The Arab revolutions are a subject of concern for Iran. After the “new media” was successful in helping to overthrow regimes and oust rulers in the Arab world, the Iranian regime has persistently tried to immunize itself against a possible repeat of the 2009 protests, which the authorities managed to quell. Since then, the regime has begun to fear the danger of the internet and social networking websites, for the Iranian [protestors] were the first to coordinate their movements via Twitter. Therefore, Iran has adopted a policy to control, restrict and sometimes shutdown the use of the internet, fearing the possible outbreak of demonstrations. This has even prompted the Iranian authorities to announce the establishment of a local Iranian internet network – beginning next year – that will gradually replace foreign servers and search engines.
The restrictions imposed on the internet have intensified on several occasions in recent weeks, prior to the parliamentary elections scheduled for tomorrow. Hence, the Iranian people have been left bewildered by the authorities shutting down the majority of internet websites and services without paying attention to the amazement and indignation of the public.
It is likely that the Iranian regime reveled in its successful curtailment of the youth revolution in 2009. However, Iran today seems greatly interested in what is going on around it, especially in the state of Syria – its regional ally, without being conscious of the widespread public discontent on the Iranian street. Last week, Iran celebrated the anniversary of the [Islamic] revolution, during which the regime’s ceremonies attempted to merge the Islamic Revolution of 1979 with the current Arab revolutions, but of course ignoring the events in Syria. This, however, did not prevent some activists from standing in the conference hall where President Ahmadinejad was delivering his speech to chant slogans in support of the Syrian rebels. In fact, this received great applause, before the situation was soon put under control.
The official Iranian reactions to the Arab awakening suggest that the Islamic republic is largely turning its nose up to such events, even though something similar could take place in Tehran despite all the security controls and restrictions imposed upon the use of the internet there. Regardless of what may happen in the future, the Arab popular uprisings have exposed the fact that the Iran’s revolutionary ideology is now bankrupt, not only within Iran, but among its neighbors in the region as well. This is something that neither censoring the internet nor suppressing youth and opposition movements can remedy.
It is clear that something is happening in the cities of Iran, where a mixture of frustration and high alert prevails. The residents of Tehran are whispering about the fact that it was them who sparked off the Arab Spring in our region, and that the Iranian regime’s initial success [in aborting their revolution] should not mean the end of the matter, for other societies have refused to surrender to the violence of their regimes.
Tightening the grip on the tools of communication has never proved successful in any country, for there are proxy servers and hundreds of alternative programs. The people of Tehran, as well as those of other Iranian cities, are experts in professionally circumventing their regime’s internet censorship, as shown by statistical reports on global rates of internet usage and censorship evasion.
The regime in Iran may prevent those living abroad from truly knowing what is going on there, yet reason and logic dictates that Iran cannot remain immune from our Arab Spring.