If Syria falls, so will Iran

Millions of Iranians are witnessing the revolt age with bittersweet feelings. The joy felt for their Muslim brethren is marred by the irony that their own unsuccessful 2009 uprising may have contributed to Arab world’s recent wave of protests. But how long will it be before Iranians once again jump on the bandwagon for reform?

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and Ahmadinejad 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and Ahmadinejad 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Let’s review the outcomes of the Arab uprisings so far: Tunisia, Egypt, and (ostensibly) Yemen have liberated themselves from their tyrannical and oppressive dictatorships. Libya is in the midst of a civil war, and protests in Syria are currently in full throttle, propelled by Bashar al-Assad’s murderous and maniacal suppression of his own population. Demonstrations still linger in Bahrain, although they definitively lack the same level of domestic and international support attributed to the others.

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However, one prominent Middle Eastern nation has been surprisingly silent, a nation that is certainly responsible, at least partially, for inspiring the Arab revolution with its own massive street protests two years ago: Iran.
The Iranian situation is startlingly ironic. On June 13, 2009, hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded major population centers in Iran, displaying a sense of passion and fervor not witnessed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. These Iranians, whose political, religious and ethnic orientations varied with great significance, were united in their demand for an answer to the simple, yet powerful question that influences all modern democracies: “Where is my vote?” In response, the Khamenei regime, including the infamous Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, and the Iranian police, military, and its feared VEVAK intelligence service, responded swiftly and brutally to repress what were largely peaceful, non-violent protests, resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of innocent casualties.

Nearly 18 months after their own demonstrations, the Iranians watched as their repressed Arab neighbors executed popular, and largely successful, revolts against authoritarian regimes similar to their own. One wonders how many Iranians perceive the reality of the Arab Spring in relation to their own struggle for freedom against the Ayatollahs. It is well known that many Iranians and Arabs possess somewhat contemptuous views of each other. The Sunni (predominantly Arab) Shiite (Iran) divide in Islam only exacerbates this contempt.
I asked an Iranian colleague about the general feeling in her home country regarding the ongoing revolts in the Middle East. She responded that even though Iranians generally support the Arab nations’ successes, there is an unequivocal sense of envy that accompanies it. “Of course we are upset,” she asserted, “the sense of irony is practically intolerable.” The painful reality is that while some Arab countries are rejoicing in their victory against totalitarianism, Iranians continue to suffer under an uncompromising theocratic regime.
The irony is further amplified with the Iranian government’s overt hypocrisy in supporting the Arab revolutions while systematically crushing any attempts at reform from Iranians. But, as my colleague assures me, the Iranian people are resilient, and even in the face of enormous adversity their hope for change remains steadfast.
Unlike in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, where the military played a neutral or even an active role in propagating their regimes’ downfall, in Iran and Syria the military apparatus has no qualms in executing diabolical orders from the leadership. The political elite is conspicuously detached from the popular will of their citizenry and display zero hesitation in using force to massacre innocent men, women and children that cry for freedom. Nevertheless, these protests have now reached the point of critical mass, and are unlikely to dissipate until the desired outcomes have been achieved.
The Syrian regime is debatably the most repressive and malicious regime in the Arab world, perhaps even more than Iran. Until now, the Syrian army, comprised of mostly Sunni recruits but dominated by the Alawite elite, has been consistent in carrying out the orders of the Assad regime through the use of murder and violence at every possible opportunity. However, the cracks in Assad’s regime are widening. 200 Baath Party members recently resigned in protest to the carnage in many towns, and the number of military defections is rising.
Large-scale protests have yet to reach Damascus, but the growth of the demonstrations indicates that sooner or later, the uprising will reach the capital. Assad’s frantic attempts to cling to power reek of desperation and fear.
Of course, the fall of the Syrian regime would be a catastrophe for Iran, resulting in the loss of one of his most important allies in the region. This truth is confirmed by the numerous reports of Iranian and Hizbullah agents in Syria attempting to assist Assad in violently suppressing the demonstrations. In response, chants of  “Neither Iran, nor Hizbullah” are being heard frequently in the Syrian streets. International condemnations are flooding in, with NGOs screaming foul over the massive human rights violations occurring in the streets of Deraa, Horns, Latakia Aleppo among others.
Syria acts as Iran’s bridge to the Arab world, and Assad’s downfall will have powerful ramifications on both Iran’s foreign policy and its domestic stability. As every major dictator is overthrown throughout the region, Iran cannot remain unscathed for long. The feelings of discontent and impatience towards the regime are festering.
A diverse, cultured, and exceptionally proud nation, Iranians will not stand idly by for much longer. The triumphs of the Arab Spring could breathe life into the Green Movement, and propel Iranians to finish what they started in 2009. As prominent Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari postulates, “In all but name, the Islamic Republic is long gone. Khamenei just doesn’t seem to know it yet.”
The writer is studying for an MA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University. A former IDF combat soldier, he is a contributor to the IDF activist website www.friendasoldier.com.