‘Shadow Guards’ and Reformists: Factional Matrix Underlying Iranian Succession

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 9

Arrival of Raisi's body at Mehrabad International Airport outside Tehran. (Source: Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran)

Executive Summary:

  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash on May 19, renewing discussions over who will eventually succeed 85-year-old Supreme Leader Khamenei. While ostensibly benefitting Khameni’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, Raisi’s “hard landing” opens the door for Reformists and disaffected elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to join the struggle for power. To succeed, either group must secure both popular support within Iran and international legitimacy abroad, possibly by working together.
  • Despite periods of nominal rule over the country in the past, the Reformists have failed to meaningfully change the regime. Their end goal is to maintain an Islamist oligarchy, albeit one that interferes less with the people’s personal lives. While their influence has declined since late 1990s, the Reformists are still active today. They rely on sympathetic political institutions, international media, and academic outlets in the West, who view them as a way to push the regime toward liberalization.
  • In the past, several senior IRGC commanders have voiced public or private opposition to Khamenei and his regime’s behavior. While most of these figures have been marginalized or killed, they command outsized influence within the state’s institutions. Moreover, ultranationalist IRGC dissidents and monarchist émigrés led by Reza Pahlavi look to be building ties with one another. If these elements managed to take power, they would push back on Iranian people’s democratic aspirations, oppress Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, and threaten the country’s neighbors.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s sudden death in a helicopter crash on May 19 has renewed discussion over a potential succession crisis when 85-year-old Supreme Leader Khamenei eventually passes away (Iran Wire, May 24). While much of the coverage of Raisi’s death revolves around the potentially improved odds that the Supreme Leader’s second son Mojtaba Khamenei will be selected as his father’s successor, the issue is far more complex (Middle East Forum, May 20). Raisi’s “hard landing” opens the door to two other contenders for power in Iran: the Reformists and the disaffected elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Succession Struggles

Succession has only happened once in the history of the Islamic Republic, in 1989. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900–1989), the first Supreme Leader of Iran, did not settle the issue of his succession while still alive. This was due to three main reasons. First, as the paramount spiritual leader, he saw engaging in political factionalism as below himself. Second, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri had been understood to be Khomeini’s de facto successor by almost unanimous consensus until shortly before the Supreme Leader’s death. And third, Khomeini’s rapidly declining health in his final months cut short any last-minute arrangements (PBS Frontline, Tehran Bureau, December 22, 2009). Instead, then-President Khamenei, Ahmad         Khomeini, his father’s confidant (Iran Wire, February 9, 2022), and then-Speaker of Parliament Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani conspired to rule Iran as a triumvirate (Iran Wire, April 29, 2017).

Over time, Khamenei was able to consolidate his position and undermine his rivals for power. With this tumultuous time in mind, however, Khamenei has carefully arranged the field of potential successors over the years, marginalizing and purging rivals [1] and elevating loyalists [2] who can be relied upon to support the party line even after his death.

Raisi emerged on Iran’s political stage from near-total obscurity. While some believe that Raisi was elevated as president to succeed Khamenei, it seems more likely that Raisi—whose lack of personal charisma was matched only by his blind loyalty to the regime—was put in place to ensure ideological continuity. At his inauguration ceremony, Raisi called the Supreme Leader “Imam Khamenei,” the first time a president described Khamenei as “Imam” (Telegram/BBCPersian, August 5, 2021). As a religious title, “Imam” has been reserved for Khomeini in the regime’s official literature. Only staunch Khamenei supporters choose to refer to Iran’s current Supreme Leader as Imam.

Raisi’s attitude toward Khamenei appears to have been reciprocated. In a speech made in honor of Raisi on June 3, Khamenei praised the late president’s qualities and declared that “future presidents must set [Raisi] as an example” (BBC Persian, June 3). If Khamenei intended for Mojtaba to take his place, Raisi would have been present to facilitate his ascension, not contest it.

Who Benefits?

There have been strong signs in recent years that there are elements in Iran which are interested in disrupting Khamenei’s succession. [3] As a result, Raisi’s death could be understood to benefit other groups, namely those who have been subjected to rounds of purges over Khamenei’s tenure and/or have been consigned to the margins of power: the Reformists and dissident IRGC elements.


In the first decade after the 1979 revolution, those who would later become known as Reformists were Khomeini’s closest affiliates. Back then they called themselves the “Line of Imam” in reference to Imam Khomeini (American Thinker, April 15, 2016; Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, April 2003; MEMRI, May 16, 2001; Iran Wire, July 19, 2018). The Line of Imam were sidelined by Khamenei and his faction in the years following 1989, and their star further faded with Rafsanjani’s suspicious death in 2017 (Iran International, January 15, 2022). As pragmatists, they styled themselves Reformists over the years, enjoying enough attention to help the state mend fences with the West without offering any deep or meaningful reforms. Periods of “Reformist” rule offered the regime a chance to offset domestic and international pressure by temporarily retreating from revolutionary rhetoric, compromising appearance, not substance.

Some Reformists stayed in Iran, while others went to the West. For decades, members of this faction in Europe and North America gave Western governments hope that the Islamic Republic might one day metamorphose into a democracy. The Reformist camp has hoped to supplant Khamenei with Western aid, but their end goals are a “moderate” version of the Islamist regime, not its abolition. While they have not had sufficient power to seriously change the regime’s behavior in the past, the Reformists are still active today. They benefit from disruptions to Khamenei’s plans because once the Supreme Leader eventually passes the chaos would enable them to take advantage of a succession crisis to promote their own candidates.

‘Shadow Guards’

Contrary to popular belief in the West, the Revolutionary Guards are not all pro-Khamenei. In the past, several senior IRGC commanders and personnel have voiced public or private opposition to Khamenei and his regime’s behavior—or have been punished for being suspected of as much. [4] While most of these figures have been either marginalized or “disappeared,” some of the remaining “Shadow Guards” are periodically rotated by Khamenei to prevent them from rebelling or acting as kingmakers within the regime’s institutions.

The Shadow Guards’ disagreement with Khamenei appears to be over regime practice and personal ambition, not ideology. In other words, they hope to use domestic and international pressure on the regime to supplant Khamenei, rather than replace his system. Their boundary with the rest of the IRGC is by definition not clear-cut. In recent years, the growing concern over Khamenei’s successor has pushed the Shadow Guards to act out of the shadows, so to speak, which can be seen primarily in their efforts to build connections with Reza Pahlavi’s camp in the West. [5]

Games of the Peacock Throne

In spite of their ideological differences, as the regime’s totality deteriorates, the Reformists and the Shadow Guards are likely to work together to bring down Khamenei’s preferred successor. Neither the pragmatic Reformists nor the authoritarian Shadow Guards are particularly committed to deep, meaningful democratic change, and both prefer to exclude anti-regime figures and movements of different political stripes (liberals, socialists, civic nationalists, ethnic autonomists, etc.) to ensure their own primacy. While they may one day behave as allies, for the time being, both groups vie for power and influence within Iran and abroad.

The Reformists and the Shadow Guards try to curry favor with different groups. The Reformists tend to appeal to those left of center in the West, enjoying access to a wide range of political institutions, international media, and academic outlets across Europe and North America. Conversely, the Shadow Guards are able to draw upon their extensive ties across military units, security institutions, and domestic media inside Iran, and they tend to have more luck with right-wing Western politicians. Both, however, have media representation and lobbying efforts in the West. [6] [7] Furthermore, the Shadow Guards, who have wrapped themselves in a cloak of ultranationalism, appear to enjoy the support of Reza Pahlavi, who has indicated in the past that he is in touch with “patriotic” elements of the IRGC and the Basij (Fair Observer, January 17, 2023). [8]

Consequences of Victory

Shadow Guards

If the Shadow Guards were to work with the Crown Prince, it could be assumed that they would mold the situation to benefit their interests. One could easily imagine a scenario where they establish themselves as a new elite within a reformed authoritarian oligarchy, this time under the Shah rather than the Supreme Leader (YouTube/@Reza Parchizadeh, March 2, 2023). Were that to happen, Islamism would remain at the core of the regime, with an outer crust of Persian nationalism (European Pirate Party, June 14, 2022). Notably, some monarchists have already begun to emphasize that Iran must revert from Alavid Shiism (postmodern revolutionary Shiism) to Safavid Shiism (traditional rule of the Shah over a Shiite establishment). [9]

Were Reza Pahlavi to secure the throne with the aid of the Shadow Guards, it would be fantastically unlikely for the IRGC to voluntarily relinquish power. A contemporary Iran under a resurgent Shah represents a very different model from a post-Francoist Spain, as some have proposed, and it would require the Guards to act against their own interests and ideology to incorporate them into a regular military subordinated to a constitutional system. The organization was created with the express purpose of enforcing the ideological agenda of a totalitarian regime and has been a key part of the Islamic Republic’s warmongering and many crimes against its own and other people. On the contrary, it would seem far more probable that IRGC elements would use their newfound legitimacy as Pahlavi’s praetorians and defenders of the nation to further their own interests at home and abroad, with the Shah as a figurehead. Revanchist foreign policy would likely follow an IRGC-dominated nationalist regime, especially threatening Iran’s Arab and Turkic neighbors, but also those who were once part of “Greater Iran.” This includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as countries located in parts of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. And Israel would still be seen as an enemy, although maybe not as the enemy.

A Shadow Guard regime would exclude most people and parties from participating in Iranian politics (Fair Observer, September 16, 2023). More direly, should Tehran fall into the hands of ultranationalist elements, the oppression and persecution of Iran’s many ethnic and religious minorities would be sure to follow. The Kurds and Baloch peoples would be under particular threat, as they are thought to be the most inclined toward independence.


As can be seen during periods of Reformist rule, their end goal has never been liberal democracy. Under the Reformists, the regime would still be an Islamist oligarchy, albeit one that interferes less with the people’s personal lives and choices (a more permissive attitude toward wearing the hijab, drinking, the commingling of different sexes, etc.). If the Reformists had more revolutionary aspirations, they would have toppled the Islamic Republic during the height of the Green Movement in 2009, when they chose to eschew the mass support they enjoyed in favor of compromising with Khamenei to preserve the regime.


In order to understand the relationship and potential for collaboration between the Shadow Guards and the Reformists, one must look back to the early days of the Islamic Revolution. In many respects, they represent the successors to the early Islamic Republic’s left wing, and while the fortunes of the leftist elements have declined over the last two decades, the two factions and their sympathizers are still well-represented across the regime. To succeed, either group must acquire a degree of popular support at home while at the same time securing international legitimacy. This is part of the reason why the two sides are jockeying for influence, both in the West and in the Middle East, which has been less well covered in Western outlets. The Shadow Guards are better positioned within Iran, but were they and Reza Pahlavi to succeed, they could also choose to include the Reformists within their new regime in order to secure Western support.

That being said, Western policymakers must beware. If the West would like to one day see a kindred Iran, its leaders must understand that absent a fundamentally redesigned political environment, the replacement of the Islamic Republic’s top leadership by one or another clique will not secure a democratic future for Iran (Gulf International Forum, February 3, 2023). While few should mourn Raisi’s “hard landing” or Khamenei’s eventual passing, it is important to keep in mind the example of Russia’s failed transition to democracy (European Pirate Party, June 14, 2022). The Soviet Union’s collapse without meaningful changes in key sociopolitical structures eventually led to the rise of an oppressive nationalist regime—one that is currently engaged in a bloody, illegal attempt to reconquer a part of its historical empire and is even likely to mount an invasion of mainland Europe. For any future Iranian state to cease to be a threat to its people and neighbors and the wider world, the only solution is liberal democracy, which shall be brought on the backs of neither the Shadow Guards nor the Reformists.



[1] Khamenei has successfully worked to marginalize Iran’s former presidents in his years ruling the country, including Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989–1997), Muhammad Khatami (1997–2005), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–2013), and Hassan Rouhani (2013–2021). He also pushed aside the two Larijani brothers, including once-Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani (in office 2008–2020) and former Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani (2009–2019). For a time, Sadeq Larijani was seen as Khamenei’s preferred successor (Radio Farda, August 26, 2019, June 8, 2020).

[2] Over the years, Khamenei has also installed or reinstated loyalists, such as Ahmad Jannati as Secretary of the Guardian Council (since 1992), Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani as Chairmen of the Assembly of Experts (since May 21, 2024), and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i as Chief Justice of Iran (since July 1, 2021).

[3] Two examples might be instructive here:

  • IRGC Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani’s assassination in 2020. Soleimani was the IRGC commander on the best terms with Khamenei, but his death could not have been accomplished without security leaks from the highest levels of the IRGC or allied Iraqi Shiite militias. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2019 to 2022, recently revealed in an Atlantic article that CENTCOM was aware of Soleimani’s intended trip from Tehran to Baghdad days before it occurred (The Atlantic, May 24). The ambiguous deaths of other Quds Force commanders inside Iran hint at much the same thing. The Quds Force is Khamenei’s brainchild, and he prizes it as the crème de la crème of the IRGC. As such, any activity against it and its leaders can be taken as attacks against the Supreme Leader (Iran Wire, October 2, 2023).
  • High-profile regime figures like Ahmadinejad (Khabar Online, December 15, 2016; BBC Persian, April 25, 2018) and Ali Larijani have openly demonstrated displeasure with various actions by the regime, strongly suggesting fault on the part of the Supreme Leader (Iranian Students’ News Agency, October 27, 2016).

[4] A necessarily incomplete list of IRGC-related individuals who have been dismissed or eliminated can be found below:

  • Mohsen Rezaee, former commander-in-chief of the IRGC (1980–1997). Rezaee butted heads with then-President Khamenei repeatedly during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988). This came to a head in 1985, when Khamenei tried to remove left-leaning Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi, who had served in that post since 1981. On behalf of himself and other top IRGC commanders, Rezaee went above his head, writing to then-Supreme Leader Khomeini to oppose the move, suggesting that it would destroy morale at the front. Rezaee’s intervention forced Khamenei to back down, leading to his reinstatement of Mousavi—Khamenei, however, never forgot or fully forgave the IRGC commanders who acted against him. After he was elevated to Supreme Leader, relations between Khamenei and Rezaee ostensibly improved—when Rezaee resigned from his post leading the IRGC in 1997, however, Khamenei made it a point to ensure that neither he nor any of his close associates occupied key posts over the regime’s civilian structure or the IRGC. Today, Rezaee is known as something of a laughing stock for his lackluster performances as a perennial candidate for the Iranian presidency (Al Arabiya, May 29).
  • Hossein Alaei, commander of the IRGC Navy from 1985–1990, during the end of the Iran–Iraq War. Alaei has openly criticized Khamenei and the regime’s policies in the past couple of decades, most prominently in an article he wrote for Tehran’s Ettela’at newspaper in 2012 (BBC Persian, January 10, 2012). In the piece, Alaei implicitly compared Iran’s situation to the year before the 1979 revolution and stated that if Khamenei failed to reach a compromise with Reformist leaders, he would make the same mistake as the Shah. Alaei was a prominent lecturer at the IRGC’s Imam Hossein University (Gulf International Forum, August 24, 2023). It is said that Alaei never really left the IRGC even after his official retirement, and he is believed to command the respect of many IRGC commanders and veterans.
  • Ali Shamkhani, one of the founders of the IRGC who held several senior posts in the organization during the Iran–Iraq War. He was made the final Minister of the IRGC immediately after the war (the role was merged into the Ministry of Defense in August 1989), and later commanded both the navies of the IRGC (1990–1997) and the Artesh (regular army; 1989–1997). Shamkhani served as Minister of Defense during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005). In 2013, he was appointed as Secretary of the National Security Council, a position he held until his unexpected dismissal in 2023. His descent from power began in 2019 after his former deputy was arrested on charges of spying for Britain. This was compounded by his disagreements with Raisi over how to handle the anti-regime protests following Mahsa Amini’s death. Shamkhani was removed from his post by Khamenei in 2023 (Gulf International Forum, June 6, 2023).
  • Mohammad Mehdi Duzduzani, Deputy for Financial Affairs in the IRGC Ground Forces and a commander in the Al-Qadir Brigade during the Iran–Iraq War. In an audience with Khamenei in 2001, Duzduzani protested the IRGC and Basij’s mafia-style businesses in European and Arab countries, as well as their involvement in drug smuggling and human trafficking, particularly the movement of Iranian girls to Arab countries. Duzduzani noted that all of Iran’s military equipment came from the United States and/or Israel directly or indirectly, and advocated for closer ties with Washington to ensure the survival of the regime. Duzduzani provocatively participated in a 200-man sit-in at the IRGC’s Joint Headquarters in 2003, which led to his court-martial and subsequent death sentence. Of the 200 IRGC men (including tens of senior leaders), 100 were hanged, while the rest were given heavy prison sentences (Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, accessed June 8).
  • Mohammad Ali Jafari, IRGC commander-in-chief from 2007 to 2019. Following Rezaee, Jafari served in this post for the longest period of time. While Jafari played a pivotal role in putting down the anti-regime Green Movement protests in 2009, he opposed Khamenei’s efforts to punish IRGC commanders who had sided with Mousavi and other Green Movement leaders, refusing to execute them (Radio Farda, August 3, 2010). Jafari also maintained a noticeably ambiguous tone after Qasem Soleimani was killed in 2020, allegedly expressing displeasure at the regime’s excessive praise of Soleimani over other Guards’ commanders. Since his dismissal in 2019, Jafari has mostly avoided public attention.
  • Hossein Taeb, who headed the IRGC Intelligence Organization from its founding in 2009 until 2022. Taeb’s removal has more to do with suspected incompetence; after 13 years of his leadership, the IRGC was allegedly so riddled with Israeli spies that Taeb was suspected of being an Israeli pawn himself. The 2020 assassination of the so-called “Father of Iran’s Atomic Bomb,” Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, placed Taeb and his organization in the spotlight. The increasing number of Israeli-attributed attacks on Iran’s IRGC commanders as well as nuclear and missile scientists and facilities since 2020 made Taeb’s downfall two years later almost unavoidable (Euronews Farsi, June 23, 2022).

[5] This first became noticeable in 2019. Hashem Khastar is considered a respectable teacher and unionist activist, who has served multiple stints in jail for his criticism of the Islamic Republic. He claimed in 2019 that he had been approached a year earlier by the regime’s security agents, who pushed him to support Pahlavi, even offering to connect the two directly (Balatarin, July 30, 2019; YouTube/Poetry College, October 5, 2020).

In the years since, a considerable number of people associated with the IRGC and the regime’s broader security apparatus have emerged as supporters of Reza Pahlavi as soon as they left Iran. To identify several of the most prominent examples:

  • Erfan Ghanei Fard, U.S.-based writer on Kurdistan and ardent supporter of the Pahlavis. Fard is alleged to have ties to the IRGC, especially former commander Rezaee. Fard is particularly notorious for trying to whitewash SAVAK (Organization of National Security and Information), the Shah’s security apparatus. Iranian Kurds have contended that his father was a member of SAVAK before the 1979 revolution (Gooya News, May 8, 2009; X/@SasanAmjadi, March 4, 2023; Balatarin, July 19 [1] [2], 21, 2022).
  • Ehsan Karami, former regime TV presenter known for his defense of the Islamic Republic after the attack on Khomeini’s mausoleum in 2009 and the death of Qasem Soleimani in 2020. He later joined Manoto TV, where he originated the “Deputize Pahlavi” campaign, which aimed to make Reza Pahlavi the main voice of Iranian dissidents during the anti-regime protests following Mahsa Amini’s death (BBC Persian, January 18, 2023; YouTube/irankargar, January 22, 2023; Gooya News, January 21, 2023).
  • Hamid Farrokhnejad, an actor with connections to the security establishment. He has closely worked with some of the most notorious figures in the Iranian film industry and acted in roles that promote the regime’s ideological agenda. He likewise supported Reza Pahlavi’s leadership after he went abroad during the Mahsa Amini protests (Hamshahri Online, April 14, 2023; Filmo, June 13, 2023).
  • Ali Karimi, popular soccer player known for his relationship with IRGC-associated individuals. The most famous of these is Hossein Hedayati, a former tycoon and club owner who was imprisoned for corruption. Hedayati’s downfall is believed to have been caused by regime infighting, suggesting that Karimi left Iran to escape the potential political fallout (Tabnak, September 12, 2023).

Additionally, social media accounts that were previously used to promote the regime’s agenda have recently switched to promoting Pahlavi (Kayhan London, August 16, 2023; X/@hoseinshirzad89, September 15, 2023; X/@AlirezaNader, December 30, 2023).

[6] One example of Reformist-friendly media includes BBC Farsi, which was essentially established to promote the agenda of the Reformists. The institute’s editorial line is still more or less Reformist today. For a time, VOA Persian could also have been described as Reformist, but it faced more severe scrutiny by Congress and subject matter experts during the Trump administration, prompting the organization to give voice to more diverse views. It is also generally understood that Reformists have an easier time publishing in or getting interviewed by liberal/left-wing media outlets and academic intuitions in the West, as Western governments and societies tend to view Reformists as sympathetic to their own interests.

Other groups commonly understood to represent pro-Reformist interests include the National Iranian American Council (NIAC; Influence Watch, accessed June 8) and the International Crisis Group (Iran International, accessed June 8). Kaveh Afrasiabi is a prominent academic who was arrested in 2021 for failing to register as an agent of the Iranian government, though he was later pardoned by the Biden administration (U.S. Department of Justice, January 19, 2021).

[7] That is not to say that the Shadow Guards have no influence in the West. The now-defunct London-based Manoto TV (2010–2024) was viewed as the main pro-monarchist television station in the West while it was on the air. For a long time, Manoto was more popular than VOA Persian and BBC Farsi. Despite its ostensibly monarchist outlook, Manoto displayed a tendency to push the Guards’ talking points, at times vilifying Iranian ethnic minorities, inciting hostility toward Arabs, and antagonizing Israel. This became more pronounced during the Mahsa Amini protests in 2023. This is less surprising when one considers the fact that many of Manoto’s key staff came from within the ranks of the Iranian regime’s media apparatus, including some with security backgrounds and links to the IRGC.

Ali Hamid is an instructive example here. He officially started working for Manoto in 2018. Previously, Hamid worked for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state radio and television network—an institution viewed by Tehran as its most important tool for controlling public opinion. Hamid was one of the creators of the “Story of Victory,” a pseudodocumentary series that commemorates the role of the IRGC in the Iran–Iraq War. He also made a documentary called “Story of the Revolution” about the main figures of the Islamic Revolution. These projects both required extensive access to material that could have only existed within the archives of the regime’s security institutions and the IRIB, which prima facie Manoto would never have been given access to as a monarchist outlet. This has caused some to allege that Hamid digitized and stole the IRIB’s archive and transferred it to Manoto, but this would have been impossible for Hamid to accomplish by himself (Asriran News, September 21, 2023).

There have also been a number of individuals who advocate for the Shadow Guards, publishing think tank pieces which suggest that compromise with certain elements of the IRGC is the only way forward for Western governments with regard to a change in the Iranian regime. While this does not necessarily mean advocacy for the Pahlavis, pro-monarchist sentiments are a common thread. A short list of these individual who have pushed the Shadow Guards’ narratives forward in the West include:

[8] It is important to distinguish between what Reza Pahlavi says in international outlets and what he says in Iranian media. When speaking in Farsi, Reza Pahlavi praises the IRGC for its patriotism and suggests that they can keep the wealth they have acquired as well as expect to be part of the future government of Iran (YouTube/@VOA Farsi, February 10, 2014; YouTube/@b_raisii, February 9, 2023; X/@PahlaviReza, June 1, 2012; Telegram/@KayhanLondonChannel, February 12; Khabar Online, November 12, 2018; Fereydoun Magazine, Summer 2022). In English- and French-language media, Reza Pahlavi refrains from praising the Guards but opposes pressure on the IRGC all the same. It should be noted that he opposed the United States’ designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization for many years, suggesting instead that they should be allowed to join the opposition to weaken the regime. While Reza Pahlavi would not outright publicize documented contacts between himself and individuals within the IRGC for obvious reasons, between Pahlavi’s own words and IRGC defectors’ tendency to quickly identify the Crown Prince as their best hope, both parties are behaving in such a way as to suggest that there is a relationship between them (Radio Zamaneh, July 1, 2022; Melliun Iran, September 6, 2022; Eurasia Review, May 31, 2023).

[9] Alavid Shiism and Safavid Shiism (1972) is the name of a book by Iranian Islamist thinker Ali Shariati and a fundamental ideological text for the Islamic Republic. He distinguished between the two Shiisms, promoting one—Alavid—and denouncing the other—Safavid. According to Shariati, Alavid Shiism is the original, revolutionary form of Shia Islam that traces its roots back to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, and the early Shia Imams. It emphasizes social justice, egalitarianism, and the struggle against oppression. The book portrays Ali and the Imams as champions of the downtrodden and as leaders who stood against tyranny and corruption. Safavid Shiism, on the other hand, developed during the Safavid Dynasty (1501–1736) in Iran, when Shia Islam became the state religion under Shah Ismail I and his successors. This form of Shiism was institutionalized and intertwined with the state’s political power. The Safavids used Shia Islam to legitimize their rule and to unify the diverse ethnic and religious groups within their empire. Shariati critiqued Safavid Shiism for what he considered its departure from the revolutionary ideals of Alavid Shiism. He argued that the institutionalization of Shiism under the Safavids led to its corruption and transformation into a means of state control. In contrast, he saw Alavid Shiism as a model for authentic Islamic practice and social justice.