Thursday, February 10, 2011

Iran And The Egyptian Protests

By Abdullah Iskandar
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 09/02/2011
The Egyptian protests are entering their third week while still raising the same demands that were carried since day one, whether in the daily gatherings and demonstrations or the stumbling dialogue with the authorities. These slogans are related to public freedoms, transparent elections, the fight against corruption and the amendment of the constitutional articles limiting political freedom and the freedom of opinion.

Moreover, the first gathering for the Egyptian youth was launched on January 25 to show solidarity with similar slogans raised by the protestors in Tunisia. Not one Egyptian side diverted away from these demands, not even the Muslim Brotherhood group which upheld the political and social demands related to the nature of the rule, while - although the group tried to differentiate itself on some occasions - it never raised its own slogans, especially in regard to the peace treaty with Israel, which it had opposed ever since its signing.

Furthermore, the negotiations between the Egyptian authorities under the supervision of Vice President Omar Suleiman and the opposition which included the Muslim Brotherhood, never even tackled the relations with Israel, the treaty with it or the official Egyptian position toward it.

This reveals, without the shadow of a doubt, that the slogans of political Islam and the struggle with Israel were never the motor of the Egyptian demonstrations. These demonstrations were activated by demands carrying a political and domestic social nature. However, this reality does not exclude the possible exploitation of the current confrontation by Egyptian sides that are hostile to the peace process in order to improve the conditions of political participation later on and push toward a certain Egyptian behavior vis-à-vis Israel, knowing that no one demanded the annulment of the peace treaty and that the most that could come out from the current confrontation - at this level - is the continuation of the cold peace adopted by President Hosni Mubarak.

All of this undermines the official theory which was promoted by Iran and was highly popular among its supporters, followers and allies, regarding the fact that what is happening in Egypt stems from a political Islamic project or is due to a popular wish to engage in war with Israel. This theory is trying to conceal all the social and political demands of the Egyptian protestors and to implicate them in a project that was nowhere to be seen in their demands and slogans. Indeed, they neither condemned the “submission to the Israeli orders,” nor called for the “establishment of an Islamic state,” nor claimed to “defend Arab dignity,” although there is an Egyptian popular consensus over the positions toward the Palestinian cause and the nature of the conflict with Israel. In other words, Iran tried to shift the nature of the problem from being the product of a domestic situation to that of a foreign political project.

In that sense, the Iranian authorities’ interest in the current situation in Egypt is some sort of preemptive response to domestic challenges, combined with a certain level of political opportunism.

The Egyptian protests earned great sympathy and attention throughout the world, although the attention that was granted by each side was due to specific goals. However, the Iranian interest in the demands of the Egyptians seemed to be in contradiction with Iranian positions toward social and political demands in Arab countries that are allies of Tehran, which divests it of its quality of honest interest.

In this context, the recognition of the domestic root of the Egyptian problem implicitly points to the recognition of a similar root in the Iranian internal opposition movement which broke out following the last presidential elections, at a time when the official campaign against the Iranian opposition focused on the fact that it served the interests of a foreign enemy, not that it conveyed disgruntlement toward the domestic practices of the rule. Moreover, the recognition of the possibility that the Egyptians might be opposing a domestic situation means the recognition of the right of the Iranian opposition to stage a similar action, which would consequently ensue the elimination of the sanctity of the Iranian regime while carrying the recognition of the importance of democratic and constitutional rule, the transition of power and the end of the era of the leader until his death. However, this is a recognition which the current Iranian authorities, along with their allies and supporters in the Arab region, do not seem to be about to make any time soon.

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