By Nir Boms and Reza Bulorchi
Published July 14, 2005
Officially, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incoming Iranian “elected” president, will assume his post next month – but his presence is already felt in the political circles and the streets of Tehran. Since his election, under the banner of a renewed Islamic revolution, the clerical regime hanged six people and sentenced another to death in the past week alone.
The elections, no doubt, were a sham and the controversy about election irregularities is far from settled. It was no less than the outgoing President Mohammad Khatami who announced an upcoming release of a report documenting the extent of electoral violations and smear campaigns. A similar account, further exposing factional disarray within the theocratic rule, was introduced by former parliament speaker, mullah Mehdi Karroubi, who lost his presidential bid in the first round.
More significant, however, is the fact that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency, which will officially commence in early August, is already showing a policy course that must raise some concern for all who care about the future of Iran.
Far from being a “populist” son of a blacksmith who is hoisting the flag of class warfare against the “wretched rich and corrupt,” Mr. Ahmadinejad’s win can be attributed to his unquestioned loyalty to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the full support of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ top brass.
A former commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) Force in the Guard Corps – tasked with planning and execution of terrorist plots and assassination abroad – Mr. Ahmadinejad was catapulted to presidency by the ultra conservative faction. His presidency was backed by Mr. Khamenei and engineered by the IRGC.
Indeed, the real story of this election is the full metamorphosis of the Guards Corps from an ideological army to an omnipresent political military powerhouse. With Mr. Ahamadinejad’s win, the IRGC is now able to spread it wings over all key centers of power in Iran. This may account for the most major power realignment within the ruling theocracy since Mr. Khamenei’s death in 1989.
The first success of the IRGC’s resurgence took place during national municipal elections in 2003. Then, in the February 2004 parliamentary elections, at least 40 former IRGC commanders won seats. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Khamenei appointed a top IRGC general as head of Iran’s national broadcasting.
As an ominous sign of things yet to come, Ahmadi Moghaddam, the No. 2 in the paramilitary Bassij, was appointed by Mr. Khamenei as Iran’s new chief of police. The appointment of Mr. Moghaddam, who once said “a country where liberal ideas rule will get nowhere,” brings Iran’s regular police force under the domination of the IRGC and signals the readiness to rein in social and political dissent.
State-run media have reported the crackdowns on “social vice” and on “shops and public places in where public chastity and Islamic values are ignored” has already begun. A senior security official toldr eporters that “mal-veiled or unveiled individuals inside and outside of cars” would now be the target of arrests. Responding to the looming crackdown, a group of students from Tehran University rallied as they demanded the release of all political prisoners carrying the banner “Infidelity does not overthrow a regime, Suppression does.”
Currently, the IRGC has full control over Tehran’s terror network and has won the admiration of Mr. Khamenei for “running effective intelligence and diplomatic operations” in Iraq. Mr. Khamenei has also placed Iran’s nuclear development under the IRGC’s full command. Further, active or former commanders of the IRGC maintain control over many of the principal dailies, the municipal councils and the Supreme National Security Council.
In the aftermath of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s win – and in the absence of any feasible alternative for engagement or military action that will neutralize the clear and present threats posed by Tehran – other alternatives must be considered in the complex Euro-American Tehran policy equation.
A housewife in Tehran recently expressed hope that an Ahmadinejad presidency would hasten the regime’s collapse. She told Reuters that “This is the best result…The moment of real change has just got much closer.” She seems to have well captured one of the strategic implications of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency for the success of democracy movement in Iran.
And this is where the American policy toward Iran needs to gravitate. It is a security and policy imperative since only a fundamental change in Tehran would ultimately rid Iran and the region of the ayatollahs’ menace and the pending nuclear weapon that may soon be at its service.
Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Reza Bulorchi is the executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Democratic Iran.