Cairo's Protests Reverberate in Tehran

In Iran, both the regime and the opposition are working to co-opt Egypt's popular uprising88491413p.jpg
A wide range of observers, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Fox News' Glenn Beck, are warning that the downfall of the U.S.-backed dictator in Egypt could lead to another Iranian style theocracy in the Middle East. Others, such as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, are drawing parallels between the Egyptian protests and Iran's Green Movement uprising of 2009. This debate is raging nowhere more fiercely than in Iran itself, where many Iranians -- on both the right and the left -- are clamoring to claim the Egyptian revolution for themselves.

On one side of the political spectrum are a group of conservative parliamentary members, Revolutionary Guard leaders, and even the Supreme Leader himself, who are trying to cast the Egyptian revolution as a part of a greater Islamic uprising across the region. In a sermon last Friday, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei painted the events in Egypt as an "Islamic awakening" that signals an "irreversible defeat" for American hegemony in the Middle East. Jahanbakhsh Mohebinia, a senior Parliamentary member, went one step further, claiming that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak's regime will result in the formation of "the Continent of Islam" -- a phrase sure to send many a Fox News commentator screaming for the airwaves.

On the other side are Iran's youth and the leaders of the Green Movement, some of whom are even taking credit for the popular revolution that is now taking place in Egypt. Mir Hussein Mousavi, the man whose loss to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential elections launched the largest and most sustained demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 revolution, voiced his confidence that "the starting point of what we are witnessing in the streets of Tunis, San'a, Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez stems from the demonstrations in the streets of Tehran, where millions of Iranians marched in June of 2009." A statement in the university journal Daneshjoo News made the point in starker terms: "The democracy movement we started is spreading in the region and today we are witnessing the awakening of the Arabs. It's time for us to once again join hands and prove to the world that dictatorship must end."

It is this latter notion -- that the events in Egypt could push Iranians to align in popular demonstrations against their government -- that has raised the ire of the country's regime. Iranian state media coverage of the Egyptian demonstrations has been both ubiquitous and remarkably candid, if a bit oblivious to its connotations. Iran's government-employed news commentators have been quite critical of the use of force by pro-Mubarak supporters against unarmed protesters on the streets of Cairo, apparently totally unaware of the irony of their criticism. Meanwhile, both leaders of the Green Movement and supporters of the Iranian regime have taken turns claiming the mantle of the young Egyptian protesters for themselves and comparing each other to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime. An absolutely riotous op-ed in Iran's Jahan News, which is associated with the Revolutionary Guard, declared that "the freedom- and justice-loving people of Egypt will do to the Arab dictator what the people of Iran did with the Green Pharaohs," meaning the leaders of the Green Movement.

The Egyptians themselves seem either unaware or simply uninterested in the debate taking place in Iran. Even the Muslim Brotherhood has backed away from any connection either to the Green Movement uprising or to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. "The Muslim Brotherhood regards the revolution as the Egyptian people's revolution, not an Islamic revolution," read a statement by the organization. "The Egyptian people's revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political tendencies."

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Reza Aslan is author of the international bestseller No god but God as well as Beyond Fundamentalism and Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East.

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