Opinion: Sweetly timed backlash for Iran’s Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes part in a rally to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran February 11, 2011. REUTERS

After Tunisia and Egypt, the anti-government juggernaut rolling through the broader Middle East has come to haunt Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard.

Is the backlash complete for Ahmadinejad? Or is it just the early sign that the wheel of fortune is catching up with the Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

Ahmadinejad was seated in the front row, watching gleefully the great Arab freedom struggle unfold in Egypt. He cheered the crowds clamoring viciously for the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Now, the cheerleader has got trouble on his hands with footfalls of protesters heard far too close for comfort. Constantly eying the leadership of the Islamic world and trying to unite disparate Arab and non-Arab elements who would rally against America, Ahmadinejad spotted opportunity in Egypt as Mubarak, the long-time ally of the U.S., appeared in deep trouble.

He calculated that the toppling of the pro-American, pro-Israeli regime in Egypt will lead to a pro-Palestine regime, probably a hard-line dispensation, if not purely an Islamic republic like Iran. In any case, the fall of Mubarak would give Iran upper hand in the Middle East theater where it's in constant tussle with Saudi Arabia for regional leadership.

What he apparently forgot was that he was sitting in a glass house, surrounded by thousands of ordinary Iranians not particularly fascinated by his brand of hot-head politics who believed that he stole an election from them in 2009.

The irony of Ahmadinejad vouching for democracy and calling for the overthrow of unpopular Mubarak was hard to miss.

When a million Iranians marched along with Mirhossein Mousavi on the streets of Tehran in June 2009, making it the biggest rally since the 1979 revolution, Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard resorted to brutal force to scupper any voice of dissent.

That historic march was the real victory parade of Mousavi, a day after Ahmadinejad declared himself the winner of the disputed poll, earmarking for himself 65 percent of the votes. The show of Iranian's resolve was remarkable, coming after the brutal massacre of five students in the Tehran University campus by the religious militia.

The Basij militia, which was accused of the bloodbath in the University, is known to be fierce loyalists of Ayotolla Khomeini who is supposed to have founded the volunteer group 1979. They came handy in 2009 when the regime wanted to decimate all opposition.

Ahmadinejad and the Guard rode roughshod over the masses calling for fair elections and the opposition momentum petered out, but not without betraying the many chinks in the armor of the feared Guard.

But the many hundreds of thousands of Iranians who chanted slogans condemning Ahmadinejad as dust in 2009 are still out there now, dreaming up another day in the sun.

Riot police had a tough day on Monday, battling hundreds of protesters in Iranian cities who took a cue from the Egypt developments and wanted to have another go at the regime. Moussavi's spokesman said the Green Movement, which spearheaded the protest over disputed elections in 2009, was still active.

And expectedly, the Revolutionary Guard condemned the protesters as agents of the U.S. and the UK, and said they were hypocrites, monarchists, hooligans and seditionists.

Obviously in Iran, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. While Ahmadinejad praises Egyptian protesters he reserves the harshest condemnation for protesters in his own country. Yet in both Egypt and Iran, the masses were raising the same demands - freedom, democracy and free and fair elections.


However, it's early to draw easy parallels between the nascent protests in Iran and the Egyptian protests that toppled 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak. Nor is it logical to conclude there will soon be another revolution in Iran to replace the corrupt vanguard of the 1979 revolution with a new, more genuine one.

Iran's use of force is formidable as seen in the brutal reprisal of the 2009 uprising. Ahmadinejad offered no concessions when protests on the streets of Tehran turned bloody with the riot police engaging in pitched battles with agitators. In Egypt, things were slightly different. As Mubarak sensed a change in the tone of the U.S. he made a course correction, saying he will devolve some powers, change his administration and offered people more freedom and prosperity. All this would have had only a cosmetic effect had he remained in office. However, the fact that Mubarak appeared weak in the knee fueled more protests, and helped swing the military to a more lenient position vis a vis the protesters.

During 2009 protests in Iran, the scene was different. Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard projected their strength by brutally suppressing the protesters. The government forces, amply supplemented by religious militia, clamped down on protesters by aiming real weaponry, not just tear gas, on them. Besides, the government unleashed a sinister campaign which painted the protesters as seditionist pro-Americans who are out to destroy the country with the help of external forces. Remarkably, such a propaganda warfare was absent in Egypt in 2011, possibly because Mubarak was after all a secular ruler.

As protesters took to the streets this week answering the call of Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, another former presidential candidate, shootings and killings resumed in Tehran. But the defiant government blamed the protesters for the mayhem and called them seditionists, despite the fact that hardly a week ago they were all in praise for the popular protest in Egypt.

Even as armed forces go about their task of putting a lid on revolt, the Iranian lawmakers supporting Ahmadinejad enacted a dervish dance of a slightly different kind. On Tuesday, several lawmakers denounced the protests and called for the execution of Mousavi and Karrubi.

The lawmakers chanted Moussavi, Karroubi ... execute them, footage released by Iran's Press TV showed. How come those who crafted the 1979 revolution forget that extreme suppression and deprivation will usher in more violent protests?