Why haven’t the street demonstrations toppled the Iranian government? It happened in Egypt. It happened in Tunisia. And demonstrations are wracking Yemen, Libya, and particularly Bahrain.
While many Americans view the Arab world as one cohesive block, nothing could be further from the truth. That would be like saying all 50 US states are the same. Is Oklahoma or Mississippi politically similar to California? Ummm, no.
There are similarities between Egypt and Iran. They have the largest and probably most educated middle classes in the Arab world (although Iranians rightfully point out they are not Arabs). But there are glaring differences.
Hosni Mubarak is 82 years old. He has ruled for three decades, and has not been popular for a long time. Clearly his rule was nearing the finish line. At 54, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in the prime of his political life. He is strong, aggressive, and has a core constituency of faithful followers who are radical and deeply committed to their beliefs. Anti-government protesters in Tehran have more to fear from Admadinejad’s followers than they do from the police or Iranian army.
The armies in both countries play critical roles.The Egyptian army is heavily funded by US taxpayers to the tune of $1.5 Billion per year. That’s serious money in Egypt. On the other hand, the Iranian army is funded by the Admadinejad government. Who signs the checks has a lot of bearing on how one plays the game. And note that a major turning point in the Egyptian revolution was the Army’s decision NOT to fire on or confront the protesters in Tahrir square.
As the demonstrations grew in Tahrir Square, was Mubarak asleep at the switch? Did he not react strongly enough as the crowds grew in Tahrir? Egypt has had revolutions in 1919 and 1952. But there hasn’t been extreme opposition in a long time. On the other hand, the Iranian revolution in 1979 is relatively recent, and many top government leaders were part of that. Plus, Iran’s government has had a lot of opposition for a long time. They know the game; they’ve been playing the game, and they’re very used to dealing with it.
This post grew out of a discussion I had today with an Iranian friend, Ashim Akbari.
Here’s the bottom line: Egypt is an American ally, the strongest ally in the mid-east / Africa, while Iran-US relation is non-existent at best and by all accounts, Iran considers US an enemy. Compounded by the fact that Egyptian military has been trained and funded by the US, which at the very least, has tremendous influence on its think-tank. This we know to be a fact. Therefore, it’s practical to assume that US did urge the Egyptian military to stand back and they listened. I’m not taking any credit away from the courageous Egyptians who showed up day after day, night after night and brought the regime to its knees; I’m simply highlighting the difference.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and military own a big slice of the economic pie. They are not influenced by or obliged to foreign interests. With the possible exception of China and Russia of course but I doubt very much that they will ever condemn Iran’s iron fist. Compounded by the fact that Iran’s regime is a religious one and the Supreme Leader is considered a holy man. Now let’s get one thing straight: Ahmadinejad is a puppet with no real powers. He is the face and voice of the Supreme Leader and the extreme hard-liners. Yes, he has a following in the rural, impoverished and uneducated villagers, but even they know who’s in charge of the country.
The Islamic Regime will unleash the military, Basij and police with absolutely no concern for world opinion or human rights laws. They have nothing to lose.
Since the 2009 protests, hundreds of people have been executed and tortured to death. Almost all independent newspapers have closed and reporters imprisoned. People are treated like cattle. They are terrified of coming out on the streets to protest and rightly so. On Monday alone, there were 1500 reported arrests. They had to re-open a prison to accommodate them.
That’s precisely why I believe this to be the single most important story to come out of Iran in a long time. It may just be the only way to topple this vicious regime.