Wednesday, 14 December 2016
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini’s appointment of a top general as the new head of Basij, a militia that also acts as a vigilante force against domestic dissidents, is the latest “sign that the Islamic Republic has no intention of easing its grip on internal dissent,” two researchers from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in a policy brief on Tuesday.
Behnam Ben Taleblu and Amir Touraj wrote that the appointment of Brig. Gen. Qolam-Hossein Qeibparvar, a top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), shows that Iran’s political elites believe that “the greatest threat to their survival ultimately comes from within.”
Member of the Basij undergo political and theological indoctrination to “ensure they zealously obey the official ideological line,” they explained. “Over the past three decades, the Basij has spawned a number of sub-groups, penetrating all aspects of civil society from labor unions to student organizations. And in recent years, Khamenei has increasingly marshaled the Basij against the so-called “soft war” that Tehran accuses the West of waging to change Iranian society’s political, cultural, and religious values.”
The Basij were key in putting down student protests in 1999 and post-election protests in 2009; many have been deployed to Iraq and Syria in recent years.
Qeibparvar has risen through the ranks of the IRGC, including a recent appointment to head the Imam Hossein Central Base, the headquarters for forces charged with quelling unrest on the domestic front.
“Khamenei’s appointment letter calls upon Qeibparvar to continue his predecessor’s work and expand the organization’s socio-cultural and military activities,” Touraj and Taleblu concluded.
The Basij will continue serving as the bulwark against any repetitions of the 2009 protests, and against any political, social, and cultural changes that would challenge the hardline-dominated system. Ultimately, Qeibparvar’s appointment is yet another sign that the Islamic Republic has no intention of easing its grip on internal dissent or scaling back its military adventures abroad.
This is only the latest indication that Iran is preparing to continue and amplify its repression at home in the wake of last year’s nuclear deal.
Despite promises to liberalize society when he ran for president in 2013, there has been no increase in freedoms under Hassan Rouhani. The New York Times reported in November 2015 that Iranians hoping that the nuclear deal would lead to a rapprochement with the West had been “jolted with a series of increasingly rude awakenings,” including increased anti-American activity and a further erosion of rights. The report was prompted by the arrests of several prominent Iranian journalists and businessmen with ties to the United States. Since that report, Iranian fashion industry workers have been convicted of “spreading prostitution,” over 30 Iranian students were given lashes for dancing at a co-ed graduation party, and a soccer player was arrested and suspended from playing for six months for wearing SpongeBob SquarePants-themed pants.
In February, the month after the deal was officially implemented, elections solidified the hold of hardliners in Iran’s parliament and the Assembly of Experts, which will select Iran’s next Supreme Leader. Most “moderates” or “reformers” were disqualified from running.