There is a tremendously revealing article on who is really in charge in Iran in the NYTimes today.
Michael Slackman makes it very clear that the real power - economic, political - lies with the Revolutionary Guard rather than the Ayatollahs. Evidence in the article, as well as recent protests, should make us question whether Iran's 'religious' regime would exist without the muscle of the Rev Guard and basij forces behind it?
Most importantly, this situation as it stands is a taint on the face of 'Islamic' governance, as it is merely serving to legitimize the corrupt dictatorial power of the forces that maintain it.
(I do understand that Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei do have support among the pop - people did vote for 'tinyjad in the last election. But who were these voters? And why did they vote for him? Is it because of the vast security apparatus? The article counts Basij recruits in the millions, which could make for a a tremendous voting block.)
Rasool Nafisi, expert in Iranian affairs, calls out the regime for the pervasive role of the Rev Guard in Iranian society, economy and government in an "exhaustive study" he co-authored for RAND and in Slackman's article: “It is not a theocracy anymore...It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”
Please refer to the article and the study linked to above for details about the Rev Guard's networks of power in Iran. Briefly, in terms of political power, Rev Guard alum hold "dozens' of seats in Parliament and occupy many top government positions. In terms of the economy, "Revolutionary Guards have been awarded more than 750 government contracts in construction and oil and gas projects." Slackman even claims that the reason behind Iran's silence on the Muslim Uighurs is the Rev Guard's economic ties to China. (Once again, Muslim solidarity prevails!) In addition, "The corps has become a vast military-based conglomerate, with control of Iran’s missile batteries, oversight of its nuclear program and a multibillion-dollar business empire that reaches into nearly every sector of the economy. It runs laser eye-surgery clinics, manufactures cars, builds roads and bridges, develops gas and oil fields and controls black-market smuggling..."