Iranian Flag (R)_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
It is still too early to tell whether the waves of change sweeping over the shores of North Africa and the Middle East will erode the foundations of autocracy or, conversely, whether they will merely substitute secular authoritarianism with Islamist totalitarianism. It is clear, however, that no regional regime is immune to their impact, not even the Islamic Republic of Iran, the self-proclaimed vanguard of the permanent world revolution.
Iran’s pro-democracy movement, the Green Movement, prides itself on having ignited the Arab upheavals by staging large-scale demonstrations in Iran in the wake of the fraudulent June 12, 2009 presidential election. The Arab upheavals, in turn and to some degree, revived the Iranian opposition at a time when the regime’s suppression of the opposition seemed total.
On February 6, Hojjat al-Eslam Mehdi Karrubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leaders of the Green Movement, in a joint letter asked the Interior Ministry for a permit to demonstrate “in solidarity with popular movements of the region, especially the liberation-seeking revolts of the people of Tunisia and Egypt.”
Not surprisingly, the permit was denied, and the two opposition leaders,
together with former president Mohammed Khatami, were put under house
arrest. Ignoring the demonstration ban, the opposition rallied on
February 14 and March 1 with calls for Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i to
follow in the footsteps of the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators:
“Mubarak, Ben Ali, it is now the turn of Seyyed Ali [Khamene’i]",
“Khamene’i, Mubarak, congratulations with your marriage!” and “Whether
those in Iran with motorcycles, or those in Cairo with camels, death to
However, the regime in Tehran had learned valuable lessons from the
post-presidential election antiregime demonstrations. The Intelligence
Ministry unleashed a new round of arrests of protest organizers who had
not been detained during earlier demonstrations. In affected
neighborhoods, the cell phone network was cut off and the speed of the
Internet was reduced to a bare minimum, which further restricted
communications with the outside world. Apart from this, coordination in
containing the protests between law enforcement forces, the Basij
Resistance Force, the Revolutionary Guards, and vigilante organizations
was far more synchronized than during earlier demonstrations.
Leaders of the Green Movement, on the other hand, do not seem to have
learned any lessons. As the opposition in the Arab world mobilizes the
public for street protests, Karrubi and Mousavi ask the Interior
Ministry for a “demonstration permit.”
As the opposition in the Arab world urges the demonstrators to remain in
the streets, Karrubi and Mousavi urge the demonstrators to go home. As
the opposition in the Arab world calls for overthrow of the dictators,
Karrubi and Mousavi continue to talk of reforming the regime within the
framework of the constitution. As the Arab opposition calls for
democracy, Karrubi and Mousavi call for a return to the “era of the
Imam,” referring to Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s reign of terror
in the 1980s. In this light, it is hardly surprising that the Arab
opposition has proved much more successful than the Iranian opposition.
The waves of change are indeed sweeping across the shores of the Middle
East and North Africa. However, the Islamist regime in Iran is better
geared to suppress internal dissent than other regional autocracies and,
therefore, has better prospects of surviving the crisis – at least for
now. But as long as the regime is unwilling or incapable of allowing
Iranians to become masters of their own destinies by liberalizing the
Iranian political system, the results may be increased repression and
the surfacing of more radical opposition movements inside Iran.The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
This article was first published by www.bitterlemons-international.org and is reprinted with permission.