By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 11, 2011; 5:41 PM
TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking several hours before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, urged Egyptians to continue their protests and to "free" themselves and choose their own leaders and their own form of government.
In a speech Friday during a large state-sponsored rally to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad said that the uprisings in the Arab world have been inspired by his country's struggle against Western powers.
The protests, he said, herald the emergence of a new Middle East where, despite "satanic" Western designs, the United States and Israel would not be able to interfere. "The arrogant powers will have no place in this Middle East, " Ahmadinejad said.
Government representatives and soldiers handed out Egyptian flags to teenage schoolgirls, who sang Iran's praise, calling it the "cradle of Islamic belief and love." One demonstrator held up a placard bearing a portrait of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the words, "We will stand till the end."
The crisis that has been roiling Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the region, dominated Friday's celebration. Ahmadinejad said that the 12th imam Mahdi, a revered 9th-century Shiite saint, had directed the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
"This is a global revolution, managed by the imam of the ages," Ahmadinejad told the crowds gathered in and around Tehran's central Azadi Square.
He predicted the formation of a world government, ruled by the 12th imam. "Hearts and beliefs are swiftly leaning toward forming a global governance and the necessity of the rule of the perfect human, linked to the heavens," he said.
Ahmadinejad's opponents have accused him of flirting too much with the belief that Mahdi, the final successor of the prophet Muhammad, will return to Earth to create a holy global government.
Several days before Friday's rally, opposition leaders and former presidential challengers Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi requested permission to stage a protest Monday in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia. It is unlikely that permission will be given, but opposition Web sites say that protests might be held anyway.
Government officials have accused the activists of wanting to use the rally to protest domestic issues. Although months of unrest followed Ahmadinejad's victory in the disputed June 2009 election, recent months have been quiet.
On Thursday, the government arrested seven opposition activists. Karroubi was placed under house arrest, the Sahamnews Web site reported.
During the anniversary celebration, Ahmadinejad attacked critics of his domestic policies, some of whom held key government positions for decades.
"Some people consider themselves the owners of the Iranian nation and revolution," Ahmadinejad said. He cited younger generations as "wiser and more revolutionary."