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MIDDLE EAST/ Democracy: an abstract notion?

April Tue 12, 2011

Ajdabiya hit by a missile   (photo ANSA)  Ajdabiya hit by a missile (photo ANSA)

Yann Richard, Professor for Persian studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris), is an expert on Iran, (see the interview he delivered to Oasis Foundation.) Now ilsussidiario.net has interviewed Professor Richard to ask for his opinion on what is happening more generally in the Middle East, and how these events can be compared to the Iranian revolution at the end of the Seventies.

Professor Richard, what are the similarities and differences between the revolution in Iran in 1979 and the protests in the Arabic world in 2011?

There are many obvious similarities in the means and forms of mobilization: protest against authoritarian policies, quest for civil rights, mass demonstrations in towns, use of new media (telephone, fax, cassettes, xerox in 1979, Facebook and Twitter today) to curb official propaganda. In the Iranian revolution, two ideological trends were dominating: religious-clerical, with the rhythm of ritual mourning for the dead every 40 days - which belongs to Shiite glorification of martyrdom- and clerical involvement; and leftist, with anti-imperialist slogans and intellectual involvement. None of these ideological trends are seen in the Arab movements of today, which seem to be mainly protests against autocracy, despotism, suppression of civil rights and corruption, but do not show clear ideological aims.

Was the Iranian regime really able to stop the protests and the reform movement, or do you think they will return?

The reform movement of 2009 was a large mobilization and has divided Iranian society, with even higher clerics protesting against fraud in elections and the extreme violence of repression by the militia. The Green movement lacks a clear ideology and clear leaders but there is no reason for it to stop as long as the despotic rule and confiscation of political power continues. Every occasion is good for opponents to demonstrate: does the regime approve of the Egyptian revolt? Then ask for liberties and civil rights for Iranians! Does the regime support democratic rights? Then ask for political pluralism and freedom of opposition parties!

The Iranian ethnicity is different from the Arabic one. Can this partially explain why the wave of protests in the Arabic world didn’t produce a strong impact on Iran?



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