Bracing for unrest, Iran intensifies neighbourhood policing

The regime may provoke more anti-regime protests and end up achieving the very opposite of what it desires to achieve.
Sunday 09/06/2019
Members of Basij paramilitary force chant slogans during a rally in Tehran, May 31. (AP)
Muzzling dissent. Members of Basij paramilitary force chant slogans during a rally in Tehran, May 31. (AP)

As US-imposed sanctions begin to bite, Iran is bracing itself for unrest, exemplified in the establishment of the “Razavioun neighbourhood patrol,” a joint initiative involving the Law Enforcement Force and the Basij militia.

This initiative is a reminder not only of the revolutionary committees during the tumultuous first decade of the Islamic Republic, it also testifies to the level of hardship Iranians are going through and shows how seriously the regime perceives the threats.

The idea of the Razavioun patrol was conceived as a Basij operation, first announced in September 2018 by Brigadier-General Gholam-Hossein Gheibparvar, chief commander of the Basij.

Gheibparvar claimed the Basij began its neighbourhood patrols in January 2018, which corresponds with the time Iran experienced widespread bread riots that turned into anti-regime protests.

When asked if Iranian President Hassan Rohani had been informed of and approved the Basij’s neighbourhood patrol initiative, Gheibparvar responded: “I wrote two letters to him… but [the government] has not taken any serious action. At any rate… the Basij serves the regime and now is the time for the Basij to take action. The Basij is strong enough to help the government.”

The Rohani government has yet to make official statements about the Razavioun but, by last November, the Basij’s unsolicited initiative appears to have been modified so it no longer was a Basij operation alone but a joint initiative between the Basij, the police and the attorney general of Iran.

The city of Qom served as testing ground for the initiative. Explaining the cooperation, Colonel Mohammad-Reza Movahed, deputy commander of Qom Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), explained the Razavioun patrol fights “theft, narcotics and hooliganism.” The patrol further aims to deal with black market “profiteering.”

On May 8, the Basij and the Law Enforcement Forces signed a memorandum of understanding formalising their cooperation on the already existing Razavioun patrol.

Iran has a long history of using neighbourhood patrols to impose control. After the revolution of 1979 and collapse of the police, so-called revolutionary committees emerged to uphold order at the neighbourhood level. In 1991, the revolutionary committees merged with the city police and the gendarmerie to form the Law Enforcement Force (LEF).

Following a dismal performance in the anti-regime protests of 2009, which forced the Basij and the IRGC to intervene, Tehran used considerable resources to reform the LEF.

The effects of those reforms were visible in the regime’s effective containment of the bread riots turned anti-regime protests in December 2017 and January 2018: The police did not overreact to the protests and did not escalate grievances through excessive force. Despite the generally satisfactory performance, the LEF further optimised itself through personnel changes in the months after the protests.

Apparently, reforming the LEF was not enough and the sanctions regime has affected the security atmosphere in Iran to a degree that the regime once again is forced to reach out to the Basij to secure order at the neighbourhood level.

In practice, this means returning to the bad old days of the first decade of the revolution, where revolutionary committees cast long and oppressive shadows over the citizenry. In doing so, the regime may provoke more anti-regime protests and end up achieving the very opposite of what it desires to achieve.

15