MEC Webinar: MT20: Week 2: Authoritarian or Revolutionary? Reflections on the Nature of the State in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Conveners: St Antony's College Middle East Centre

Speakers: Maryam Alemzadeh (Princeton) and Siavush Randjbar-Daemi (St Andrews)

Scholars have shown the dictatorial function of the parallel political system of the Islamic Republic: although the authoritarian office of supreme leadership and the security apparatuses strictly limit the quasi-democratic institutions (i.e. the presidency and the parliament), they avert any criticism of the government’s malfunction to the latter, thereby saving ideological face among dedicated supporters. In this functionalist explanation of the dual system of power, the qualitative difference of the two sides’ working mechanisms goes unnoticed. In this talk I address the organizational dynamics of the nonconventional section of state in Iran, with a special focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. I demonstrate that behind the security apparatus Panopticon and its capillary power lies a “revolutionary” institution—one that tolerates and encourages revolutionary direct action, thereby sustaining a sizable popular base over the years. The popular base is not necessarily brainwashed to serve the state. Rather, I argue, institutions of power keep it committed and interested by authorizing spontaneous, direct action, even though revolutionary times are long passed.

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