Has the Arab Spring by-passed Iran? Why?

Posted with the permission of Gary’s Choices

By Gary Sick

Michelle Moghtader of CNN has collected a set of reasons why Iran is not experiencing the same kind of turmoil as are other countries in the Middle East. The commentators she quotes are expert, and their reasons are sensible.

Basically, they say, Iran has recently had a revolution and is reluctant to repeat the experience; it already had its own full-blown revolt in 2009 that was brutally suppressed, with most of its leaders still imprisoned; the Iranian leadership has been able to maintain its coherence in the face of opposition;  and the regime benefits from having been in radical opposition to the West for many years; among other things.

I generally agree, but I would add that the regime has maintained absolute unity with the security forces, specifically the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, unlike Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen where the military split away from the leadership.

Bahrain and Syria are cases of unity between leaders and the military, and they also are not collapsing at the first push. However, if popular opposition continues on a large scale (as in Syria), the military may tire of shooting their fellow citizens and begin to put some space between themselves and a murderous regime. There are some small signs that that is beginning to happen in Syria.

Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian dissident who was one of the leaders of the Tahrir Square rebellion, tells CNN that the 2009 uprising in Iran was inspiring and instructive to the Egyptian protesters. Perhaps before this is over we are going to go full circle.

Will the Iranian Green Movement, which has gone underground almost to the point of invisibility, take heart from what is happening in the rest of the Middle East and come back for a second round? That is not an impossibility, particularly since the Iranian elite is in the midst of its own internal battle for control.

Syria may be the key for Iran. Not only is it the channel for Iran to maintain its strategic political and military relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it is also a possible template for Iranian domestic turmoil. If mass popular demonstrations eventually prove able to overthrow a crypto-Shiite (Allawi) political-military dictatorship in Syria, that will inevitably play back into Iranian internal politics.

Basically, in Syria as in Iran, the rulers have no alternative to complete control. If they slip, they know they will face not only overthrow but potentially much worse. They know what happened to their defeated opponents in the 1979 revolution, and there is no reason to expect that their own treatment would be any more lenient.

As Samuel Johnson famously noted, the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. That is what holds together the Syrian and Iranian leadership. And that is the obstacle that must be overcome if there is to be real change.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. Iran, like Algeria are the most democratic countries in their region. There were a few polls, two out of Britain on the eve of the last election that showed Ahmedinijhad winning the election, one two weeks before the election and another on the eve of the election.

    In the case of Algeria, while it is the most democratic nation in the Magreb, no one knows what that means. (funny cribbed line from Terry Allen’s “Art Ark,” a true story about a truckload of art sent from NYC to those “snotty surfer upstarts” in CA. The truck crashed and the art all burned on the side of the highway, “but nobody knows what it means.”)

    Syria, it seems bears little resemblance to Iran. Syria is a dictatorship, whereas Iran is a complex Oligarchy. Tunisia didn’t upset Algeria. Like Iran, Algeria is a military backed gov’t.

    Iranian leaders enjoy one benefit, Western opposition/sanctions helps them justify their nations shortcoming. Algeria doesn’t have this same excuse, but many of the conditions are strikingly similar. I don’t really see how Syria is a harbinger for Iran. Just as Morocco and Tunisia aren’t for Algeria. The Alg. and Iran are resource rich where Syria, Mor. and Tun. aren’t.

    Finally, and this is Gary’s best point, both Algeria and Iran had their revolutions, and both are still licking wounds, or remember the pain of those wounds.

    Here’s a bold prediction, Iran and Algeria’s (Israel too) regimes will outlast NATO. They won’t last 4 yrs past, as NATO/US/Western interference creates a dialectic that supports these regimes. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union undermined not only Warsaw Pact nations, but other peripheral nations that existed to oppose the Soviets lost their raison d’etre.

  2. speaking of Syria, is Lobelog solely focused on Iran? What about Syria and Bahrain? Also, it seems Bahrain might mollify the Iranian leadership. I know in America seldom is heard a discouraging word about the home of the 5th fleet. I wonder how Mr Sick thinks Bahrain will affect the regime.

    This VERY selective reporting and focus is disturbing. Also, what about Jordan? Will the fall of Syria create problems in Jordan? Does the news blackout of Bahrain indicate other similar news blackouts, particularly in Jordan. If there be an Israel lobby that is not about shaping the news, then it seems that same lobby might be contributing to the dearth of news from Jordan. I’ve read some reports that King Hussain is getting financial assistance from the US, Israel and the Saudis. I wish Lobelog would focus some attention into these other countries, as your high quality reporting is a public service. Just wish you’d focus with a wider angle lens.

  3. Recitation:
    Once upon a time…
    Sometime ago back on the east coast
    In New York City, to be exact…
    A bunch of artists and painters and
    sculptors and musicians and
    poets and writers and dancers
    and architects
    Started feeling real superior
    to their ego-counter-parts
    Out on the West Coast…so,
    They all got together and decided
    They would show those snotty surfer upstarts
    A thing or two about the Big Apple
    And…they hired themselves a truck
    It was a big, spanking new white-shiny
    Chrome-plated cab-over
    With mudflaps, stereo, tv, AM & FM radio,
    Leather seats and a naugahide sleeper…
    All fresh
    With new American Flag decals and “ART ARK”
    Printed on the side of the door
    With solid 24 karat gold leaf type…
    And they filled up this truck
    With the most significant piles
    And influential heaps of Art Work
    To ever be assembled in Modern Times,
    And it sent it West…to chide
    Cajole, humble and humiliate…the Golden Bear.
    And this is the true story of that truck…
    A Truckload of Art
    From New York City
    Came rollin down the road
    Yeah the driver was singing
    And the sunset was pretty
    But the truck turned over
    And she rolled off the road
    Yeah a Truckload of Art
    is burning near the highway
    Precious objects are scattered
    All over the ground
    And it’s a terrible sight
    If a person were to see it
    But there weren’t nobody around
    Yeah the driver went sailing
    High in the sky
    Landing in the gold lap of the Lord
    Who smiled and then said
    “Son, you’re better off dead
    Than haulin a truckload
    full of hot avant-garde
    Yes…an important artwork
    Was thrown burning to the ground
    Tragically…landing in the weeds
    And the smoke could be seen
    Ahhh for miles all around
    Yeah but nobody…knows what it means
    Yes…a Truckload of Art
    Is burning near the highway
    And it’s a tough job for the highway patrol
    Ahhh they’ll soon see the smoke
    An come runnin to poke
    Then dig a deep ditch
    And throw the arts in a hole
    Yeah a Truckload of Art
    Is burning near the highway
    And it’s raging far-out of control
    And what the critics have cheered
    Is now shattered and queered
    And their noble reviews
    Have been stewed on the road


  4. Terry Allen, more than a songwriter and performer, is a noted sculptor and artist with a dry, oblique sense of humor. West Texas will do that to you.

  5. And one reason which is being ignored is that it Iranians did in fact vote for Ahmadinejad, and the Green Movement is not as popular in Iran as portrayed. But we’re not supposed to say that, right?

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