TEHRAN — For the internationally isolated leaders of Iran, the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and other major cities are a sign that the “collapse” of the U.S. political system is underway, and they wholeheartedly support the protests.
The Iranian government, itself harshly criticized after a massive crackdown ended months of anti-government protests in 2009 following the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has embraced the leaderless protest movement and is trying to position itself as a champion for the rights of Americans.
“Those arrested and tortured during the peaceful Wall Street protests should be freed immediately, and the American rulers should apologize to them,” Brig Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, a senior Iranian military commander, said Sunday, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency.
His views are shared by dozens of Shiite Muslim clerics, lawmakers and students who have held meetings in support of the U.S. protest movement, condemning what they call “brutal violence” used by police against the demonstrators. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has officially called on U.S. police to exercise “self-restraint.”
Demonstrations inspired by Occupy Wall Street have been held in more than 70 U.S. cities, and hundreds of people have been arrested, the vast majority of them quickly released. Some skirmishes have broken out between protesters and police wielding batons and pepper spray, but there have been no reports of “torture” or anything approaching the violence unleashed against Iranian demonstrators opposed to Ahmadinejad.
As the Iranian leaders see it, the U.S. protests stem from the “Islamic awakening,” the term Iran uses for the Middle East uprisings that have brought down autocratic rulers in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. According to Iran’s leaders, the uprisings are offshoots of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is prompting Iranian politicians to conclude that the heart of the West is now targeted by the chain of uprisings.
“The United States is currently the scene of a popular uprising which indicates spread of the Islamic awakening to the U.S.,” lawmaker Mohammad Karim Abedi, a member of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy committee, told state media.
Others say the U.S. protests resemble Iran’s “cry for justice” and protest against cruelty. “The Wall Street movement is like this,” Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani told Fars on Tuesday. “More than 90 percent of the people of this country are trying to get their rights back, which were violated by a minority.”
Massive street rallies in Tehran and other Iranian cities against alleged fraud in the 2009 elections were met by baton-wielding riot police and paramilitary forces, who killed dozens of protesters and imprisoned thousands. Two politicians who challenged Ahmadinejad in the elections, Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were placed under house arrest earlier this year as the government crushed protests inspired by the Arab Spring, and parties affiliated with them have been declared illegal.
According to the official Iranian narrative, the anti-government protests of 2009 were a U.S. “plot” that was successfully countered. But widespread anger remains among Iran’s middle class over the violent crackdown.
Dissidents, journalists, artists and activists are still regularly arrested. On Monday, opposition Web sites reported that an actress was sentenced to 90 lashes and a year in prison for her role in an illegally distributed film about artistic repression, social alienation and drug use in Iran. A student activist and blogger convicted of “insulting” the president received 74 lashes Sunday at the end of a one-year prison sentence.
In addition, oil-rich Iran has been grappling with economic problems including income inequality and a widening gap between rich and poor — similar to the grievances motivating the Occupy Wall Street protests.
But Iran’s leaders say the U.S. protests in recent weeks prove that they were right all along.
“All enemies of Iran will suffer the same fate,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the paramilitary Basij force, said Saturday, according to state television. “These U.S. protests are a tidal wave . . . which will lead to the collapse of the political system in that country,” he predicted.