Although both the Arabs and the Iranians occupy the same geographical region, and the majority of them are members of the same religion, and they share a thousand years of history, the Iranian experience is different from the Arab one. Before looking at modern-day Iran, and examining what is taking place in Tehran, we should try to understand the special circumstances that affect Iran. Unlike the Arabs who are comprised of various nations and who number more than two hundred million people and are spread over two continents, the Iranians live in a single country, and speak a language that they share with only a few minorities beyond their borders.
It is therefore not difficult to understand why for two thousand years Iran has looked westwards to the Arab world and beyond as a way of escaping its single state cage. Expansion was an ambition of the Shah who built up his military arsenal to the point that Iran was recognized as the region’s policeman, and had a large say in the issues of the Arab region. These ambitions were revived following the Islamic Revolution but under a different guise, the goal this time was external expansion in order to give Iran a large say in its [own] regional affairs.
The single confrontation between the Arabs and the Iranians took place following the Islamic Revolution when Saddam Hussein believed there was an opportunity for him to extend his own influence. In his ignorance, Saddam Hussein believed that the new rulers in Iran were an easy target, but his greed resulted in Iraq suffering eight years of war. This was [until then] the largest war seen in the region with regards to death-toll and the scale of destruction.
This war, and prior to it, the Iranian revolution, confirmed that the Iranian individual – perhaps more so than the Arab individual – is a dangerous prospect when he joins with other individuals and becomes a group. This is what we are seeing today in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian major cities.
The recent events only confirm these differences [between the Iranians and the Arabs], and illustrates the importance of the Iranian public. We must not forgot that the Iranian public was the main catalyst for change against the Shah in the late seventies, and before this in the fifties during the popular uprising led by [former Iranian Prime Minister] Mohamed Mosaddeq against the Shah. This uprising would have been successful were it not for outside interference.
On the other hand, the Arab public – despite all their talk – has never initiated any [political] change whatsoever. Even the revolutions that the Arab public is credited to have played a part in, such as the Arab Revolt in the early twentieth century, and the Egyptian Revolution in the mid-twentieth century, had in reality nothing whatsoever to do with the Arabic public.
The role that the Iranian public is playing today is similar to that which it played [during the uprisings] in 1977 and which eventually led to a complete change [in the political system]. The current uprising in Iran may fail and not achieve anything, but whatever the end result, this uprising has distinguished itself as a historic and popular movement, something distinct from the emotional anger seen during the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots. What is taking place in Tehran is the result of continuous effort since the student protests of ten years ago, and this activism has survived despite the regime’s efforts to stamp it out.
Therefore this movement has not stopped despite the regime’s violence against the unarmed demonstrators, and its policy of murder and arrest. Despite the security attempts to prevent this and the media blackout, demonstrations have been ongoing. The regime being forced to cut off all mobile phone communication only serves to illustrate the magnitude of these protests. The success of the demonstrators in protesting by religious means, and utilizing mosques for this purpose, also serves to demonstrate that this crisis is a crisis within the governing regime, and is not as a result of Western incitement.
I believe that this crisis that the Iranian regime is facing today is as a result of it facing a different public, a public that is determined and tireless, one that will not back down no matter how it is prevented, suppressed or intimidated. It is a situation that we in the Arab world who rarely attempt to confront and implement change at a grass-roots level find difficult to understand. All the Arab changes have come from the top down, via military coups, from inside palaces, or from abroad.