muslims praying 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The past two weeks have been an eye-opener for a lot of people, including Arab and Muslim communities around the world. While most Middle East analysts and those familiar with Iranian politics knew that the Iranian theocracy did not enjoy the support of the country's 70 million people, this was news to many in the West. In fact, Iranians are more westernized, in their values and lifestyle, than we might think from viewing most news stories about Iran. The majority of Iranians have far different values from those ruling them at gunpoint.
The global impact of the Iranian rejection of theocracy on Muslim activism has started to be noticed. There is a sense of confusion and despair among many recipients of Iranian government funding around the world. The links between Iran and the movements it supports will become more visible as its beneficiaries try to find their place in the chaos. In fact, while uncorroborated like most news coming out of Iran now, we've even heard about a brief appearance of Lebanese Hizbullah and Palestinian Hamas on the streets of Teheran and Mashhad. It is understandable that at any given time there will be groups belonging to Hizbullah and Hamas training in Iran, but it was rather unusual to hear of their deployment and willingness to fight the people of Iran in the streets of their cities. People there actually try to chat up the police and Basij Militia to see whether they even speak Farsi.
Muslim theocrats observing one of their main supporters in this holy movement being challenged must be unsettling in a culture not used to such actions. That the majority of Iran's population is questioning the theocracy and the sense of fairness of the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei puts the livelihood of some commentators in question. For example when CNN reports that Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a pan-Arab newspaper, defending the actions of the Iranian government and blaming the democracy seekers in Iran, the reason probably lies in self-preservation.
Iran spends billions of dollars in different regions for various causes. Iran is the second-largest source of funds in the world, exceeded only by Saudi Arabia, for Islamic causes. From Somalia to Lebanon's Hizbullah, from Hamas to the Egyptian Shiite movement, Iranian support - whether through direct funding or military and training - will be jeopardized if the theocrats are unseated. So would Iran's support as a major donor to various proactive Muslim organizations in Europe, North America, and South America. The Iranian government's role in supporting, training and facilitating the Sudanese Holocaust in Darfur is significant, with only the Chinese playing a larger role.
So when Abdel Bari Atwan expresses his dismay with Mir Moussavi and millions of Iranians who are no longer interested in being ruled at gunpoint by Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad, it is a telling sign that the global theocracy movement is worried and distressed.
THE HISTORY of the Iranian government's support for exporting Muslim ideology and activism goes back to the early '80s, when it contributed financially to Iranian foreign students funds in different countries in return for wearing the hijab. Then they became savvy and provided funding and moral support for other organizations across the globe. Today, there are private Muslim schools in North America and Europe that wouldn't exist if it were not for direct or indirect monetary assistance from the Iranian government. The number of organizations receiving funding and support from Iranians is probably in the hundreds, if not the thousands.
It is certain that those groups and organizations that might expect their funding to be in danger would start lobbying various governments to turn a blind eye to events in Iran. Whether Western politicians have any stomach for this type of lobbying at this point is another topic of discussion. Indeed the global Muslim theocracy movement is in danger at the hands of the Iranian people not only financially, but also in terms of the legitimacy of theocracy as a political system.
It is too early to say what the long-term impact will be, but it is certain that there has been at least a negative psychological impact on the legitimacy of theocracy as a result of the Iranian protests. There may be those who will try to spin the story and claim that the people of Iran still support theocracy and their beef is only with the election and Ahmadinejad. One can say with certainty that for the first few days the Iranian people tried to manage this evolution leaving some wiggle room for the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. But as of last Friday the gloves were off. With Ayatollah Khamenei showing no restraint, people started chanting "death to Khamenei", a sign of the realization that they could even go further and let the world know what they really want: the abolition of theocracy in Iran.
Whether the brave people of Iran are successful in their aspirations to live without theocratic rule is unknown. However, it can be said with certainty that their efforts have changed the face of the theocracy movement not only within Iran, but also globally.
The writer is a public policy, and international relations consultant in Ottawa, Canada.