x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Iranian opposition goes back on attack

Mousavi criticises 'security state' as the Revolutionary Guard takes control and threatens to crush any demonstrations.

Iran's defiant opposition leaders yesterday condemned the "security state" imposed on their country after the elite Revolutionary Guard gave a stark warning that it would "play a deciding role" in preserving Iran's post-election system - branded "illegitimate" by its many critics. Tensions, already high, will be further inflamed tomorrow if, as expected, thousands of people rally on the streets to mark the 10th anniversary of student pro-democracy protests that were brutally suppressed within a week by gloating security forces. Any such nationwide rallies will meet with zero tolerance from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which appears to have seized control of the country's security machine. Its military commander acknowledged for the first time that the force played a key role in crushing the huge demonstrations that followed last month's fiercely contested re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Major Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari said that the intervention by the IRGC, which is under the direct control of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had given "new life" to the Islamic Revolution and "strengthened its pillars". Gen Jafari claimed that the corps' actions should not be seen as "meddling" in politics. But he undercut his argument by proclaiming: "We are convinced that the IRGC must play a deciding role in the preservation and continuation of the revolution." His remarks will underscore widespread opposition fears that the republican and democratic spheres of the Iranian system have been smashed, leaving a militaristic state with a clerical veneer. Many prominent religious figures in Qom, the influential centre of Shia scholarship, are also said to be worried that the system's clerical influence is being eclipsed by the corp's ascendance. The opposition, led by Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, whom millions of Iranians believe was the real winner of the "stolen" June 12 elections, warned that the "continuation of arrests and the security state would lead to a more radicalised political atmosphere". Mr Mousavi on Monday met Mehdi Karrubi, another defeated reformist candidate, and Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president. It was the first meeting of its kind by the leading figures in the reform movement since the elections. In a strongly worded statement posted on Mr Mousavi's website, all three demanded that "security and military forces must return to their bases" and end "the useless wave of arrests" that have followed the elections. They also deplored "savage and shocking attacks" against protesters by the Basij militia, a volunteer force under the IRGC's command. The reformist trio, all insiders of the Islamic system, lamented the deaths of protesters "whose only crime was to object to the election fraud ? at spontaneous, several-million-strong demonstrations held in extraordinary peace and order". They added: "If their rights had been slightly respected or if the people had not been lied to or disrespected, the situation would never have turned into a national crisis." More than 1,000 opposition supporters and prominent reformists were arrested in the election's aftermath during which at least 20 protesters were killed. Iranian reformists argue that the election was effectively a palace coup against the people and regime moderates by Ayatollah Khamenei and his protégé president, made possible because they were supported by the IRGC's military muscle. "Khamenei and Ahmadinejad can only rule by force now. Their reliance on the security apparatus is greater now than ever before," said Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council. The 120,000-strong IRGC was formed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution because the jittery new regime was mistrustful of the regular army, which today has 430,000 members, although its rank-and-file consists mainly of conscripts and it has no political role. Mr Ahmadinejad, a mid-level IRGC commander during the 1980s war with Iraq, has installed many of his former colleagues into senior government positions while most of Iran's provincial governors are also old contacts from his IRGC days. Also, with Ayatollah Khamenei's tacit blessing, Mr Ahmadinejad has ensured the force's loyalty by allowing the IRGC to become an economic giant. It has been given numerous lucrative infrastructure projects ranging from the development of railroads and dams to natural gas fields. On Sunday, the IRGC's political chief, Gen Yadollah Javani, delivered a stark ultimatum along the lines of "you're either with the system or against it" by insisting that "no one is impartial" in the dispute over the election outcome. "There are two currents: those who defend and support the revolution and the establishment, and those who are trying to topple it," he said. His uncompromising and polarising message was oddly reminiscent of that given to the world by George W Bush, the former US president, following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington: "You're either with us or with the terrorists." At the time, Ayatollah Khamenei responded that Iran was neither with the US nor the al Qa'eda terrorists, who are deeply hostile to predominantly Shiite Iran. Similarly, Mr Mousavi, whose revolutionary credentials are impeccable, rejects specious attempts to discredit and delegitimise the Iranian opposition. He argues that he is acting to defend and preserve the Islamic republic he helped found. Gen Javani said: "We came up against deep mischief during this election. A mischief that gave birth to the new divisions. During these events, the eye of the mischief was damaged, but it was not blinded. Now the eye of the mischief must be blinded completely and gouged out, and this can be done by illuminating the events behind the scenes." His lurid threats were conspicuously ignored by Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of Iran's most influential clerics and politicians. A potent enemy of Mr Ahmadinejad, and rival of Ayatollah Khamenei, he supported Mr Mousavi's election bid but had kept his distance from the post-election turmoil. Ayatollah Rafsanjani heads a clerical assembly empowered to elect, supervise and even, theoretically at least, to dismiss Iran's supreme leaders. Yesterday he broke his silence is dramatic fashion. His Kargozaran Sazandegi, or Executives of Reconstruction Party, issued a statement declaring: "Due to the unhealthy voting process, widespread irregularities and the support extended by the majority members of the Guardian Council [the main electoral watchdog] to a specific candidate [Mr Ahmadinejad], the result of the election is not acceptable." mtheodoulou@thenational.ae