Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

Who are the Basij?

The Basij have been the primary perpetrators of the violent response against the protesters. They are apparently not formal military or police. So who are they?

From a Radio Free Europe profile (published in January of this year):

The Basij (Persian for mobilization) is a large and omnipresent paramilitary organization with multifaceted roles, and which acts as the eyes and ears of the Islamic regime. It is present in schools, universities, state and private institutions, factories, and even among tribes.

The Basij was formed by order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in November 1979 and was intended to function as the nucleus of what the founder of the Islamic republic called “the army of 20 million” with the aim of defending the Islamic regime against both domestic and foreign threats…

Since the Basij was directly subordinated to Major General Jafari last year, it has been given legal authority to engage in economic projects. Earlier this year, at the initiative of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s government, the Majlis passed a law to the effect that government construction and economic projects can be contracted to the Basij. Several members of the Majlis vehemently criticized this law, arguing that it violates Article 44 of the constitution, but to no avail…

The Basij also plays a key role in preserving the political status quo. Although the constitution bans members of the IRGC and the Basij from involvement in politics, Basij support contributed to Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2005 presidential election. The Basij under the tutelage of the IRGC was also heavily involved in the March 2008 parliamentary elections, during which Basij and IRGC commanders openly backed Ahmadinejad’s principalists (osulgarayan). In February 2008, Major General Jafari said that “the principlists are in control of the executive and legislative branches and, God willing, the judiciary will soon follow suit.” Hasan Taeb, then deputy commander of the Basij, similarly stressed that Basij members should have a “maximum presence” in the elections…

Given the convoluted power structure of Iranian politics, Ayatollah Khamenei is increasing looking toward the former IRGC commanders, as well as the IRGC and the Basij, to help maintain his position as de facto the most powerful man in Iran, neutralize popular dissatisfaction over the  deteriorating economic situation, stifle demands for political reform, and undercut pressure related to the nuclear issue.


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