Rouhani vs. the Guards: How the Revolutionary Guards is Transforming Iran into a Military Dictatorship

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Monday, October 21st, 2013

Monday, October 21, 201310:00AM - 11:30AMThe Vivian and David Campbell Conference Facility, Munk School of Global Affairs - 1 Devonshire Place
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The internal power structures in Iran continue to puzzle outside observers. Although President Hassan Rouhani is the new face of the government, shadowy-strongman and IRGC Quds force commander, Major General Qassem Suleimani, sits at the epicenter of all of Iran’s overseas activities—including supporting insurgent groups in Iraq, backing Syrian President Assad’s violence against the Syrian people, and training and equipping terrorist organizations across the region. Meanwhile, the IRGC, which reports directly to Supreme Leader Khamenei is engaged in ever more elaborate sanctions evasion activities including shipment through numerous shell companies and renaming and re-flagging ships used to transport embargoed goods to and from Iran.

As Rouhani rages a full-scale diplomatic charm offensive, how long before he and Suleimani face-off over the question of the direction and tone of Iran’s foreign policy? How much flexibility will Rouhani have on the nuclear question when the IRGC controls the program? The ultimate question is, at the end of the day, “Who rules Iran?”

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a top expert on Iran and the inner workings of its regime. He came to FDD from the American Enterprise Institute, where he worked as a resident fellow specializing on civil-military relations in Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. He is the originator of the thesis that the Islamic Republic is transforming into a military dictatorship, which he first published in 2005, and has since been adopted by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister John Baird. Ali is the author of Iran Unveiled: How the Revolutionary Guards Is Transforming Iran from Theocracy into Military Dictatorship (AEI Press, April 2013). He is also the author of the definitive series of articles on Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the IRGC’s extraterritorial operations branch.

Mark Dubowitz is senior research fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto where he teaches and conducts research on international negotiations and Iran’s nuclear program. He is also the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan policy institute, where he leads projects on Iran, sanctions, nonproliferation, and countering electronic repression. Mark is an expert on sanctions and has testified before Congress and advised the U.S. administration, Congress, and numerous foreign governments on Iran sanctions issues. He is the co-author of eight studies on economic sanctions against Iran and the co-chair of the Project on U.S. Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy, a nonpartisan project co-chaired by five nonproliferation and sanctions experts, which produced a 2013 report on U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East. Mark has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Forbes, Slate, The Weekly Standard, The Globe & Mail, and The National Post, and appeared on CBS Evening News, CNN, Fox News, NPR, PBS, BBC and CBC.


Nina Boric


Ali Alfoneh
Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Mark Dubowitz
Senior Research Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto

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