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Hossein Alaei
Former senior Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Hossein Alaei, who came under attack over a recent op-ed piece, has said that he did not mean to compare Iran's clerical establishment with the Pahlavi regime.

In a note posted on Iranian news websites, Alaei said that he wanted to give a picture of the repressive and dictatorial behavior of the shah, who was ousted from power following the 1979 revolution.

Alaei's op-ed piece has been interpreted -- both by hard-liners inside Iran and also by opponents of the Iranian regime inside and outside the country -- as criticism of some of the decisions made by Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, including using force against antigovernment protesters in 2009 and denying opposition members the right to protest peacefully.

Some observers had said Alaei was warning Khamenei to learn from his mistakes and not to end up like the shah, who was forced into exile.

Twelve commanders of the IRGC expressed regret over the letter, which they said had brought joy to Iran's enemies. Dozens of hard-liners staged a protest outside Alaei's residence.

Following the criticism and attacks, Alaei wrote that his article had been misinterpreted.

"Unfortunately, some of the domestic media, with their own interpretation, paved the way for foreign media to say whatever they wanted and analyze the article based on their own guesses," he said.

He added that he will continue on the right path of opposing despotism, defending the true nature of the Islamic Revolution, and confronting the dominance of the United States, which he said he has been doing all his life.

He concluded by saying that support for the concept of velayat-e faqih -- the rule of the supreme leader -- preserves Iran from any harm.

One Iranian analyst told Persian Letters that Alaei is trying to lessen the pressure he's been facing over the past days but that he is not backtracking.

"He pays respect to the Islamic Revolution and gives lip service to the velayat-e faqih, but he repeats his point -- albeit softly," the analyst said.

In his article, Alaei names and praises the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for his guidance and leadership of the revolution but never mentions Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini.

"That's exactly the irony," the analyst said. "He may be suggesting that Khamenei is not the real follower of Khomeini and his velayat-e faqih. Isn't it what many reformists say? They believe that if Khomeini was alive, things would have been different."

In its January 16 editorial, the ultra-hard-line "Kayhan" daily, which often reflects the views of Khamenei, criticized Alaei's original op-ed piece while expressing hope that his subsequent note is the "first step" in returning from the "deviated path" he has taken.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
Hossein Alaei
Hossein Alaei, a former senior commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), has come under attack by his fellow guards and hard-liners over an article in which he appeared to draw an analogy between the rule of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's rule and the last days of the shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was ousted from power in the 1979 revolution.

In an op-ed published last week in the "Ettelaat" daily, Alaei, a prominent wartime commander and the former chief of the IRGC navy, raised a number of hypothetical questions the shah could have pondered after being forced into exile.

"If I had given the people permission to demonstrate peacefully and not have accused them of staging a showdown with the government, would the issue have ended?"

"If I had not ordered the security forces to shoot at the people and taken measures to calm them down, wouldn't I have reached a better outcome?"

"If, instead of placing some [prominent political figures] under house arrest, sending others to exile, and jailing political activists, I had opened a dialogue with them, would I have been forced to flee the country?"

He added that dictators who believe they have the right to rule over the people forever only think about these issues after they have been forced to flee, like Libya's former leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Alaei ended his piece with a quote from the Koran: "Thus, learn your lesson, o men of vision."

The issues raised by Alaei were widely interpreted as criticism of the very same moves by Khamenei, including his green light to the brutal 2009 postelection crackdown. The house arrests of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi are said to have been put in place with the blessing of Khamenei.

In an open letter to Alaei, 12 current and former commanders of the IRGC accused him of insulting the Iranian establishment and said he had made Iran's enemies happy.

Meanwhile, on January 14, hard-liners staged a protest in front of Alaei's house and chanted slogans against him. The semi-official Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, said the protest was held in reaction to Alaei's "insulting" note, in which Fars said he had compared the "sacred Islamic establishment of Iran" with the Pahlavi regime.

(To see photos of the protest, including slogans that hard-liners sprayed on Alaei's house, click here.)

Some hard-line websites and blogs have also criticized Alaei over his article, with one site referring to him as a hyena. (In Persian, the word for hyena, "kaftar," rhymes with "sardar," which is the word for commander.)

In 2010, the head of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, acknowledged that some IRGC members had been supportive of the opposition movement. The IRGC played a major role in the repression of Iranian citizens who took to the streets in 2009 to protest the reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Jafari said those guards had since been convinced that they had been wrong.

Alaei's note could signal that some of the IRGC's current and former members remain unconvinced.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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