“It is not a theocracy anymore,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert in Iranian affairs and a co-author of an exhaustive study of the corps for the RAND Corporation. “It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”…

The corps’s alumni hold dozens of seats in Parliament and top government posts. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a former member, as are the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, and the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. And the influence of the Revolutionary Guards reaches deep into the education system, where it indoctrinates students in loyalty to the state, and into the state-controlled media, where it guides television and radio programming.

“They are the proponents of an authoritarian modernization, convinced that the clergy should continue supplying the legitimation for the regime as a sort of military chaplains, but definitely not run the show,” said a political scientist who worked in Iran for years, but asked not to be identified to avoid antagonizing the authorities…

Today, the corps has expanded its role and reach. Its financial interests have, for example, been linked directly to the government’s foreign policy. Iran may well have remained silent on the attacks on Uighur Muslims in China this month in part because Beijing is one of the main trading partners with the corps.