President Hassan Rouhani has told Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards they should not get involved in politics, in a carefully worded speech that sought to avoid antagonising the elite military force.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which answers directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rather than to the president, has become more assertive in politics in recent years, with increasing numbers of veterans in parliament.
Mr Rouhani’s speech yesterday, which included praise for the IRGC’s increasing economic might, could be an attempt to maintain its support, something that might be in doubt if the guards see their interests threatened by the new president who has pledged more moderation in Iran’s foreign and domestic policies.
A centrist cleric who won a surprise landslide victory over more conservative candidates in a June election, Mr Rouhani told an assembly of IRGC commanders and officials that the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had recommended the military stay out of politics.
“The IRGC is above and beyond political currents, not beside them or within them,” Mr Rouhani said, according to the ISNA news agency. “The IRGC has a higher status, which is that of the whole nation.”
The guards’ conservative leadership opposed many policies of Iran’s reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, and helped to scuttle his boldest initiatives.
The 100,000-strong IRGC were instrumental in suppressing the huge street protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.