In a briefing on Capitol Hill, sponsored and organized by Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA) and the Organization of Iranian American Communities-US (OIAC), entitled “Iran Presidential Election: Status Quo or Change,” lawmakers and scholars rejected the May 19 election as a sham, which is neither free nor fair and called on the international community and the U.S. to stand with the demands of the Iranian people.
Representatives Garrett, member of the HFAC, and Mike Coffman (R-CO), a member of the HASC, Dr. Ilan Berman, Lee Smith, Alireza Jafarzadeh, and Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan joined the panel discussion.
In his opening remarks, OIAC Political Director Majid Sadeghpour, thanked Rep. Garrett for his attendance at this event, and welcomed the panelists.
In his remarks, Rep. Garrett said that the election will not bring any change and expressed the hope that the U.S. would avoid policies, which would “avoid things like the 1988 dissident massacre,” or the opportunity lost in the 2009 uprising “where the United States sat idly by.” He said the Iranian people desire “democracy and self determination.”
Rep. Coffman said that it is a tragedy that candidates in the Iranian regime’s election have “to go through a vetting process through the religious leaders of the country.”
“Election is a tool designed to achieve the appearance of legitimacy while reinforcing the regime’s hold on power,” said Prof. Sheehan, who moderated the panel.
NCRI’s Deputy Director Jafarzadeh highlighted the recently-published book by the NCRI-US, entitled, “Presidential Elections in Iran: Changing Faces, Status Quo Policies,” underscoring, “We’re talking about selections in Iran versus elections, but as we all know the vast majority of the Iranian people stay away from the ballot boxes as they have always done.”
Dr. Berman emphasized, “The faces may change, the names may change, and you sort of see that a little bit in the current cycle, but every person, regardless of what they say, is part of a broad continuum of Khamenei’s thought.”
In emphasizing the need to impose sanctions on the regime, Lee Smith added, “If people want to know what this regime looks like, look at Syria, look at Yemen, look at what’s happening in the Persian Gulf, look at what’s happening in the Red Sea. Look at how much money the IRGC makes. Look at what Hezbollah is doing around the world.”
Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi is a high-ranking prominent dissident clergyman in Iran. He has strongly called for separation of religion and state, and he condemns Islamic radicalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism. He is opposed to political Islam and the rule of Velayet-e-Faqih (Islamic custodianship over people), the theocratic system that governs Iran. Boroujerdi has many supporters and is known as Iran’s Mandela.
Boroujerdi has long advocated for the abolishment of execution, and cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishments; such as torture, stoning and whipping. He rejected anti-Semitism and advocated religious freedom. He established charities and welfare centers to help the poor and assist victims of natural disasters. He condemned personal financial gain from religious activities. His call has been welcomed by an increasing number of followers to the point that, until his arrest, his gatherings surpassed the theocracy’s organized ceremonies, by their sheer size and numbers.
Ever since Iran’s mullahs rose to power in 1979 and established an “Islamic Republic”, they have worked to consolidate power both at home and abroad. Given Iran’s growing belligerence toward its neighbors, persistent crackdowns on domestic dissidents, and frightening nuclear ambitions, foreign analysts often talk about the possibility of regime change in Tehran. But there is very little understanding of the obstacles to dethroning the mullahs — namely, that the entire power structure and most of civil society is centralized under the personal control of the Supreme Leader. In this way, Iran’s dictatorship is every bit as entrenched as North Korea’s, making the idea of traditional regime change a pipe dream.
The mullahs created a regime — an entrenched revolution — specifically designed to resist change or reform, adopting a unique theocratic structure that uses both Islamic ideology and brutal force to maintain absolute power.
The official name of this system is Velayat-e Faqih, custodianship of the clergy, and it places all religious and legal authority in the hands of the Supreme Leader. What this means, in both theory and in practice, is that the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, like Ruhollah Khomeini before him, plays a direct role in all the country’s affairs; and no individual, group, or committee in the country has the right to question or hold him accountable.
Khamenei exercises his authority through a morass of official-sounding bureaucratic organs, including the “Guardian Council”, “Expediency Council”, “Supreme Council of Leader, “Supreme National Security Council”, “Strategic Council of Foreign Policy”, and of course a “Council of Cultural Revolution”. What one must understand is that the membership of every single one of these organizations is personally approved by the Supreme Leader. Indeed, any individual, or coalition of individuals who might serve as a check on his absolute power is, in fact, completely beholden to Khamenei’s whims, making him the most complete and powerful dictator on the planet — perhaps exceeding even Kim Jong-un in unrivaled control of North Korea.
The Guardian Council is the Khamenei’s most important instrument; it has titular oversight of both the executive and legislative branches. All candidates for presidential or parliamentary election must be approved by this council, allowing him to exert his personal control over the outcome of elections. Likewise, all acts of parliament and new legislation must be confirmed by the Guardian Council.
Even decisions of the Guardian Council are subject to the Grand Ayatollah’s veto; he reserves the right to reject legislation or winning candidates. And some decisions, like senior judicial appointments, do not go through the Council at all. Meanwhile, the entire domestic and foreign financial system is controlled through a parallel system of committees and “foundations” which are likewise under Khamenei’s personal control.
While the Khamenei is the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, his most feared weapon is the parallel army founded by his predecessor: the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Fiercely loyal to the Supreme Leader and brutally ruthless, the IRGC is lethally efficient in protecting the regime at home and exporting the “revolution” abroad, in places as varied as Yemen and South America.
As commander-in-chief of all armed forces Khamenei appoints the joint chiefs of staff, commander of the IRGC, and senior commanders of the army and all security forces, making the possibility of a military coup extremely unlikely.
Iranian civil society is an illusion; all of the government and by extension most of the private sector are mere extensions of the Grand Ayatollah’s personal will. Velayat-e Faqih is the only state ideology; the only differences of opinion are about how it should be implemented.
Therefore, elections in this regime are not indicative of any form of democracy. Instead, they are merely a process of choosing among individuals vetted by the Supreme Leader. There are no factions based upon ideological differences, there is mere jockeying for position and the personal favor of the Supreme Leader.
Traditional regime change in Iran is inconceivable. The Western obsession of labeling the regime’s factions as reformists or hardliners is laughable. There is but one regime, and it has no interest in reform. This regime will only change if the entire Supreme Leadership structure, along with all its linked organs, especially the IRGC, are annulled and dissolved. Otherwise, whether the president is the “hardliner” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the reformist Hassan Rouhani, the regime’s policies will remain the same.
Western governments’ policy of providing concessions to the Iranian regime in order to empower reformist factions is based on a fantasy, a fantasy which the Iranian regime deliberately encourages in order to fool naïve foreign leaders into easing sanctions and turning a blind eye to the nuclear program. In reality, Western concessions are strengthening Khamenei, further reducing the possibility of change, and increasing the likelihood of outright war.
Iran is using new methods of recruiting and training children through its paramilitary militia group, Basij, one of the five branches of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The children, as young as eight years old, are trained to hate the US and Israel and to attack their enemies in the West, as well as to oppose Western values.
One of Iran’s tactics has been to air promotional video clips on its state media outlets to seduce children. The training and teachings inspire hatred in these young children, through rampant anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, and focus on damaging the national security of the Unites States (“the Great Satan”) and Israel (“the Little Satan”).
At Mashad’s theme park, “City of Games for Revolutionary Children,” children are trained to engage in wars against the US and Israel. They fire bullets through US and Israeli flags or at effigies such as that of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After registering, children don military uniforms and split up into groups of 8-10. They are accompanied by a ‘commander’ whom they pledge to obey. They then go through 12 activity stations, which include simulations of the Iran-Iraq war, a ‘Revolution chamber,’ defending various holy shrines, and traversing a minefield with barbed wire. Along the way, they are told about the directives of the Imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini and Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Iran is not only seducing children, but has actually repeatedly used children in wars, for example, assigning them tasks such as clearing minefields. Iran’s actions are a direct violation of international humanitarian law that is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. According to the United Nations: Human rights law declares 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities. Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and custom – and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. Parties to conflict that recruit and use children are listed by the Secretary-General in the annexes of his annual report on children and armed conflict.