TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader saluted on Friday what he termed an “Islamic liberation movement” in the Arab world, and advised the people of Egypt and Tunisia to unite around their religion and against the West.
In his first public comments on the popular uprisings in the region, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, which deposed the U.S.-backed shah, had served as an example to the people living under similar “dictatorships.”
“The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Khamenei told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran which were broadcast on television.
The 71-year-old leader, who condemned huge street protests in Iran after the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, welcomed the “revolution and awakening” and “explosion of sacred anger” in the Middle East.
Khamenei addressed the people of the Arab world — a predominantly Sunni Muslim region which has historically viewed Persian Shi’ite Iran as an adversary — calling on them to beware of Western influence subverting their revolutions.
Calling himself a “brother in religion” to the Arab people, Khamenei called on the Egyptian army to back the protesters and “focus its eyes on the Zionist enemy,” a reference to Israel which fears a change of regime in Egypt could jeopardise its peace treaty with its western neighbour.