Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 10:51 GMT

Tehran Replays Old Tactics Against Opposition

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Publication Date 25 February 2011
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Tehran Replays Old Tactics Against Opposition, 25 February 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d6c9336c.html [accessed 20 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The tactics that Iran's Islamic regime has employed against the opposition Green Movement follow a well-worn pattern which can be summed up as "call them counter-revolutionaries and then destroy them". 

There is nothing creative or innovative about this approach, which emerged in Iran at the dawn of the 1979 revolution, in a febrile atmosphere dominated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's charismatic personality and populist support. Leftists and communist groups initially joined in, though they were later to fall victim to the technique.

There are several distinguishing features in the methods the regime uses to smear and then eliminate its opponents.

First, heavy emphasis is placed on the sanctity of the regime itself, which must be protected at all costs. Ayatollah Khomeini's speeches provide the backing for this position; he said safeguarding Iran's system of government took priority over all laws and even over a Muslim's basic religious obligations.

At the top of this system is the figure of the Supreme Leader as the embodiment of "velayat-e faqih", the principle of an Islamic jurist overseeing all aspects of life and government. The Supreme Leader is positioned as an iconic figure who is immune from criticism and whose orders must be carried out without question. When it is in difficulty, the regime portrays its opponents as hostile to the Supreme Leader, assuming this will shore up popular support.

The regime seeks to portray any opponents as outsiders who should be sidelined and ostracised. This translates into a systematic campaign of smearing and harassing them.

One way of doing this is to set up groups ostensibly unconnected with the regime which carry out the work of slandering and even assaulting opposition members.

Another is to use the regime's propaganda machine to suggest that the opposition is either initiated or being manipulated by external forces, and is furthering their nefarious aims either knowingly or unwittingly.

On February 24, for example intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi appeared on state television to accuse Ardeshir Amir Arjomand and Mojtaba Vahedi, who are close associates of the Green Movement leaders and left the country after the 2009 unrest, of having ties to the United States and to the Mojahedin-e Khalq, a banned insurgent group that is widely reviled in Iran.

Then comes a process of name-calling, designing a label to attach to the regime critic or opponent in question. Various damaging tags have been used over the last 30 years – "opponent of velayat-e faqih", "hypocrite", "mouthpiece for the enemy", and "American and Israeli associate". In the current environment, the Green Movement's heads are called "the leaders of sedition", while politicians who fail to condemn them are called the "short-sighted elite"

Having laid the ground in this manner, the regime then moves to take on and destroy its rivals. They are prevented from distributing information, excluded from the institutions of power, subjected to harassment and constraints on their movement including house arrest, and sometimes die under mysterious circumstances.

These tactics are not just used against outright opponents, but also against otherwise loyal groups, like the powerful traditional commercial guilds, which sometimes come into conflict with the regime.

Anyone who questions these ruthless methods is referred once again to Ayatollah Khomeini, who dismissed his deputy and heir apparent for the post of Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, after they fell out over policy in 1989. The message is that Khomeini acted for the greater good of the system and no one challenged him; therefore, people should now keep quiet and trust the judgement of the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The government is now going down the same well-trodden path in dealing with the Green Movement. That is a mistake – there are a number of reasons why it will no longer work. Iranian society has moved on considerably, and the political environment has shifted.

For a start, as Supreme Leader, Khamenei enjoys much less reverence than his predecessor among senior Shia clerics, and is less well respected both by powerful regime and the public at large. Second, the political establishment is riven by internecine fighting between President Ahmadinejad's camp and rival elite groups, making it harder to present a united front.

The regime has thus shifted to an all-or-nothing, "death or victory" stance that smacks of desperation. To stiffen resolve in its serried ranks and bring the "short-sighted elite" into line, it is now signaling that their survival depends on backing the regime and the Supreme Leader, and on condemning the opposition publicly, at least until the immediate threat is over.

The author is a former member of Iran's parliament who did not want to be identified because of security concerns.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Search Refworld