Hard-liners’ victory as ex-IRGC general Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf becomes Iran parliament speaker

Hard-liners’ victory as ex-IRGC general Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf becomes Iran parliament speaker

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, greets lawmakers after being elected as speaker of the parliament, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 28, 2020. (AP)
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For the first time since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, a former military general and member of the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been elected as speaker of the Iranian parliament (Majlis). Brig. Gen. Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf last week succeeded Ali Larijani to become the seventh speaker of the Iranian regime’s Majlis. Larijani was subsequently appointed as an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a member of the Expediency Council, a political body that is mandated to resolve disputes between the Majlis and the influential Guardian Council.

The election of the hard-liner Qalibaf is a political victory for Khamenei and yet more proof of his recent authoritarian push. The move appears to have been orchestrated by Khamenei and the senior cadre of the IRGC because the powerful Guardian Council, whose members are directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei, disqualified more than 7,000 candidates ahead of February’s parliamentary elections. The majority of those who were disqualified were from the reformist, independent, pragmatic and moderate political parties. As a result, Khamenei’s social and political base — the hard-liners — made significant gains. Some 230 lawmakers out of 264 reportedly voted for Qalibaf.

The newly elected speaker of the Iranian parliament is considered a Principlist (ultra-conservative) within Iran’s political spectrum and one of the most corrupt politicians in the country. Qalibaf, who is also regarded as a staunchly loyal confidante to the supreme leader, has played a crucial role as the regime’s insider in ensuring the survival of the Islamic Republic and the advancement of Tehran’s revolutionary principles.

When Qalibaf was the commander of the IRGC air force, he, along with the late Qassem Soleimani and 22 other senior IRGC commanders, signed a warning letter to President Mohammed Khatami in 1999 that they would take action to suppress student protests if his administration remained silent. The threatening letter stated: “Who is the person that does not know that today the hypocrites and opponents are gathering in regiments in the name of the ‘students’ and joining this line of battle? And vindictive, short-sighted and profit-seeking insiders are adding fuel to the fire.” The generals added: “We declare that our patience has come to an end, and we will not permit ourselves any more tolerance in the face of your inaction.”

Qalibaf is considered a Principlist within Iran’s political spectrum and one of the most corrupt politicians in the country.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Qalibaf later boasted about how he suppressed the protests, saying: “When students began to march on Khamenei’s office, I was the IRGC’s air force commander. My picture on a motorcycle while carrying a big stick is available. I was with Hossein Khaleqi, with whom we were on the street to quell the protests. Wherever necessary, we come to the street and beat (people) with sticks.”

After serving in the IRGC, in 2005 he became the first military commander to be elected mayor of Tehran, enjoying the endorsement of the supreme leader. He held this position for almost 12 years. He also became known as one of Iran’s most corrupt politicians and acted with impunity. Even Rouhani criticized Qalibaf for his corruption when they went head-to-head during the 2017 presidential election. When the journalist Yashar Soltani exposed some of Qalibaf’s financial and political corruption, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. Soltani revealed the appropriation of government funds and properties worth more than 2.2 trillion tomans ($702 million).

Even some of the state-run media, including the Tabnak website, have reported on the theft and embezzlement carried out by Qalibaf and members of his family, which included “47 secret bank accounts, an unpaid judiciary debt of 229.7 billion tomans, 497 billion tomans that the IRGC’s Cooperative Fund owed to the Tehran municipality, a payment of 60 billion tomans and the handover of 80,000 square meters of land to the Imam Reza Foundation (owned by Qalibaf’s wife), and the purchase and sale of a Metro station.”

Intriguingly, the judicial system has never summoned Qalibaf for even a simple questioning. The head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi stated: “Qalibaf… has murdered members of the PMOI (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran) and is an accomplice of Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary chief.”

Finally, Qalibaf has long had his eyes on the presidential office. He has unsuccessfully run for president three times, in 2005, 2013 and 2017. He is most likely still seeking to become the first former military commander to assume the presidency.

In conclusion, Qalibaf is a regime insider, one of Khamenei’s top confidantes, a hard-liner, a brutal suppressor, and one of the most financially and politically corrupt men in Iran, but he still enjoys the endorsement of the supreme leader, the IRGC and the judiciary.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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