Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” in the winter of 2010, many scholars and journalists have compared it to Iran’s “Green Movement” from the summer of 2009. Raising such questions as: are the two intimately linked? Do they shape each other’s destinies? Do they share the same values? And if change were to come in Iran would it start from the streets of Tehran like back in ’79, or even most recently like Cairo and Tunis? The fascination with such a comparison can be argued to be rooted in the fact that the citizens of most countries throughout the Middle East deserve certain inalienable freedoms, more job opportunities, a stronger economy, a more robust educational system, and things of that nature. Many individuals outside of those countries are trying to explain these events in a way to give hope for change. In other words, if the citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya can bring about change it is just as likely that Iran can do the same. However, a deeper look into these questions will show that a comparison between the “Arab Spring” and the “Green Movement” is ill advised.
For starters, one key factor to keep in mind while dissecting these two movements is that the Iranians and the Arabs do not think highly of each other to say the least. This is not to say that they loathe each other or wish misfortune on the other; rather, the citizens of Iran are too occupied and focused on their own domestic issues to worry about the Arab populace – and the counter is true as well. More specifically with the citizens of Iran, they are aware of the events in the Arab countries and can relate to their struggles but that is as far as their intimate link goes. Iranians living inside Iran are too worried with their own problems to even jumpstart another protest let alone have any genuine significant link with their Arab neighbors or feel inspired in any way. Therefore, to say that these two movements are intimately linked or have the ability to shape each other’s destinies would be a stretch. Nevertheless, they are linked, however, in the sense that their movements overlap in rhetoric.
The goals and objectives of both movements are quite similar. The protesters have asked and/or demanded for changes in their leadership; more freedoms, liberties, and rights; as well as a more democratic government. Thus, on the most basic level these two movements do share common values, but examining this issue even further will show that the similarities end here. Primarily because there is such an inordinate amount of variables to keep in mind that any conclusion would be too convoluted given the cornucopia of scenarios that could play out. Arabs and Iranians have different religions, culture, national history, language, heritage, and so on. It is not even necessary to compare Arabs to Iranians to fully understand how different they are; comparing one Arab country to another will reveal a multitude of differences. More specifically, Iranians do not look towards their Arab neighbors for inspiration or comradery when dealing with similar domestic issues (and the same can be said for the Arabs).
Furthermore, if change will ever occur in Iran it will not start from the streets of Tehran. For starters, the situation in Iran is somewhat different than her Arab neighbors because the Iranians have already gone through a revolution and the majority of the citizens do not believe that another revolution will solve their problems. Although Iran’s younger generations were not alive during the ’79 revolution, they are constantly educated on it and they are still paying the costs of it. Also, considering how far behind Iran is with the rest of the world, the majority of the citizens believe another revolution will only set them further behind other developing countries.
This mind set can best be seen when comparing footage between the ’79 revolution, the “Arab Spring”, and the “Green Movement”. One defining characteristic between these three is the reactions from protesters when confronted by opposition forces. The Iranian protesters in ’79 and the Arab protesters in 2010 both stood their ground and were ready to die for their cause. They were prepared to put their lives on the line in order for their regime to change. However, footage from the 2009 “Green Movement” shows protesters running away at the slightest response from the opposition. This shows that the Iranians have not been pushed to the point where they are prepared to die for change; their demands may be similar to those of the Arabs but the path in which they want to reach those goals is different.
Surprisingly, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a considerable amount of followers, estimated in around the high 40%. Of the remaining population who are against this regime, about half of them do not want to see a regime change because they fear a repeat of 1979 which would lead to further setbacks in their economic struggles. Therefore, this 30% of the population argues that certain rules, governmental branches, and politicians need to be changed rather then the entire system. Ultimately, it is highly unlikely that Iran will have another revolution in the traditional sense of 1979 or even Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, and Libya of today. The people will not make a difference, whether it is through the electoral process or through movements on the streets. In the end, change in Iran will occur at the top, within the governmental system. This change is already showing its marks through the current power struggle between the clerics and the revolutionary guards.
Although the latter has gained more power and control over the majority of the government the former still holds key political offices that make most, if not all, of the decisions for the country. Nonetheless, the policies of either of these groups are not so different from each other to where the citizens may benefit from one over the other. But, if change is ever to occur in Iran it will start with the powerful individuals in Iran’s government. And it will be a twofold process: first the elder politicians who currently hold substantial power will soon leave office and regardless of who proceeds them, change will occur (conversations have begun that when Khamenei leaves office, the office of the Supreme Leader will change). This change will lead to either an internal struggle to where the government will need to have a face lift in order to survive, or continued fight for power that could make the regime too weak to sustain, thus inviting protests, movements, and reforms.