Watchman Newsletter

Iran Sees Rise of Islamic Hard-Liners

The New York Times (Link) - William Yong (January 28, 2011)

Hopeful that the protests sweeping Arab lands may create an opening for hard-line Islamic forces, conservatives in Iran are taking deep satisfaction in the events in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where secular leaders have faced large-scale uprisings.

While the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confronted its own popular uprising two years ago � and successfully suppressed it � conservatives in Iran said they saw little similarity between those events and the Arab revolts, and instead likened the recent upheavals to Iran�s own 1979 Islamic revolution.

�In my opinion, the Islamic Republic of Iran should see these events without exception in a positive light,� said Mohammad-Javad Larijani, secretary general of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights and one of the most outspoken figures among Iran�s traditional conservatives.

He made it clear that he hoped that the �anti-Islamic� government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in Tunisia, would be replaced by a �people�s government,� meaning one in which conservative Islamic forces would gain the upper hand, as they did when Iranian people overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, establishing a quasi-theocracy.

On the other side are the United States and France, he said, who are �doing everything they can to ride the wave and prevent the people from establishing the regime that they desire.�

�I am more optimistic about Egypt,� Mr. Larijani said in comments published Friday on the Web site Khabar Online, which is closely linked to his brother, Ali Larijani, the Parliament speaker.

�There, Muslims are more active in political agitation and, God willing, they will establish the regime that they want,� Mohammad-Javad Larijani said.

Some here have even echoed the pan-Islamic rhetoric of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

�Today, as a result of the gifts of the Islamic revolution in Iran, freedom-loving Islamic peoples such as the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and nearby Arab countries are standing up to their oppressive governments,� said a leading hard-line cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is believed to have influence with President Ahmadinejad.

In comments published Friday on the Web site of the semiofficial news agency ISNA, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, who favors a political system in which elections merely endorse �divinely chosen� clerical leaders, congratulated the people of Tunisia and Egypt, stating that they had acted �based on the principles� of Iran�s Islamic revolution.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Iran�s �green� opposition movement, which led large street protests here two years ago after a disputed election, have so far issued no statement on the events in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

While foreign commentators have tried to draw comparisons and assess differences between the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali�s government in Tunisia, many here have found such comparisons strained and unconvincing.

�No one can compare Arab and Iranian society with each other,� said a former reformist journalist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid drawing the attention of the security services. �

Iran ~ Islam