Iran and Egypt: The story of two uprisings

The international community’s chief goal for the Middle East should be to curb Iran’s tyrannical regime by exposing its hypocritical reactions to Egypt. If not for its brutality, Teheran would be experiencing mass demonstrations similar to the ones they lauded in Egypt.

iran revolution rally 311 (photo credit: AP)
iran revolution rally 311
(photo credit: AP)
Disjunctions between public statements and actions of government officials are the stuff that provides material for commentators and comedians. Rarely, however, has there been such a gap as we have witnessed coming out of Teheran in recent days.
First came Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s declaration hailing the triumph of the protesters in Egypt as a forerunner of the triumph of Islam in the region. Then, when the demonstrations spread to Iran, the regime reacted with its usual intimidation and brutality, rejecting the very people power they had just applauded.
If ever there was a moment that exposed the bankruptcy of the Islamic regime, this was it.
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The question remains: How can we in the West be helpful in bringing about change in Iran?
Going back two years to the protest movement that emerged in Iran following the fraudulent presidential election, two elements stood out. First, the regime had no compunction about using brutality to put down the protests. The contrast to the recent behavior of the Egyptian government is stark and critical.
Second, the United States administration expressed only the mostminimal support for the demonstrators, again in stark contrast to therecent situation in Egypt where the White House enunciated unequivocalsupport for the demonstrators and put pressure on President HosniMubarak to step down. This led some to comment that it is far moredangerous in the Middle East to be a friend than an enemy of the US.
It was pointed out during the 2009 Iranian protests that the ObamaAdministration was reluctant to be seen as strong supporters of thedemonstrators because the regime would use that to delegitimize theprotests by condemning them as tools of the Americans and the Zionists.
I didn’t believe the argument was valid then, and think it’s even lessrelevant today. The Iranian regime has delegitimized itself, first byconducting a patently dishonest election, then by using brutal methodsto stop the protests, and now again in their most recent hypocrisy.Yes, they always will try to label opponents of the regime as Westernspies, but that tactic has worn thin as the credibility of the regimehas disappeared.
The statement by President Barack Obama on February 15 condemningIran’s harsh treatment of anti-government protesters reflected thisunderstanding: “It’s ironic that the Iranian regime is pretending tocelebrate what happened in Egypt. They acted in direct contrast to whathappened in Egypt by using force against the demonstrators.”
If there was any justification for the administration’s caution in2009, it lies in not exposing the demonstrators to a regime that,unlike the one in Egypt, would not hesitate to engage in massacres toput down an uprising, no matter how peaceful. Let’s remember that whenformer president George H.W. Bush in 1991 gave encouragement to Kurdishprotesters at the close of the first Persian Gulf War, they were thenleft exposed to the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, resulting in deaths ofthousands.
There is every indication that if not for the brutality of the Iranianregime, Teheran would be experiencing mass demonstrations against theirregime similar to the ones in Egypt.
We are faced with two significant challenges at this historic moment inmodern Middle East history: how to avoid new democracies being hijackedby Islamic extremist groups; and, how not to end up with a situationwhere the only regimes to change are those who were pro-American,because they were reluctant to use excessive brutality and because theywere most subject to American pressure and influence. In that scenario,Iran, Syria and Libya would remain as they are and would be continualsources of subversion for the newly democratic societies.
At a time when change is in the air throughout the region, theopportunity is before us to isolate Iran in the international communitybecause of its starkly different behavior than that of the Egyptiangovernment.
Just as the Helsinki process played a role in the eventual dismantlingof the Soviet regime by exposing its fundamental violation of basicrights to international scrutiny and condemnation, now is the time tofocus on the tyrannical nature of the Islamic regime in Iran. Themoment is right for such a sustained international effort, one that inthe long run offers the possibility of real change in Teheran. Such adevelopment would be the single most important one in creating a newand more peaceful Middle East and world. 
Abraham H. Foxman is the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. His books include Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype (Palgrave Macmillan, November 2010) and The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.