State-led Mobilization in Iran: Organizational Infrastructure, War-time Origin, and Threats

Ali Kadivar (Boston College)

When the United States assassinated General Qasem Soleymani in Iran, the correspondents, TV anchors, and viewers all were stunned by the massive turnout in his funeral in Tehran. While at the first glance, this might have appeared as a spontaneous event, this event was one of the many state-led mobilization events that are held in Iran every year. Even though state-led movements and mobilization have been happenign throughout the 20th and 21st century, it is also only recently that scholars are paying attention to this important political phenomenon. This paper analyzes the sub-national variation in state-led mobilization in Iran. We ask what drives higher and lower level of state-led events throughout Iran? Existing literature on state-led rallies argues that state-led mobilization is often a response to anti-regime protests. We test this argument at subnational level for the first time, and advance the literature by highlighting two other drivers of state-led mobilization. First, we argue areas with stronger state-led organization also have higher rates of state-led mobilization. In Iran, we identify mosque centers and religious seminaries as two main organizations backing state-led mobilization. Second, we argue that the war-time origin of political regimes shape both their repertoire of state-led mobilization as well as the geography of state-led mobilization. In Iran, events related to Iran-Iraq war make a significant portion of state-led mobilization. Furthermore, areas with higher mobilization rates during the war show higher rates of war-related events decades after the war. We support our argument with original data on state-led mobilization events for the period of 2014-2019 (n=11k), original data on the number and membership in mosque centers, original data on the number of seminaries in Iran, and original data on war-time mobilization for 1980-1988.