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.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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The Paris-based People’s Mojahedin Organization, an antigovernment force of exiled Iranian dissidents with sources inside Iran, reported that the regime planned to mobilize 15,000 members of the Basij paramilitary forces to suppress demonstrations in Tehran. These are the motorcycle-riding, baton-wielding government agents who have been captured on TV in earlier rallies slashing at protesters.
Ironically, the Tehran regime initially praised Egyptian pro-democracy crowds whose efforts toppled the Mubarak regime. But when Iranians started chanting “Death to the Dictator” and burning pictures of their own “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei, the ruling regime returned to brutal suppression of the Iranian freedom-seekers.
With the end of the cold war, the world saw the most sweeping wave of democratization in our times. By the 1990s, about half of the world’s population lived in a democracy of some sort. But in the past few years there has been a disappointing decline in global democracy. The Economist Intelligence Unit, which tracks these movements, has pointed to entrenched authoritarianism in the Middle East, in much of the former Soviet Union, in sub-Saharan Africa, and in some of Latin America.
Dare we hope that what is taking place in the Arab world will trigger a new wave of freedom in nations beyond, where dictatorial regimes hold their peoples in bondage?
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.