Teheran 2009: Precursor of Middle Eastern Revolutions
In all the coverage I’ve read of the Tunisian and impending Egyptian political revolutions I haven’t read any observer make the connection that came to me today. If there is any precursor to these earth-shaking acts of social transformation, it might be in the June, 2009 convulsions that rocked Iran following the contested elections there. While it’s true that the Iranian mullahs outlasted and outmuscled their opponents and preserved their hold on power, I think the drama of this near-revolution wasn’t lost on young people throughout the region struggling under the burden of similarly corrupt, unresponsive and autocratic regimes. While Iran was a near miss, I think it may’ve inspired others.
Other similarities come to mind: Iran’s Green Revolution was powered largely by disaffected, non-ideological youth fed up with a moribund system that offered them no prospects either economically or politically. The vision of the reformers was an Iranian democratic system that retained its Muslim character. Tunisia, a much more secular country, certainly lacked the impulse for a Muslim component to its revolution. But the cries for democracy and an end to rule by fiat would certainly resonate in both Iran 2010 and Tunisia 2011. Each of these revolutions had its martyr: Mohamed Bouazizi is Tunisia’s Neda Soltan.
Cairo’s revolution is still in the making and no one can tell what will happen there. Mubarak has been sly and skilled in dividing and conquering his political competitors and enemies. No one knows whether he can pull this one out or will be buried by the weight of the nation’s disillusionment with him. The stakes are very high. Egypt is one of the most populous nations in the region with one of the largest militaries. It also has a rocky historical relationship with Israel along with a potent Islamist movement that could possibly either come to power or play a critical role in a post-Mubarak era. While it appears impossible that Egypt could be the author of a second Islamist revolution à la Iran, it still wouldn’t take much to drastically alter the playing field of Middle Eastern politics.
If Mubarak goes, one of America’s strongest allies in the region will disappear. While Israel’s relationship ran more cold than hot, at least it knew what to expect of Egypt under Mubarak. A radical change at the top will make both Israel and America terribly nervous. Imagine for example, an Egypt which was not hostile to Hamas. I’m not even talking about a new government that would embrace or endorse Hamas, but one that would merely be neutral. You can see right there how this would severely undermine the current consensus that Hamas is the devil incarnate.
Despite the U.S. calls for democracy in the region (especially under George Bush), the truth is that America prefers the devil it knows to the one it doesn’t. And make no mistake, true democracy in the Middle East is a scary proposition for both. What George Bush and other American leaders never understood is that democracy means independence: independent thinking, independent alliances, nations seeking their own interests rather than the interest of a ruling élite. That is not something that makes us uncomfortable. We (and I include Israel in this) want countries subservient to us and our interests. Sure, we’re willing to collude with the Mubaraks and Ben Alis and give them what they want. But we want something in return.
Truly democratic regimes will be seeking not the interests of a ruling family, but of an entire nation. And this may, indeed will bring these countries into conflict with their former allies, mentors and masters. It could be a long, rocky road.
Returning to Iran: the results of these upheavals won’t be lost either on the regime or the reformers. While the ruling Ayatollahs mustered more flexibility and political shrewdness in holding off their adversaries, there could be a fire next time to quote James Baldwin. Next time the mullahs may neither be as lucky or as successful. The example of one and perhaps two (and if Yemen’s dictator goes, perhaps three) tyrants being felled in a short interval will resonate throughout Iran. The fact that these revolutions are powered largely by a vision of democracy (or if not that, then at least greater freedom) and not specifically by Islam does not bode well for Iran’s rulers either.
If there is massive change in regimes, it will not bode well for Israel. As the Palestine Papers have revealed, Israel thrives on forcing its will on its Arab opponents. When there is a new set of leaders who cannot be co-opted, coerced or colluded with, all bets are off. Israel must feel like the Chinese proverb: may you be cursed to live in interesting times.
One thing we learned from the Teheran upheaval is that everything can change or perhaps nothing. So we’ll have to see how things develop.
26 thoughts on “Teheran 2009: Precursor of Middle Eastern Revolutions – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Good piece, Richard. Well thought out and presented. But let us not underestimate the US and Israel’s ability to prevent democracy from taking place when it interferes with their hegemonic policies.
RE: ‘let us not underestimate the US and Israel’s ability to prevent democracy from taking place” – Shulman
SEE: President Obama, Say the ‘D-Word’ ~ by Mark Devine, Common Dreams, 01/29/11
ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/29-4
P.S. ALSO SEE: “Fear Extreme Islamists in the Arab World? Blame Washington” ~ by Jeff Cohen, Common Dreams, 01/29/11
ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/29
RE: “…from taking place’ – Shulman” – me, above
SHOULD HAVE BEEN: Schulman (as in Gene Schulman) Sorry about that Mr. Schulman. That silent ‘c’ really messes with my mind (or what little remains of it).
Richard, it seems that you are wrong about the US standings on this, according to a wiki leaks document, it seems that the US itself assisted is some capacity in organizing this revolution in Cairo.
and yes though we would like democracy to prosper all around the middle east, Israel’s fear is that extreme elements (Muslim Brotherhood) will take advantage of the chaos and will become the ruling party, that can make the paper the peace agreement was written on, a great subsittute to T.P.
There are 90 million Egyptians who have a fundamental right to decide what government they want. Their opinion of Israel, and their prospective elected government’s (insha’allah) opinion thereof, have no bearing on that right.
Meni: “There are 90 million Egyptians who have a fundamental right to decide what government they want. Their opinion of Israel, and their prospective elected government’s (insha’allah) opinion thereof, have no bearing on that right.
Theoretically what you say is correct and very PC, but do you really mean that?
Does a new elected government have the right to nullify a peace treaty it signed with Israel? If you think that is their “fundamental right”, then you are jeapodising the very tenets of international law and basically telling Israel that there is no point in signing anything with its neighbours as they or it can anyway change its goverment by election and change its foreign commitments every four or five years at will.
I hope the Egyptian people will get democracy or theocracy as they see fit and as they will decide (I suspect theocracy is more likely), but we should all insist that they keep their signed treaties, otherwise international anarchy will rule.
Opinion is one thing; observance of signed treaties is another. Anyway, whatever government assumes the power in Egypt (I hope it will be a freely elected government), I think it will have more urgent concerns in the foreseeable future than re-militarizing Sinai, let alone pursuing an outright war with Israel.
Well if Israel has “the right” to be afraid of the religious extreme elements in Arab countries’ governmental systems, shouldn’t the Arab countries have the same “right” in fearing Jewish and Christian extremists. Israel’s extreme religious groups have already access to nukes and the ability to control the significant parts of the army and politics. Let’s not pretend, that Israel has a secular democratic “system”. In present circumstances the Jewish extremists are a bigger real danger than all Muslim brotherhoods combined.
To US standing, USA has for decades supported totalitarian rule aboard. In Latin America, Asia and even in Europe. The list of US installed generals and juntas is amazing. USA has always supported obedience (= giving for free or selling cheaply the natural resources to US companies + opening markets for US products) before democracy to some country’s people. USA has not brought democracy, they have brought characters like general Marcos, general Suharto, general Pinochet, general Videla, general Branco, Anastasio Somoza, colonel Banzer, the Shah etc. This list is asthonishing. Equally astonishing is the list of real democracies US has created. That list is basically empty.
Compare the US and western critics to what now happens in Arab countries and what recently happened in Iran after the presidential elections. Even Iran is much more democratic than most Arab countries (really it is) were the western “democracy” and “brutality” demands and critics were during the Iranian demonstrations very vocal. Now the western demands are laughable mild, the US presidents spokesman’s performance yesterday was a real comedy. If wikileaks files tell that some US diplomat has contacts with some opposition figures in Egypt does not mean that USA would really support them. Those relations are simply for information gathering and keeping doors open or some times even for feeding chaos in their political system. It is told here that CIA financed (not Peking) in the 70’s in Finland a tiny Maoist communist party. Because Washington supported Maoism? No, because those Americans calculated that the Maoist communists would create problems to the much more larger communist movement which supported Moscov.
That document doesn’t show the US wanted this revolt–it shows the US had contacts with pro-democracy advocates (one of whom rightly accused the US of supporting Mubarak).
Morality aside, I’d expect the US government to do this–play both sides of the fence, support Mubarak and yet keep in contact with pro-democracy types and maybe help them a little. But anyone can see from Biden’s reaction what the first instinct of the Obama administration was–stick to our “ally”, deny that Mubarak is a dictator, hope he throws the protestors a few bones and keeps things under control.
“Though we would like democracy to prosper around the Middle East . . ”
I don’t know who “we” are, but Silvan Shalom stated on the national radio just after the fall of Ben Ali that “Israel is dreading a democratic Arab world”.
I’ve tried in vain to find the article from al-Ahram resuming the statement, but I didn’t managed, and I realize that as all internet-connections in Egypt are cut off, al-Ahram is certainly in the same situation.
I’ll just retranslate a few sentences from another site:
“If the regimes neighbouring the State of Israel were to be replaced by democratic regimes, the Israeli national security could be threatened significantly. The new regimes would defend or adopt political lines intrinsically opposed to Israel’s security . . . . . a democratic regime would be governed by a population generally opposed to Israel”.
A democratic Arab world is a threath much bigger than any BDS-movement to “Israel’s security” that we all know is just another way of saying “Israel’s continous aggression of neighbouring countries.”
the precursor was wikileaks, not the failed greens in Iran.
i hear that the mullas are happy about Mubarack’s imminent fall.
This revolution may blow through the arab nations from west to east, from north to south but getting the masses to the streets for delivering the dramatic tv pictures is only the first step:
What’s the next one, what will follow? Every sort of democracy needs structures in politics, justice, military and police. Short, in the whole society!
So I’m afraid, it will not be as easy as switching on the light to change system from a dictatoric to a democratic system. There are, very probably, also remarkable outside influences in this actual developments. Depending on from which side this developments came and what goals they try to achieve, the West will not automatically benefit from this changes. As far as Israel is concerned, this revolution can change its importance and influence to the worse. Very probably apart from the U.S. and Israel, the Europeans as a whole and some in particular, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese are interfering here more or less successfully…
I don’t think the Green Revolution had any major influence on the Tunisian Revolution which is still going on.
There has been long-lasting and costly strikes, particularly in the Southern Tunisian mining-industry in Gafsa and Redeyef long before the Green Revolution. And revolts in the Maghreb has a long history.
The hearth of the revolt: Sidi Bouzid, Thala and particularly Kasserine – more than 60 killed – is the homeland of the traditionnally very rebellious Frechiches population, always on the forefront in rebelling against oppression: the French protectorat, the Bread Revolution (1984) and so on.
The Tunisian Revolution was the result of rebellion among the ‘economic outcasts’ in the rural areas, though foreign televisions (except one) never cared to go into the hearthland of the revolt, but preferred to stay in Tunis and film the middle-class ‘facebook and Twitter-generation’ who jumped on the revolts later on. Fortunately, all Tunisians recognize the merits of the rural ‘outcasts’ in this revolt, and a upper-middle class acquintance of mine from Tunis told me that her mother and dozens of other women go to the sit-ins with home-made couscous to feed ‘their children’.
The thousands of people who are still making sit-ins in front of the Ministry of Interior came walking and on busses from these economically abandoned areas, and they are the ones who forced the Prime Minister Ghannouchi to change the whole government, and they won’t leave before he abandons his post too.
The only footage from the hearth of the revolt in Kasserine was broadcasted in the national French television on Thursday, and though it’s in French and Tunisian dialect, the images don’t need any trabslation:
But just in case…Envoyé Special (Special Envoy) is a long running, very popular news magazine show in France, kind of like 60 Minutes I guess. The title of this episode is “In the Heart of the Tunisian Revolution”
Reporting from Kasserine, this city in the center of Tunisia where repression has resulted in scores of dead. During the course of more than one week, Envoyé special has followed the young people who have ended 23 years of dictatorship.
Typo alert Richard. You wrote–
“What George Bush and other American leaders never understood is that democracy means independence: independent thinking, independent alliances, nations seeking their own interests rather than the interest of a ruling élite. That is not something that makes us uncomfortable.”
I think that last word was supposed to be “comfortable”.
interestingly, the new top appointments made by Mubarak (VP & PM) are not present-day military officers. Does this mean that he has other significant sources of usable force beside the military, or is he simply out of touch with what’s going on?
Many bloggers in Tunisia who played an important role in spreading the news about their revolution have said that they were influenced by what the Iranian youth had done. I believe that is probably the case in Egypt as well. In the era of internet and facebook such mutual influence cannot be avoided. I am sure and I know that Iranians are watching the developments very closely.
In fact, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Green Movement leader, issued a statement today, praising the people of Tunisia and Egypt and warning the Islamic Republic leaders that they are running out of time.
Here is what Mousavi said in his statement:
In the name of Allah
The Middle East is on the verge of a defining and massive moments which can change the course of the destiny of this region, the world and the fate of other nations in the region. What is taking shape now is certainly overthrowing a despotic and tyrannical rule and trend which has been overwhelming the fate of many nations in the region. The starting point of what we are now witnessing on the streets of Tunis, Sanaa, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez can be undoubtedly traced back to days of 15th, 18th and 20th June 2009 when people took to the streets of Tehran in millions shouting “Where is my vote?” and peacefully demanded to get back their denied rights.
Today, the slogan of “Where is my vote?” of the people of Iran has reached Egypt and transformed into “The people want the overthrow of the regime”. In order to discover the secret of these links and these similarities, one does not have to go too far. You just have to compare the recent elections in Egypt with our own and compare it with the chairman of the Guardian Council who explicitly says there is no need for millions of votes by Green citizens. If we look at the collapsing political regimes in the Arab world and the Middle East carefully, we can identify a similar pattern of invading and shutting down social networks, the press and the cyber space. In an amazingly similar fashion, they have all blocked SMS systems, mobile phones and the internet, have banned all writers and taken dissidents to prisons.
Unfortunately, the interests of the ruling ideology in Iran do not allow the realities to be revealed as they are. The preachers of the obedient public outlets fail to pay any attention to the corrupt and despotic methods of the present day pharaoh of Egypt, who has created an explosive situation in his country by arrests, forced confessions, framing people and looting the nations through gangs and organised groups of the people surrounding them. They do refer to the ‘Wrath of the people” of Egypt, but they never explain that this day of wrath has come about as a consequence of inefficiency and corruption at the highest levels of stat, extravagance and wasting people’s funds, censorship, shutting people down, executions and lining up gallows to create fear in people. They never say that of the ruling system of Egypt had respected people’s right to determining their own destiny and had not tampered with people’s votes in the recent elections of Egypt, they would not have to face the demand for the ‘overthrow of the regime’ by the dear nation of Egypt. Perhaps, they do not realise that continuing policies of intimidation will eventually turn against itself and then the coming of “the day of wrath” and days of national wrath will be inevitable. Pharaohs usually hear the voice of the nation when it is too late.
Our nation deeply respects the glorious uprising of the brave people of Tunis and that of the people of Egypt, Yemen and other countries in quest for their rights. We commend the courageous, cognisant and resisting people of Egypt, Tunis, Jordan and Yemen and we pray to Allah that they may be successful and victorious in their struggle for their rights.
oh please Richard. The green movement is sooo last year.
Please consult Hillary Mann Leverett before you make a fool of yourself again and issue statements that the green movement was anything other than an event most likely staged by western- or western-influenced subversives.
Really, Richard, it’s been so discredited, and the vote has been so affirmed, that it’s embarrassing to see you make such sill claims. Did it occur to you that there are good reasons no MSM pundits have drawn the same comparison that you have?
Love ya, Richard, but this article defies common sense.
Hillary Mann Leverett is entirely too cozy with the regime if you ask me. Anyone who does business with Ahmadinejad & his cronies is a bit suspect in my book. All I know is that Iranian exiles I respect enormously & who are in very close touch with Iran believe in the Green Movement. I respect them. I think they know better than you.
The vote isn’t the issue. The issue is the regime. It is illegitimate. What sort of people murder women as happened yesterday on trumped up drug charges before her legal review had even been completed?
You mean except for Prof. Muhammad Sahimi at Teheran Bureau and Moussavi himself in a statement today? We must not respect the same “pundits.”
Pardon me but your ignorance is showing. Actually, the first thing that sprung to my mind was OMFG. This whole there-never-was-fraud is about 19 months passe. It was laughable when the Iranian regime said it, and it is pathetic to hear it yet again. And no sir, the Green movement–and by that I mean the rainbow opposition to the regime–is very much alive and very very active. The regime has managed to brutally suppress the overt manifestation of the aspirations of the Iranian people, only because it has behaved as a maniacal blood-thirsty beast, devoid of any humanity. When you execute dissidents to the tune of 1 every 8 hours, you win; for now. Iran was the spark, and Egypt may well be the re-ignition that the Iranian people need. I am a proud Iranian, and no, I’m not a Western-influenced subversive. Neither are millions of my fellow Iranian brothers and sisters. And we sure as hell have not got our knickers in a twist because we just didn’t like the election results. We have amassed extensive proof of the fraud (pictures, videos, attestations etc.) You do the people of Iran a grave injustice to assert that the protesters are ignorant of your FACTS. And oh, we don’t give a hoot who proposes these FACTS. We will no longer be told what to KNOW. All this said, I believe you are one of those Iranian regime “plants,” trying to discredit the movement.
Have a nice day!
Maa Bishomaarim (We Are Countless)
RE: “Egypt is one of the most populous nations in the region with one of the largest militaries.” – R.S.
FROM ALEX KANE, 01/27/11:
ENTIRE POST – http://mondoweiss.net/2011/01/the-egyptian-intifada-and-what-it-may-mean-for-israelpalestine.html
P.S. ALSO SEE: “Israel Fears Regime Change in Egypt” – By Gil Yaron in Jerusalem, Spiegel Online, 01/28/11
ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,742186,00.html
Maybe what we are witnessing today in the Middle East is that old, familiar domino effect so beloved of cold and hot war tacticians in years gone by.
Where will it stop, I wonder. Perhaps it won’t until it finally fetches up in Israel itself. More than a few discontented citizens there may be thinking they could do a much better job than those presently undertaking the task. Certainly, given past and recent history, it’s very unlikely they could do much worse.
If so, then it will have to be up the young people to generate the necessary critical mass, to bring about a change in the leadership, reversing the downward trend that the country has been taking these many years.
But will they do it? Can they do it? Well, it’s not as if it’s never been done; it has – and very recently too. And not a million miles away either.
One important weapon in their arsenal must be an entirely new idea, a break with the past, something
radically different from that employed up till now.
So, this may be a time for fresh concepts, better ways of thinking the matter through, ones that will be worth marching for. And dying for if such may be the need.
What a pity if, after all that’s happened and may be about to happen, it still comes down to that same old game of musical chairs; a reshuffling of faces but no change in the overall mental outlook, no willingness to see beyond the rule book and what tomorrow may hold.
Anything come to mind? Nothing quite formulated as yet? The next generation may even now be waiting for the call. But, like most youngsters, they can be very impatient. They may not wait for long
Why are you ragging on Iran? It is the only true democracy in the Middle East. If the Egyptians get Iranian style democracy (and tear up the silly Camp David accorts), the Egyptians will have made tremendous progress
I have no idea whether this is irony, trolling or whatever. But it’s just plain stupid.