With western powers edging towards a full military involvement in Syria’s civil war, and with Egypt’s freedom movement in crisis, questions arise over what went wrong with the Arab Spring, that once held such promise of replacing decades of dictatorship and conflict in the Middle East with democracy and peace. Western governments’ moral and military support for freedom movements across the region was based on the assumption that secular and moderate political forces would capitalise on their populations’ rejection of fundamentalist and reactionary religious ideologies and succeed in establishing democratic systems.

This interpretation and analysis of the socio-political forces among the Arab nations did not contradict realities on the ground, but there was one factor the West did not take into account. This was the presence of a regime, in the midst of the region, whose daily policies and long-term strategy is to make sure that all the effort and sacrifice Middle Eastern peoples exert to achieve democracy is diverted and eventually defeated. That regime is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Support & suppression

The Arab Spring began two years ago with the democratic movement in Tunisia to remove the autocratic regime of President Ben-Ali. From day one, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, asserted that the uprising took its ideological direction from the “Islamic Awakening”, which in the vocabulary of Iran’s despotic rulers, is a synonym for establishing an Islamic state ruled by clerics. Later in the same year, at the start of the Egyptian people’s revolution, addressing them in Arabic after delivering the Friday prayer sermon in Tehran, Khamenei portrayed himself as “your brother in religion”, and praised the “explosion of sacred anger”. He also warned against any US role in the outcome of the events in that country.
Branding the then close US ally, former president Hosni Mubarak, as a “traitor-dictator working for Israel and guilty of a great betrayal of Egyptians”, Khamenei said the regime changing events in Tunisia and Egypt “were natural extensions” of Iran’s own Islamic revolu- tion in 1979.

“Do not believe in the game which is being played by the West and America; don’t believe in their role, don’t believe in their political manoeuvers, which are taking place in the midst of your awakening,” Khamenei warned Egyptians from the pulpit at Tehran University.

All this from the leader of a regime that two years earlier sent its security forces and club wielding Basji militias to kill 150 young Iranians after the 2009 uprising of Iran’s own pro-democracy Green Movement, when several million Iranians took to the streets, demanding political reform and freedoms, denouncing the dictator Khamenei and burning his portrait, before being silenced by a lethal crackdown.

From propaganda to an armada

While the Iranian regime’s support for the radical and extremist Islamist forces in Egypt and Tunisia might remain only rhetoric and propaganda, Tehran has been forced to deny its real military involvement in assisting the regime of Bashar Assad in its aim to crush the Syrian democratic movement.

According to western intelligence agencies, only days after the start of the armed struggle of the Free Syrian Army, 150 Revolutionary Guards were sent to Damascus by the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after Iran decided it could not let its most important regional ally succumb to rebel forces.

In July last year the Syrian Free Army released a video that showed several Revolutionary Guards captured in the city of Homs. One of the Guards who confessed to having been sent from Iran tells the camera: “I am a member of the team in charge of cracking down on protesters in Syria and we receive our orders directly from the security division of the Syrian air force in Homs.

“I urge Mr Khamenei to work on securing our release and return to our homes,” he added.

While the Free Syrian Army released the Iranians on that occasion, hundreds of Revolutionary Guards have since been killed in the conflict. For its part, Tehran allows public funerals to be held only for senior commanders, in order to avoid too much adverse publicity.

Only last month the Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba noted that with the Assad regime out of the picture, Syria is now being run by Iran and Hizbullah.

In an interview with the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat, Jarba said the rebels had seized control of “at least half of the country”.

“Assad is a criminal and his regime has collapsed,” the National Coalition chief said. “He no longer runs Syria. The real rulers of Syria are the Iranian Revolutionary Guards … with the participation of Hizbullah fighters.”

Acting as if Iran is the official spokesperson for the Assad regime, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed charges that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons in the countryside outside Damasacus, claiming instead that: “terrorist groups have committed the criminal act”.

Meanwhile, at home, after eight years of Ahmadinejad administrations, backed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iran has been pushed to the brink of economic and social collapse. However, the June presidential election was an opportunity for the regime to change its devastating domestic and foreign policies in pursuit of Iran’s national interests in line with the overwhelming demands of the Iranian nation.

The election of Hassan Rouhani to the office of president met with widespread approval among Iran’s youth, which continues to demand sweeping reform national interests in line with the overwhelming demands of the Iranian nation.

The election of Hassan Rouhani should be seen as a clear message to the rulers of the Islamic Republic that the time has come to change their devastating domestic and foreign policies, rather than to perpetuate a system which, through its dictatorship, has denied the people their basic human rights for far too long.

It goes without saying that Rouhani’s efforts to even partly realise the demands of the Iranian people will meet with all the obstacles Supreme Leader Ali Khameni’s camp can place in his path. This cannot be any more obvious than Khamenei’s interference in Rouhani’s choice of ministers.

The presence of Khamenei’s stooge, Mustafa Pour- Mohammadi, as a member of Rouhani’s cabinet is a slap in the face to Iran’s civil society and all those concerned about restoring the human rights of Iranian citizens.

Pour-Mohammadi has a thick file in Iranian and international human rights organisations, proving him a heartless cleric responsible for crimes against humanity. He has ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom had already served their sentences and were waiting to be released from prisons across Iran.

The appointment to the Interior Ministry of Rahmani Fazli, a man well known for his involvement in brutal crackdowns on civil rights activists and political dissidents, also flies in the face of Rouhani’s claim that he intends to build trust between the people and his cabinet.

And of course all the strings of this puppet show being played out on Iran’s political stage continue to be held by the despotic Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Despite yet another vote for change by the Iranian people, he remains the sole dictator of Iran, with his fingers in every pie.

Buying time

Attempting to justify his government’s failure to fulfill its promise of building a civil society in Iran after having been in power for eight years, the former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami said that under the system of Velayate Fgahi (absolute power of supreme leader), “Iran’s presidents are nothing more than his Khamenei [subordinates]”.

Sadly, western powers generally ignore this reality. However, in truth the religious tyrant will never give an inch: he plays on the hopes of the West for regional peace while installing one puppet governor after another to buy time for his corrupt regime.

Khamenei has repeatedly shown he will not tolerate dissent from political opponents at home, as seen in the case of the crackdown on the Green Movement. He has likewise demonstrated that he will continue to support the most reactionary and fundamentalist forces in other Islamic countries, to fulfil his illusion of becoming their new Khalifa.

Nevertheless, the Iranian people will continue to resist Khamenei’s malign intentions and devastating policies. Their hopes – and those of the international community – must remain with Rouhani, in the fight to honour his election pledge for the creation of a truly democratic Iran.

Dr. Behrooz Behbudi

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