Iran protests 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
When Arab leaders looked at the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, they felt the
flames of revolution lapping at their heels. To protect themselves, they rushed
to make preemptive concessions, handing out cash, rolling back subsidy cuts and
promising new elections.
Iranian leaders, on the other hand, chose to
respond in precisely the opposite way. Instead of granting their people what
they might otherwise demand, the government chose to protect itself by killing
even more of its opponents, according to figures from human-rights
In short, Iran’s reaction to the Arab revolt of 2011 puts
the regime’s fears, along with its objectives, in sharp relief.
surface, the government has expressed strong support for the protesters in
Egypt. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the uprising an “Islamic
awakening.” That is clearly what Tehran would like to see emerge from the tumult
in Arab streets. After all, the secular Arab regimes under pressure from their
people have generally opposed Iran’s Islamist revolutionary ideology, and its
dream of military expansion. The ferment of revolution could open the door to
the kind of change that brought religious authorities to power in Tehran three
In spite of this stated support for the protesters, however,
Iranian authorities quickly suppressed efforts by pro-democracy activists in
their own country to stage demonstrations in support of the anti-Mubarak
demonstrators in Egypt. Tehran also blocked opposition websites, and placed an
opposition leader under house arrest. It also accelerated the pace of
executions. The whole world was watching Egypt, so Iran took advantage of the
AMONG THOSE killed by the regime recently was Zahra Bahrami, a
45-year-old Dutch/Iranian woman arrested during anti-government protests in
The government accused her of drug smuggling, and secretly hanged
her on January 29. Instead of returning her body to relatives, authorities took
away her remains and buried her without allowing the family to attend. The
Dutch, livid, labeled the Iranian regime “barbaric” and recalled their
ambassador from Tehran.
The Islamic Republic wants to frighten its own
people to keep them from joining the Middle East’s wave of popular uprisings
against anti-democratic regimes. At the same time, the regime wants to see the
turmoil in Arab capitals become a prelude to the expansion of Tehran’s version
Iran does not report how many people it executes, but
unofficial tallies by news organizations and human rights activists show at
least 66 executions in January alone. Estimates point to some 250 in 2010. In
other words, Iran now leads the world in the number of executions per
In the past few weeks the government has intensified its
repressive actions, aiming to crush any attempt to reignite the massive
pro-democracy protests that erupted after the stolen elections in
Iranian authorities have tried to co-opt the pro-democracy movements
shaking Arab dictatorships, claiming they represent a continuation of the
revolution that brought Islamists to power in Iran 32 years ago.
regime’s simultaneously increased repression shows that Iranian leaders know the
revolt – at least until now – is more a protest against dictatorship than a move
away from secularism.
The Arab revolution may or may not produce secular
democracies, but the protesters are fighting against government
The demonstrators have more in common with Iranian protesters
brutally repressed by the regime in 2009 than they do with the ideologues who
created the Islamic Republic and lead it today.
From the moment the
followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in 1979, they vowed to
spread their revolution across the Muslim world. Popular uprisings against
secular Arab governments – which have long despised the Iranian regime – give
Tehran hope the ground will be fertile for more Islamic revolution.
far, however, the young pro-democracy activists in the Arab world find more
inspiration in the Iranian protests of 2009 than in the revolution of 1979. And
the wave of executions, revealing a regime afraid of its own people, only
provides more evidence that the Arab revolt needs to protect itself from
extremists who might hijack it.The writer comments on global affairs for
The Miami Herald. email@example.com