TWQ: The Militarization of Post-Khomeini Iran: Praetorianism 2.0 - Winter 2011

On June 4th of every year since 1989, the Islamic Republic of Iran holds a grand memorial to honor the passing of its founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. In 2010, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) organized and managed the memorial for the first time. As Khomeini’s grandson Hassan Khomeini, himself a cleric, stepped up to deliver a sermon, government supporters chanted in protest and booed him off the stage. The humiliation of Khomeini’s family vividly illustrates how Iran’s power structure has fundamentally changed, away from its unique clerical model toward a type of military dictatorship. In other words, the Islamic Republic is no longer a semiautocratic, clergy-led state which allows some form of citizen participation. The mass protests following the hotly contested June 12, 2009 election were indeed proof that the Islamic Republic has a vibrant civil society and that many Iranians still expect some level of electoral fairness. But Iran is now a military-led system or, in political-science terms, a ‘‘praetorian’’ state. From this perspective, one may interpret the June 12 election fiasco not as a struggle for power between reformist and hard-liner camps, but rather as an assertion of influence and a de facto coup by the emerging militant class and its preferred candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, against the clerical oligarchy that came to power through the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution.

Elliot Hen-Tov and Nathan Gonzalez