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The Islamist regime has also targeted the small group of defense lawyers which has defended the dissidents. Since 2010, over 10 lawyers have been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. The most recent convictions were Iranian attorney Khalil Bahramian, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was sentenced to 11 years.
Still, some observers suspect that the events in Tunisia and Egypt are linked to the government increase in public executions and persecution. They argue the Iranian regime is encouraged by the prospect of the overthrow of secular, pro-Western governments, and as proof point to the government’s ardent and public championing of the revolts.
These thoughts were best echoed by the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, who told the Fars news agency, “The time has [been] reached to overcome puppet autocratic regimes by relying on the Islamic teachings.” Adding to the chorus was a top Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, quoted as saying, “An Islamic Middle East is being created based on Islam, religion, and democracy with prevailing religious principles.”
While there is a disturbing irony in the Iranian government backing a process which it crushed back in 2009, it is a fact not lost on Mousavi. On his website, he wrote about the Egyptian government’s confrontations and clashes with protesters: “We can identify a similar pattern.”
For its part, Iran’s government opposition and its leadership have also been vocal cheerleaders for the uprisings, which they claim are a natural extension of their own democratic efforts and call a sign of “Arab maturity.”
To them, the Green Movement was the first democratization movement that helped launch the Tunisian riots and then the subsequent Egyptian uprising. While some may dismiss the fact there is no correlation, arguing that Iran’s anti-government protests were a Persian Shiite movement and not a Sunni Arab one, others disagree.
In fact, Tunisian activists have been open about borrowing tactics used by Iranians in the 2009 Green Movement in their battle against the regime of Zine El Abdine Ben Ali. Specifically, they cite using social technologies, like Facebook and Twitter, as a means of organizing.
So now, as autocratic regimes peppered throughout the region begin to crumble, Iranian opposition leaders pine to complete the job they started. As Mousavi has confidently said, “No power can outrun the people’s will and demands. We believe that if election protesters are allowed to rally in Iran, people will express themselves.”
Despite its public bravado, Iran’s Islamist leaders are fearful what form that expression will take. While they may hope that Iran remains immune to the forces of change currently sweeping the region, they are busily hedging their bets. As Iranians are coming to learn, an overworked hangman is a good indicator of those efforts.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.
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