At the height of the protests in Tahrir Square last year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described events in Egypt as an “Islamic awakening” inspired by Iran’s own 1979 revolution. One year later, however, it is hard to find evidence that Iran has benefited from the Arab uprisings. Surveys conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates by Zogby International show Iran’s reputation in free fall since the Arab Spring began. Just a few years ago, Iran enjoyed a strong majority of support among the populations of all these countries; as of July 2011, Iran had a net unfavorable rating in every country but Lebanon.
Sunni Arab Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood will be keen to brandish their Arab nationalist credentials and will be reluctant to forge close associations with Tehran. The Iranian regime’s brutal response to its own 2009 protest movement puts further limits on its influence over the Arab Spring, as does Iran’s continued support for the Syrian regime’s bloody tactics.
Classic balance of power dynamics have also triggered extensive pushback from Tehran’s regional rivals. Iran’s nuclear ambitions, combined with widespread concerns of Iranian-backed subversion, have motivated unprecedented arms purchases and security cooperation among the Arab Gulf states. In the face of perceived Iranian threats, Saudi Arabia and its allies are likely to continue to circle the wagons.
The writer, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East (2009-2011), is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
(Colin H. Kahl - Foreign Policy)