A new face of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Soheil Asefi interviewed by Sönke Paulsen, Gedächtnisbüro Berlin
I – The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
‘The menace approach of the West regarding the fabricated issue by the name of ‘the Iranian nuclear crisis’ in the mainstream media and the tragic inability of an undemocratic system with its well-worn slogan of ‘down with USA’ to defend Iran’s national sovereignty against the insatiable desire of the West, Iran in the swamp of World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs’
That’s the way Soheil Asefi sees the ongoing current situation in Iran. We are fast approaching Iran talks’ deadline of November 24. Meanwhile the Economist’s cover has announced ‘The revolution is over’ by referring to the Iran 1979 revolution as an ‘incomplete revolution’ Asefi asserting ‘despite the several failures, the 1979 revolution with its historic slogans ‘Independence, freedom and social justice’ will continuing its path inside the society.’ Soheil Asefi is an independent journalist, Iran and the Middle East analyst in Berlin. He was born in Tehran in 1982. At a very young age, he started writing articles. He worked for various media and publications, writing columns on politics and history, both in cyber and print media. He covered the Majlis [Iranian parliament]. He has interviewed numerous high-ranking government officials as well as many academics. He was arrested in 2007 and spent about three months in the Evin prison in Tehran, mostly in the notorious 209 ward. He spent the most part of his incarceration in solitary confinement. He was released on bail and left Iran some years ago after a ten-year professional experience of major Iranian media outlets. He came to Germany as the guest of the city of Nuremberg under the project Writers in Exile funded by the German PEN Center. He is the recipient of the Hermann Kasten award in Nuremberg. In recent years,he has written extensively on international human rights and the dimensions of ongoing neoliberalization in Iran His articles have appeared in publications such as “Monthly Review”, “Counterpunch” and “Media with Conscience”. He is also a member of the editorial board of Journalists in Exile (JIE), a blog run by Reporters without Borders in Germany.He can be reached on Twitter.
Soheil, you said it is been a long time since neoliberal economic policies is pursuing in Iran. Do you think that the religious foundations in Iran tosay, the ‘Bonyads’ which have control over 80% of economy will agree a new phase of privatization in the country? Which stakeholders do you see, who may oppose this economical ‘liberalization’?
S.A:To answer your question I need to go back a little bit and see what was the history of IRGC. With time, a subsidiary entity that spawned from 1979 began to exert its power within Iran’s political arena, and displayed a pervading influence over international, economic, and security affairs. Within the nation, they are known as the Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami (literally – Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution). In the West, they are commonly referred to as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The IRGC was formed in May of 1979 as a group of Shia militants loyal to Khomeini and the office of the Supreme Leader. Iran experts have correctly labeled them as the “clerical regime’s version of a Praetorian guard”, a buffer that has traditionally protected the establishment from hostile internal opposition and from any threat that Iran’s traditional military, the Artesh, may pose.
Where was the turning point of the rise of IRGC as the dominant economic power in post-revolutionary Iran?
S.A:When the war with Iraq began in the 1980s, the IRGC was incorporated into the nation’s armed forces, becoming a critical component of Iran’s defense effort against the invading Iraqis. By the time the war ended, the IRGC had consolidated its control of Iran’s border security and had embedded itself into the fields of intelligence and reconstruction efforts, securing billions of dollars in contracts from the government. As the Guard began to expand its operations due to its new found economic empowerment, a vast intelligence, military, and internal engineering apparatus began to form, rivaled by no other entity in the nation. In the 1990s, the Guard even took control of Iran’s black market maze, reaping in billions per year from the sale of any and all embargoed goods including liquor (illegal under Iran’s Islamic law).
Today, the Guard is an immense enigmatic labyrinth estimated to number anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 staff members consisting of highly-trained economists, engineers, military strategists, chemists, lawyers, special force reconnaissance units, and an espionage network rivaling Israel’s Mossad, America’s CIA, or Britain’s MI6. The Guard has its own Navy, Air and Army Units, and a law enforcement body known as the Basij, which is separate from the regular police and capable of coalescing up to 11 million troops, both for domestic or foreign operations.
And their relationship with Ayatollahs?
S.A:Now the Guard is the only entity able to severally marginalize the clerics, both politically and economically, if conditions arose where its own financial and security interests were threatened. Contrary to what the mainstream narrative of Iran has been trying to depict one person as a ‘bad man’ and the cause of all evil to simplify and channelize the upheavals, I do believe that it also implies to the ‘Supreme Leader’, he is also kind of in their hands.
What do you exactly mean by their attempt to channelize things and exaggerating of the role of individuals in the MSM?
S.A:Well, the question which needs to be answered is who is Ahmadinejad itself or Rohani? Or even Khamenei?! Are they really prime movers or nothing but the representatives of different factions of ruling capital powers and entities which have no organic relations to those who do all the productive work?
What does the ongoing privatization in Iran mean? Is it a real one?
S.A:Well, the fact is there is not only one model of ‘privatization’ in the world, there have been different models given each countries situation. Putting aside Iran’s very situation for a few seconds when we are talking about the myth of the so-called free market some might argue that recent failures assigned to capitalism – the bankers bailout, the corporatisation of government, the decline in social mobility – are because we do not have REAL capitalism. The fact is in the Middle East and most of the so-called third world international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF have coordinated and led the implementation of neo-liberalism.
Now returning to Iran’s issue,the rentier nature of the Iranian economy, I would say however one might agree that what has been happening in Iran is not that ‘ real privatization’ and still is not exactly how it sounds and these are actually transfers of government-owned industries to cronies of the regime, which has continued under the present government of Rohani. This is so obvious. There are many cases. In one case, which got lots of publicity, a top conservative cleric got a government bank loan to take over a major chain of profitable industries way below its market value for his son. Yet, not only has he not paid back his loan, he did not even pay back the government. Many of Ahmadinejad’s and especially Rafsanjani’s forces became millionaires through this process, or by getting major oil/gas contracts.
Now to return to the gist of your first question, all things considered, I think IRGC’ determination or the core of militarized capitalism in Iran if you will, is going to follow this path through a gate where ‘economic surgery’, the term the Islamic Republic officials an also the neoliberal economists in Iran used to use, begins years ago. However given the current situation in Iran and the real nature of this system it seems inevitable in sense of integrate the Iranian economy into the world capitalist system and secure its survival in another form. We are talking about a bunch of military people that monopolise capital and power and keep it in their hands and of course they are and will be more ready to work with foreign capitals once the situation get a bit stable and also if the widespread corruption in the system allows them to pursue the whole agenda of the IMF and the World bank for the so-called developing countries .Of course It’s a long way and still different with what you know as neoliberal capitalism model in the West. They have been preparing the prerequisites. Although it is true that there is no such thing as a systematic structure in the current regime, and that makes it so difficult to venture a cut-and-dried opinion. Another thing which is also very important to take it into account is that, as I said before we do not have only one model of neoliberalism in the world, experience has shown that the so-called structural adjustment programs (saps) which Iran has been sinking into this swamp more and more,can adopt itself given the different political, geographical and regional structures in the world and different countries. However of course Iranian neoliberal version won’t be exactly like the model in the West or even like some of these emerging economic powers , it is definitely a long way to become a real neoliberal capitalist country, even to become Turkey today, but contrary to all mainstream pro-capitalism narratives about Iran, the forces who have been appearing in the mainstream media even by the name of progressive, very actively now, very correctly opposing the brutal sanctions but failed to address the neoliberal policies in Iran today, and at the end of the day they are doing their job like a fixer of the Islamic Republic and the so-called international community, I do believe that the Guard might play the role of these capitalism corporations just like the world’s richest 1 percent until the further notice, that’s the process of transmutation and here won’t be the Islamic Republic anymore but a name of it… I mean if this scenario works, of course for this they need to get over some obstacles and secure the capital first, we have to see how they can do their job. The fact is it is in the process and it seems inevitable, however there is definitely no guarantee that this will be easy in this structure.
A new face of the Islamic Republic in Iran?
Yes, if you will. The fact is we face a new image of Islamic Republic, Islam’s marriage with neoliberalism. And regarding your question that if the IRGC can make it, contrary to most of pro-capitalist pundits, I do believe that they can make it to some extent, why not? It’s not only about Iran, what is going on even in the advanced capitalist countries today? Neoliberalism and the rise of the private military industry in the US is a very relevant evidence, so IRGC is definitely part of the emergent bureaucratic Iranian bourgeoisie and if other factors let them to move forward they can play their role in this transition process, state as a contractor of the private sector like many other capitalist countries in the world.
The full interview is not published yet and can be ordered for publishing.
Part II – Neoliberalism in peoples every day life in Iran today
Part III – The lifestyle of the economical and political elites in Iran of today