Ali Alfoneh is a visiting research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. A doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Copenhagen, Alfoneh researches civil-military relations in Iran, with a special focus on the role of the Revolutionary Guard. On July 21, Mr. Alfoneh addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call.
Alfoneh began his talk by stating that the Islamic Republic of Iran is in disarray. He contends that Iran is not in danger of collapse; rather, it will emerge from its present convulsions a changed nation—most likely for the worse. He argued that the election fraud and riots that Iran is currently experiencing are the result of militarization that Iran has been undergoing since 1997, when Ayatollah Khameini expanded the powers of the Revolutionary Guard in order to prevent reform.
According to Alfoneh, we are witnessing the end of the Iranian theocracy. The power of the Revolutionary Guard has grown to such an extent that they are now more powerful than the clergy. There are two potential futures for Iran. Iran could become a democracy—this is what most of the protestors want. The other, more likely, possibility is that the Guard will successfully quash the democratic movement, and Iran will transform into a military dictatorship.
In his view, Iran's election fraud was a calculated move by the Revolutionary Guard. For years, the Guard has been accumulating power under the pretext of preventing a "Velvet Revolution"—a Western-backed takeover by democratic forces. Alfoneh noted that, while Iran has a long history of election fraud, Ahmadinejad (himself a former Revolutionary Guardsman) was unusually blatant in stealing the 2009 election. The transparency of the fraud incited the democratic forces to action, thus giving the Guard an excuse to seize power.
Today, the president of Iran, most of his cabinet and the majority of the Iranian parliament are former Guardsmen. The Guard also maintains an extensive propaganda machine, and controls the Army through a system of commissars. Since the clergy depend upon the Guard for security, the Guard stands unopposed.
Alfoneh concluded by arguing that the West should unequivocally treat Iran as a growing threat. In particular, he called on America to take a strong anti-Revolutionary Guard stance, and to pursue a policy of containment. It is especially important that the United States work to forge an international consensus against the Iranian regime, in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from playing the major world powers against each other.
Summary account by Samuel Settle.