Be careful who you criticize in Iran

A retired military commander questions the suppression of protests in Tehran

The only Iranian ever to have led his country in battle against the U.S. has sparked uproar in Iran by seeming to compare recent crackdowns on public dissent to similarly harsh repression by the shah—who was overthrown by the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Retired Rear Adm. Hossein Alaei is the founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, and in 1988 led Iran in a two-day naval skirmish against the U.S. This month he published an essay in the daily newspaper Ettelaat in which he raises hypothetical questions the shah might have asked himself after being forced into exile: “If I had not ordered the security forces to shoot at the people and taken measures to calm them down, wouldn’t I have reached a better outcome?” Alaei concludes with a quote from the Quran: “Thus, learn your lesson, o men of vision.”

Alaei did not specifically name Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, but his comments have been interpreted in Iran as criticism of the murderous suppression of public protests following Iran’s rigged 2009 presidential election. Hard-liners responded by protesting outside his house, while current and former Revolutionary Guard members wrote a letter accusing Alaei of making Iran’s enemies happy. He has since said his article had been “misinterpreted.”

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