It is be­lieved that the ‘Arab Spring’ took its in­spi­ra­tion from Iran’s ‘Green Move­ment.’ But the two are not as sim­i­lar as they may seem. Why is rev­o­lu­tion an un­likely re­al­ity for Iran?

Southasia - - News - By Reza Khan­zadeh The writer is a Mas­ter’s can­di­date at the NYU School of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence.

An­other rev­o­lu­tion will bring noth­ing new to Iran, says the

gen­eral pop­u­lace.

Since the be­gin­ning of the ‘Arab Spring’ in the win­ter of 2010, many schol­ars and jour­nal­ists have com­pared the phe­nom­e­non to Iran’s ‘Green Move­ment’ from the sum­mer of 2009. Many have raised ques­tions such as: are the two in­ti­mately linked? Do they shape each other’s des­tinies? Do they share the same val­ues? And also, if change were to come in Iran, would it start from the streets of Tehran, like in ’79, or even most re­cently like in Cairo and Tu­nis?

The fas­ci­na­tion with such com­par­isons stems from the re­al­iza­tion that Mid­dle East­ern cit­i­zens de­serve a bet­ter life and many in­di­vid­u­als in Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries sup­port such ef­forts to pave a path for change. In other words, if coun­try x can bring about change through street protests it is more than likely that coun­try y can do the same. How­ever, a deeper look into these ques­tions will show that a com­par­i­son be­tween the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Green Move­ment’ is ill ad­vised.

For starters, one key fac­tor to keep in mind while dis­sect­ing these two move­ments is that the Ira­ni­ans and the Arabs do not think highly of each other to say the least. While there may not be bla­tant an­i­mos­ity, the two sides are just too pre­oc­cu­pied with their own prob­lems to worry about the other. More specif­i­cally, the cit­i­zens of Iran are aware of the events in the Arab coun­tries and can re­late to their strug­gles but that is as far as their in­ti­mate link goes. Ira­ni­ans liv­ing in­side Iran are too con­sumed with their own prob­lems to even jump­start an­other protest, let alone have any gen­uine sig­nif­i­cant link with their Arab neigh­bors or feel in­spired in any way. There­fore, to say that these two move­ments are in­ti­mately linked or have the abil­ity to shape each other’s des­tinies would be a stretch. Nev­er­the­less, they are linked in the sense that their move­ments over­lap in rhetoric.

The goals and ob­jec­tives of both move­ments are quite sim­i­lar. The pro­test­ers have asked and/or de­manded for changes in their lead­er­ship; more free­doms, lib­er­ties, and rights as well as a more demo­cratic govern­ment. Thus, on the most ba­sic level these two move­ments share com­mon val­ues. How­ever, ex­am­in­ing this is­sue fur­ther will show that the sim­i­lar­i­ties end here, pri­mar­ily be­cause there are too many vari­ables to con­sider. In other words, the Arabs and Ira­ni­ans are too dif­fer­ent to have any kind of in­flu­ence on each other. They have dif­fer­ent re­li­gions, cul­ture, national his­tory, lan­guage, her­itage, and so on. It is per­haps not even nec­es­sary to com­pare Arabs to Ira­ni­ans to fully un­der­stand how dif­fer­ent they are; sim­ply con­trast­ing one Arab coun­try to an­other il­lus­trates a mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ences. Most im­por­tantly, Ira­ni­ans do not look to­wards their Arab neigh­bors for in­spi­ra­tion when deal­ing with sim­i­lar do­mes­tic is­sues (and

the same can be said for the Arabs).

Fur­ther­more, if change will ever oc­cur in Iran it will not start from the streets of Tehran – look­ing at the failed protests in 2009 shows this. For starters, the sit­u­a­tion in Iran is some­what dif­fer­ent than her Arab neigh­bors be­cause the Ira­ni­ans have al­ready gone through a rev­o­lu­tion and the ma­jor­ity of the cit­i­zens do not be­lieve that an­other one will solve their prob­lems. Although this gen­er­a­tion was not alive dur­ing the ’79 rev­o­lu­tion, they are con­stantly ed­u­cated on it and are still pay­ing the costs of it. Also, con­sid­er­ing how far be­hind Iran is in re­la­tion to the rest of the world, the ma­jor­ity of her cit­i­zens be­lieve an­other rev­o­lu­tion will only set them fur­ther be­hind than they al­ready are.

This mind set can best be seen when com­par­ing footage cov­er­ing the ’79 rev­o­lu­tion, the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Green Move­ment.’ One defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic be­tween these three is the re­ac­tions from the pro­test­ers when con­fronted by op­po­si­tion forces. The Ira­nian pro­test­ers in ’79 and the Arab pro­test­ers in 2010 both stood their ground and were ready to die for their cause. They were pre­pared to put their lives on the line in or­der for their regime to change. How­ever, look­ing at the footage from the 2009 ‘Green Move­ment,’ the pro­test­ers ran away at the slight­est re­sponse from the op­po­si­tion. This shows that the cur­rent dis­po­si­tion in Iran has not reached the point where peo­ple are pre­pared to die for change; their de­mands may be sim­i­lar to those of the Arabs but the path in which they want to reach those goals is dif­fer­ent.

Sur­pris­ingly, the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran has a con­sid­er­able amount of fol­low­ers, es­ti­mated to be around the high 40%. Of the re­main­ing pop­u­la­tion who are against this regime, about half do not want to see a regime change be­cause they fear a re­peat of 1979 which would lead to fur­ther set­backs in their eco­nomic strug­gles. There­fore, the re­main­ing 20% of the pop­u­la­tion ar­gues that cer­tain rules, gov­ern­men­tal branches and politi­cians need to be changed rather then the en­tire sys­tem. Ul­ti­mately, it is highly un­likely that Iran will have an­other rev­o­lu­tion in the tra­di­tional sense of 1979 or even as that seen in the Egypt, Tu­nisia, Yemen, Syria, and Libya of to­day. Crit­i­cal to note then is that the peo­ple will not be the ini­tial fac­tor in mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. In the end, change in Iran will oc­cur at the top, within the gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem. This change is al­ready show­ing its marks through the cur­rent power strug­gle be­tween the cler­ics and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary guards.

Although the lat­ter has gained in­creased power and con­trol over key sec­tors of the govern­ment, the former still holds key po­lit­i­cal of­fices that make most, if not all, of the de­ci­sions for the coun­try. None­the­less, the poli­cies of ei­ther group are not so dif­fer­ent to where the cit­i­zens may ben­e­fit from one over the other. In any case, if change is ever to oc­cur in Iran it will start with pow­er­ful in­di­vid­u­als within Iran’s govern­ment. This will be a twofold process: first the el­der politi­cians who cur­rently amass power will pass and re­gard­less of who takes over, change will oc­cur. This change will lead to ei­ther in­ter­nal strug­gles, where the govern­ment will need to make a face lift in or­der to sur­vive, or con­tinue to fight for power thereby mak­ing the regime too weak to sus­tain and thus invit­ing protests, move­ments, and re­forms.

More than meets the eye.

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