Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Power in Iran

Today is Tuesday, 28 July 2009.

For about two decades, I’ve been noting a striking resemblance of the roll of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran to the rolls of the militaries of Indonesia and Pakistan. Each isn’t just a traditional military force: each is also a major capitalist enterprise.

On 20 July, The New York Times (citation below) finally got around to taking (partial) note of the situation. “The corps has become a vast military-based conglomerate, with control of Iran’s missile batteries, oversight of its nuclear program and a multibillion-dollar business empire reaching into nearly every sector of the economy. It runs laser eye-surgery clinics, manufactures cars, builds roads and bridges, develops gas and oil fields and controls black-market smuggling, experts say.”

In Indonesia, during the years of the Suharto-led dictatorship (1965-1998), the military not only established its own commercial businesses, it also ran a form of protection racket. It was nearly impossible for anyone to open a private business of any size without taking an NCO or officer (the more lucrative the business, the higher the rank) as silent partner. This military man contributed no capital, only the use of his name and influence in navigating bureaucracies. The officer received a cash payment each month, whether profit had been generated or not. Failure to pay resulted in closure.

In Pakistan, the military has deeply penetrated the economic life of the nation, as described in Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy by Ayesha Siddiqa. Its range of businesses is even more extensive than that of the Revolutionary Guards.

In addition to commercial ventures, the Guards have also inserted dozens of members and cohorts into the Parliament, and tens of thousands into the bureaucracies. Guard members and their families enjoy preferment in access to higher education and other perks.

The following from the Times article may overstate the situation, but not by much. “It is not a theocracy anymore,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert in Iranian affairs and a co-author of an exhaustive study of the corps for the RAND Corporation. “It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”

I believe it’s more accurate to say that the Iranian ruling elites are deeply divided between hardline factions (strike early and often with the iron fist, and forget the velvet glove) and more subtle factions (conceal the fist in the glove until necessary). Neither is truly democratic nor serves the people.

In the end, it will depend on which faction within the Guards has greater firepower and will to use it.

If you’re experiencing Déjà vu all over again, there’s a reason. The Shah, vigorously backed by the USA/USE, ruled through a military dictatorship with a veneer of compliant Shiite clerical stooges.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Reference from above:

On this date in 1914, the Empire of Austria-Hungary declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia, beginning The Great War.


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