The Iran Angle

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 29, 2011

It should surprise no longtime reader of mine that I am looking at the protests in Egypt with an eye to how the situation in Iran might develop. The following stories speak to what the current regime in Iran thinks of the protests in Egypt, and their larger ramifications.

Consider first this analysis:

Hopeful that the protests sweeping Arab lands may create an opening for hard-line Islamic forces, conservatives in Iran are taking deep satisfaction in the events in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where secular leaders have faced large-scale uprisings.

While the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confronted its own popular uprising two years ago — and successfully suppressed it — conservatives in Iran said they saw little similarity between those events and the Arab revolts, and instead likened the recent upheavals to Iran’s own 1979 Islamic revolution.

“In my opinion, the Islamic Republic of Iran should see these events without exception in a positive light,” said Mohammad-Javad Larijani, secretary general of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights and one of the most outspoken figures among Iran’s traditional conservatives.

He made it clear that he hoped that the “anti-Islamic” government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in Tunisia, would be replaced by a “people’s government,” meaning one in which conservative Islamic forces would gain the upper hand, as they did when Iranian people overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, establishing a quasi-theocracy.

Note that the internal opposition in Iran has not issued any statement concerning the protests in Egypt.

The notion that Iran looks favorably upon protests against longstanding Arab regimes is reinforced here:

As Tunisian President-for-Life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into ignominious exile two weeks ago, democrats around the world found hope in the notion that Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution would spread to Iran. The images of demonstrations from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis reminded Americans of the massive 2009 protests that gave rise to Iran’s opposition Green Movement, and as pro-democracy movements inspired by Tunisia emerged in Egypt and Yemen, many observers saw a chance for Iran to be next. But looking closer, it’s clear that Iranians — from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on down to the Green Movement opposition — view the Tunisia situation as vastly different from their own, and not one that’s likely to spill over into a renewed push for democratic reform in their own country.

Despite the examples of Ben Ali and Egypt’s beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak, Iran’s leaders are far from running scared. In fact, Tehran is taking a distinctly more triumphalist understanding of the roots and effects of the Tunisian protests than American commentators would expect from another authoritarian Middle Eastern government — particularly from one facing its own challenges from opposition forces.

In the week following Ben Ali’s frantic flight to Saudi Arabia, reactions from Iranian officials and state-supported media were, as always, bold and self-assured. But this is no skin-deep grandstanding designed to force a positive spin on an unsettling example of political upheaval. Where Washington sees an anti-authoritarian uprising, Tehran describes a 1979-style rejection of a U.S.-supported secularist: Ahmadinejad referred to the Tunisian uprising as an expression of the people’s will for an Islamic order, and the Iranian Majlis voted overwhelmingly to support the “revolution.”

Obviously, it is entirely possible that despite the Islamic regime’s approbation concerning the protests, the wave of change sweeping through the Middle East may target the regime next. But one must be careful; for now, the regime appears to be working to co-opt the message of the protests in both Tunisia and Egypt, and in the short term, at least, its tactics may be successful.

  • ns

    A few thoughts – the timing is bad for american interests (IMHO) as the current administration is, at best, inept in foreign affairs, and bad the rest of the time. This was spontaneous, but if the Islamists wanted an uprising they could seize, they could not time it better than during a ‘Carter 2.0′ presidency.
    While the Iranian government may be looking favorably on this, if Egypt goes Islamist, it would be Sunni not Shi’ite. This would not mean automatic hostility as Iran and (Islamist) Egypt would have many interests in common – or at least many enemies in common (the U. S., Saudi Arabia and other moderate arab countries). The two could be violently opposed in one moment, then aiding each other against an enemy in the next.
    If Egypt goes Islamist, does Al Qaeda move its HQ from Pakistan to Cairo?

Previous post:

Next post: