Revolutionary Guard in charge
Paul Jay speaks to Babak Yektafar, Editor-in-Chief of Washingtonprisom.org about the protests in reaction to the Iranian election results. Yektafar speaks of the power in Iran being in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard, and says that, "in the past five or six years we have seen a major step forward by this entity. They gained immense economic power… [and now] they’ve gotten more and more involved in the politics of the Islamic regime. They’re extremely sensitive to guarding their interests."
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hundreds of thousands of protesters ignored a government ban on rallying and flooded the streets of Tehran Monday to continue protesting the outcome of last week’s presidential election. Witnesses in Iran said pro-government militia shot and killed a protester when they opened fire at the crowd on the third day of the demonstration. News agencies are reporting that dozens of activists were arrested over the weekend. To better understand the underlying forces involved in this struggle, The Real News talked with Babak Yektafar a few hours before the protest began. Thanks for joining us.
BABAK YEKTAFAR, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WASHINGTONPRISM.ORG: Thank you for having me.
JAY: So full-out—I shouldn’t say full-out civil war has broken out amongst the elite, because they’re not shooting at each other, but it’s pretty close. What’s going on now?
YEKTAFAR: Well, as far as the kind of news that we can get—of course, that has been difficult in the past 24 hours—essentially, after the Interior Ministry officially announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad, the incumbent, has won over 62 percent of the votes and that his main challenge challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, with 33 percent, and declared Mr. Ahmadinejad the winner. There has been an outpouring of protests, particularly in Tehran, the capital city, but also in some of the other major cities. And the challenger, Mr. Mousavi has gone as far as saying, essentially, that not only the election has been stolen, but in essence there has been a coup and a takeover by Mr. Ahmadinejad and his faction. And of course when they make a reference to "coup", they’re obviously also talking about some of the elements of the Revolutionary Guards, the internal militia in Iran that’s responsible for also the security apparatus inside Iran.
JAY: Now, Rafsanjani is in a number two, third most powerful position in the country. Mousavi’s been prime minister before. What is the Revolutionary Guard so afraid of here, if in fact they won the election? It’s another part of the elite that’s been ruling. Why are they so worried about it now?
YEKTAFAR: Well, I mean, you have to realize that, you know, it’s hard to go back through the history of the Revolutionary Guards. It goes back for almost 30 years, and it has been this gradual evolution of the Guards. And, in fact, now, in the past five, six years, we have seen a major step forward by this entity, in the sense that first they gained immense economic power. In fact, Mr. Rafsanjani himself was mostly responsible for that, because the reconstruction of the country after the Iran-Iraq war was mostly given to the Revolutionary Guards. But also in the past five or six years we’ve noticed that they’ve gotten more and more involved in the politics of the country, of the Islamic regime, and they’re extremely sensitive to the guarding of their interest. In fact, if you talk to anyone, they will tell you that the Revolutionary Guards are involved in every economic aspect, trade aspect of the country. But also they are also extremely sensitive to any kind of internal uprising or struggle against them, because they see their future and the benefit to them in the survival of this particularly regime. So they see a lot of stakes for them in this regime, and they’ve been extremely sensitive. And we’ve seen warnings that they’ve sent out, particular to the followers of Mr. Mousavi.
JAY: Now, when you say this regime, you don’t just mean Ahmadinejad. He’s one guy. People, the players come and go, but Rafsanjani, Mousavi, I mean, they’ve been part of the regime.
YEKTAFAR: True, but I think I also mentioned the last time that we talked one of the interesting aspects of this election in particular has been that it has thrown this spotlight into the inner sanctums of the Islamic regime, showing a great deal of fracture that exists within—internally, that is, within the ruling elite. There are some that—I mean, essentially, just to summarize it, comes down into two very powerful, well-known figures representative of the regime, one being Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, which we’ve mentioned before. He’s been ex-president, two-term president, speaker of the Majlis, and one of, essentially, founders of the Islamic regime.
JAY: In one of the richest men in the country.
YEKTAFAR: One of the richest men, of course. And that has been a major, major issue in the election as well. And the other person, of course, being the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on most matters, particularly in regards to foreign policy and the nuclear program that Iran has. But I have to add this, that when we say that he has the final say, it’s not as if he is the one sitting in one room making that final decision. Ayatollah Khamenei, he goes with the consensus. He has formed an alliance with a new breed of the Revolutionary Guards. And I think it is this coalition that has backed Mr. Ahmadinejad that allowed Mr. Ahmadinejad to do something that we’ve never seen before in the history of the Islamic Republic. We saw that in a debate he had with Mr. Mousavi, naming names, particularly Mr. Rafsanjani and some of the other very important corruption, and basically saying that he has taken this revolution away from what the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, had intended to do.
JAY: Now, why would the Revolutionary Guard think that if the Mousavi had won and Rafsanjani’s camp gained more power, why is that a threat to the economic interests of the Revolutionary Guard?
YEKTAFAR: Well, because you have now this major competition between—again, we’re using the name "Rafsanjani" as a symbol. Of course, it’s not just him or his—. Exactly. You’re talking about a great deal of bazaar merchants. I mean, let’s not forget that initially it was the bazaar merchants who bankrolled the emergence of those who wanted an Islamic republic, because the revolution itself was a coalition of many different forces with various ideologies. And it got to a point that you had to have one major power stepping up and controlling the country, which was done so with the help of people like Mr. Rafsanjani, but mostly bankrolled by a great deal of bazaar merchants. So there is this cadre, if you will, of clerics and merchants who have had a run of the country for a very long time. They have made a good deal of money. And now we see a shifting of this situation. And Mr. Ahmadinejad now represents the symbol for this kind of a shift. So in a lot of ways, this particular election, in my opinion, is a bit of a watershed. It’s indicative of what the next stage or next step of this Islamic regime may be. In all likelihood, I think it will be much more militarized than it was before, but I think it definitely is a certain shift, going to the next stage.
JAY: Now that the warfare is out in the open, do they allow people like Rafsanjani to continue in these positions of power? Are we likely to see a big purge? And if so, are there any indications of that already?
YEKTAFAR: It may or may not be. Again, you know, Iranian situation, the Islamic Republic power structure is rather unique. You know, you can’t even compare to something like China, or the Communist Party in China. So the whole idea of purging, I’m not exactly sure if it’s going to work out that way. If you remember, four years ago, Mr. Rafsanjani, in a direct challenge, in a direct candidacy for presidency, lost to Mr. Ahmadinejad. That was another case that it really became clear that there was this struggle between the supreme leader and Mr. Rafsanjani, where he lost.
JAY: But if they’ve stolen these elections and they’ve completely changed the rules of how different sections of the elite compete—?
YEKTAFAR: First of all, I think it’s important to note this: we don’t really know if it was stolen or not. You know, there are no independent observers. We can’t really tell exactly what happened in these balloting polls. And, also, let’s not forget almost everyone would have told you, you know, when they were asking me last month, you know, I used to say that I would be extremely surprised if Mr. Rafsanjani does not win a second term. Almost everyone agreed that he would win a second term. It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that we’ve seen this emergence of the challenge of Mr. Mousavi. And, again, one of the unfortunate situations, I guess, that we do face in a country like Iran is that when they do open up during this period they call the "election period" and you have these foreign correspondents going in for those 10, 12 days that they’re supposed to be covering the election, well, they don’t really get a chance to go out that much or roam around the country that much, and they’re kind of, you know, in some major cities maybe, and essentially talking with those who can speak English, which indicates that they’re more of a upper-class, urban kind of a setting, and in all honesty, that is not a true indication of what the entire country thinks. So I think, you know, we should remember that, that it is not as if Mr. Ahmadinejad didn’t have a chance to win.
JAY: Right, but for Mousavi to be talking about a coup and many other peoples talking about the stolen elections, you know the story, the very well-known filmmaker [Mohsen] Makhmalbaf, who’s in Paris, was speaking to Mousavi’s office, and apparently the Ministry of Internal Affairs actually phoned Mousavi’s office and said, "You’ve won, but hold back on announcing it." And then they went ahead and announced Ahmadinejad won.
YEKTAFAR: Exactly. But, again, you know, I mean, first and foremost, of course, I don’t know how to put this. There’s this reaction that, you know, despite everything, I’m sure there are a great many people, particularly outside of Iran, who would want to see Mr. Ahmadinejad gone, and that, I think, plays a great deal into believing certain things and not believing certain things. But I was checking some of the conservative sites in Iran, for example, not ultraconservative, but a type of conservative that has been critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and they say there that if any of these candidates, including Mr. Mousavi, as one shred of evidence that indicates there has been irregularities and coups, they would be more than happy to showcase it and go after it. And they have done that with some of the former ministers of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Again, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened; it’s just that we can’t really be certain about it.
JAY: But some of the things jump out. I mean, one is this phone call to Mousavi’s office. The other is: is it really possible to count that, you know, millions of votes from the countryside in a matter of hours? And three, is it possible that Ahmadinejad could’ve won half the vote in Tehran, which apparently—?
YEKTAFAR: Paul, I have to agree with you. If there was anything surprising about this election—as I said, I wasn’t surprised by Mr. Ahmadinejad winning it, but what I was surprised was how fast these results came in and how wide the margin was. That was a bit surprising. But, again, more than that was the fact that how fast they decided, okay, Mr. Ahmadinejad, you know, that he got 62-plus percent of the vote and he’s the president, and let’s just wrap it up and get it over with. Listen, if I wanted to be really honest with myself—maybe I didn’t analyze it properly—I would say that even starting last year they were setting—some of the elements within the regime were setting the stage for something like this and to back Mr. Ahmadinejad, one of the most important action that took place last year that maybe some people missed was that Basij, which is a voluntary militia—these are—if you want to call them "goons", that’s maybe one way of putting it. These are the guys who go out to break up civil protests with clubs and knives and things of that nature, and they pretty much have a free hand—the police doesn’t interfere. Officially, for the first time officially, the Basij was incorporated into the Revolutionary Guards. Before that they were just an entity, an independent entity. But they were incorporated into the Revolutionary Guards. When I heard that news that this was announced, just something came over me that there are some movements here that anticipates a possible challenge, a strong challenge to Mr. Ahmadinejad, possibly backed by Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Khatami and people like him, and they were setting the stage for that. So there is that aspect of it. You know, I can’t sit here and deny and say everything was pretty fair. Again, we don’t have any independent observers to verify that. So nothing about it would surprise me necessarily. But, again, I do want to point out that, you know, everyone did expect Mr. Ahmadinejad to win a second term.
JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the response of the United States, Israel, and other countries, and how it may affect the situation going forward. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Babak Yektafar.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.