One month after the inauguration of the 11th term of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), members of this Assembly submitted a request to form the “Garlic” and “Lentil” faction. Over the past month, members of parliament have called for the creation of nearly 100 factions. This prompted the Speaker to suspend any new faction formation.
The 11th Islamic Consultative Assembly, with the lowest level of participation during the four decades of the regime’s life, was formed on February 21, 2020 and officially began its work on May 28, 2020. In Tehran, according to official statistics, only 22 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. According to Hamidreza Jalaeipour, “the majority of those who are in the 11th parliament from Tehran had only less than 7% of Tehran’s eligible voters.” (1) It could be concluded that Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Tehran’s representative and Speaker of this term of Majlis, has reached Baharestan with opposition of more than 90% of the city’s population. Despite this fact, many political observers and analysts who are “critical of the regime” have considered Qalibaf’s sitting on that throne and appointment of Ibrahim Raisi as head of the Judiciary as the first step in “homogenizing the power structure” in the Islamic Republic. The argument for this superficial view is that the two branches of government are now run by “extremist fundamentalists”- the “hardliners”. However, there is nothing stranger than this view with the realities of the Islamic Republic and its totalitarian nature. And no greater lie can be found than the existence of “moderate vs hardliner” dichotomies, or its more ridiculous name, “fundamentalist vs reformist”, in relation to the political landscape of recent decades in Iran.
Traditionally, the Judiciary has always been in the hands of the most extremist – in other words, the most criminal – elements of the regime, for the past 41 years. Ebrahim Raisi, a member of the death squad in 1980s, along with Sadegh Khalkhali, one of the most criminal political figures in contemporary Iranian history, both had served the “sacred regime” under Mousavi Ardebili, head of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Judicial Council, in that black and bloody decade. As for the continued monopoly of this corrupt system (Judiciary) by the most extremist members of the regime, it is enough to know that among other chief justices -Mohammad Yazdi, Shahroudi, Larijani and now Raisi- today, they consider Mousavi Ardebili, the godfather of the murderers of the 1980s, to belong to the left and moderate faction close to Mir Hossein Mousavi. So in this system, things are run the same and have never been otherwise.
As for Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf’s entry into parliament with more than 90% of Tehran residents voting against him and him becoming the Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, it should not be considered as the rise of this IRGC commander and former corrupt mayor of Tehran, but the fall of the parliament in power. The collapse of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in the Iranian government is the result of a long-term and gradual process that intensified with Khamenei’s leadership; A process which is referred to as power “erosion” or “emptiness” in this article. The legislature branch is so inefficient, paralyzed, corrupt, and dependent that even today it is unable to form garlic and lentil as a faction. The Majlis’s “power erosion” process was clearly demonstrated in one of its most memorable historical events, in the midst of widespread protests in 2019 Bloody November. On Saturday, November 16, 2019, ILNA news agency reported the head of Islamic Consultative Assembly’s National Security Committee had announced the preparation of an emergency bill to be taken to the floor to oppose the gas price hike. “I will announce the receipt of the plan by …… in the early hours of Sunday when Majlis starts its session.” (2) However, what happened in the early hours of Sunday, November 17, 2019, was the full retreat of this elected body with 276 members of the said bipartisan plan following the order of one person, Khamenei. (3)
This was not and is not the only case and the latest example of the inability and dependence of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and the Khamenei’s ruling is not the only factor in depleting the power of this institution.
Gleichschaltung and Structurelessness
“Power structure homogenization” was an event that occurred at the Islamic Republic’s inception. This process has occupied a corner of the regime’s history. The beginning of it can be clearly determined in 1980 by purging, terminating, pursuing and expelling the bulk of the “heterogeneous” forces from departments and all government agencies, educational system, and closing all universities. The “Cultural Revolution Committee”, which was established in 1981 as the body responsible for managing and coordinating these cleanups on Khomeini’s orders, was led by no one but Syed Ali Khamenei, the current leader of the regime. The committee was later renamed to Council, and its members increased. Today, 37 high-ranking members of the regime are members of this council, which has always been run under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader. To understand the dimensions of “Gleichschaltung” more clearly, let’s take a look at the names of the current members of the council: Hassan Rouhani is now the chairman of the council, and Ibrahim Raisi is his deputy. Ahmad Jannati, chairman of the Guardian Council, is also an honorary member of the council. We mention the names of people such as Mr. Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, Mr. Ezatullah Zarghami and Mr. Ali Akbar Velayati, only to show the diversity of the members in this absolute unity. The destruction of the socio-political context of the parties’ activities was crystallized in “Party, only Hezbollah” slogan, in the first days after the 1979 uprising. Three decades later, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the “Velayat Party” as the only party in the Islamic Republic. (4) However, none of the parties of Allah and Velayat have ever had an official organization and party structure in Iran.
“Non-structuralism” in the only authorized party of the regime, consolidating the authority of Velayat-e-Faqih (Supreme Lead) as the principle, purging and cultural revolution in Stalin style and creating parallel and supervisory structures for each of the government agencies, are all cases in another two historical examples of totalitarian movements in 20th century which have been observed and studied: the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. “Homogenization” or “Gleichschaltung” are always at the beginning of the creation of totalitarian regimes, a kind of precondition for their existence. The “cultural revolution” was a term coined by revolutionary Islamists in post-1979 Iran from the lexicon of the Bolshevik Party of Russia, otherwise it would not have differed much from its historical Nazi example.
“Structurelessness” of regime’s apparatus in totalitarian systems is a paradox, in a way that the general notion of a system is always pictured as a structure; Totalitarianism, on the other hand, is in fact a movement, on the basis of which it changes governmental apparatus as it moves ahead to any form and structure it needs. “Only one building can have a structure, one movement, but it can only have a path.” (5) Therefore, any stable structure and any governmental and legal system with a definite form and definition can only be more of an obstacle in the way of a totalitarian movement.
Parallelization and Power Emptiness
Arthur Rosenberg, a German historian and politician, writes in the “History of Bolshevism”: “There are in reality two political edifices in Russia that rise parallel to one another: the shadow government of the soviets; and the de facto government of the Bolshevik Party.[…] The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party is the true Russian government.” (6) The official and well-known apparatuses of government in a totalitarian system display only the empty appearance of power without subject, without any power; and that’s why they’re all inefficient, corrupt, and incapable of accountability. If in Stalin’s Russia there was still a party with a standard statute, form, organization, and structure, in the Islamic Republic, even this structural element became unorganized. There was a party called Allah or Velayat, which did not have any party structure, and ran all the departments, organizations, and government agencies. “This Velayat party is neither a party nor an organization. It is unknown what it wants to do. The Velayat itself is also unknown. The bottom line is whatever it says must happen. Because it is destroying or have already destroyed all the existing organizations.” (7)
The only rule that everyone in a country with a totalitarian system can rely on is: the more formal and well-known an institution is, the less power it has.
One of the first steps taken by the Nazis after the establishment of the Third Reich in Germany was to “parallelize” all government agencies, including departments, organizations, and institutions. The Nazis, in most cases, would leave the structures as they were from the Weimar Republic, replacing only their key figures with party members. In addition, in parallel with each organ, they would establish a purely Nazi organization. For example, a Nazi student association was established alongside the existing student association, or, alongside the Bar Association, a Nazi Bar Association, in parallel with the police, the SA, and later within the SA, SS, and inside SS, Totenkopf units. Exactly like what we saw in Iran with creating Basij unites inside departments and organizations. If Islamic associations and “Imam followers” (revolutionaries, followers of Ruhollah Khomeini) which were created in the 1980s for “Gleichschaltung” purposes, were not sufficiently “homogenized” in later years, “Tahkim-e-Vahdat” would be created, and when they were not sufficiently true followers of the Supreme Leader (Velayat), student Basij and Velayat-e Faqih’s (Supreme Leader) representatives offices in universities would be created in a flash, right next to them, the IRGC’s intelligence in parallel with the Ministry of Intelligence and the Judiciary’s intelligence in parallel with the IRGC, and all of these serve at the pleasure of the Velayat principle!
The structural view of official organizations of the government with a clear and legal division of responsibilities in totalitarian movements play only a protective and camouflage role for the centralized core of power. The totality of power is compressed in the leader principle or the principle of Velayat-e-Faqih. Competing and parallel institutions and bodies with undefined relationships and without responsibility and power in government agencies grow like mushrooms. In such a regime, moving to Baharestan and becoming the head of it, does not mean ascending to the heights of power; quite the opposite, this means moving away from the decision-making and power circle. Because the parliament institution, as a system of government, has long been emptied of power in terms of recognition and public exposure. The appointment of Wilhelm Frick, a member of the Nazi party’s top cadre as Reich’s interior minister, meant the party gradually distanced itself from him. Joseph Goebbels’ notes and his own statement in the Nuremberg Trials confirm this fact. The official visit of the Syrian dictator in March 2016 and his meeting with Ali Khamenei, which was carried out by Qassem Soleimani behind Javad Zarif’s back and in his complete ignorance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Institution, which symbolizes the integrity of the executive branch showed a great and clear power depletion of Rouhani’s administration. Even Javad Zarif’s resignation in response to the scandal, just like the organization he was appointed to lead, had only symbolic aspects. With the reaction of Qassem Soleimani in media to Zarif’s resignation, this fact was made clear to Javad Zarif and everyone that between the two, it is certainly the commander of the IRGC’s overseas branch who is the Foreign Minister.
It seems that the Islamic Consultative Assembly has gradually become empty of authority, resembling an organ that has been repeatedly stripped of power in recent years: the Expediency Council. More than 30 years after its establishment, no one still knows the structure, scope of its duties, and the form of its legal activities. Ali Larijani, the former speaker of the Majlis, criticized the entry of the this Council into legislature branch in December 2018. Ali Khamenei, by establishing the Supreme Supervisory Council in September 2017 with the mission of controlling and supervising the resolutions of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, established an institution in parallel with the Expediency Council. This way, the Supreme Leader and his goons, the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, and the Supreme Supervisory Council have explicitly depleted and emptied the legislature branch.
Institutions’ parallelization, structurelessness and Gleichschaltung, certainly protects the central core of power, or the totalitarian movement, from confrontation with the outside world and accountability to the public mind. But this protection is not cheap. It is not without reason that no official in the Islamic Republic regime is willing to accept responsibility for the actions taken in his/her legal duties’ field and missions of the organization under his command or even in his name. No one is responsible. And rightly so. Because the decision-makers are like ghosts that no one will ever see them, nor will their name or any sign of them be mentioned. Such an atmosphere is parasitic, corrupt and raises people like Qalibaf. The multiplicity of institutions and parallel structures devoid of power, certainly increase the number of dependents on the system, and for personal gain, increases their commitment to the regime, but in the vacuum of duty and responsibility, these same soldiers begin to exploit their positions and generate income. Parasites transform to embezzlers and smugglers. They become Qalibaf.
Translation of this article by Sahar.
(1). The lowest turnout in regime’s history.
(2). Increasing gas price without Majlis’ permission is illegal.
(3). Khamenei’s order made hardliners to retreat.
(4). Our system has only one party.
(5). Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft, Hannah Arendt
(6). History of Bloshevism, Arthur Rosenberg, 1934
(7). Daryoush Homayoun