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Iran’s ‘Super-Revolutionaries’ Eye Power

As Iran prepares to hold its next legislative elections in March 2024, the future has never looked dimmer for the remaining moderates and reformists within the nation’s parliament. A recently enacted election law has raised fears that it could be interpreted to ban from office any critic—no matter how mild or well-intended—of the Islamic regime, which is still reeling from the aftershocks of the Mahsa Amini protests. With the rules more tilted in their favor than ever before, the hardline pro-regime faction, mainly referred to as the “Conservatives” or “Principlists,” appears poised to secure the overwhelming majority of the 290 open seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Iran’s unicameral parliament. Numerous political activists have warned that the forthcoming parliamentary vote will simply be a “controlled race” within the Principlist camp, whose various factions will vie for as many more seats as possible.

But one Conservative faction, known as the Jebhe Paydari (Perseverance Front), has shown so much zeal for the Islamic regime that its members are known as “super-revolutionaries.” Established in 2011, the Paydari has been a controversial name in Iran’s political sphere, and many key political developments that have transpired in Iran over the past decade have been attributed to them. Now, in the run-up to legislative elections, they are well-positioned to win the majority of seats in the parliament—a development that has worried not only Iranian moderates but even some associated with the Principlist movement. In the run-up to the election, the criticisms of this most extreme faction within Iranian politics have only grown—but its position at the pinnacle of the new Iran has never looked stronger.

True Believers

The Paydari front emerged from the fallout between former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative populist, and the traditional Principlists who had historically dominated Iran’s post-1979 politics. Paydari core members were born out of the Ahmadinejad administration or his staunch supporters. Some key ministers in his first administration—including Sadeq Mahsouli, Iran’s interior minister during the disputed 2009 presidential election, and Ahmadinejad’s mentor of moralities Morteza Aqa Tehrani—formed the first core members of the Paydari group.

From the very beginning of their activity in the lead-up to the March 2012 parliamentary vote, the Paydari engaged in a series of fights with fellow Principlist groups. After some time of this infighting, the Paydari split from the Principlist group to field its own parliamentary hopefuls in major cities. However, in general, and local elections held in recent years, the Paydari, who have not historically been powerful enough to overcome rival Principlist factions, reluctantly coalesced with them in order to secure power. In both the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, the Paydari supported a candidate—first Saeed Jalili and then Ebrahim Raisi—but although Raisi made the runoff in 2017, both candidates lost in two consecutive landslides to Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Having failed to win the elections, members of the Paydari stonewalled the Rouhani administration’s domestic and foreign policy.

In 2021, with the Guardian Council’s disqualification of any “moderates” or “reformists” from the race, the Paydari tried again, and Raisi secured election, albeit with the lowest vote total in any post-1979 Iranian election. With Raisi’s win, the Paydari were swept straight to the center of power, and their members won key posts in the administration, becoming “a strategic partner” with Raisi. The most prominent among this group was Saeed Jalili, Ahmadinejad’s chief nuclear negotiator, who has been firmly opposed to any deal with the West over Iran’s nuclear program. Jalili, who registered to run for president in 2021, stood down in favor of Raisi on the eve of the election. Known as the “patriarch in the shadows”, Jalili was one of a flurry of graduates of the elite Imam Sadeq University to win influential office under Raisi, collectively creating a chokehold on Iranian politics.

However, despite early expectations, the Paydari largely failed to win the clout they sought within the Raisi administration, with most senior positions given to more conventional Principlists. Therefore, the Paydari soon launched a campaign to purge key ministers as well as major economic, security, and cultural figures. The process of eliminating political rivals within the executive and legislative bodies, referred to as “purge” or “purification” (Khales Sazi in Farsi) in Iran’s political literature, has not spared universities. As recently as September, a large number of university professors, deemed to disagree with the Paydari, were dismissed from their positions after sustained pressure from far-right activists. The reformist Shargh daily newspaper reported that the purge of university professors was the first phase of the widespread campaign, although the Iranian government has officially denied the existence of such a campaign.

Emboldened by support from powerful military and security organs and quick access to local and provincial media, the Paydari enjoy a key advantage in shaping official decisions—and causing unrest if any decisions are made with which they disagree. They have thus far exhausted this potential by engaging in smear campaigns against rivals through public, and often wildly exaggerated broadsides and attacks. As a result, they have confronted Tehran with serious challenges in the way that it conducts its foreign policy decisions. Their priorities—a strong emphasis on improving ties with Russia and China, support for Russia’s so called “special military operation” in Ukraine, rejecting adhesion to the “Financial Action Task Force” (FATF), opposing any attempt to improve relations with the United States and Europe, and underscoring self-sufficiency and self-reliance—have largely become the Islamic Republic’s.

While the Paydari have largely remained absent from Raisi’s inner circle, this does not mean that they do not hold influence over any organs of state. Iran’s state television, the “Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting” (IRIB), has been one of the key fronts conquered by the Paydari front in recent years. Since co-opting the station, the faction’s members have installed their own hosts and aired their desired revolutionary programs. Every time the Paydari intruders have flexed muscles with fellow Principlists, the former have turned out victorious. Mostafa Faqihi, the CEO of the Entekhab news website—which was recently banned for its criticism of Raisi’s foreign policy, as well as its warnings about the Paydari’s infiltration of the executive branch—recalls the group’s strong opposition to Iran’s 2015 landmark nuclear deal with the West and their burning of copies of the agreement, formally known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), on the floor of the legislature. He says the state broadcaster made its opposition to the deal’s renewal clear, even while then-President Rouhani and newly elected U.S. President Biden explored a possible return to the agreement. “The IRIB mobilized its capacities to hinder efforts for the revival of the JCPOA, which they saw as harming national interests,” notes Faqihi.

While shouting keywords like “revolutionary zeal”, the Paydari resort to populism by promoting simplicity in lifestyle, advising against wealth accumulation and fighting corruption. The Paydari see their political rivals to be pro-Western traitors who regret their past revolutionary record and therefore they have to be purged. Associates of former parliament speaker Ali Larijani say they have fallen prey to the Paydari’s policy of purging political rivals.

Given their highly disruptive activities and their tendency to work against the central government when it displeases them, one might expect that Iran’s leaders would come out in opposition to the extremists. Instead, however, the Raisi  administration is reportedly holding secret meetings with the Paydari, in order to ensure that Raisi-friendly candidates gain the largest share possible in parliament.

Driving Out “Moderate” Principlists

Thanks to the mass disqualification of candidates during the last parliamentary elections in 2020, key Principlist figures won most seats in the parliament led by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Nevertheless, the Padyari do not even tolerate fellow Principlists opposing them, and have made clear their intention to whittle down the Principlists in a bid to leave only the most revolutionary ones in parliament. Members of the Paydari often frame the contest as between themselves, or those who are pure to the Islamic Republic’s ideology, and the “neoconservative” faction led by Qalibaf. Having already crossed swords with the neoconservatives, the Paydari have also rushed to lock horns with traditional Principlists in recent months, whom they describe as revolutionary “patriarchs” deviating from the right path of the revolution.

Tensions within the broader Principlist camp are expected to rise as the parliamentary election draws nearer. That explains why rumors swirled of discrepancies between the Paydari members and Qalibaf-led neoconservatives. There is sufficient evidence to believe that the Paydari and the neoconservatives are organizing their forces extensively to run for parliament seats. The Paydari’s firm determination to eliminate rival neoconservatives may be clearly seen in the scandalous revelations of graft in recent years about Qalibaf’s family and close associates, which were said to have been plotted by the Paydari front elements. It appears unlikely that Raisi’s election victory would lead to a unified government to reconcile differences within the Principlist camp. Instead, the push for purging took precedence over internal competition in the camp.

In short, within the decade since its creation, the Paydari have mainly sowed discord in the Principlist camp. Reaching unity with the Paydari has been the main challenge of the Principlists—after all, without Paydari support, the parliament largely fails to function—but the Paydari have openly called for the purge of anyone perceived as disloyal in the slightest, to the extent that even influential Principlist figures have had to break their silence to condemn the extremists. One case in point is Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who said in a recent interview, “I’m a bit afraid about division in the Principlist camp and I’ve always sought to unite famous Principlist bodies.” This tepid criticism earned him the ire of Paydari adherents.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed concerns in July 2022 about the “lack of understanding between security organs” in the country—a strikingly rare occurrence, as Khamenei almost never intervenes in factional disputes. Khamenei’s words suggest that at a time when the reformist and moderate fronts have been entirely sidelined, the Principlists are urged to exercise unity and refrain from divisive policies.

Fundamental Problems

When hardline influential cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of the Paydari, died in January 2021, serious divisions emerged in the Paydari front. However, the emergence of unexpected events—the most important of which was the nationwide unrest that followed Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody—gave rise to new conditions in the Principlist camp.

Over recent years, a large number of top moderate and Principlist figures have been eliminated, only to be replaced with more radical ones. Mehdi Arab Sadeq, a former political director of the Islamic Coalition Party, puts it as follows: “Unfortunately, today the Principlist camp is exposed to the threat of attack by radical Principlists.” He warns against the emergence of “radicalism and totalitarianism” in the Principlist camps, saying they see themselves as the “criterion for purge”.

The Paydari seem to be pursuing the strategy of winning most seats in the next parliament in a bid to emerge as the most influential political current and guarantee their own survival in the post-Raisi period. They are well mindful of future challenges which their rivals would pose to them should they lose in the next election. That explains why they are mobilizing all their forces to boost their haggling power and strengthen their position in the current administration—with a view to gaining power during Raisi’s second administration, which seems to be a foregone conclusion. Therefore, the Paydari front is pursuing double strategies: guaranteeing survival in powerful bodies, and, more importantly expanding its sphere of influence to elected bodies and increasing its influence on major national decision-making processes.

However, in pursuing their ambitions, the Paydari have faced numerous challenges, both expected and unexpected. First and foremost, with less than six months to go before the parliamentary elections, their success in winning over influential circles of power remains uncertain. While the Paydari have ideological purity and are popular among Iran’s ultraconservative right, they are loathed and feared in the rest of the country, even among the Principlists. Moreover, the Paydari have not been successful in growing their movement: virtually no popular public figures support them, and their electoral base seems to be confined mostly to Tehran, with no serious chance of winning provincial votes. That is why one may say they are still not mature enough to take over leadership of the Principlist camp.

Additionally, the political elite has voiced reservations about the Paydari’s extreme and imprudent stances on topics such as foreign policy, the compulsory hijab, population growth, and the removal of university professors, to name a few. Compounding these concerns is the public’s general rejection of the Paydari discourse, coupled with their absence of a concrete strategy to rejuvenate the country’s economy. All these factors can play against the Paydari current as the election approaches. However, one cannot deny the fact that the group has already grown into an undeniably powerful front in Iran’s political sphere—and are only likely to grow in position as the Islamic Republic deepens into ultraconservatism and international isolation.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Issue: Politics & Governance
Country: Iran

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Mohammad Hashemi is a journalist, researcher and media consultant based in Tehran. Formerly he was the chief editor and producer at PressTV website, the Iranian state-owned English news, and documentary network (2015-2019). He was also a political editor at the Financial Tribune (2014-2015) and the Tehran Times (2010-2014). Hashemi is an alumnus of the ‘Heinz- Kühn Foundation’ in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. His work and commentary have been featured in Al Jazeera, Inside Arabia, the Middle East Eye, The Wire as well as Iranian media outlets, among others.


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