The CPD Blog is intended to stimulate dialog among scholars and practitioners from around the world in the public diplomacy sphere. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect CPD's views.


Worrisome Revolutions in the Middle East

Mar 2, 2011

The Middle East is once again on fire, not because of American warfare, but due to apparently genuine movements aiming to get rid of old rulers and obsolete political systems. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen have all either passed the threshold of revolution or are on the verge. The dominos have fallen and it would not be imprudent to call it a day for rulers in other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, or Jordan.

These political earthquakes are shaking not only the region but also the whole world. These events affect the lives of people in many countries, especially when the oil price jumps to unprecedented levels. But perhaps the most ardent followers of these events live in Washington, Tehran, and Tel Aviv. The United States government, a long time ally to almost all these rulers, was, and remains, in a real dilemma. The Obama administration does not dislike democracy but also yearns to maintain its good relation with the Arab rulers, especially when the U.S. has a troubling image in the Arab street. The behavioral template for Washington is simple: first, call for stability in the early stages of protests, encourage negotiations in the next stage, then change position and swing into supporting people's right for peaceful dissent if they seem to be serious, and finally, only support the transition of power when situations become violent and really out of control. This is not a unique and coherent policy especially when democracy promotion is often mentioned to be a priority for the U.S foreign policy (e.g. in the case of Iran), however, this policy seems to be the best option that Obama has for now (besides standing by and watching the events unfold before Washington's eyes).

Israel, fearing revolutionary wrath, has decided to keep a low profile in such a fluid situation and only play its very limited cards behind the scenes.

Iran, on the other hand, has been more than clear in supporting the revolutionaries. Oddly, both the government and the opposition have rejoiced over every successful popular uprising in the region. Iran's Supreme Leader has called these changes the sign of a great "Islamic awakening" meaning that Muslims in the Middle East are waking up to stand against tyrant rulers and consequently "arrogant powers" of the world. Iran believes that if real democracy prevails over the region, the Muslim Middle East will turn into a unified entity against the interventionist policies of the West.

And let's not forget Palestine. In the eyes of most Iranians, the demise of the Western-friendly monarchies would unleash pro-Palestinian sentiments, fortify Iran's soft power against Israel, and be another step forward for a free Palestine. The passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal and their entrance into the Mediterranean Sea is, in fact, a significant move for Iran which would have been quite unlikely if, for example, Mubarak was still in power in Egypt. Likewise, the revolution in Libya is putting tangible pressure on the oil market and the number one beneficiary seems to be Iran again with selling its (supposedly sanctioned) oil more freely.

What makes the case of Iran more interesting is that it does not show any fear of the fire in its neighbor's house. While the reformist camp, still holding a grudge against the government over the results of 2009 election and its aftermath, tries to connect its protests to the Arab uprisings, the Iranian government tends to resurrect the discourse of 1979 revolution, and once again seems to be winning. It was in mid-February that Mousavi and Karroubi tried, unsuccessfully, to revive the "green movement" by calling upon their supporters to take to the streets. I call it a shock to a patient in coma which helped very little. The February move even brought about the criticism of some well-known figures like Hashemi Rafsanjani who is considered to be sympathetic towards the greens, as well as open calls for the execution of Mousavi and Karroubi. Iranian government, on the other hand, has been successful in taking hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of its supporters to the streets last February 11th to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution. If we take street protests at face value (this is, at least, the present criteria for the West), it seems that the moment for the green movement is gone.

The Middle East revolutions seem to happen one after another, no matter the position of countries like the U.S., Israel, or Iran. What is important is the future path for these worrisome revolutions. While the United States and Israel are very much concerned over the impact of these revolutions over their national security and interest, Iran is more than confident that its stance and position will only be fortified.


Good one. But I think more explanation is needed for "Unsuccessful calling for Greens"+ for me this game is something against Iran(Still don't know how. more time needed) so I see kind of exaggeration about Iran's role and power.

I strongly, disagree with last two paragraphs of the article regarding green movement situation. A simple lesson that one could learn from the present situation of Middle East would be very fate that one voice regimes are going to face.
We could in an efficient way gain a lot from Middle East evolutions but unveiling the hidden face of our system after last presidential election shaken the whole trusts and hope of the people in the region and more importantly Iranian people.
Systems that can not wisely respond to the demand of their people and instead use harsh power usually have unstable situation.
May be Green movement is finished, but awareness of this nation is going to increase and it is a big challenge for future.

Hi. That was a good essay. I think, there was no exaggeration about the role of Iran. Iran is know the most powerful agent in the Middle East and These revolutions in the region are inspired by the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Do not forget dear Javad that the Revolutions are not in the name of democracy (as the western countries claim) but in the name of Identity. As I wrote in an Persian article, these revolutions are a kind of response to the Identity Crisis in the Islamic World.

@Saied,the criteria for the west is now the turn out on the streets and how serious they are. Based on this, the February 14th attempt was a failure.
@Mohsen,thanks for differing. The Feb 14th call was a showdown with the government and it failed for whatever reason. I am writing about the present situation and hypothetical future is not the topic. About the should wait at least for the next presidential election to gauge "the trust of the people".
@ Ahmad,If we accept the identity crisis (and I don't disagree) then still I tend to believe that these revolutions have an Arabian Democracy in mind. Defining that "Arab" (which will have Islam as an integral part of it) will be the most important aspect of future governments in the Middle East.

I don't disagree with javad's comment on the extent of power Iran gains in the ME crisis. One has also be aware that Iranian domestoic crisis is nothing like Arabs',BUT, not because it is less serious or less genuine, It is a serious issue with a different nature. I also think javad's comment on the number of people "pro/against" Iranian system coming into the streets is a bit judgemental.

As Imam Khomeimi said in 1979 , : " Our revolution was the explotion of light. " It means that all revolutions we see in Islamic coumtries nowadays , are in the same way and have the same aim that is the " Islamic Democracy with the SHARIAA rules".
After 32 years , our revolution in Iran has lots of flowers that we call it " Arab Spring ".but this is only a small part of its light , the other part is " Wall Street Movement " which will be a hisorical revolution in USA , UK and other western countries, Inshaallah.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Join the Conversation

Interested in contributing to the CPD Blog? We welcome your posts. Read our guidelines and find out how you can submit blogs and photo essays here


Stay in the Know

Public Diplomacy is a dynamic field, and CPD is committed to keeping you connected and informed about the critical developments that are shaping PD around the world. 

Depending on your specific interests, you can subscribe to one or more of CPD's newsletters here.

To receive PD News digests directly to your inbox on a daily or weekly basis, click here.