Archive for the ‘Iranian elections’ category

International Responses to Iran’s Mass Protests are Beginning to Emerge

January 3, 2018

International Responses to Iran’s Mass Protests are Beginning to Emerge, Iran News Update, January 3, 2018

Perhaps equally important is the escalation in the overall tone of protesters’ messages, respective to the 2009 demonstrations. While the earlier movement was primarily focused on the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current slogans include calls for “death to the dictator,” in reference to Supreme Leader Khamenei and, by extension, the entire system of clerical rule.

It is reasonable to conclude that the suppression of previous demonstrations combined with the regime’s inability or unwillingness to address the underlying grievances is leading a growing number of Iranians to the conclusion that regime change is a necessary prerequisite for the improvement of their own future prospects.

*****************************************

INU – International coverage of Iran’s nationwide protests continued on Tuesday and began to display common narratives as the demonstrations entered their sixth day. The initial protests in the city of Mashhad, allegedly organized around economic issues by conservative opponents of President Hassan Rouhani, led to unexpected expansion in both the geographic and ideological scope of subsequent gatherings. This in turn led to highly predictable government crackdowns, resulting in numerous arrests and several deaths.

CNBC was among the outlets to report that nine people had been killed in the midst of the demonstrations on Monday night. One hundred people were reportedly arrested that night in the capital city of Tehran alone, after 250 others had been arrested in the same locality over the previous two nights. Figures for the total numbers of deceased and arrested protesters appeared more inconsistent as of Tuesday. It was generally agreed that the nine deaths from the previous night had raised the total to more than 20.

Al Jazeera placed the figure at 22 and also reported that at least 530 people had been arrested. But the National Council of Resistance of Iran, drawing upon its intelligence network inside the Islamic Republic, specified higher figures in both instances, saying that at least 30 people had been killed and 663 arrested. The NCRI also provided a breakdown on the location of a number of these arrests, in addition to the 450 that took place in Tehran.

That breakdown demonstrates one key fact that has been widely observed about the current wave of protests: they are different from the 2009 Green Movement and generally unusual among Iranian protest movements insofar as they are not geographically diffuse, involving a number of rural areas that are considered to be conservative strongholds rather than being focused primarily on socially progressive urban areas like Tehran.

In fact, Iranian officials appear to have responded to the growing protests in part by insisting that their original economic focus remained the only significant driving force and that the demonstrations held limited appeal in the capital and in other major cities apart from Mashhad.

Following the first day of protests, it was reported that Tehran officials had declared that only 50 people attended a local gathering and that most of them dispersed immediately following police warnings. Similar messaging seemed evident in quotations cited in the Los Angeles Times, with officials asserting that despite 450 arrests in three days, the demonstrations in the capital were naturally dying down. Those remarks went on to speculate that the rest of the country would soon follow suit.

The nearly simultaneous claims about mass arrests and waning popularity are not the only instances of self-contradiction in the regime’s response to the protests, Al Jazeera raised this issue in the context of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s personal response to the situation, which emerged for the first time on Tuesday. Khamenei sought to portray the protests as primarily the work of outside agitators. Business Insider quoted him as specifically blaming “wicked enemies backed by westerners, easterners, as well as reactionaries of the region”.

In the first place, his decision to weigh in is at odds with other officials’ attempts to downplay the significance of what is happening. At the same time, Al Jazeera notes that by giving credit to foreign infiltrators for such widespread demonstrations, Khamenei is contradicting the regime’s official position that such infiltrators have little real influence in the Islamic Republic. In fact, Al Jazeera asserts that the latter position is correct and that Khamenei’s claims regarding a foreign hand in the protests are not at all credible.

This, of course, is not to say that there hasn’t been an outpouring of foreign interest as the demonstrations have stretched on. Neither does this observation lead to the conclusion that foreign support for a domestically-driven movement hasn’t been welcomed by Iranian activists. Indeed, aBBC report consisting of direct commentary from Iranian citizens includes one quotation embracing the supportive remarks delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via Instagram.

The Iranian activist, identified only as Zahi, addressed Netanyahu directly and then turned his attention to other countries: “Thanks a lot for supporting the oppressed. I expect the same from all other countries. This cruel regime is harsh on its own people. We shouldn’t be under batons and bullets. This isn’t our destiny. We have the right to protest and we ask other countries to support us.”
Netanyahu’s use of social media to express support for the protest movement was predictably emulated on Twitter by US President Donald Trump, who has posted on the topic several times since the demonstrations started. His messages repeated familiar condemnations of the Iranian regime and praised the Iranian people for speaking out about the misappropriation of their wealth for terrorism and projects of regional intervention. These issues had previously been raised by many of the protestors themselves with slogans such as “forget about Syria; think about us!”

Apart from offering personal support for the protesters’ cause, Trump has also overseen responses from the White House that are passing through more official channels. ABC News reported on Tuesday that the administration was keeping up pressure to prevent Iran from blocking the social media platforms that have been used as effective organizing tools for the ongoing demonstrations. The Associated Press added that the White House was actively encouraging Iranian citizens to use virtual private networks in order to evade some of the new blockages that the Iranian government is imposing on specific websites.

Both outlets quoted Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein as saying that the US has “an obligation not to stand by.” He added, “We want to encourage the protesters to continue to fight for what’s right and to open up Iran.”

Much of the international press has criticized President Trump over his direct commentary on the protests, suggesting that any American effort to influence their trajectory would feed into the Iranian supreme leader’s efforts to discredit the demonstrations as the work of foreign agents. Nevertheless, many of the same outlets have expressed earnest support for what the Trump administration is doing at the policy level, as opposed to at the level of pure public relations.

The Atlantic, for instance, insisted that any active American interference would help hardliners, but then advocated for Western powers the help facilitate the free flow of communication within Iranian society. Also, in an interview with PBS NewsHour, Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recommended that the US could help to inhibit Iran’s ability to control communication, adding that one way of doing this would be by censuring any information technology companies that provide Iranian leaders with the tools to limit access within their country.

Sadjadpour also highlighted the considerable impact that the continued flow of information could have on the future of the still-emerging movement, which has reportedly been spreading in absence of centralized leadership or specific, across-the-board demands. He pointed out that whereas Twitter had been a highly successful organizing force in the 2009 Green Movement protests, those protests took place at a time when only one million Iranians could access the platform via smartphones. Today, 48 million Iranians have such devices.

The continued use of those devices as organizational tools would no doubt contribute to a situation that the BBC described as an “unpredictable challenge” for the ruling regime. The BBC also observed on Tuesday that momentum was still building for the grassroots movement. According to theIndependent, that momentum is such that protesters in some areas have actually overpowered security forces and members of the basij civilian militia, disarming and dispersing some of the forces that might otherwise have violently repressed the gatherings.

Of course, it is still widely expected that state authorities will implement a campaign of such repression on the orders of the supreme leader. Sadjadpour noted that the weeks-long protests in 2009 were a case study in the regime’s highly developed capacity for violent repression, which has likely grown since then. And the Washington Post described the office of the supreme leader as having “many loyal and ruthless troops at his disposal.”

This fact, combined with the lack of any notable defections near the top of the regime, leads the Washington Post to conclude that the current demonstrations are unlikely to lead directly to a political tipping point. But the same report suggests that the suppression of those demonstrations will lead to the later recurrence of the same. Other outlets agree with this assessment, and Reuters cited the likelihood of repression leading to further protests as one of the main points of interest for Western leaders who are watching the situation unfold.

Perhaps equally important is the escalation in the overall tone of protesters’ messages, respective to the 2009 demonstrations. While the earlier movement was primarily focused on the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current slogans include calls for “death to the dictator,” in reference to Supreme Leader Khamenei and, by extension, the entire system of clerical rule.

It is reasonable to conclude that the suppression of previous demonstrations combined with the regime’s inability or unwillingness to address the underlying grievances is leading a growing number of Iranians to the conclusion that regime change is a necessary prerequisite for the improvement of their own future prospects.

Finally, an Iranian Spring

January 2, 2018

Finally, an Iranian Spring, Al ArabiyaDr. Khaled M. Batarfi, January 2, 2017

Over 60 towns have joined the rebellion, so far. Iran is awakening. Iranians are demanding their freedom, democracy and rights. They regretted supporting a revolution that turned against them.

********************************

When Iranians protested, mostly in Tehran, for the best half of 2009, they were angry about the rigged presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated his “reformist” rival Mehdi Karroubi. The “Green Revolution,” was about the government —not the regime change. It was led by an elite, educated and well-to-do metropolitans supporting to the reformist movement.

Recent protests are different in many ways. It started in Mashhad, a conservatively religious city, and the birthplace of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, where some 160,000 angry investors lost their life savings in a fraud residential project.

Banks owned by the Revolutionary Guards suddenly closed down wiping out all deposits. And many companies haven’t paid salaries for up to a year! For a couple of years, after the burning of the Saudi Embassy, Shiite tourists from wealthy Gulf region ceased to come and hundreds of business closed down.

Poor, unemployed and hungry people went out to call for a new revolution. They were calling Khamenei a dictator who lives in luxury while his people suffer, wishing him and President Hassan Rouhani death, as both of the are two sides of the same coin.

The city is governed by two of Khamenei top allies, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda and Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi. The latter had participated and lost in the last presidential elections as representative of the supreme leader’s camp and the hardline movement.

Instead of calming the crowd, Alamolhoda advises the authorities: “If the law-enforcement agencies do not punish the troublemakers, the enemies will publish tapes and pictures telling the world that the regime of the Islamic Republic has lost its revolutionary spirit in Mashhad.”

These slogans summarize the sentiments of the Iranian people about their regime’s foreign policies and their devastating repercussions on development, economy and society

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

A religious and conservative town

Other cities followed. Isfahan, the third largest city in Iran, after Tehran and Mashhad joined the ranks. Teachers and retirees came out demanding their salaries and money lost in the failing banks and projects. The city is also a religious and conservative town. Its support of the Khomeini revolution in the late seventies was a decisive factor in its victory. Tens of thousands of their sons were killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

One protester has lost four sons in Iraq, and a fifth in Syria. Instead of rewarding him, they took away his pension, he complains. Now, he cannot support what is left of his family. He is not alone, according to official statistics, 20 percent of the population is below poverty line and 40 percent of them need food aid, that is 60 percent of the 80 million Iranians.

Twenty millions live in shantytowns. Not to mention an inflation rate exceeding 20 percent, and a currency rapidly losing value. The result is a hike in rates of crime, drug addiction and prostitution.

The slogans raised in the demonstrations are telling: “Neither for Gaza, nor for Lebanon, my life is only for Iran,” “Forget Syria, remember us!,” “May your soul rest in peace, Reza Shah,” “freedom or death,” “Release political prisoners,” “Leaders live in paradise, people live in Hell,” “Death to Hezbollah.”

Sentiments of the people

These slogans summarize the sentiments of the Iranian people about their regime’s foreign policies and their devastating repercussions on development, economy and society. While austerity measures worsened an already tough life, the Syrian regime received $20 billion to kill its own people, and Hizbollah gets $1,200 billion a year to do the regime’s dirty business.

Not to mention other costly expenses to support militias in Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. As a protester put it, “We give an Afghan, Pakistani or Arab terrorist up to $1500 a month, with accommodation, food and transportation, while I live in a shack, and my hard-earned income of $250 is delayed or stolen.

Few former Iranian leaders sided with their people. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has just revealed the existence of 63 bank accounts for the head of the judiciary Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani and the corruption of his brother Ali Larijani, the Parliament Speaker.

Others exposed the extent of criminality that reached the highest offices. Top bosses in ministries, banks, charities and religious institutions were found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, sexual harassment and child abuse. Worse, the leadership, including the Supreme Leader, has protected and defended the guilty and tried to hid their crimes.

If the large, industrial and commercial metropolitans groan, imagine the suffering in the remote and marginalized areas. The racist and sectarian regime has always ignored the mostly Sunni Kurdish, Baluchi, Kurdish, Azeri, Turkmen and Afghan communities. Shiite Arabs fared no better.

Over 60 towns have joined the rebellion, so far. Iran is awakening. Iranians are demanding their freedom, democracy and rights. They regretted supporting a revolution that turned against them. The world is watching, as it did in the spring of 2008. This time around it should interfere if the regime terrorizes its own people. Since they pretend to be a democracy, they should be held to its standards.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on January 2, 2018.
________________________
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi journalist and writer based in Jeddah.

Domestic unrest: Iran’s worst nightmare

November 23, 2017

Domestic unrest: Iran’s worst nightmare, American Thinker, Keyvan Salami, November 23, 2017

President Donald Trump has in the United Nations General Assembly and his October 13th Iran policy speech communicated solidarity with the Iranian population, describing them as the first victims of the regime’s atrocities.

“…we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people. The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders. The Iranian people long to — and they just are longing, to reclaim their country’s proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.”

As seen on a daily basis, the Iranian people are voicing their discontent and defiance of this regime, and especially Rouhani’s hollow promises. A repeat of the 2009 uprising is a nightmare from the ruling regime’s point of view.

It is time for the international community to take advantage of this great opportunity and support the Iranian people’s demands to establish a true government based on freedom, human rights, and democracy.

******************************************

The threats posed by Iran in the Middle East through its support for terrorism, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism are undeniable. Its continued backing of various militias has established for Tehran a so-called Shiite crescent across the region. Growing domestic unrest, especially after the recent quake that shook western Iran, is plaguing the regime and showing the international community Iran’s main chink in the armor.

This was also witnessed on October 29th as the regime launched a massive crackdown effort to prevent any gathering marking International Cyrus Day, in memory of an ancient Persian ruler known to be the author of the world’s first human rights charter.

Reports indicate that Iran deployed thousands of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Basij, and Intelligence Ministry members alongside hordes of plainclothes agents to prevent any possible gathering mirroring the 2016 scenario on this same day.

Iran also resorted to a media campaign inside the country and abroad, claiming to have quelled a plot by “foreign-based dissidents and currents opposing the establishment,” as explained in a leaflet distributed by state police warning against any rallies.

Further domestic unrest is witnessed in the growing number of protests by ordinary investors seeing their life savings in state-run institutes plundered. Protests are mushrooming in cities across the country, responded to by the regime with arrests and harsh measures against crowds whose numbers are growing with each rally.

The Iranian regime has usurped billions from ordinary people’s investments to fuel its wars across the region. After 38 years, this has left the Iranian populace suffering tremendously with no light at the end of the tunnel.

“The middle-class in Iran has been all but extinguished,” a report indicates, adding that a large majority of Iran’s 80-million populace currently lives in poverty. City walls across the country are being filled with offers of people willing to sell various body parts, such as kidneys for $2,000, to literally make ends meet.

Iran is also widely known for its practice of repressing ethnic and religious minorities, involving harsh persecution, cruel discrimination, and ongoing cultural and economic marginalization. Tehran’s regime also resorts to a higher level of human rights violations in issuing long prison terms, imposing torture, public hangings, and even mass executions.

Iran’s “moderate” Hassan Rouhani is known to have carried out over 3,100 executions during his tenure as the regime’s president.

Iran is forced to such measures, knowing clearly it lacks any social base. One such case was witnessed when Rouhani’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted about all Iranians being IRGC following the force’s blacklisting by Washington.

The response by Iranians mostly inside the country was a display of sheer defiance against the regime, and how people view the IRGC as an entity terrorizing not only nations throughout the Middle East, but also Iranians at home.

Developments across the globe in the past year or so have made Iranians realize times are changing. For eight years Iran’s regime fed off the engagement policy adopted by the Obama administration. This gave a green light to Tehran for domestic crackdowns and foreign meddling. While Obama turned his back on the Iranian people, especially during the 2009 uprisings, the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump has time and again voiced their support and solidarity with Iranian people.

On three different occasions, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has voiced the Iranian people’s desire for freedom.

“There are strong feelings and values inside of Iran that we want to promote in terms of one day the Iranian people being able to retake control of their government,” he said during his late October trip to India.

President Donald Trump has in the United Nations General Assembly and his October 13th Iran policy speech communicated solidarity with the Iranian population, describing them as the first victims of the regime’s atrocities.

“…we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people. The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders. The Iranian people long to — and they just are longing, to reclaim their country’s proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.”

As seen on a daily basis, the Iranian people are voicing their discontent and defiance of this regime, and especially Rouhani’s hollow promises. A repeat of the 2009 uprising is a nightmare from the ruling regime’s point of view.

It is time for the international community to take advantage of this great opportunity and support the Iranian people’s demands to establish a true government based on freedom, human rights, and democracy.

Iran and Middle East Instability

June 3, 2017

Iran and Middle East Instability, American ThinkerShahriar Kia, June 3, 2017

During President Donald Trump’s trip to the region and beyond Iran was strongly condemned by the American leader and senior Saudi officials for its support for terrorism, destructive role across the Middle East, and meddling in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Tehran is most specifically concerned with world leaders denouncing Iran’s human rights violations and acknowledging how the Iranian people are the main victims of the mullahs’ atrocities.

The Arabs, as the flagbearers of implementing U.S. sanctions, have launched the domino of freezing Iran’s money abroad. Iranian bank accounts in countries such as Turkey, Oman, and the UAE, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are being blocked one after another. This can be considered the prelude to comprehensive sanctions on Iran’s banking network.

***********************

The end result of Iran’s presidential election has created further rifts and launched a more intense power struggle amongst the regime’s senior ranks. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, fearing a repeat of the 2009 scenario of nationwide uprisings, failed to “engineer” the election results with the aim of unifying his regime apparatus. Khamenei sought to prepare conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi as his heir by first placing him in the presidency, similar to the process he himself went through.

The elections, however, failed to provide such a finale and in fact prompted all candidates to unveil corruption in the most senior ranks. This has prompted the general public to increase their demands. Protests and demonstrations are witnessed these days in more than 30 cities and towns across Iran, with sporadic reports of clashes, following the bankruptcy of two state-run financial firms, Caspian and Arman.

Iran is also facing major foreign dilemmas, with a new international coalition shaping and targeting Tehran’s interests. The Arab-Islamic-American alliance, with the presence of 55 States, and Iran’s absence, delivered a major blow to the mullahs’ objectives in the Middle East.

On the other hand, Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), transferring all its members from Iraq to a number of European countries, has become ever more powerful. Through a vast network of supporters inside Iran, the PMOI/MEK was able to significantly influence the recent elections and place the regime in a quagmire like never before.

A major rally is scheduled for July 1st by supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political umbrella group of Iranian dissidents, including the PMOI/MEK. Policymakers and influential figures from across the globe will be gathering to provide a concrete plan to evict the mullahs’ presence from the region, how to establish freedom and democracy in Iran, and thus result in peace and stability in the Middle East. Last year more than 100,000 people took part in this convention.

During President Donald Trump’s trip to the region and beyond Iran was strongly condemned by the American leader and senior Saudi officials for its support for terrorism, destructive role across the Middle East, and meddling in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Tehran is most specifically concerned with world leaders denouncing Iran’s human rights violations and acknowledging how the Iranian people are the main victims of the mullahs’ atrocities.

Despite the heavy blows and new sanctions against Tehran, Khamenei has chosen to remain completely silent. This is in complete contrast to the Obama era, where the mullahs’ leader resorted to harsh outbursts in response to even the slightest hint of threats by U.S. officials.

To this end, adopting a strong approach against Tehran has proven to be correct, parallel to the weakness seen in Tehran following the presidential election.

To add insult to injury for Iran, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on dozens of Iran’s companies, sending a highly important message.

Sanctions have now expanded from ballistic missiles and reached the human rights perspective, and specifically targeting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) with the objective of designating this entity as a foreign terrorist organization

The IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency described a new U.S. Senate bill as an “effort to bring Europe aboard in nuclear sanctions.”

“Foreign investment in Iran during the past four years has halved during the past four years, lowering from $4.6 billion to $2.05 billion,” according to Naseem Online citing a UN report.

The Arabs, as the flagbearers of implementing U.S. sanctions, have launched the domino of freezing Iran’s money abroad. Iranian bank accounts in countries such as Turkey, Oman, and the UAE, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are being blocked one after another. This can be considered the prelude to comprehensive sanctions on Iran’s banking network.

Is Rouhani able, or even willing?

Rouhani is neither willing nor able to carry out any measures outside of Khamenei’s framework. The entire apparatus and power structure is controlled by the Supreme Leader. As long as Iran remains under the mullahs’ regime structure, one should set aside all expectations of change emanating from within Iran. A look at Mohammad Khatami’s tenure is president from 1997 to 2005, andRouhani’s first term, are undeniable proof to this reality.

“They want to change our behavior, but changing it means changing our regime,”Khamenei said recently, signaling his red line.

Rouhani defending Iran’s missiles

The regime’s president recently said that Tehran would continue its ballistic missile program.

“… US officials should know whenever we need to technically test a missile, we will do so and will not wait for their permission,” he said in a news conference.
The Iranian regime reported recently the construction of a third underground ballistic missile production factory and will keep developing its missile program.

This came in the same week when Trump in his foreign visit described Iran as a supporter of militia groups and a threat to all Middle East countries.

Rouhani is an “utterly ruthless operator,” who had presided since 2013 over a collapsing economy and what Amnesty International called “a staggering execution spree,” murdering and imprisoning so many dissidents that Iran has per capita the highest execution rate in the world, according to Christopher Booker in a recent Telegraph article.

Obama’s departure ended the period of appeasement and golden opportunities for Tehran’s mullahs. The road ahead promises to be very difficult, to say the least.

The past four decades have proven that only regime change will bring about what the Iranian people desire and deserve. This is something that is supported by the NCRI and Rajavi’s ten-point plan, calling for a free and democratic Iran where equal opportunities are provided to all citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity, and religion. During the short campaigning season, Iranians manifested their support for Rajavi’s plan by putting up posters reading “Maryam Rajavi is our president.”

 

The Revolutionary Guard’s long shadow over Iran’s presidential election

May 19, 2017

The Revolutionary Guard’s long shadow over Iran’s presidential election, Long War Journal, May 19, 2017

Iranians head to the polls today to choose between “bad and worse” in yet another unfair-and-unfree presidential election. The primary challenger, Ebrahim Raisi – who is considered a frontrunner to succeed Khamenei – has received the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – the protector of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution who have long cast a dark shadow over the country.

The Guard’s political interference has at times been so blatant that incumbent President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday publicly called on it not to meddle. During the final debate last week, Rouhani criticized the Guards for mobilizing support for Raisi.

Some in the West point to this as proof that Rouhani is the “lesser of two evils,” yet the political effect of this difference is minimal:  Rouhani cannot overcome the Guards and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on matters of foreign and security policy—to the extent that he even has differences with them. Rouhani’s feud with the corps goes back to the Iran-Iraq War and is less politically convulsive than can sometimes appear to outside observers.

Since 1989, the Revolutionary Guards’ intervention in Iranian politics and commerce has expanded dramatically under the watch of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has relied on the corps to consolidate his power.

While Rouhani has installed more intelligence ministry than Guard veterans in his cabinet, the corps overshadows all other security and military institutions.

Khamenei and the Guards exercise formal and informal means to check the elected branches. The corps’ decision-making hierarchy is dominated by a tightly-knit network of Iran-Iraq War (1980 – 1988) veterans loyal to the supreme leader. During the reform era (1997 – 2005), Khamenei and the Guards curtailed the agenda of former President Mohammad Khatami and purged reformists from the parliament.

As a partly conscript military organization, however, the 150,000-strong Guard Corps somewhat mirrors society, though more so the pro-regime base since Iranians who don’t support the regime often prefer to enlist in the regular army.  The Revolutionary Guards purged their ranks after the massive demonstrations following the 2009 presidential election: many officers and the rank-and-file refused to attack protesters.  Senior commanders have become more careful about vetting officers.  Khamenei-picked clerical commissars enforce ideological conformity and the corps’ Counter Intelligence Organization, souped up after 2009, roots out dissent.

Factionalism among the Guards, however, remains. For instance, former senior commander and parliamentarian, Mansour Haghighatpour, told a pro-reform newspaper the Guards foiled his re-election bid in the northwestern district of Ardebil last year because he voted for the 2015 nuclear accord.

The Revolutionary Guard has promoted Raisi before he announced his presidential run. Raisi, who owes his power to the supreme leader, has long been close to Iran’s security services. After Khamenei last year appointed Raisi the trustee of Iran’s wealthiest endowment, the Reza Holy Precinct, top Guard commanders visited him in Mashhad.  Media affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard then began promoting Raisi with the senior title of “Ayatollah.” That indicated Raisi was being groomed for the higher office of supreme leader, which nominally requires the senior clerical rank (the media has now returned to calling Raisi a mid-ranking cleric).

Even before the withdrawal of Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran and a former senior Guard commander, from the presidential campaign, Raisi generated the most buzz in hardline circles. Prominent Guard theoretician Hassan Abbasi even claims there’s a “strange” aura to Raisi’s campaign rallies. Photos of guardsmen in Syria declaring their support for Raisi are now commonplace in Iranian social media.  The corps’ weekly Sobh-e Sadegh’s latest edition all but endorses Raisi without naming him directly.

Some in Khamenei’s close circle successfully pushed Raisi to run for president even though he’d initially refused. Cleric Ali Panahian, head of the pro-Khamenei think tank Ammar Base, told a militant seminary audience in Qom this month that Raisi consented to run with reservations.  Panahian viewed Raisi as “one of the sources of support” for the Islamic Republic regardless of “the result of the election.”  Panahian has dubbed Raisi the “seyyed of the dispossessed” (“seyyed” is an honorific given to descendants of the Prophet Muhammad).

The Guard Corps has also directly mobilized supporters for Raisi’s campaign rallies.  A reporter who attended Raisi’s Tehran campaign rally this week said the vast majority of attendees were members of the Basij – an all-volunteer, paramilitary organization that falls under the corps’ command. Eyewitnesses outside the campaign rally videotaped men on motorcycles and more than a dozen buses – hallmarks of the Guard’s mobilization.

The Revolutionary Guards might try to tip the results in Raisi’s favor. Polls by their media seem to predict a Raisi victory. The Guard Corps has attempted to station forces at Tehran’s ballot stations on election day, drawing a protest of a senior official from the interior ministry, which counts the votes and is under the control of Rouhani.  Iranian parliamentarian Mahmoud Sadeghi this week warned about the spread of undercover security agents in Tehran, some of whom vowed to crush the “green sedition,” referring to the 2009 Green Movement. The Guard may want to rig the results by a few points to avoid the mistake of declaring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner by a large margin, which instantly led to widespread suspicions of fraud and massive demonstrations.

Rouhani’s supporters may well accuse the corps and the supreme leader of fraud if Raisi wins. Rouhani has been leading the polls and the public expects high turnout of the reformist base, which could only benefit Rouhani. The president has loudly and repeatedly warned against the Guards’ meddling in this election.

For his part, Khamenei has not overtly expressed his preference for president but has criticized Rouhani throughout the campaign, and has vowed to “slap in the face” anyone who “wishes to disrupt security.” He obviously fears a repetition of 2009 that rocked the regime to its core.

Whatever the result of the election, the Guard Corps will remain the most powerful network in the country.   A Raisi presidency would be beholden.  A Rouhani victory, however, cannot roll back the Guards’ influence.  The Islamic Republic’s history leaves no doubt that republican institutions are incapable of overcoming the unelected powers of the supreme leader and his praetorians, who perceive reform as an existential threat.  The prospect for gradual, peaceful reform within the Islamic Republic is bleak.

Prosecutor General Warns against Attempts to Upset Election Security in Iran

May 14, 2017

Prosecutor General Warns against Attempts to Upset Election Security in Iran, Tasnim News Agency, May 14, 2017

(Please see also, How to Secure and Stabilize the Middle East. Are the mad mullahs worried? — DM)

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Iran’s Judiciary has obtained information about hostile schemes to create insecurity as the country is gearing up for presidential election, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri warned, stressing that any move to disrupt security will receive a harsh response.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Montazeri said reports suggest that “ill-wishers and enemies are seeking to upset security with any means” as election day is nearing.

Giving an assurance that hostile attempts at causing insecurity will get nowhere, the prosecutor general warned that the Iranian Establishment’s response to anyone wanting to upset the security of the country or the election will be severe.

In comments on May 10, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei warned that the enemies’ short-term purpose is to upset Iran’s security and foment chaos.

The Leader also cautioned the six candidates running for presidency against moves or comments that may upset the country’s security and serve the interests of the enemy unintentionally.

“Anybody wanting to take any measure against the country’s security in the election will certainly receive a hard reaction and slap in the face,” Ayatollah Khamenei underlined.

“(The issue of) security is of great significance for the country, for the people, and consequently for me, and security must be fully maintained in the election,” the Leader added.

The 12th presidential election will be held in Iran on May 19.

Six candidates, Hassan Rouhani, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Eshaq Jahangiri, Ebrahim Raisi, Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, and Mostafa Hashemitaba are running in the race.

How to Secure and Stabilize the Middle East

May 14, 2017

How to Secure and Stabilize the Middle East, Clarion ProjectShahriar Kia, May 14, 2017

An Iranian protester during the Green Revolution (Photo: Reuters)

The opinions below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Clarion Project.

In contrast to other countries that lack a opposition that can be trusted, Iran enjoys an internationally-recognized alternative based on democratic values acknowledged across the globe.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its pivotal member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), is the largest and most organized opposition in the face of the Iranian regime. The NCRI enjoys widespread support inside Iran and throughout the world, with the ability to organize an uprising against the regime in Tehran. Senior Iranian regime officials have acknowledged the time and again that the main threat compromising Iran’s entire regime apparatus is none other than the PMOI/MEK. To this end, they have focused their entire efforts on physically obliterating this Iranian opposition group.

In 2009, when the Iranian people took to the streets and demanded fundamental change, their efforts went unsupported due to Obama’s appeasement policy that sought to sign the nuclear deal with Tehran at all costs. This was an opportunity that enjoyed the potential of significantly decreasing existing Middle East crises. Today, the regime in Tehran is facing crises far more dangerous than 2009.

The correct Iran policy is supporting regime change by the Iranian people and their organized and legitimate resistance. By adopting such a stance, the international community can begin to confront Iran’s notorious influence in the region and its nuclear ambitions in order to spread security in a non-nuclear Middle East free of terrorism.

***************************

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced at a press conference on April 19 that the White House is evaluating its policy on Iran. This policy overview will not merely cover the Iran nuclear deal, but will be a comprehensive look at all Iran-related issues.

At a press conference, Tillerson formalized Iran’s provocative and destructive measures in different fields.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel … An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea, and take the world along with it … Iran’s provocative actions threaten the United States, the region, and the world …” he said.

“Iran continues to have one of the world’s worst human rights records,” Tillerson added.

Defense Secretary James Mattis adopted a similar approach on April 22 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, saying, “But we’re talking about the Mideast at an inflection point. And I would just point out right now that among the many challenges the Mideast faces, I think Iran is actually foremost … The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Iran’s meddling has neutralized all efforts to resolve the region’s crises, said Bahrain Interior Minister Rashed bin Abdullah at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) session, adding the region faces threats that demand cooperation to confront. He emphasized the need for unity in Gulf positions regarding strategic matters.

What is the right Iran policy?

Supporters of the Iran appeasement approach believe the correct policy is to engage the mullahs’ regime and continue dialogue. They justify this approach for two reasons: first, to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and second, to attempt to establish change from within by supporting so-called “moderates” inside the regime apparatus.

This is the policy pursued during the Obama years without any political or strategic reservation, and also that of previous administrations throughout the past few decades.

However, rapprochement with Tehran not only failed to contain the mullahs’ ambitions and terrorism; in fact, it further encouraged the regime and plunged the entire Middle East into insecurity and instability.

The Wall Street Journal wrote in a recent piece, “President Donald Trump’s hard-line view on Iran was at odds with State Department diplomats.”

Yet, the solution placed forward by Obama and the State Department’s experienced diplomats resulted in Iran escalating its flagrant human rights violations and expanding its devious influence throughout the Middle East.

Others believe the right Iran policy is a military solution and the U.S. must launch airstrikes targeting Iran’s nuclear sites. Although this can deliver significant blows to Iran’s ambitions and disrupt the mullahs’ efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, the consequences on regional security and stability are controversial, placing the U.S. and its allies in yet another Middle East war.

What is the durable solution? Can we avoid war while bringing an end to the spread of extremism and terrorism across the globe?

Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in today’s world. Since the appeasement policy adopted by previous U.S. administrations has been fruitless in containing Iran and actually led to the current dangerous circumstances, the only viable long-term solution is to adopt a firm policy that hinges on regime change.

In contrast to other countries that lack a opposition that can be trusted, Iran enjoys an internationally-recognized alternative based on democratic values acknowledged across the globe.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its pivotal member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), is the largest and most organized opposition in the face of the Iranian regime. The NCRI enjoys widespread support inside Iran and throughout the world, with the ability to organize an uprising against the regime in Tehran. Senior Iranian regime officials have acknowledged the time and again that the main threat compromising Iran’s entire regime apparatus is none other than the PMOI/MEK. To this end, they have focused their entire efforts on physically obliterating this Iranian opposition group.

Following a visit paid by Senator John McCain to Albania and his meeting with Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, an analysis posted on April 27 in Iran Dideban, a state-sponsored outlet, made vivid the regime’s concern that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) failed to quell and destroy the PMOI/MEK.

“The IRGC’s involvement in Syria led to serious neglect. This inattention has surfaced, resulting in this group [MEK] gaining a more open hand to play a role in on-the-ground developments … It is worth noting this group has significant experience in organizing campaigns and can pose a potential security threat for the country. The use of social domestic networks inside the country and influencing grayscale correspondents are among the efforts of this group. This has launched a wave of disappointment among forces loyal to the establishment and state.”

In 2009, when the Iranian people took to the streets and demanded fundamental change, their efforts went unsupported due to Obama’s appeasement policy that sought to sign the nuclear deal with Tehran at all costs. This was an opportunity that enjoyed the potential of significantly decreasing existing Middle East crises. Today, the regime in Tehran is facing crises far more dangerous than 2009.

The correct Iran policy is supporting regime change by the Iranian people and their organized and legitimate resistance. By adopting such a stance, the international community can begin to confront Iran’s notorious influence in the region and its nuclear ambitions in order to spread security in a non-nuclear Middle East free of terrorism.