Much has been said about Iran taking advantage of the instability in the Arab world to increase tensions. Sending two ships through the Suez Canal to a Syrian port, at this time, signalled Iran's desire to project Iranian power far beyond its neighbourhood.
But such stunts miss the point. The more important consequences of the Arab people's rebellion are its impact on the Iranian people. There are at least four connections between Iran and the Arab sandstorm currently sweeping through the region. First, Arab republics have proven far more vulnerable than Arab monarchies. Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya, all experiencing intense change, are post-monarchies. By contrast, Morocco, Jordan, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Oman, are ruled by royal families/monarchs. Their kings and emirs can fire the government, move gingerly toward a constitutional monarchy like the United Kingdom and, perhaps, survive this Arab sandstorm.
Is the Islamic Republic of Iran more like a vulnerable republic or a durable monarchy? Until the summer of 2009, the supreme leader under the velayat faqih that Ayatollah Khomeini introduced in 1979, reigned like a monarch above the fray. That fiction of being removed from government disappeared when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei supported the incumbent President Ahmadinejad in a blatantly partial manner following the disputed election of June 2009. Khamenei became the target of the demonstrators of Tehran chanting "down with the dictator". Iran appeared more and more like an Egypt or Libya than an Arab monarchy, making its leaders vulnerable to an uprising from the people.
Second, the mass demonstrations in Egypt's Tahrir Square did not call for a return to Arab nationalism under a dictator like Gamal Abdel Nasser. Indeed, the only remaining Nasserites, President Saleh of Yemen and Muammar el-Gaddafi of Libya, are nearing their end. Pan-Arab nationalism, which did little to help the people of the Middle East and much to cause decades of wars, is not likely to re-emerge in Egypt or elsewhere in the region.
Nor is Tahrir Square a desire to substitute autocracy with another form of dictatorship under Islam. Looking at Egypt's revolution optimistically, the young, connected and cosmopolitan people of Egypt are not likely to stand by and allow a Sunni form of Khomeiniism hijack their revolution, no matter how organized the Muslim Brotherhood.
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