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What roles do Iran, Saudi and UAE play in the popular uprisings in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria

November 25, 2019 at 2:28 am

Iraqi demonstrators gather at Khilani Square and Sanak Bridge, near Tahrir Square of Baghdad, as anti-government protests continue in Baghdad, Iraq on 17 November, 2019 [Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency]

While the popular uprisings in Lebanon, Iraq, and Algeria continue despite no tangible change on the ground, this represents hope amid the darkness in which the nation has been living for decades. The people of these nations have tried hard get out of that deadly darkness; the most recent of these efforts was the Arab Spring revolutions. Then the people breathed the scent of freedom, dignity and pride, and recovered their souls after a long absence.

However, counter-revolutions led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates spread fear among their populations and quashed hope of sustainable change there. These two countries spent tens of billions of dollars to curb these revolutions in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya. They believed that they had finally eliminated the Arab peoples’ spirit of revolution only to be hit by a second and unexpected wave of revolts from other countries that had not witnessed Arab Spring revolutions before, namely Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and the UAE had thus counterattacked these new revolutions with the same plot used against the first wave of the Arab Spring, with conspiracy and vileness on the people. These two counties have nevertheless not succeeded in changing these revolutions’ course, except for Sudan, and in bringing their men, while the rest of the countries are still impossible to them despite their vicious and malicious attempts. This seemed evident in Algeria with the efforts to nominate their general, Ahmed Gaid Salah, as Algeria’s ruler. Still, the continuous demonstrations every Friday for more than eight months have prevented this, at least for now.

The situation seems different in Lebanon and Iraq, in which Saudi Arabia and the UAE are facing Iran, aiming at creating chaos in both countries in spite of Iran, and attempting to share influence. Even though Saudi and UAE media seemed supportive of the uprising in Lebanon and Iraq, this was not genuine. Instead, it was driven by hatred of Iran and a desire to end the Iranian influence in the two countries.

 Read: Lebanese protest outside US embassy in Beirut

It can nonetheless be assured that those who stood against the Arab Spring revolutions and fought against national liberation movements cannot in any way stand with the revolutions of Lebanon and Iraq.

After Ayatollah Khomeini vowed to spread the Iranian revolution after its success in 1979 to Arab countries, Iran is itself affected by the Arab revolutions now. Although Khamenei claims that this is an external conspiracy waged against the stability of Iran by the US and other western and Gulf countries. These are the same words used by all the Arab tyrants, against whom the Arab Spring revolutions broke out. As soon as the people go out to the streets after being overwhelmed by oppression and poverty, in demand of their most basic rights in life, namely freedom, justice and dignity, they are immediately accused of carrying out an external conspiracy against the state and attempting to topple it. Khamenei is no different from Gaddafi, Saleh, Mubarak or al-Assad as this has been the thought of all oppressive tyrants throughout history.

This is not the first time that the Iranian people have revolted against the mullahs’ regime in Iran. Many protests and demonstrations have occurred before, perhaps the most notable of which is the 2009 uprising after the presidential elections, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won, while supporters of the other candidate from the Reformist Movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, believed that he was the winner and that the election results were manipulated. Rages and demonstrations swept all the streets of Tehran and some major governorates for several months, which were called the Green Revolution.

Thousands of Algerians take part in an anti-government demonstration against Bouteflika regime figures in Algiers, Algeria on 5 November 2019.
[Farouk Batiche/Anadolu Agency]

However, the revolution did not succeed, as the Iranian dictatorship managed to suppress it with an iron fist using the conventional repressive methods with which the authorities have ruled the country for four decades. The same techniques were also employed to crush what was labelled the gasoline uprising, during which the masses took the streets in mass demonstrations, following the government decision to increase taxes and raise the prices of gasoline and other kinds of fuel.

The gasoline uprising was the spark which fuelled public anger, rolling like a fireball and spreading throughout most Iranian governorates. Although the Iranian authorities imposed a media blackout resorted and cut off the internet connection to prevent media outlets from reporting what is happening in the streets, Amnesty International “documented the death of about 120 Iranian demonstrators so far, and the arrest of hundreds of others.”

What is striking about this uprising, which is the first of its kind, is that the demonstrators are pouring out their anger on the Supreme Leader of Iran, chanting “Death to Khamenei”, which signifies that the demonstrators’ frustration and passion with the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist reached a peak. Thus, the protesters can no longer hold Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani responsible for the recent decisions in the game of distribution of roles, which the Iranian regime masters very well. One of the most surprising Khamenei’s statements, I came across, was: “What is happening in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon is a global conspiracy to hinder the resurrection of the Mahdi!!”

Pompeo: We stand by peaceful Lebanese demonstrators calling for reforms

 It is no longer fit in the age of technology, satellites, and globalisation to tickle the feelings of the masses using religious beliefs, superstitions at times, which will neither provide the people with food or a decent life nor will it achieve the aspired economic development.

There is no doubt that the US sanctions have directly affected the Iranian economy, in addition to the substantial financial burdens the Iranian authorities incurred in its war in Syria to ensure the survival of the regime of the killer Bashar al-Assad, and its significant financial support offered to Hezbollah militias in Lebanon and Shiite militias in Iraq and Afghanistan.  All the expenditures mentioned above strained the Iranian budget and caused economic problems such as high inflation and prices, which the Iranian citizens had to endure against their will and prompted them to explode recently.

People gather at Bechara El-Khoury Avenue to call protesters for them to continue the demonstrations until a new government formed as they march from Martyrs Square and Riyadh al-Solh Square in Beirut, Lebanon on 3 November 2019 [Mahmut Geldi - Anadolu Agency]

People gather at Bechara El-Khoury Avenue to call protesters for them to continue the demonstrations until a new government formed as they march from Martyrs Square and Riyadh al-Solh Square in Beirut, Lebanon on 3 November 2019 [Mahmut Geldi – Anadolu Agency]

Let’s go back to what Rouhani said last October after calling for a popular referendum to determine the course of the country’s public policies. He stated that: “Iran should not isolate itself from the outside world and must take into account the realities of the 21st century.” Rouhani was aware (as any beginner politician knows) of the impact of these sanctions on his country and he wanted to avoid these current events taking place in Iran. He did not want to replicate the usual arrogant stances taken by Khamenei, such as throwing a message he received from Trump, carried to him by the Japanese Prime Minister, in the trash bin. Instead, Rouhani was open to accepting the US negotiation offer.

It is indisputable that the Iranian project in the region, and the dream of the Persian Empire, was severely shaken by the popular uprising taking place from Baghdad to Beirut, reaching the very centre of the ruling regime in Tehran.

READ: Why don’t the Egyptian people revolt?

Ibn Khaldun said that states have a lifespan as individuals, referring, probably, to the political systems and the roles they play. We have perceived this throughout history as empires fall and others rise. Will the state of the mullahs and Jurists, which Khomeini founded, fade soon?!

I do not think that this will happen in the foreseeable future for many reasons that have long been explained, perhaps the most important of which is the Iranian people’s profound sense of nationalism, their stubbornness and defiance inherent in their structure and genes. However, it is likely, in the next era, the Iranian mullahs’ regime will face a fateful and dangerous turn in its history to either stand to maintain its dominance or the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist will fall, and Iran will be deemed to lose its influence in the region. Let us wait and see what the coming days will bring along!

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.