprising in Iran against the regime, an exponential threat to the IRGC itself. The IRGC is much more interested in ideologically serving the regime, than pragmatically serving the national interests of the republic. In the Middle East in particular, the Revolutionary Guards are more reluctant to engage in military adventurism for the geopolitical interests of Iran, but more willing to engage in spreading the revolutionary ideology further to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This state of affairs within the Iranian security establishment of the Islamic Republic is even more important today during the protests that gripped Iran following the death of Kurdish Iranian Mahsa Amini as a result of the brutality of the morality police who arrested her for not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards, as unlike those from 2009, 2017 and 2019 that were more inclined towards reform, the 2022 activism is particularly addressed towards the regime itself, not a renegotiation of the social contract, but rather a total break with the past of the last 43 years. As far as the IRGC is concerned, such a scenario cannot be accepted. As a divine creation of the theocratic regime, for the Revolutionary Guards any attack on their creator represents an attack on creation and on the Guards themselves. The more the protests move away from the demands for reform and towards the inconsistencies and sins of the regime, the more the IRGC's response will not be other than this, frightening brutality.

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