With the continuation of street protests in different cities of Iran, the question is: what role will Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) play in confronting the current situation?
In normal conditions, confronting whatever is considered as a ‘security threat’ is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies, the Intelligence Ministry, and, if necessary, the Basij. In critical security conditions and with the decision of various security councils, the IRGC becomes the main security force in different cities.
In Iran’s capital, the decision to activate the IRGC rests with the Supreme Council of National Security. If this council decides that law enforcement agencies, the Intelligence Ministry and the Basij cannot confront existing ‘security threats’, the responsibility is handed over to the IRGC at the Sarallah Base. In case this occurs, other security and law enforcement agencies will act within its directives.
As an example, the day after the presidential election on June 12, 2009, Basij forces, upon the request of law enforcement agencies, confronted the protesters. But after June 15, the main responsibility was handed to the IRGC which continued until August 16.
During recent demonstrations, the main responsibility for confronting the protests has been obviously with law enforcement agencies. But in case the protests spread, it can be imagined that the decision about giving – or not giving – the main responsibility of confronting the protesters to the IRGC will be the priority of security councils, such as the Supreme Council of National Security.
However, currently the IRGC confronting protesters will be much more complicated, compared with similar situations that unfolded in 1999 and 2009.
This time, since the street protests broke out, the IRGC’s Spokesperson and affiliated media have tried to rather consistently stress that they have no problems with the protests, and have shown sympathy towards the protesters given the stagnating socio-economic realities in the country.
At the time of street protests in Mashhad, obviously the IRGC affiliated media portrayed the protesters as showing disenchantment towards certain parts of the government, and that they did not belong to those parts. It was from this position that at the time when the protests started, politicians and IRGC affiliated media noticeably tried to align themselves with ‘those with demands’.
But with each hour that has passed from the beginning of the protests, with their spread to other cities, and with the radicalization of chants covering a diverse spectrum of governmental institutions and policies –crossing ‘absolute red lines’ in Iran – such political steering by politicians and IRGC affiliated media has become much more difficult. The likelihood of the IRGC confronting the protesters, even though imaginable, will be much more difficult than in 1999 and 2009, when the ruling conservatives had called the middle-class protesters –mainly in Tehran – ‘counter-revolutionaries’ from the very beginning.
A while after the IRGC was called on to put down popular urban protests in Islamshahr in 1995 –which was the first Sarallah Base operation, in which several protesters were killed – there was some news in Iran’s political media that showed dissatisfaction of some mid-level IRGC commanders about the use of force in similar confrontations.
A number of critical IRGC commanders had asked their senior officials that in case of another economic protest, the responsibility of confronting it would be given to non-IRGC forces, so that IRGC would remain immune from criticism and prevent reputational damage for ‘cracking down on protestors demonstrating for their livelihoods’. Such protestors, unlike the politically motivated middle-class, couldn’t be charged with political-security accusations. It can be guessed that currently similar preoccupations and dilemmas exist in the ongoing discussions in the Iranian establishment. The result of the discussions, whatever they may be, will naturally influence the direction of future developments in Iran.
Translated Piece: BBC Persian
Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of The Arabain GCIS