This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 15/02/2011
Certainly what happened in Tunisia was a source of inspiration for the young people who came out to participate in the " January 25th Revolution" in Egypt, and thus two Arab regimes were overthrown in a very short space of time. The leaders of both regimes had seemed highly entrenched in their positions, and two months ago no one would have imagined the scenario that took place. After much talk and speculation about who will be next, everyone has looked to other Arab countries. Yesterday, demonstrations and clashes with opposition forces occurred on the streets to show that Iran is a potential candidate to be swept away by the impact of what happened, especially in Egypt.
It was both ironic and amusing that the Iranian Supreme Leader, and the Iranian President, praised the revolution in Egypt, and the end of President Mubarak's reign. They believed it would pave the way for an Islamic regime throughout the Middle East, yet the Iranian state media declined to mention that demands [in Egypt] were related to freedoms, democracy and the eradication of corruption. Meanwhile, having interpreted the Supreme Leader and President's comments as a form of permission, the Iranian opposition requested to go out onto the streets and march in support of what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Their request was refused, and they were considered to have been motivated by external forces to incite chaos…thus adding another charge to the list of accusations leveled at the opposition in Iran.
There has been a great deal discussion and analysis regarding the "domino effect" theory, and the potential transmission of what happened in Egypt and Tunisia on to other countries. It is certain that what happened will have its impacts, for it was a political earthquake, especially in Egypt, but conditions vary from one country to another. Tunisia inspired the youth in Egypt, but this was not a case of imitation; signs of discontent in Egypt had been clear in recent years. The revolutionary movement had organized forces, strikes, and protest groups by the dozen, until the situation reached its boiling point, and we saw how the scenario panned out.
Iran had its own revolution which took place in 2009, following the presidential elections there. It was called the "Green Revolution", in reference to the "Green Movement" in Iran. The country witnessed street battles and bloody clashes for several days until they were eventually suppressed, and restrictions were placed upon opposition figures and leaders. If the young people in Tunisia and Egypt had been inspired by Iran, as the Iranian Supreme Leader claimed, then they were most likely to be inspired by the 2009 "Green Revolution", which used the same methods and means as them, such as "Facebook" and "Twitter". It was also similar in terms of its fundamental principles, with a youth movement yearning for freedom and democracy. At the time, the authorities resorted to cutting off means of communication on the internet and blocking websites, just like what happened in Egypt for several days. However, the "Green Revolution" was unsuccessful in Iran, due to the religious, ideological, and institutional domination of the Revolutionary Guard.
It is difficult now to determine the strength and continuity of the demonstrations that took place in Iran yesterday, and whether they can be resolute. However it is certain that there is a desire for freedom there, in light of what happened in 2009, and that a democratic Iran would be an important addition to the stability of the region. It is also certain that there are young people in Iran who follow what is happening in the world, and who look forward to a better future. They are likely to wonder: Why did [the revolution] succeed in Egypt and Tunisia, but not for us? Why did the army side with the people in those countries, and protect them, whilst the Revolutionary Guards behave in a different manner altogether?