The ‘Iranian model’ is no inspiration for Arabs

The Arab region is experiencing grave developments but the ‘Iranian model’ will not solve Arab problems.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps march during an annual military parade [EPA]

Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Iranian regime advocates have continuously cited the merits of exporting the “Iranian model”.

They come up with contradictory views on the root causes of this Spring but usually agree on oversimplifying the complex realities on the ground of every Arab country by claiming that all the uprisings were essentially “inspired by the Iranian experience”.

This was similar to their spin on the massive rallies held in Tehran after the 2009 presidential elections. They tried to frame these protests as an external attempt to manipulate internal Iranian politics, and seized the opportunity to list the “merits and advantages of the Iranian model”.

Iranian explanations for the rapidly changing events in the Arab region keep changing in tandem – and in line with Iranian interests. For instance, there was some confusion over how to explain the Syrian revolution and the military coup that toppled Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi – and to remain consistent with the great slogans for Iran’s Islamic revolution.

Prelude to Islamic renaissance?

At the beginning, Iran dealt with the Arab uprisings as a factor that would influence the future of the entire region. This was why Iran had to play a role in these developments. Capitalising on the Arab Spring, Iran endeavoured to redefine the concept of religious democracy for Muslim nations, along the lines of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s political theories, with the aim of filling the “vacuum in the region”. Khomeini had promoted his ideas via the Iranian revolutionary model that called for a government system seeking to achieve “the people’s religious government”.

The Arab uprisings were perceived by the ruling Iranian elites as “a prelude for an Islamic renaissance that bears the spirit of the Iranian Islamic revolution”.

While welcoming the Arab Spring revolutions one after another, the Iranian government remained persistent about the supremacy of its model, without admitting that the political evolution of any nation is effectively linked to its own specific geographic, historic, political, and cultural circumstances.

While welcoming the Arab Spring revolutions one after another, the Iranian government remained persistent about the supremacy of its model, without admitting that the political evolution of any nation is effectively linked to its own specific geographic, historic, political, and cultural circumstances.

The response that came from the Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries, did not satisfy those diehard advocates of the Iranian model. Eventually, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Nahda Movement, openly criticised the shortcomings of the Iranian model as it failed to fulfil the needs of the Arab nations. This view is widely shared by many analysts and leaders of Islamic movements throughout the Arab world.

Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi was among those who were initially blamed for being infatuated with the Iranian model. But Turabi has now expressed his belief that the Iranian model is incompatible with predominately Sunni Arab countries.

Syrian uprising

The Syrian uprising, which began as a peaceful movement, has posed a great moral dilemma for the Iranian model. The Arab Spring, earlier praised as the miraculous seed of change, was suddenly demonised via Iranian propaganda as a “conspiracy” and a “manifestation of western plots”.

The Iranian regime adopted the same claim that was propagated by their pro-Syrian regime allies describing the Syrian revolution as devoid of legitimacy and serving foreign interests.

Iranian regime advocates have employed terminology similar to those used to describe the Iranian protests after the 2009 presidential elections. The word commonly used was “sedition” – used by the Iranian government to brand opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are still being held under house arrest. Even President Hassan Rouhani’s promises have failed to end their suffering – albeit, he has no judicial power.

Any model that is being promoted by its advocates, should guarantee diversity of opinions, the right of criticism as well as safeguarding the rights of minorities and fair elections. Does the Iranian regime meet these conditions?

Reformist leader and former President Mohammad Khatami, has said that Iranian elections throughout the years have not met the Islamic Republic’s Sharia legal standards and have become a source of repulsion to the people.

In this Iranian model, Rouhani is the only presidential candidate who raised the issue of freedoms and pointed to the danger posed by the security justice courts which have been stifling the lives of ordinary Iranians.

During one of the presidential election debates, Rouhani sparred with his rival Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf over the topic of the Tehran University students who came under attack in 2003. Rouhani was then occupying the post of secretary for the Iranian National Security Council, while his rival Galibaf was the police commander.

Rouhani spoke about the “citizenship rights” and has pledged to ease political restrictions and release political prisoners. He has stated his belief that the “house arrest” imposed on Karroubi and Mousavi, is illegal and should be lifted. But he has failed to fulfil his promises because of the threatening power of the security organisation.

A magic recipe?

In this model – which Iran is seeking to export as a “magic recipe” for the problems of the Arab world – Khomeini’s colleague and partner in the revolution, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, failed to contest in the presidential elections. Rafsanjani then fiercely accused the Iranian security organisation of intervening to block his candidacy.

Within the same Iranian model, Khatami is facing a travel ban and is also barred from appearing in official media outlets.

In the field of domestic policy, voices have been raised calling for the need to draft a document for “citizenship rights”. Throughout the past few years, Iran’s internal policies have consistently ignored the issue of ethnic and linguistic diversity in Iran.

Rouhani has pledged to make progress on human rights issues in Iran, and has promised to protect the freedom of expression and assembly. But the man who had promised to offer more, has sparked a wave of sarcasm and criticism when he recently denied there were any jailed journalists in Iran.

On foreign policy, the regime has been exposed to severe criticism for adopting a policy of “deceptive slogans”. This policy has led to disputes with Arab countries and devastated Arab-Iranian relations.

In sum, there is no doubt that the Arab region is experiencing grave developments, but Arab problems cannot be resolved through the “Iranian model”.

Fatima Ahmad Alsmadi is a specialist in Iranian affairs and author of several books. She is a researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies.