By Golnaz Esfandiari
April 7, 2021
A dispute within Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has spilled into public view with a deputy commander lashing out at an aide to the IRGC’s commander in chief who has ambitions to win the presidency in a June election.
Divisions within the IRGC over the vote became public when Yadollah Javani, an IRGC deputy commander for political affairs, gave an interview with the Fars news agency on April 3.
Javani accused Saeed Mohammad, the former commander of IRGC’s construction conglomerate Khatam al-Anbya, of “violations” and said he had been dismissed due to his pursuit of the presidency.
Mohammad has been raising his profile ahead of the June 18 vote, which could bring a hard-liner to power.
“The IRGC does not and will not support Saeed Mohammad or any other candidate in the election,” Javani told Fars.
Javani also said the IRGC opposes members of its ranks entering the election arena without going through “legal processes.”
Mohammad announced his resignation from the construction conglomerate in early March, suggesting that he could run for the presidency.
Following his resignation, he was appointed as a special adviser to IRGC Commander in Chief Mohammad Salami.
Mohammad has hit back at Javani — denying he committed any “violations” and saying that Javani is not a spokesman for the IRGC. Mohammad said Javani’s criticism was “his personal” view.
A statement from Mohammad’s office published by Iranian state media charged that Javani’s interview has created public distrust and undermines the “maximum participation” in the election that has been demanded by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
No Agreed Candidate?
Washington-based analyst Ali Afshari says the public dispute suggests the IRGC leadership has not agreed upon a single presidential candidate.
Afshari told RFE/RL that Mohammad, 53, does not appear to be the establishment’s preferred candidate — despite speculation that his profile fits Khamenei’s call for a relatively young and ideologically hard-line president.
“The attacks against Saeed Mohammad do not come only from senior IRGC officials and hard-line figures,” Afshari said. “Some in the [IRGC’s] Basij force have also launched heavy attacks against him while calling for the Guardians Council to disqualify him” from the election.
In his interview with Fars, which is affiliated with the IRGC, Javani said Khamenei’s call for a “young and Hezbollahi” government means the Iranian leader is seeking a government with “an Islamic approach.”
“Therefore, being young is a symbol of dynamism and [hard] work,” Javani said.
A day after Javani’s interview, IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif denied that there were divisions within the IRGC. Sharif said the IRGC will not “approve or destroy” any candidate.
He also would not confirm whether Mohammad had violated the IRGC’s legal procedures, saying: “An IRGC deputy perceived that a violation took place, but this may not be the IRGC’s official view.”
“If [Mohammad] committed any violation, then why did an IRGC commander appoint him as his adviser,” Sharif said, referring to Salami’s decision to designate Mohammad as his special adviser.
There are reports that several former IRGC members could contest the presidency in June.
They include parliamentary speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and former IRGC commander Saeed Dehghan, who serves as a military adviser to Khamenei.
Other conservatives have also signaled their intention to run for president, including the former head of the state television, Ezatollah Zarghami.
Hard-liners aim to unify power in Iran after having taken control of the parliament in 2019 elections characterized by mass disqualifications of candidates by the hard-line Guardians Council.
Turnout in that vote was the lowest in the history of the Islamic republic.
Swiss-based political analyst Mehdi Talaati said the hard-line faction of the Iranian establishment is attempting to restrict the number of candidates to create unity and raise its chances of winning the election.
“If the hard-line faction, which has several military candidates, enters the election with multiple candidates, they could be defeated by the reformists. Therefore, they’re trying to resolve this issue before the vote,” Talati said in an interview with the BBC.
The younger brother of Khamenei, a reformist cleric named Hadi Khamenei, said in an April 5 interview with Enetkhabnews that the future president could come from the Iranian establishment’s hard-line faction.
“It’s still not clear. But it is very likely that the future government will be from the [faction] that already controls everything,” he said.