The Current Discussion: Are we witnessing a pro-regime coup in Iran? What should the world do in response? How will the election aftermath affect Iran's projection of power into the Middle East?
Street protests in Iran are both inspiring and alarming. It is always inspiring when people decide to stand up for their rights, undeterred by repression. What's alarming is that it's unclear whether what we are witnessing is a mere power struggle or a popular movement for change.
By change, I mean that the protesters would succeed in forcing the highest echelon of power to concede to a more transparent and more open system - one that allows wider diversity of views and political movements.
It may be too much to expect that the current protests would end the era of Wilayat Al Faiqih, the supremacy of religious authority over Iranian politics and society. But if the protests evolve into a more organized movement, they will accomplish the long-standing demands of the more progressive reformists for an end to the monopoly of a tiny group of religious and social elite on political and economic decision-making.
That is not to underestimate or devalue the courage and sacrifice of tens of thousands who have bravely rejected the confiscation of their free will and their right to fair representation. Regardless of the end outcome, the Iranian protesters have sent an unequivocal message to the highest echelons of power that neither claims of religious supremacy nor police force will coerce consent.
That message is certainly resounding across the Arab world, where elections have often been reduced to a process of containment, manipulation through flawed electoral laws, vote-buying or outright rigging. Seen in this light, the unfolding eruption of defiance on the streets of Tehran could serve as a wake-up call for millions of Arabs who are disillusioned with the "voting" system or are even denied the right to vote.
But Arabs will also be watching the Western (especially the American) reaction to the unfolding events. People are highly aware of the history of American intervention, direct and indirect, in Iran and the wider region.
Young people may not be aware of the history of the 1953-orchestrated coups against the elected government of Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1957 or the American direct involvement in the Lebanese elections in 1954 (as documented in the memoir of the late CIA master spy Miles Copeland).
But recent perceived Western interventions in the Arab world's internal political process are certainly influencing Arab reactions to the unfolding events in Tehran.
The Western refusal to deal with Hamas, even after Hamas won in 2006 elections deemed fair by international observers has deepened skepticism of any movement that appears to have Western support. More recently, the U.S. decision to make continued financial support for Lebanon contingent on the outcome of elections in that country was seen as a blatant intervention, one that many believe influenced election results. Concern that the U.S. could be involved in fueling or at least manipulating the current protests could produce an adverse effect on people in the region.
A majority of Arabs are fed up with repressive regimes and will be heartened to see Iranian protester's triumph over forces of coercion. But any sign of Western intervention would immediately place the events in a different context in a region dominated by politics and the consequences of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The 1979 Iranian Revolution was a watershed in the region's history, from an Arab point of view, precisely it brought down the staunchest ally of Israel in the region.
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