Will Arab world’s freedom wave reach Iran or China?
Both Beijing and Tehran are reacting defensively, seeking to silence pro-democracy protesters and retain totalitarian control.
Is the democracy movement sweeping through the Middle East a purely Arab phenomenon or could it reach dictatorships in non-Arab lands?Skip to next paragraph
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That possibility clearly worries the two nations most consequential to the United States: China (for its burgeoning economy and military buildup) and Iran (for its potential nuclear threat). Both are reacting defensively, seeking to silence pro-democracy protesters and retain totalitarian control.
China has used Internet firewalls to censor news of the pro-democracy turmoil in the Middle East. But technology has made international borders porous. So Chinese citizens have deftly maneuvered around banned social media sites like Twitter to demonstrate for change in a nation whose communist government is obdurate in thwarting it. Thus in late February they went national with a call for a “Jasmine Revolution,” beginning in major Chinese cities, to be followed with nonviolent processions and marches each Sunday thereafter.
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If government incompetence and corruption were two of the protesters’ targets, the government showed that the efficiency of its security forces in preventing such demonstrations remains undiminished. Legions of police were on the streets to stop crowds assembling. Plainclothes officers arrested protest planners, prevented others from leaving their homes, and warned Chinese journalists against covering the protests. Foreign journalists were similarly warned to stay away from “no reporting” zones. Some had their homes and offices staked out to inhibit their movement.
But a Chinese government made nervous by the democracy tsunami in the Arab world may also be planning to temper coercion with incentives and economic reforms. The latest five-year plan seeks to increase wages and improve living conditions, not only for the peasant farmers who scratch a living from the soil, but also for the emerging middle class, which has become more vocal in its concerns over quality-of-life issues.
The Islamic, but non-Arab, nation of Iran has been dealing harshly with Iranian citizens emboldened by events in the Arab world to seek political change in their country. Skirmishes have taken place in cities like Mashhad, Shiraz, Kermanshah, and Isfahan as well as in the capital, Tehran. Al Jazeera reports that security forces in Tehran have used tear gas, pepper spray, and batons against protesters, sending dozens to the hospital.