Iran’s Islamic vision of the Arab uprising

The reaction of Islamic Iran, and particularly its leaders, to the events in the Arab world has broadly gone unnoticed outside Iran. This issue becomes all the more important given the democratic nature of the Arab revolutionary movement on the one hand, and the fact that the movement is slowly approaching Syria, the arch strategic ally of Islamic Iran in the region, on the other.

As far as Iranian leaders are concerned, the struggle in the Arab world is inspired by the Islamic revolution and the Islamic struggle against the "arrogant powers" (meaning the United States, the European powers and Israel). The movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and the rest of the Arab countries are led by the Muslim masses. These movements are religiously oriented; they aim to overthrow the pro-western regimes of these countries and to replace them with radical, anti-western Islamic regimes similar to that in Iran. Pictures of street prayers and women in Islamic scarf are frequently published in Iran’s state-controlled media to prove the Islamic nature of the Arab world upheavals. So are photos of Arab demonstrators carrying pictures of Iranian leaders, to provide further proof of the revolutionary Islamic orientation of the "Arab spring".

Given the anti-western and particularly anti-American posture of the Iranian regime, the Arab spring is also described as being anti-western and anti-American. Anyone listening to the Iranian media and Iranian leaders and who does not have access to independent media, would have no option but to conclude that the Arab revolt will produce revolutionary regimes similar, if not identical, to the Iranian regime.

That being the case, the West in general and the US in particular, according to the Iranian media, are desperately trying to derail these movements from their "revolutionary objectives". Statements and comments attributed to western, US and Israeli leaders, officials and newspapers are frequently reported by the Iranian media to demonstrate the West’s acknowledgement that the Arab uprising is influenced by the Iranian revolution while at the same time reflecting western fear of Iranian influence in the Arab world.

There is no mention of the democratic nature of the current Arab upheaval. The fact that these movements are against despotism and dictatorship is completely absent in official Iranian coverage. Nor, for that matter, is there any mention of the other democratic aspirations of the Arab masses: freedom of the press, freedom of thought, rule of law, freedom of expression, free elections, the release of political prisoners and similar demands.

In particular, events in Syria have created a serious stumbling block for Iranian leaders. The revolution there has in effect poured cold water on much of the Iranian propaganda contention that the Arab upheavals are anti-western. The Syrian regime is anti-American, anti-western, pro-Hamas as well as pro-Hizballah and, most important of all as far as Tehran is concerned, forms part of the "resistance alliance". Yet the uprising in "revolutionary Syria" is far more ferocious than in Egypt or Tunisia. The dilemma has been resolved by simply not reporting any of the events in that country. There is very limited coverage in the more independent newspapers, but the government press and Iranian Radio and TV do not mention anything about Syria. Only a few Iranian academics have raised the Syrian regime’s atrocities and have drawn parallels with those of the Saudis and Bahrainis.

Apropos, and in contrast to the news blackout on Syria, there is a continuous media bombardment concerning the suppression of Bahraini Shiites by the Sunni al-Khalifa regime, backed by Saudi and Emirates forces. Iranian newspapers are full of reports of atrocities perpetrated by Saudi, Bahraini and Emirates forces against the innocent Bahraini people. There are daily "fatwa" by Iranian religious leaders condemning the Saudi leaders as "infidels" for their crimes in Bahrain.

Another dilemma with which the Arab spring has confronted Iranian leaders is in Libya. Close cooperation between NATO forces and the Libyan people has poured yet more cold water on the Iranian regime’s interpretation of the Arab spring. While not mentioning this anti-Gaddafi cooperation, Tehran has accused the West of deliberately trying to save Gaddafi by prolonging its military operation. Many state-run media have declared that had NATO leaders desired to overthrow Gaddafi, they could have done so in much the same way they overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003. Instead, the West wants to keep Gaddafi in power, but as a weak leader. This enables it to penetrate Libya and control its huge gas and oil resources. Once again, there is no mention of the social issues involved in the Libyan crisis.

In short, as far as Islamic Iran is concerned, the main point of the Arab spring is neither democracy nor human rights. Rather, it is about creating Islamic states similar to Iran on the one hand, and securing Middle East energy resources–a strategy that Iran argues will of course not succeed–on the other.