While Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s resignation last Friday caused tremors in Western capitals due to the potential for a Muslim Brotherhood power-grab, the Egyptian president’s stepping down is paying an unexpected dividend. The unrest that induced radical political change in Egypt is now spreading to other Middle Eastern countries, including Iran.
Starting last Friday, the day of Mubarak’s resignation, hundreds of students in Yemen reignited protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh, like Mubarak, has ruled his country for 30 years and his government is also regarded as being just as venal and corrupt. Inspired by Mubarak’s stepping down, the students are demanding their president’s resignation, and have clashed with pro-Saleh supporters and police, shouting: “Our demands are clear. Go out, Saleh.”
Monday’s disturbances mark the second round of demonstrations against the Yemeni regime. Protests had already taken place against Saleh in January, but they died down. Tribal divisions were blamed for the failure of the first round of anti-government demonstrations to oust Yemen’s ruler, since they impeded unemployed young men from uniting. Saleh also bought off the demonstrators with tax cuts and pay raises, and may attempt something similar with the students.
Bahrain, a small Arab island state off the coast of Saudi Arabia, is also experiencing political disturbances. On Sunday, demonstrators fought with police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The New York Times reports that the protesters were native Shiites, who make up 70 per cent of Bahrain’s population of one million (about half are foreign workers) and form the country’s least privileged class. The Shiites believe the country’s ruling Sunni elite discriminate against them in “housing, education and governance” and have for years been demanding extensive structural changes in government, which is run by a royal family under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
“We want real reforms, a real parliament elected by the people with legislative power. We want a constitution written by the people,” a Bahraini human rights worker told the Times.
But it is in Iran where events have taken a sweet, ironic turn. While numbers are unclear, The New York Times reported an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets on Monday in solidarity with the events in Egypt and to protest against the Iranian state’s well-known domestic repression. And like in Yemen and Bahrain, Iran’s government security forces dealt with the protesters in brutal fashion.
“The conspirators are nothing but corpses,” Hossein Hamadani, a commander in the Revolutionary Guard was quoted in The Times as saying. “They will be dealt with severely.”
It was only last week that Iran’s rulers were praising the street demonstrations in Egypt, calling them an Islamic revolution that was imitating the ayatollahs’ 1979 revolution. They obviously never considered that the radical changes they were witnessing in Egypt could ever make an appearance within their own borders. Unacquainted with freedom, the Iranian theocracy is oblivious to the fact that freedom has no boundaries. And after spending so many years exporting revolution, the ayatollahs never considered their sinister activity could ever become a two-way street.