From the perspective of the dictatorships of the Middle East, the most obvious conclusion from the demonstrations in Egypt and the resignation Friday of embattled President Hosni Mubarak is undoubtedly that a little freedom is a dangerous thing. On the other hand, keeping a tight lid on any kind of opposition and controlling the information flow and cyberspace will leave political opponents little room to maneuver. It is when the people lose their fear, as they did in Tunisia and Egypt, that the regime will end up on the ropes, or down for the count.
Much the same thing happened 20 years ago in the former Soviet bloc, when the people of Central and Eastern Europe lost their fear of their Soviet-backed oppressors. At the time, the leadership of China saw the writing on the wall and crushed the Tiananmen Square demonstrators, effectively securing their power for the foreseeable future.
Iran’s mullahs do not want to follow in the footsteps of Mubarak, which could be a very real possibility give the similar demographics of Iran and the deep popular resentment of its autocratic regime. The Iranian Green Movement is still a force today—but largely from outside the country following the clampdown after the election of June 2009.
In his speech on Mubarak’s resignation Friday, President Obama hailed the Egyptian protesters as an example to the world and its freedom movements. However, he entirely failed to acknowledge the role of Iran’s Green Movement, which set a gold standard for courage when protesters rose up after the contested elections that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. In other words, Obama Administration policy remains to support freedom movements—when they have succeeded.
Announced plans by Iranian opposition leaders to hold a rally in support of the Egyptian demonstrators on February 14 have caused the authorities to react strongly, calling the plans “political and divisive.” Communication through Internet and cell phone is already tightly controlled in Iran and in a far more systematic way than in Egypt. Now the regime is making sure that dissidents remain under heavy pressure.
According to The New York Times, Iranian security forces have been stationed outside the home of the reformist cleric an opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, who is among the organizers of the planned rally. Family members have been barred from visiting him, and there are reports of a crackdown and arrests of reporters and people associated with Karroubi and other opposition figures.
What makes the case of Iran particularly interesting—and as a matter of fact hypocritical in the extreme—is that the Iranian government itself has expressed support for the anti-government demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia. But they are not willing to allow any popular movements challenging the control of the state in their own streets. “If they are not going to allow their own people to protest, it goes against everything they are saying, and all they are doing to welcome the protests in Egypt is fake,” Karroubi said in an interview with The New York Times.
Unfortunately, accusing Iran’s mullahs of a double standard is hardly going to cause them many sleepless nights. However, the thought of the Iranian people exercising their free political rights in their own streets certainly will.