Many reasons why IRGC is reviving street patrols in Tehran

Iran needs to address the problems cited by moderate leaders or it may have to deal with radicals tomorrow.
December 24, 2017
Unsafe streets. A file picture shows Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (C) surrounded by military commanders while visiting the Aerospace Force Exhibition of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Tehran. (AFP)

Iranian Brigadier-General Mohammad Reza Yazdi , the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), made the surprising announce­ment that he was reviving IRGC street patrols that had been routine during the revolution and in wartime. They would be back, he said, “to fight thugs and theft.”

The announcement set off a public debate about public safety and the IRGC’s role in Iran. Is the country so unsafe that it needs armed IRGC soldiers to roam the streets? If it is so unsafe, why were police doing nothing to address the problem? Might the IRGC street patrol be another example of its rivalry with other government entities?

Yazdi appeared to suggest not. In his address to the Tehran City Council, he likened narcotic addiction, as well as “poverty, divorce and other social ills” to “earthquakes shaking Tehran every single day and ruining homes and families.” The IRGC street patrols would counter these threats, he said.

There is no indication the IRGC decision was authorised by higher authorities, such as the Su­preme National Security Council. Nor does it appear to have been coordinated with the police.

Interior Ministry spokesman Salman Samani said the police or, as he put it, the “Greater Tehran Law Enforcement Forces [have] not asked any institution for assistance.” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said: “We do have laws and regula­tions for such things and the clear principle is that the Law Enforce­ment Forces are entrusted with the responsibility of securing law and order in cities and in the countryside.”

Parliamentary supporters of the IRGC rushed to its defence. Ala al-Din Boroujerdi, chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, insisted that the IRGC’s street pa­trol scheme is “coordinated with the Law Enforcement Forces” and “the people feel calmer” with the IRGC roaming the streets.

It may be a hard sell in some quarters. Nemat Ahmadi, a prominent lawyer, said that “rather than making the public feel calm, it reinforces a sense of insecurity.”

“Public opinion thinks some­ thing has happened in the coun­try and the Law Enforcement Forces are incapable of securing law and order. Otherwise, what need is there for the authorities to establish [IRGC] street patrols?” Ahmadi said.

It stands to reason. The prob­lems cited as the reason to put the IRGC on the streets cannot be solved by increased patrols. Narcotics addiction, divorce and poverty are not so easily dealt with. Perhaps the IRGC’s plans to revive street patrols from an earlier era must be seen as a part of its threat perception and self-interest.

On the surface, Iran appears to have escaped the tumult of the “Arab spring.” However, public dissatisfaction with the perfor­mance of the regime remains a serious threat. So does the fac­tional struggle for power among the elites as each tries to draw the public to their cause.

The president mobilises the public against the clerical es­tablishment in his fight against corruption. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cronies incite their proletarian supporters against the entire establishment, whom they accuse of stealing Iran’s wealth. The dor­mant Green Movement (as well as anarchists and political opportun­ists) is waiting for a pretext to take to the streets.

In the circumstances, the IRGC perceives itself as the defender of order. In the process, it may be politically opportune to use street patrols to tackle political rivals.