Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Have The Arab Spring Dominoes Stopped Falling?

Jonathan S. Tobin points out what should by this point seem obvious: Iran Knows More About Syria Than Obama--
The imminent demise of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria has become such an article of faith among many American pundits that most have come to discuss the subject as no longer a matter of if, but merely when, his fall will occur. Unfortunately, for Western talking heads as well as President Obama, who has also predicted imminent regime change in Damascus, Assad has preferred to ignore their advice and instead stick to what his family has always done best: slaughter any and all domestic foes. After watching the fall of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the assumption was the logic of the Arab Spring would inevitably force out the Syrian member of a rapidly diminishing club of Arab autocrats. Few in the West believed Assad could survive. But it appears there was at least one group of observers who may have pegged the Syrian as a keeper: his Iranian allies.

The news that a pair of Iranian naval vessels just left a Syrian port and are now heading home through the Suez Canal ought to have brought home the fact that the Iranian ayatollahs may understand their client better than Western editorial writers. Combined with the decision of Russia to boycott a diplomatic effort aimed at bolstering Assad’s domestic foes, it is now clear that Syria’s two major foreign sponsors have not given up on the regime. Unlike Westerners who simply took it for granted that Assad must go, Ayatollah Khamenei and Vladimir Putin have remembered an ironclad rule of history: tyrants fall when they lose their taste for spilling their people’s blood, not when they loosen the reins.
After all, Assad can always look to the success of Iran in dealing with their own protests--peaceful protests that never received the full backing of the Obama administration; protests that eventually disappeared.

So instead of the Syrian opposition taking encouragement from Iran, now the Iranian opposition eyes Syria:
With demonstrations against nearly five decades of Baath Party rule now in their twelfth month in Syria, Iranian opposition members are keeping a watchful eye on developments, hoping that regime change in Damascus will produce the same in Tehran.

The governments of both nations have been strong allies, politically and economically, for many years. More recently, opposition members from both countries appear to be fostering closer ties and have expressed mutual support. A YouTube video posted in December, 2011, for example, purports to show a small group of Iranian activists holding a Syrian opposition flag and burning a picture of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s embattled president. On Friday, meanwhile, 160 Iranian opposition members signed a document pledging support for and thanking the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition body outside the country.

But the Iranian opposition has been significantly less active than its Arab neighbors since a string of anti-government uprisings have swept the Middle East over the past year. Ali Ansari, Professor at St. Andrews University and author of numerous books on Iran, wrote in an October 2011 report, “That a new wave of protests has not gripped the country is in large part due to the sheer exhaustion of the opposition following the six months of protest from June 2009, and the systematic and comprehensive state repression that followed. Moreover Iranians, haunted by the consequences of 1979 [Iranian Revolution], are not enthusiastic in pursuing a path in which the endgame is unclear.”
It's far from clear whether there is reason for protesters in Iran to take much encouragement from events in Syria--and even less from empty statements and condemnations from the West.

With Iran and Syria appearing to be holding their own, even amidst sanctions and condemnations, the question arises: have the Arab Spring dominoes stopped falling?

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