Iran’s narrative for the Arab uprisings

Iran claims that the people of the Arab world seek to install regimes which follow an Islamic legal system.

Khamenei meets with members of the Assembly of Experts 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Khamenei meets with members of the Assembly of Experts 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In an attempt to depict the Arab uprising as revolts inspired by the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Tehran recently hosted a conference called the “Islamic Awakening” and invited a number of young Arab activists. Unsurprisingly, no Syrian activists were invited.
The conference began with eclectic images of the 1979 Iranian revolution alongside with pictures of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan revolutions. The absence of Syrian activists provoked the participants to the extent that a group of attendance started chanting “Freedom, God and Syria.” In a post-conference interview a Libyan activist asserted that Libyan people are looking for democracy and the rule of law, and thanked the United States for helping the people in overthrowing Gaddafi. He further added that Iran is backing Assad’s regime because it is a Shi’ite government and insisted that “Bashar is a tyrant and must be overthrown.”
For most of the world, the Arab Spring has meant the Arab people’s struggle for democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression as well as government transparency and accountability. For the Iranian regime, the upheavals rocking the Middle East take on a completely different meaning. Iranian leaders have explained the Arab uprisings with their own unique narrative.
As far as the Islamic Republic of Iran is concerned, the goal of those participating in the Arab revolts is neither democracy nor human rights. Rather, the aim is to create Islamic states like Iran; it is an “Islamic awakening.” For Iran, the Arab uprisings are merely evidence that the world is moving towards one world system made up of Islamic states (i.e. The Islamic Republic of Egypt, Islamic Republic of Tunisia, Islamic Republic of Lebanon, etc.)
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, employs the term “Islamic awakening” to describe what many call the Arab Spring. As far as Iranian leaders are concerned, the struggles of the Arab world are inspired by the Islamic revolution and struggle against the “powers.” In their opinion, the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and other Arab nations have been, and continue to be, led by Islamic groups. In their perspective, the Arab social movements are motivated by religion (Islam).
The Iranian leadership claims that the people of the Arab world seek to install regimes which follow an Islamic legal system. For them, the Islamic Republic of Iran has pioneered this struggle.
THE IRANIAN government has spread its narrative through state-controlled media, frequently broadcasting pictures of mass street prayers and women covered with scarves. As the Arab Spring blossoms, the Islamic Republic of Iran seems to have successfully repressed the democratic aspirations of its own people. The Iranian leadership has gone as far as to tout the recent developments in the Arab world as a victory for the Islamic Revolution of 1979, with Egypt and Tunisia walking in Iran’s proverbial footsteps.
Ironically and hypocritically, however, when it comes to Syria, it has taken a different narrative. The uprisings in Syria are not toward an Islamic state but rather part of a plot devised by Western nations, particularly Israel and the United States. For Iran, the over 8,000 men, women and children who have been killed by the Syrian regime were deployed by Westerners. The burned and mutilated 13-year-old child whose image shocked the world, was not an innocent child who had been murdered by the Syrian regime but a tool of the Western powers seeking to threaten Islam.
The Iranian regime has resolved the dilemma of how to explain the Syrian uprisings by simply underreporting the events taking place in Syria while focusing on the unrest in Bahrain and other Arab nations. Only a few independent Iranian newspapers are reporting on Syria. However, finding coverage in government press agencies or Iranian Radio and TV is impossible.
It is worth noting that there has been no mention of the democratic nature of the current Arab upheavals by the Iranian regime. Nor has the Iranian government acknowledged that the masses are rising up against what they call government corruption, a highly repressive security apparatus, powerful oligarchies, a lack of respect for the rule of law and a complete lack of transparency – all issues that also currently characterize the Iranian leadership.
Instead of recognizing the demands of the young people for social justice, social mobility, economic opportunity, political participation, respect for the dignity of all people, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, support for the rule of law, free and fair elections and the release of political prisoners, the Iranian regime has merely explained the uprisings using a narrative that happens to fit its own national interests.
Thanks to 21st-century communication technology, it is clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran has imagined a narrative for explaining the Arab uprisings that happens to fit the current regimes’ own ideological interests.

The writer is ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council. He is an Iranian- Syrian scholar and columnist for the Harvard International Review.