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?
Another revolution will bring nothing new to Iran, says the
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.