From Cairo to Tehran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 10, 2011

Obviously, I continue to be interested in the possibility that the protests in Egypt might start anew the Green Movement in Iran. Reza Aslan has a good article on the matter. In the event that you think all of the talk about the lunacy of the regime in Iran is overblown, well, read this:

Iranian state media coverage of the Egyptian demonstrations has been both ubiquitous and remarkably candid, if a bit oblivious to its connotations. Iran’s government-employed news commentators have been quite critical of the use of force by pro-Mubarak supporters against unarmed protesters on the streets of Cairo, apparently totally unaware of the irony of their criticism. Meanwhile, both leaders of the Green Movement and supporters of the Iranian regime have taken turns claiming the mantle of the young Egyptian protesters for themselves and comparing each other to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. An absolutely riotous op-ed in Iran’s Jahan News, which is associated with the Revolutionary Guard, declared that “the freedom- and justice-loving people of Egypt will do to the Arab dictator what the people of Iran did with the Green Pharaohs,” meaning the leaders of the Green Movement.

[. . .]

The protests in Iran, by employing new social media technologies to rally against authoritarian regimes that wield total control over the levers of communication, at the very least set the stage for what is now taking place across the Middle East (I was among those who predicted in 2009 that the next target of the so-called Twitter Revolution would be Hosni Mubarak). But what Iran-watchers have been eagerly waiting to see is whether the dramatic success of the ongoing Arab push for democracy will reenergize the dormant Green Movement in Iran and get Iran’s youth back onto the streets.

After all, Iran is facing many of the same economic woes that plunged Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt into revolt. As outlined by the Asia Times, Iran’s rate of economic growth is close to zero, compared to three percent for Tunisia and 4.6 percent in Egypt. The official unemployment rate in Iran is reported at about 15 percent of the working-age population, and while that is roughly similar to the unemployment figures in Tunisia, most independent estimates place Iran’s unemployed at closer to 30 percent. While Egypt’s rate of inflation stands at an astonishing 12 percent, that is approximately half of Iran’s inflation rate, which economists estimate to be close to 24 percent. According to the United Nations, some 20 to 30 percent of Egypt’s population lives below the poverty line (the number in Tunisia is about eight percent). Compare that to the approximately 25 percent in Iran.

All of this has people wondering whether what began in Iran two years ago could possibly make its way back to Iran in the near future. That is certainly what the Green Movement hopes will happen; its leaders recently petitioned the government for a permit to stage a protest in Iran next Monday in order to “show solidarity with the popular movements in the region and specifically the freedom-seeking movement embarked on by Tunisian and Egyptian people against their autocratic governments.” There is no chance the Iranian regime is going to let that happen. In fact, the government has just shut down access in Iran to Reuters and Yahoo News, perhaps in recognition that the events in Egypt are increasingly difficult to spin into pro-regime propaganda. Instead, the regime has announced it will stage its own rally in support of the people of Egypt to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, which takes place this Friday. Of course, the last time the regime tried to celebrate the revolution’s anniversary, it had to flood the streets with tens of thousands of armed security guards and shut down virtually all access to mobile phones and the internet, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, just to keep the event from being hijacked by the Green Movement.

Aslan’s predictions concerning the regime’s likely behavior have come true. After initially having used the protests in Egypt to serve governmental propaganda purposes, the Iranian regime has now fully realized that the protests could in fact serve to inspire the Green Movement to rise up once more against the regime. I am not getting my hopes up. But wouldn’t it be funny–and wonderful–if the Egyptian protests, thought initially to be advancing the interests of the theocrats in Iran, help serve instead as the catalyst for their downfall?

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