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Revolution at 40: IRGC turns to new nationalism to win over Iranian millennials

The rise of the Islamic State has provided the IRGC with an opportunity and platform to project a new form of nationalism that portrays it as the defender of Iran.

A huge billboard in the center of the Iranian capital often features images with a political agenda close to the hard-liners. But the space above Valiasr Square does not belong to Tehran’s municipality; it is owned by Owj, an emerging media powerhouse with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that is branching out in Iran’s cultural space.

On June 18, 2017, 11 days after the Islamic State (IS) launched unprecedented attacks on Iran’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the IRGC retaliated by firing multiple missiles at IS sites in northeastern Syria. Amid this rare display of Iran’s ability to directly hit its foes, Owj’s flagship billboard featured a new image: The launch of five missiles in the palm of a man's hand wearing an IRGC uniform, with the caption, “I am the Guardian of Iran.” While this may appear as standard Iranian state propaganda at first glance, it in fact embodies an emerging — and possibly tectonic — shift in the official discourse of the Islamic Republic.

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