Dissent from Iranian Revolutionary Guard emeritus

The only Iranian ever to have led his country in battle against the United States has sparked uproar in Iran by seeming to compare recent crackdowns on public dissent to similarly harsh repression enacted by the shah —who was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Retired Rear Adm. Hossein Alaei is the founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, and in 1988 led Iran in a two-day naval skirmish against the United States in the Persian Gulf. This month he published an essay in the daily newspaper Ettelaat in which he raises hypothetical questions the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, might have asked himself after being forced into exile:

“If I had not ordered the security forces to shoot at the people and taken measures to calm them down, wouldn’t I have reached a better outcome?”

Alaei concludes with a quote from the Koran: “Thus, learn your lesson, o men of vision.”

Alaei did not specifically name Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, but his comments have been interpreted in Iran as criticism of the man who gave his approval for the murderous suppression of public protests following Iran’s rigged 2009 presidential election. The Revolutionary Guard and its Basij paramilitary wing did much of the dirty work, which included executions, beatings, and mass arrests.

The Revolutionary Guards functions as an independent military and political power in Iran. They are tasked with protecting Iran’s Islamic revolution and answer directly to the supreme leader. Much of Iran’s internal repression — and its international terrorism — can be linked back to the Guards. But the organization is not monolithic. Alaei’s comments hint at the divisions within it.

Hardliners responded by protesting outside his house, while current and former members of the IRGC wrote a letter accusing Alaei of making Iran’s enemies happy. He has since said his article had been “misinterpreted.” 

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