• Western governments need to accept the harsh reality that the Islamic Republic of Iran remains a revolutionary regime. The IRGC has responsibility over all ballistic missile programs and research and development. The West also needs to internalize that all decisions over ballistic missiles and associated delivery systems, the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, export of the revolution, aggressive support of the Shi'a ascendancy in the Gulf and militant acts of inhumanity towards their own people are made by the deep state.

  • In short, the Iranian regime is much more Islamic than a Republic. The regime's most reviled and inveterate enemies remain Israel and the United States.

  • Those Iranians opposed to the existing order have been broken physically and psychologically by a combination of regime cruelty and lack of support from the world's democracies.

Despite the voluminous and biased reporting about the conclusions that should be drawn from Iran's recent Majles (Consultative Assembly) elections, the results signify next to nothing.[1] Hundreds of candidates are disqualified from running by the Council of Guardians (COG) if they are judged to be opposed to the current Islamic regime, or on grounds of "moral turpitude" and other reasons that would be irrelevant in a true democracy. When given the limited choice from a thoroughly vetted set of pro-regime candidates, all of whom favor Islamic rule, the people will always vote for the more "liberal" of the alternatives. This is hardly surprising in a country where the existing martial, theocratic order remains highly unpopular.

Whatever the balance in the Majles between hardliners and those members who may be a bit more flexible on some economic and social issues, it matters little. There will always be a significant number of deputies who are former IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) men, and who will hector a President's cabinet members and political allies about decisions which run afoul of "deep state" institutions.[2]

Iran's Majles (Consultative Assembly). Image source: Mahdi Sigari/Wikimedia Commons

The political superstructure of Iran's government is much like that of the former Soviet Union. The office of the President, the Majles, and the Civil/Criminal Court System have little real decision-making power in the Islamic Republic. They are more for show, for the people to let off steam, and for foreign observers who might imagine that from there, the seeds of democracy might take root.

Similar to all of the illusions and wishful thinking of the past, the Rouhani era will not usher in an Iran which will conduct itself like a conventional member of the nation-state system. The aforementioned superstructure institutions will remain superficial. Indeed, they serve as screen for the deep state institutions, which will not evolve. The unelected leaders of Iran's deep state institutions are even more powerful today. No election has resulted in diminution of their power. These substructure institutions -- the Council of Guardians, the Assembly of Experts, the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS), the IRGC's Intelligence Bureau, the Special Courts, and the Office of the Supreme Leader -- remain largely insulated from external pressure and domestic transitory moods.

Western governments need to accept the harsh reality that the Islamic Republic of Iran remains a revolutionary regime. The IRGC has responsibility over all ballistic missile programs and research and development. The West also needs to internalize that all decisions over ballistic missiles[3] and associated delivery systems, the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, export of the revolution,[4] aggressive support of the Shi'a ascendancy in the Gulf[5] and militant acts of inhumanity towards their own people are made by the deep state.

In short, the regime remains much more Islamic than a Republic. The regime's most reviled and inveterate enemies remain Israel and the United States.

Moreover, those Iranians opposed to the existing order have been broken physically and psychologically by a combination of regime cruelty and lack of support from the world's democracies.[6] The people, though sullen, appear resigned to their fate. The dispirited state of the populace has proven advantageous for the ruling clique of the regime's Praetorian Guard, the IRGC, the politically reactionary mullahs, and the economy's kleptocrat-bureaucrats to rule with virtual impunity.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.


[1] A Majles in Islamic governments is more of a consultative assembly rather than a legislative body. It is more of a sounding board for various political constituencies. In fact, the original meaning of the term referred to a Council of Tribes. "The Oxford Dictionary of Islam" by John Esposito, 2003, p. 187. In Iran, it is the Council of Guardians which (Shuraya-e-Negahban) decides whether any bill passed by the Majles is theologically compatible with the Koran and Islam. See "Who Rules Iran" by Wilfried Buchta, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2000, p. 59.A slightly different version of this institution is the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan.

[2] "Who Rules Iran: The structure of Power in the Islamic Republic" by Wilfried Buchta. See Chapter III: "The Internal Political Struggle (1997-2000). All of Iran's previous six Presidents before Hassan Rouhani were victims of tense vocal challenges to Presidential and/or Cabinet level decisions. This was particularly true during President Khatami's two terms (1997-2005).

[3] See Michael Eisenstadt's Chapter on "Iran's Military Dimension" in "Iran Under Khatami," The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1998.

[4] "Islam and Revolution" by Imam Khomeini. Mizan Press: Berkeley, California, 1981. Imam Khomeini outlined in detail in his speeches and writings the Islamic Republic's worldwide mission to establish Allah's Kingdom on earth.

[5] Iran has dispatched thousands of troops, military advisers, militia warriors and spies to assist Shi'a causes in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Bahrain.

[6] See the HBO Film "For Neda" which focuses on the millions of protesters challenging the presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term in 2009. The film quotes the regime as claiming that the President had received 63% of the vote. During the student led protests in 1999 and the widespread national demonstrations after the fraudulent re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009, the world's democracies amounted to muted vocal support.

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