Iran Reverberates for Young Arabs Online

By Mona Eltahawy
Thursday, June 25, 2009

Do you hear the silence from the Arab world over events in Iran?

Let's start with Arab leaders, who are experts at vote rigging -- if they hold elections at all. What could they possibly say about the Iranian election, or the allegations of vote fraud, without sounding hypocritical? Nor would they rush to congratulate longtime nemesis Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of a regional rival with nuclear ambitions.

The Arabs are quiet, but their silence is surely tempered with discomfort. The demographics of most Arab nations mirror those of Iran: The majority of Arabs are young. It's likely that many young Arabs watching thousands of Iranians demanding to be heard, Arabs who are suffocating under dictators of their own, thought, "That's me."

For some, the silence is the sound of despair, for in Iran we are seeing the implosion of the politics of cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Let's look at the Arab world's legacy: A succession of Arab leaders were known simply for standing up to America and Israel. It did not matter what they did to their own people, the human rights violations, the mass graves, the stifling of the media and most forms of expression. Standing up to the United States and Israel was enough.

In that sense, Ahmadinejad is a familiar figure. And Saddam Hussein is gone. Libya's Moammar Gaddafi has gone from U.S. foe to friend. The region is full of U.S.-supported dictators, from President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Standing up to America and Israel fell to non-state entities such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and their money trail leads to Iran. Ahmadinejad is simply the latest leader whom Arabs have lionized and forgiven for cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Little did the repressions visited upon Iranians matter, even though the hardships they endured were often mirrored in Arab cities cheering on Ahmadinejad. Iran supported the Palestinians, and Ahmadinejad regularly railed at the United States and threatened Israel.

But with thousands in Ahmadinejad's own country filling the streets, effectively saying that it's not enough to simply stand up to America and Israel, what now for those Arabs who lionize Ahmadinejad? Especially now that George W. Bush is gone? Where is the sympathy or support for the plight of the Iranians?


That silence is the sound of hearts breaking over the dream of political Islam. When the 1979 revolution swept away the U.S.-backed shah and his injustices, Iran held out the tantalizing mirage of rule by Islam, even for countries that were not majority Shiite. Thirty years later, Iranians are protesting not a secular, U.S.-backed dictator but a system run by clerics who claim to uphold democracy as long as its candidates are given the regime's stamp of approval.

What's happening in Iran is not about the United States or Israel. It's not about Ahmadinejad or Mir Hossein Mousavi. It's not even about the poor or the rich in Iran. The demonstrations are about people who feel their will and voice have been disregarded. In Egypt, it's our secular dictator, in power for almost 28 years, who disregards our will. In Iran, it's a clerical regime in power for 30 years, hiding behind God.

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